Opening in February at City Art Depot is Christiane Shortal’s SUPPLY, an exhibition of new gouache on paper works, revealing an amalgam of influences; graphic art, manuscripts, Eastern and Western art, comic books and a history of ancient and imaginery artifacts. Where previously Shortal’s attention was upon the animation and anthropomorphic possibilities of domestic interiors and landscapes, she describes the new works in SUPPLY as more static, acknowledging that her work has consciously taken on a ‘flat two-dimensional look, implying that you are looking at an artwork or an “artifact” rather than being invited into a 3D space.’ There is a sense of being conscious that these new works may be thought of as lost or imaginary manuscripts, offering alternate perspectives on the thoughts and behaviours of humanity.
Certainly, there is also good reason to consider that the subject of art, its histories and contexts are an important aspect of SUPPLY. Yet, Shortal maintains that her new works retain visual elements that have carried through and remain attractive to her from her 2018 exhibition, possessing new ways to respond to them. She mentions Dunedin-based artist Kushana Bush and her interest in the iconography and history of Eastern and Western miniatures. ‘Bush’s work introduced me to Persian miniatures, which has led me down an endless rabbit hole of Eastern art. I love how flat everything is, the composition prioritised over realism.’
‘I fully believe anyone can do art if they have an eye for composition. My favourite miniatures are the ones that look primitive and clumsy and I wanted to carry this feeling through to my work (while making it look intentional). I really want each work to feel like an artifact of a lost “civilisation”, with a whole system of hierarchies and politics and social practices implied. Reflecting my own experiences each work contains both dominant and subordinate forces in conflict, indifferences and collaborations with one another.’
Supply also sees the introduction of colour to her works on paper. ‘I am not naturally a painter and my first exhibition was a big learning experience for me because I never did any formal painting. Gouache has been a great medium for me because of how vibrant and bold the lines can be. I can kind of “draw” with it.’
‘It’s funny that people have such a different response to colour. If it’s black and white people assume it’s dark and I’m a tortured artist, and now that I’m using colour it definitely comes across as more playful, even though my subject matter in SUPPLY may be more aggressive.’
Working in gouache brings a presence and materiality to Shortal’s work that it is as painterly as it is graphic and she acknowledges the importance of this mix of influences. ‘I have an endless admiration for talented comic artists, especially because they are often such great storytellers too.’
‘A longstanding favourite of mine would have to be Steve Ditko (1927 – 2018). A comic artist in the classical sense, he was the artist for the Doctor Strange comics during the 60s. He manages to create a visual language for something that is invisible - that is so hard to do. You are essentially reinventing the wheel! This new exhibition is really an amalgamation of all the things I love. Doctor Strange comics, Persian miniatures, Ukiyo-e woodcut prints, Lovecraft novels and more. I see my work as this big pile of samples.’
Christiane Shortal, SUPPLY
City Art Depot, 96 Disraeli Street, Sydenham
16 February to 8 March
- Christiane Shortal, Found object #1, 2020, gouache, acrylic paint pen and fineliner pens.