Linda Marrinon

My dad had a t-shirt that read: ‘If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit’. Be prepared to be dazzled by Linda Marrinon. She’s an artist whose work is honest, considered and multi-levelled … no bullshit.

SHHH … Listen! Do you hear that … silence? Wordlessly, the best art talks to us, luring those beholden to its thrall and fluent in aesthetic dialect, to be offered personal truth given by those in tune with their muse.

Linda Marrinon is profoundly shy but her work compels attention, a remarkable feat in today’s art world. Artists such as Marrinon permit their work to do all of their important interacting with the world at large and have little time for the niceties of social interaction. This is a refreshing approach in a world that’s increasingly reliant on the facile, beguiled by the landscape of social media and its influencers, personal branding and the commodification of emptiness.

Marrinon attended St Mathews Primary School in the outer Melbourne suburb of North Fawkner, later the ironically monikered Mercy College in North Coburg, then cosmically christened Star of the Sea. Later she attended the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) where she studied painting. As a student I saw her there, but don’t recall ever having a conversation with her. Other students at the time remember not knowing her too; even the lecturers didn’t know her, not even any gossip … nothing.

Marrinon has always been a mythical creature, a cypher and an enigma. She had a male friend at the time, Ian Cox, and they are still together. He was the saxophonist in the post-punk electronic, art rock band Essendon Airport, a part of the Melbourne scene in the late 70s and early 80s. They performed around the city’s emerging inner-city venues, such the legendary Crystal Ballroom, art galleries including the George Paton, at the University of Melbourne and the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre, a venue for experimental music, performance and film. Working closely with another band, “”“,  that included musician Philip Brophy and visual artist Maria Kozic, it was an important association at a richly creative time, but Linda is quick to point out, ‘I was an observer only’.

She says she was influenced in her early painting career by fellow Melbourne artist Jenny Watson. ‘I liked her work and thought she was glamorous.’ Marrinon hasn’t painted for about twenty years and now concentrates on sculpture.

‘At art school we weren’t taught technique, which was OK at first but then the joke wore a bit thin. So I took it upon myself to learn about technique.’ She later returned to VCA in 2000 and completed a graduate degree in sculpture. To this end she cites the influence of Edouard Lanteri, the French-born British sculptor (1848–1917) and his 1911 book Modelling & Sculpting the Human Figure which included a foreword by friend and fellow sculptor Auguste Rodin, who refers to Lanteri as ‘Dear Master’.

With Marrinon’s figurative sculptures, there is always a look of weathered antiquity. Facial features appear eroded, worn smooth by exposure to the elements, neatly contrasting the confident Rodin-esque drapery. Are they hand-made or cast? The answer is both. Her figures are juxtaposed with camp humour, intellectual rigour and a sense of style that Oscar Wilde himself would have approved. As she prefers to let her work speak for itself, a few examples are needed …

The Moir Sisters were a Scottish-Australian pop vocal trio formed in 1970 by the eponymous sisters, Jean, Margot and Lesley. They appeared to be the archetypal suburban Melbourne teens of the day. A teen herself at the time, Linda felt she’d found her music in their 1974 hit debut single ‘Good Morning (How Are You?)’ which featured their distinctive high-pitched harmonies. Check out their YouTube video. It’s worth viewing for its oddball lip-synching, part fashion shoot style and pharmaceutical products placement.

Marrinon was soothed by the girls’ sound, an antidote to the dominant male music of 1970s acts such as Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs. To this day she has retained a genuine fondness for their music, so much so that in 2016 she immortalised them in her sculpture The Moir Sisters, 1974.

Commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, for exhibition in 2016, this provided the opportunity to work with her foundry to literally ‘grow’ the work from a limited studio scale to a much larger presence. Motivated by the formal challenge of the triptych format, she employed the same mould for each figure, tweaking each sister into individuality with subtly applied plaster-of-Paris stained with watercolour.

Vernacular garden statuary also echoes in Marrinon’s figurative sculptures. These are commonplace in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, where you’ll find many reproductions of antiquities, Venus, David, cherubs and lions. Highly charged plaster-of-Paris Catholic church statues of Our Lady and Jesus are similar in their materiality but that’s where the resemblance to Marrinon’s work begins and ends. (Like many, the Catholic way appears to have traumatised her. I’m not interested in how, as her reaction to my question made it perfectly clear: Catholic school wasn’t a good experience.)

The Battle of Albert was the name given to three separate offensives in the First World War in 1914, 1916 and 1918. The British and French losses alone are hard to get your head around: the British suffered around 57,000 casualties on one bloody day, 1 July 1916. Linda has inherited a souvenir of this time. ‘It was my grandfather’s and his sister left it to me. I don’t know whether he was actually in Albert. I have always thought he bought it when he was wounded and on his way home, but I really don’t know. The silk doily has an outline drawing of the ruined Cathedral of Albert, Notre Dame de Brebieres.’

Marrinon’s 2019 sculpture, Woman of Albert, France, 1916, presents a blank-faced, stylishly dressed Frenchwoman, still impeccably tailored in the face of the madness she’s experienced, no doubt suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the horrors endured. Rubble and the bombed cathedral complete the tableau. To the right of the woman dangles the Madonna and child that has toppled from the church spire, the Christ child restrained from falling to earth by the Madonna’s grip.

I love this work, it engages me. It appears to have its genesis in post-modernist ideas of appropriation, classicism and irony, but it has long ago left behind prescriptive dogma and has been hewn and panel-beaten into shape with dedication and hard graft.

Marrinon’s sculptures are seductive objects, transcendent of labels or movements, a personal vision beautifully realised. That is something many artists shoot for but few achieve. Marrinon does this with dedicated skill, unyieldingly. Her work is a siren beckoning forth all who come into its field of vision to succumb to its nuanced patina.

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 49, 2019

Linda Marrinon: Scene at Edfu and other sculptures
30 October – 28 November 2020
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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