Madeleine Pfull

In Issue 49, Sydney-based artist Madeleine Pfull writes about her painting process – which involves imagining and imaging herself in future form.

There are three aspects of my latest paintings (other than the actual physical painting process) that have become important to my work: the dual portraits, the characters and the process before the painting.

The dual portraits
The idea of creating dual portraits came through as a result of wanting to make two paintings with very subtle differences. I felt that using one portrait to make a whole character is difficult, but having two with only a slight variation is like being given twice the amount of leeway and using only five percent of it. The portrait is also less rigid and becomes more a flow of movement, like an animation. This idea of the animated painting reached its peak with The Fall I and II, which was exhibited in my recent solo exhibition at Chalk Horse.

The dual paintings work as a way to slow down the process of looking. It exaggerates the banality of the characters and their expressions. It isn’t a snapshot into the life of someone, instead we are witnessing time passing and the majority of moments in time aren’t filled with extraordinary things. This is best seen in the two Sao Ladies. The woman’s slow eating of the Sao biscuit is the action, but the introspection while she eats is the focus of the painting. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in the background adds to this. When describing why he loved painting the sunflowers he said, ‘They had that slight fadedness, that something over which life has passed.’ (Letter from Vincent to Theo, 21 December 1881).

The characters
At the moment I am representing women of similar ages and whose lives centre around the everyday. They appear as the quotidian details of middle class suburbia. They can seem fed up or bored, but it is more of a sense of importance and stoicism. These women have become tropes for me to build on, exploring the duality between resignation and the dignity in embracing your average. I am preoccupied with the everyday and the worth that comes from living an ordinary life. Painting beautifully the mundane heroism is a large aspect of my work.

Another reason for these characters is that as I age, I can see myself becoming like them. This thought is both engrossing and nerve-wracking. Yet with the world going as it is, I see that a future like this has been taken away.

The pre-painting process
My process involves creating characters through dressing up. I source the clothes, wigs, jewellery and setting. I then dress and age myself with makeup to take reference photos. I usually have a very clear idea of the person I am making, a certain quirk of their personality. The paintings Gerbera I and II explore a woman who came last in a flower arranging competition. I was interested in the choices she would make, especially with the flowers. The gerberas would reflect her personality and be the reason she came last (I heard gerberas are the cheapest flower you can buy). I hoped her stance and composure would also display her husband’s role in her pride. I was interested to see the contrast between pride and humility and how that affects the posture and the comport.

My work articulates my fascination with taste and expressing one’s social status and personal pride through material things and using them as subtle cues. For these women, the ones that try hardest to appear superior are the ones most uncomfortable with their lack of taste. The correlation to their identity, of inferiority and superiority, is exaggerated by the medium of painting, where time with oils adds prestige to their kitsch. This is seen most clearly in Pip also brought Pavlova, where the social etiquette of not bringing the proper thing to a garden tea party has raised the hackles of these three women.

Madeleine Pfull
25 July to 31 August 2020
Nino Mier Gallery, Cologne, Germany

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