Demurely defiant

Diana Klaosen

Mary Scott, Blue Joke (triptych), 2003

Mary Scott, Blue Joke (triptych), 2003

The practice of Tasmanian digital artist Mary Scott evolves, as ever, seamlessly, from one series of works to the next. From her painting to her current digital prints, seemingly disparate yet tangentially related themes recur to create a quirkily pleasing continuity in a masterful body of work.

Scott’s interest in digital imaging developed when she lectured in painting at the Tasmanian School of Art, where she was a founding member of the Digital Art Research Facility (DARF), “exploring the aesthetic potentials of digital imaging technologies” (exhibition notes). In what can be a slow process of intervention and experimentation, Scott combines several techniques—appropriation, collage and digital manipulation—to enable each work “to resolve itself.”

In her solo exhibition skirted, Scott addresses themes of identity versus social standards and subjective intimacy—the tension between social expectations and the individual unconscious. With these notions, she interrogates defiance and rebelliousness as her subjects “refute social obligations through…evocative gestures and insolent stances.” Women parade, turn their backs and swing their skirts, their stiff waistbands and respectable gloves contradicted by seductive fabrics that enhance their bodies and create a tangible aura of sensuality.

Pinch, for example, is an association-laden depiction of an archetypal 1940s or 50s demure woman seated pertly on a stool, her back turned on the viewer, her magenta short-sleeved top and skirt dominating the image and forming, thanks to her ideal figure, an hourglass configuration. The image is at once familiar and surreal, whimsical and threatening; this is by no means a conventional portrait of a hausfrau from a cosy bygone era. Scott has taken a very innocent subject and subverted it utterly.

The Blue Joke triptych is a particularly strong example of Mary Scott’s style and her ongoing interest in identity encoded by prevailing social standards and the individual’s revolt in the face of expectations of respectability and conventional behaviour.

In Blue Joke Dangle, the series’ subject, a gamine, Audrey Hepburn type in a 50s floral patterned dress wafts upside-down in the top left corner, defying gravity and logic, as does a partly glimpsed small canine below her.

In Plunge, the central and most seductive of the 3 Blue Joke works, the same woman appears to be falling rapidly through space, her skirt billowing around her legs which are pointed and straight, diving-style. This work is a triumph of composition and form.

In Blue Joke, disembodied elements float on a visually powerful blue-black background. The woman appears physically fragmented, as bits of her drift through the ether, a trick of the eye that works well. Again, the print is cropped to show only parts of the subject and in each of the 3 works, the woman’s red and white dress contrasts strikingly with the dark blue background, a result, perhaps, of Scott’s painterly eye. These works are difficult to apprehend, but clearly speak about female freedom, “respectability” and sexuality.

The subtly erotic Magnolia is emblematic of Scott’s current work. In the contemporary context a portrait—or figure study— of a semi-clad female, buttocks naked, ought not to cause a frisson. But Scott has deftly taken this subject, complete with billowing skirt, à la Monroe, and defiantly turned her back—the surprise at the juxtaposition of elements is palpable.

The exhibition is full of other females asserting themselves in the face of social mores of an era recent enough, but clearly before modern feminism. Trick features 3 identically dressed young girls, again cropped so that only the middle girl is seen in full. They flaunt their digitally enhanced pink coats, socks and fancy shoes, just as the women in Gathering Lies, Skirt and Prink swish their party finery.

skirted is an exhibition that displays a very strong and satisfying thematic coherence. The works all address aspects of Scott’s leitmotiv—feminist ideas that are here contemplated in new and challenging ways. This is significant work, very much worth the making and achieved with wit, skill and discernment. The works all ‘speak to’ and inform each other in interesting ways, so that the sum of the seductive parts makes for a very satisfactory viewing experience.

skirted, artist Mary Scott, Criterion Gallery, Hobart, Oct 28-Nov 23, 2004

RealTime issue #65 Feb-March 2005 pg. 10

© Diana Klaosen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2005