Kristin Tennyson

Marking Territory

July 29 - August 12 2017

When Kristin Tennyson migrated from the icy wildernesses of Canada to tropical far northern Queensland in 1993 it was more than the environmental contrast that stimulated her creative impulse. An ongoing rumination about how a sense of place shapes the human psyche and the means of relating to one's habitat invests her latest body of work. She describes her practice as having a highly personal narrative that conflates past and present experiences. "Nuances of original cultural identity overlap, dovetail and often contrast with those of my adopted Australian culture. My work concerns itself chiefly with these issues and how we form our beliefs and values from the influence of pop culture and iconic symbols of nationalism."

To elucidate the indeterminate nature of cross-cultural permeations Tennyson has depicted incredibly intricate ‘landscapes' - tattoo-like - upon the schematic, central imagery. Although customs vary, people from ancient times onward have employed tattoos or body markings to express identity, denote rank and signify social allegiances or divergences. Tennyson explains that the notion of markings also refers to the various patterns on fur, feathers and skin. The particular markings Tennyson chooses to tag her figures are emblematic of past and present nationalistic concerns.

A melange of ‘Australiana' iconography populates Tennyson's tattoo markings. The indigenous flora and fauna, snippets of history as in Captain Cook and the first fleet, folk heroes like Ned Kelly as well as the nation's crest represent "a connection to territory". Although some of the portrayals have a deliberately kitsch persona they perhaps embody a typical Aussie's appreciation for the ironic. "I have also used images relating to pop culture, religion and war," she adds. "These are a way of denoting a co-existing inner landscape and making comment on current global and popular culture issues. I am marking the territories that we don't necessarily want to discuss but sugar-coating them so as to appear less confronting."

Tennyson's ‘sugar-coating' is in fact a remarkable facility for conveying her subject with a poetic sensibility. Vacillating between fragility and resolute expressiveness, the quality of her line and brushwork map deeply felt responses and perceptions. Human culture is in a state of constant flux, cumulative and multi-dimensional, and an understanding of this fuels Tennyson's creative process. There seems no solid anchorage to the picture plane. Against vacant backdrops, tagged figures materialise through washes and runnels of paint. The external forms are gestural in essence and elegantly simplified in contrast to the complex tableaux depicted within. "I trust my instincts and don't force things," she offers. "It's my job as an artist to create something unique for myself and the viewer."


Kristin Tennyson holds a Master of Creative Arts, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland 2014; Honours Degree (Creative Arts), James Cook University 2010; Graduate Diploma of Research Methods - Creative Arts - James Cook University 2005; and a Bachelor of Arts University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1989. Tennyson has been a finalist in the Archibald Prize AGNSW 2015; SCAP, Caloundra Regional Gallery 2015, 2014, 2012; Inaugural Queensland Figurative Art Prize, RQAS Brisbane 2014; a semi-finalist in The Doug Moran Portrait Prize 2013, 2012; a finalist in the Churchie Award, Brisbane 2009; won the Blunt Edge of Portraiture, Cairns 2009; a finalist in the Duke Prize, Gold Coast City Gallery 2008 and the Kilgour Prize, Newcastle Regional Gallery 2008.


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