Louisa Chircop’s works are like glimpses of distant memories, a layering of shards of pictures, signs, and symbols all in a constant flux. The effect is a kind of blurred dream state. It is these transitory works, filled with paradoxes – the strange and the real, past and present, heaven and hell – that draw the curious spectator into the shadows of the self. The result? Works of pure wonder, open to different angles of interpretation, and for Chircop that mystery is what her practice is all about.
Your works speak of a menagerie of influences; what feeds into your work?
I have really eclectic tastes when it comes to my influences and I think over time my work has come to reflect those eclectic tastes and has become some kind of conglomerate mass of smashed-up layers. Art-making in a way deals with “a process of realisation”, allowing me to unearth themes recycled throughout art history alongside more personal and deeper psychological and emotional responses to experiences lived. I have always loved the work of the German Expressionists. ‘Finger painting – Eagle’ (1972) by Georg Baselitz was a true turning point for me, and presents itself as a metaphor for my whole metamorphosis as an artist and how I approach my practice.
I also think my interest in Surrealism began with the work of the metaphysical painter de Chirico who really was a precursor to Surrealism. James Gleeson’s exhibition Drawings for Paintings at the AGNSW left a significant impression on me, particularly his unique method of working photomontage into drawing, and then furthering his findings by interpreting in paint.
Romanticism, however, also continues to influence and impact my work in both style and approach, in particular Goya’s Disasters of War series, ‘The Sleep of Reason’ and ‘Saturn Devouring his Son’ which are referenced in my paintings ‘Creator’ and ‘Family Feast’. I find Romanticism so attractive in that it is a response to the disillusionment with the Enlightenment values of reason and order, which is so polar opposite and in contrast to Renaissance themes, and it is here in the anti-reaction I find contradiction and meaning.
On a personal note, has your personal health fed into your work? Do you find your work therapeutic?
Most of my health issues came up after I had my daughter; the ‘big C’ word, cancer, scares you, particularly being a first-time mum. I have been fortunate that I have caught things just in time. These experiences somehow feed into your work, thinking about life, motherhood and where my practice is going in relation to all of that.
There is an element that is therapeutic. It’s paradoxical really – the therapeutic becomes a burden sometimes, and other times a release. There have been times I have faced my illness; I allow my practice to move with the ebb and flow of how I feel. There have been some really rough times, and I have used my practice to face my anxieties and fears. I have also used it to deflect it from my anxieties and fears as well. With the different medical problems, you want to have your best shot.
You refer to your exploration of the subconscious and “the shadows of the self”. What prompted your interest in this?
Firstly, it’s autobiographical; I found art to be quite cathartic for me. I got into the art world quite young and I relied on it like a crutch for all those things that were going on. It was really difficult living in an immigrant household with different languages and traditions, and the extended family with my grandparents there as well.
I’d use my art practice to tap into the tensions that were in the household as the first release. When you work there are all these devils and dark shadows, these shadows of yourself. I’ve been reading Everyone loves good a train wreck, by Eric Wilson, about what fascinates us to look at tragedies and what is it that draws us when there is a plane crash – that curiosity. And I have a curiosity with that dark side. Works that flourished during the Renaissance period really fascinate me – the depictions of heaven and hell, and the religious paintings of saints and biblical scenes and stories. I like the mystery; I don’t like to give too much away.
Your practice involves a variety of styles; what attracts you about this all-inclusive approach?
I am quite malleable in that way. I like the fact that doing works on paper sometimes frees me up, it allows me to come up with these sketches, they allow me to work without thinking too much. I work from sourced images. I reinvent the image. In photomontage there is an assemblage component; I can rearrange the story and endless possibilities can be explored. Sometimes I’ll pick up the pieces and rearrange them around the drawing or I let the pieces dictate where the drawing is going to go, and so by doing that I am really tapping into how I feel, or a memory or an experience.
Images recur and flux in my works – they are allowed to come back and forth. One of my recent works, ‘Pendulum’, actually uses a vulture above a tiny baby’s head at the bottom. I like the mystery; I don’t like to give too much away. The face is actually my own, modelled off Giambattista Tiepolo’s painting, ‘The Immaculate Conception’ (1767-69). Since I have refined my practice I can return to those images with more strength, I am letting the process dictate how these elements drive through my work.
In contrast to such an intensive layering of imagery you embrace the empty space in your work.
For years I have explored space in different ways. Sometimes it is in the spaces that are empty that you engage with the spaces that are full. What is missing from a picture is as important as what is in it. Those spaces allow for the viewer’s imagination to fill the gaps.
Would you say you have quite a diaristic way of working?
Every day is a new day. The depth of my images come from a different place; there is a dialogue between the images and symbols: the playing cards, the hands, and the Rubik’s cube – these are little things that I like to return to. Every time I return to something I bring new depth and meaning to it, I can realise it in a different way. It goes back to my thesis – metaphor as autobiography.
In ‘Hollow Haven’ there is this layering; the cross isn’t central but it’s at the top of the image. The idea of the cross fascinates me; you can think of the crucifixion, you can charge the image with a bit of power. It has been used throughout art history and I constantly love to return to it, and challenge not just my own faith but its whole structural integrity and meaning. Maybe it’s in a similar way that Baselitz explores his eagles. I like to rediscover images that I have used before; I like returning back to things.
There is something about coming into my practice every day and being allowed to excavate, digging into the subconscious mind. That really interests me and keeps me coming back for more.
Courtesy of the artist and A-M Gallery, Sydney.