Exhibition of painted heads, hands, torsos, bowls, and a series of linocuts and wood engravings.
7th to 19th December 2021
ARO Gallery, Darlinghurst, Sydney, Australia
Video of the exhibition:
Ian Kingsford-Smith’s solo exhibition at ARO Gallery in Sydney is a study in history, beliefs, mythology and diverse cultural practices. In keeping with his larger body of work, Kingsford-Smith connects ancient practices and contemporary culture through visual narratives.
Key elements of stories are depicted using personal life narratives, historic myths, the cycle of life, ancestor worship, archetypal experiences of love, despair, faith and death; these are recognisable and universal, and Kingsford- Smith’s distinctive use of colour and figurative style provides a visual syntax which invites the viewer to respond and imaginatively construct a narrative which has personal meaning.
The images can be understood as both specific and symbolic, referencing mythology, ancestral worship, rituals and contemporary narratives as a way to connect the past, present, and future.
Themes such as these have been in the artists’ work over a number of years with exhibitions dating back to 2015 with Mappa Vitae, Lineage (2016), Afterlife (2017), Votives (2018) and Artefacts (2019).
In this exhibition the artworks reference life, death, memory and the influence of deceased relatives on the living and the way they leave their emotional footprints. These themes have a personal resonance with the artist with the loss in the last year of his older and younger brothers.
The painted life-size heads reference Egyptian funerary masks from the beginning of the Middle Kingdom. These masks were traditionally made of cartonnage, a material consisting of waste papyrus or linen soaked in plaster. Similar to papier-maché, cartonnage can be moulded in three dimensions, so the masks could be carefully worked to resemble the bodies inside them. This mask would help the person's spirits to recognise and return to the body.
Kingsford-Smith follows this historical approach by moulding the heads from papier-mache and takes a further step by painting one half in a traditional manner and the other half with an expressionistic interpretation. This juxtaposition of the old and new creates a dissonance which allows the viewer to play an active role in contemplating their own spirituality.
The painted bowls and male torsos also reference Egyptian funeral practice. Statues of the deceased and bowls for the storage, eating and drinking were needed by the tomb owner in the afterlife and were part of the burial goods; being buried with their possessions helped to ease the soul’s transition into the afterlife.
The painted bowls in the exhibition have a three-dimensional aspect, extending the form of the painted narrative.
The painted hands represent the votive hands found in the western provinces of the Roman empire between the 2nd and 3rd century A.D. They were placed on poles and carried in ritual processions as divine symbols conveying specific attributes of the divinity and were also a sign of the divinity’s protecting hand and were common in the ambit of Semitic cults. In this exhibition the hands are made of resin and the male hand is the artists and the female hand is the mould makers. These artworks also reference the archaeological discovery that Greek and Roman statues have previously been highly painted and decorated with significant evidence of polychromy.
The series of wood engravings and linocuts illustrate the relationship between the living and the dead and the diverse dimensions of human experience. Kingsford-Smith has referenced compositional practices and narrative styles of medieval and renaissance work which were used to combat feelings of existential anguish and doubt. A number of the linocuts reference the current global pandemic and the isolation and suffering that it has imposed on individual lives. One linocut references Edvard Munch’s The Sick Child (1907) placing in the context of a modern hospital intensive care unit.
As in his earlier works, in this exhibition Kingsford-Smith finds connections between ancient practices and contemporary culture, embodying these in stories.