Karlee Rawkins

Owl Town

October 8 - October 22 2011

In stories we enter the place of mist beings - the place where all thought is as new as tomorrow and as old as the beginning of time. The forest symbolises the feminine and when it appears in fairytales it is a threshold symbol. We enter the world between worlds and wander paths of the unconscious, dense with ancestral trees and full of fantastic creatures, both wild and tame.

Karlee Rawkins' current body of work leads on from a previous exhibition wherein she "created her own forest" with imagery inspired by mediaeval Hunting Tapestries. Her ongoing fascination concerning various birds of prey is now expressed in a delightfully incongruous gathering at Owl Town. Rawkins' paintings have always been about imaginary places populated with members of the animal kingdom, but her experience of being mother to a curious toddler is providing further inspiration for subject material. "Originally, I think my interest in owls was sparked by their continual appearance in Raji's storybooks," muses Rawkins. "They are held very romantically in our imaginations and tend to accompany other lovely characters such as rabbits, gnarled trees and toadstools."

Well-versed in world mythology and folkloric traditions, Rawkins also draws on the wealth of owl associations. With their solemn appearance, great round eyes and silent flight, few other creatures have so many conflicting beliefs about them. Owls have been both feared and venerated, despised and admired, considered wise and foolish, and are connected with weather, birth and death augury. "In a broader sense," says Rawkins, "I like the night-time, mysterious connotations that owls bring. Although sacred to Athena the Greek goddess of wisdom, the owl is also the classic witch's familiar - a challenging image, but this continues my interest in our relationship to animals. I like the idea that they are generally considered ominous - owls are very powerful symbols for us!."

The equivocalness of owl interpretations aside, Rawkins' images have a definite waggish quality about them. "Owl Town, as a title for the show and the painting, was really only decided upon in a poetic sense," says Rawkins. "I have been naming my series of works as imagined places like Deer Park, The Orchard and Dark Wood Land, and I felt these new paintings to have quite a pop flavour - a little bit urban! Thus I thought this show's location might be the town. I also like the contradiction that owls are mostly considered very solitary birds!" 

We cannot help but smile at Granny Smith ensconced in her loosely painted, apple-green surround. Red eyes askew and talons turned harmlessly inwards, her cloak of age-white feathers now wraps a tracery of tree-time memories. In the work Owl Town, two fine birds seem out for a night on the town. Their mask-like faces, outstretched tree-branching wings and dancing feet make them look like they're ready to party. Even the darkly vivid Hex - who looks as if it's about to descend upon some unsuspecting victim - has a benign quality. So too, White Lady. By subtle use of perspective, she appears to fly directly at the viewer. Huge white head and talons trailing, her saucer-like eyes are fixed on us but we feel not in the least intimidated. Her gentle-hued colouration and sweet-tempered countenance makes it seem more likely that the White Lady has come to bestow an otherworldly gift of sorts.

Besides a considered content to her works, what makes Rawkins an artist of note is the utter confidence in her wielding of the brush and linear markings. They are qualities that won her a Brett Whiteley Travelling Scholarship. An intuitive investigator of form, Rawkins amplifies symbolic substance and intensifies visual experience through abstraction and distortion. Tree limbs and owl talons clump, balloon, attenuate, elongate into fanciful, biomorphic shapes. Referencing the interconnectedness of all living things, sprouting foliage and feathers interchange while filigreed patterns seem to surface and recede beneath layers of spontaneously applied paint. As in fairytales of old, there is a kind of sumptuous nourishment to be derived from viewing Rawkins' work - an intangible something that holds the mundanity of day-to-day reality at bay.


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