Cherry HoodReviewer Robert NelsonNovember 17, 2004ARC one gallery, 45 Flinders Lane,until November 27Portraiture of children is an intimate genre. With portraiture of the powerful, the more colossal the scale, the more imposing and authoritarian is the image, so it's logical that portraits of children are normally small. Cherry Hood's portraits of children defy this convention.Hood inflates the child portrait to billboard proportions. Diminutive features are pumped up to address a huge public space: tender eyes with innocent passivity present themselves to a civic arena where they don't altogether belong.
Hood's technique is best realised in the works on paper, in which the watercolour is built up meticulously to mimic the lights and darks of a photograph. But the aspiration to photographic accuracy is cruelled in the last minute, as Hood tips the sheet vertically, whence the watery paint runs, as if the image is leaking.In a catalogue essay, Anne Marsh observes that the photographic origin of Hood's portraits, confounded with liquid distortions, yields "a kind of second skin through which the subjects pictured obtain a ghostly identity". She notes that the figures are "not actually there", but are "conceptual phantoms like so many lost children who will never be found".
The air of missing children is somehow made more poignant with names such as Bashir, Iqbal, Farid, Beji. The dependent status of these little guys is reinforced by the pathos in the title of the exhibition, Ayesha's child. The way their images vanish into the paper could easily allegorise the fate of children who have disappeared while seeking refuge.Mind you, no one has said this, which is just as well - because it doesn't really stack. The running dissolving drip is just something that Hood does. It's a manner, a rhetorical habit, a signature style: it's how Hood paints portraits, presumably to enhance their interest, irrespective of the sitter. A large picture of a fashionable blonde couple, juxtaposed in lifestyle cuddle-pose, cannot easily be about the unholy neglect of asylum seekers.
Though formidable in scale, the paintings belong to the genre of illustration. They're pictorially bland. The vignetted format of the portraits - allowing the bust to dissolve into the background in an arc - belongs to old illustrations and amateur portraiture, in which relationships with space are evasively handled and forms bleed incoherently to the corners or default to the colour of the support. Although hyper-competent, the paintings are not entirely in command of the consequences of the scale. Some features attract untoward attention. Perhaps, because of their reflectiveness and naturally graphic outlines, the eyes are sharp in a way that doesn't quite cohere with the rest.
And on this colossal scale, we view the mouth with horror: no matter what sweet little chap it may belong to, it's a terrible jagged mess that you apprehend with the kind of disgust that Gulliver observed in his encounters with the giants of Brobingnag. Photorealism at this scale is tense and apprehensive: the artist looks for detail rather than form or structure in an attempt to caulk up the gaps in perceptual awareness. The drips are Hood's way out: she relies on these chaotic elements to turn her illustrations into contemporary art. Standing before her wraithlike, equivocal pictures, you have to decide whether or not to give her the benefit of the drip. email@example.com http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/11/16/1100574459661.html?from=storyrhs#
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