Sophie Gralton

Paint By Numbers

December 5 - December 19 2020

Sydney-based Sophie Gralton tells that the title for her new body of work, Paint by Numbers, is a ‘tongue in cheek' jest as to just how opposite her painterly oeuvre is. The antithesis of predetermined, fastidiously rendered illustrations, her concern is the relationship she has with paint: ‘the excitement of the mark, the loss and gains encountered when creating a new work is my impetus.' Gralton wants us to respond not solely to the subject matter but also to the aesthetic signals the painting communicates. In this quest she employs a direct technique, the loaded brush spontaneously eliciting form and engendering a visceral reaction.

The exhibition title is also a nod to the paintings in which stencilled numerals are afloat over collaged, Dr Seuss storybook pages. Positioned against these richly patterned backdrops is a girl in vintage costume. Both her yellow canary companion and the Dr Seuss tales connote flights from stricture into the unbounded realms of imagination. Although these works are based on the poses of actual children, they are not conventional portraits. She explains that the cropping of eyes from the figures was not a means of ensuring anonymity. Rather than the traditional reliance on the gaze to convey the sitter's essence, Gralton steers the viewer into a different reading of the subject - one where nuance is captured in the theatricality of the pose and the vitality of brush markings. Figure and ground vacillate.

Other works also reflect childhood delights and ponderings but in an outdoor setting. Living in a beach locale, Gralton has ample opportunity to observe the antics of youngsters along the shoreline. She describes the imagery depicted as 'the conversations children have with nature.' They stand at the ocean's edge looking out towards the horizon and symbolically, the future that lies ahead. There is usually a dog in attendance - a creature long associated with loyalty, protectiveness and vigilance. These paintings are large. Their size allowed Gralton to wield her brush and palette knife without constraint. Surfaces pulsating in colour and gestural markings convey the ocean's immensity and power. The undercoat of red primer is left apparent in certain areas to amplify the verve.

In imagery and execution, a quieter atmosphere envelops The Farm Boy painting. Here a youth stands upon a hillock, back turned to the viewer. His attitude is deeply contemplative as he surveys the rural landscape below. Perhaps sensing our ‘intrusion' his decoratively collared dog has swung around to face us. Gralton reveals that she created this work upon an archival pastoral map that had been greatly enlarged and printed onto the canvas. The old property boundaries of fences and trees can be discerned below the layers of paint and history. Gralton's impetus has ever been to evoke a sense of integration between bygone eras, the present and what may lie in times to come.

JACQUELINE HOUGHTON


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