Bridgette McNab

‘Beyond the theatre is life, and behind life, the theatre. My point of departure was the imaginary and I discovered the real; but behind the real there was the imaginary.’ – Jean Luc Godard

Bridgette McNab’s tightly choreographed paintings unpack the enduring dialogue between painting and cinema that resounds with the language of illusion. Influenced by French New Wave directors Jean Luc Godard and Eric Rohmer, the Melbourne artist employs a mise-en-scène approach to evoke rather than explain, enlisting ambiguous sets, truncated jump cuts and colour-blocked palettes. In her latest series, ‘A Kiss From a Rose’, elliptical narratives unfurl, frame by frame, over ten parts, each painting informing the next like fragments of an incomprehensible portrait. Lingering close-ups of body parts and objects become visual synecdoches that are as much about concealment as they are revelation.

Unfolding across two major ‘sets’, the interior and the garden, McNab’s cinematic vignettes hatch a hyper-femme world orbiting the realms of domesticity and interiority. Floral imagery, mythological goddesses, diverted gazes and felines form historical overtures to female experience in a way that is romantic but never sentimental, their smooth planes and pastel palette invoking a spectacle of desire – complicit in and critical of conventional renderings of femininity.

McNab’s serialised compositions self-reflexively examine fantasy, fiction and artifice. Drawing from Jean Baudrillard’s influential ideas about simulacra and simulation supplanting the ‘real’, the works forge a beguiling unreality that steps in for today’s ideological abyss. Excavating moments from the Western Canon – Picnic at Hanging Rock, Polanski’s film Tess, Thomas Lawrence’s Portrait of Catherine Grey – as well as personal imagery, social media and pop culture, her appropriationist techniques alert the viewer to the multiplex ways appearances are constructed and codified. Artificial flowers, staged interiors and compliant actors symptomise our augmenting culture of spectacle and surface – with the bat of an eyelid and the flutter of a petal.

These paintings ultimately explore the act of looking. The viewer becomes voyeur, caught in the circuit of McNab’s mysteries and left to ponder where and when the story has occurred. The plot twist, however, is that there is no narrative at all; simply a splintered fiction staged and edited by the auteur. Here we can discern McNab’s philosophical affiliation with the existentialism and absurdism of the New Wave. Her paintings – while seemingly bright and beautiful – hint at the hollowness of existence and the wistful stories we create to fill its ever-growing void.

Courtesy Bluethumb Online Art Gallery


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