Women in Art: Abbey McCulloch as herself

By Lauren Treiser Often found on the 50 most collectable Australian artist list published by The Australian Art Collector, Gold Coast based artist Abbey McCulloch is a star! She is well known for her sublimely coloured female subjects with intriguing eyes and pouting lips, which manage to express feelings of both seduction and vulnerability at the same time.

The Isolator, 2012 Image from Helen Gory Galerie

Two time Archibald finalist, McCulloch’s current exhibition at Helen Gory Galerie has one major difference to her other bodies of work which explore themes of femininity. And that is for the first time McCulloch has used herself as the subject matter.

The Wimp, 2012 Image from Helen Gory Galerie

According to the artist, she is ‘quite a shy person and incredibly self conscious.’ This was her initial impetus to start painting and drawing; as a way to divert attention away from herself, so others could focus on something else, like a decoy. Well, it seems that McCulloch has matured since then, managing to make a 360 and in fact turn the attention directly onto herself.  This all happened when McCulloch found herself a few weeks away from the deadline of the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize with no subject to paint. Despite years of avoiding painting herself, she found herself with no other option. Eventually, ‘The Wimp,’ which is part of the exhibition at Helen Gory Galerie, was selected as a semi finalist for the prize. I find the name of the work ironic because she is anything but that, having been able to paint herself and enter the piece into such a prestigious prize.

The Black Iris, 2012 Image from Helen Gory Galerie

She found that painting herself gave her freedom and a vehicle to express ideas that otherwise she was unable to achieve. She could make the exact works she wanted to make and moved on to produce a series of self portraits. The next piece she created was, ‘The Black Iris’ which shows the duality of McCulloch’s personality. The artist is shown cutting her own hair and her doppelgänger is simultaneously cutting a black iris. One of her moves with nonchalance whilst her doppelgänger seems to be screaming.

The Intervention, 2012 Image from Helen Gory Galerie

Moving on from these two initial works, the series got lighter and more playful. She is represented in each one with more confidence. The characters that she creates of herself emerge from flat painted ice-cream coloured backgrounds. The pieces come across to me as being quite girly, so I would be interested to know what a male audience’s take on them would be.

With only hints to the narrative, McCulloch puts a lot of clues in the eyes. Her subjects seem both brave and vulnerable at the same time, offering the viewer quite a real version of beauty.

I can feel myself sinking into the ground, 2012 Image from Helen Gory Galerie

The contradictions inherent in McCulloch’s subject matter is mirrored in her medium. Carefully drawn elements alternate with undefined edges, flattened background hues are overlaid with textured areas of colour where the brushstrokes are quite evident. McCulloch’s process is to begin with charcoal onto canvas, building up to washes and then to thicker oils. McCulloch notes that it is always hard deciding when to stop and when to let the painting breathe.

Good Things Great Things, 2012 Image from Helen Gory Galerie

My favourite piece in the exhibition is ‘Good Things Great Things.’ The ostentatiously dressed girls with their desserts captures a moment in time which is raw and unconstrained.

A few years ago McCulloch was featured on Art Nation which really gives you an insight into her personality and a better understanding of her work.

I was completely enthralled by this exhibition so if anyone wants to buy me one of these beauties as a present, I wont be saying no!

Abbey McCulloch: A New Normal Helen Gory Galerie 25 St Edmonds Rd, Prahran, VIC 12 September – 6 October Wed - Sat 11am-5pm

Lauren is graphic designer and founder of patchyrugs.com.au. She loves all things design (see her blog at blog.ilovelollies.net) and is particularly passionate about fine art, interior design and jewellery. Lauren is currently studying Gold & Silversmithing and doing graphic design on a freelance basis.