IRENE WELLM- ‘Devils I Have Known’
Tacit Galleries – 26th Sept – 21st Oct 2018
As usual, Tacit Galleries presents a warren of sub-divided spaces, each devoted to a single artist under a tacit sub-letting arrangement. By necessity, works are mainly small and while astutely arranged to highlight affinities, the effect is nevertheless a bit like a mini arts precinct or fair, with up to eleven ardent voices vying for attention from all corners. The last time Melbourne Art Seen visited the galleries was in 2016, at its former address in Johnson Street, Abbotsford, when the dark Minimalist abstractions of T. J. Bateson blind-sided the reviewer, while seeking the work of Irene Wellm. This year no such distractions arise, with all due respect to fellow exhibitors, Linda Pickering, Myunghee Kim, Peter Summers, Mel Kerr, Eugen von Nagy, Ruth McIntosh, Brenda Walsh, Peter Ward, John Rabling and Katherine Westfold. Although Wellm’s space is much smaller this time, the work continues its striking use of a wall assembly of large black and white gouaches of mythic figures and props, effectively a site specific installation of cut-outs.
Devils I have Known (2018) [detail] Gouache on paper, approx 3m x 9m
For some time, the artist’s work has dealt in surreal fantasies, involving childhood, make believe and role playing, often animals as magical symbols. Following a Masters degree from the VCA in 2001 Wellm quickly gained recognition as an emerging artist, very much in step with overseas developments such as The New Leipzig School, with its revived form of history painting fuelled by obscure narrative and a more detached, Pop sensibility. Two Australia Council grants for a residency at the noted Spinnerei studios in Leipzig (2012 and 2014) seemed to promise a perfect match, but it was only when in close proximity to key exponents of The School, that Wellm realised the need for a more focussed, austere approach.
The work up until that point had mainly been large oil paintings, which brought with them various formal and technical issues that she felt were becoming a distraction. A work like Forging The Mandolin (2012) sees the artist with many of her motifs in place, but seeking ways to provide a more elaborate setting without being caught up in too much detail. The result is curiously muted, ultimately lacks conviction, pictorially.
Forging The Mandolin (2012) Oil on linen 145 x 198 cm [NOT IN SHOW]
At some point in 2013 the compromises no longer seemed worth the effort and sustained settings themselves were more or less jettisoned. Similarly, the work while in Leipzig discards colour, initially to further narrow rendering options but actually enhancing volumetric or tonal qualities, granting isolated objects or fragments far greater realism. The change was not quite abrupt, but the pictures gradually favour a far more fragmented construction, deliberately betray photo-collage sources. The most striking feature is the introduction of conspicuous borders and tabs to parts, alerting us not just to a collage construction, but to a kind of children’s game of cladding and manoeuvring storybook characters.
Empty Promises (2013) Gouaches on paper 160 X 112 cm [NOT IN SHOW]
Empty Promises (2013) simply isolates a figure against a background but soon Wellm uses the devices to underline a more disparate assembly, as in She Gathers Under Her Shadow (2014).