23 July 2011


Canberra based artist Waratah Lahy creates works that parody human nature and cultural obsessions. In her last exhibition at the Gallery, entitled ‘Look’, Lahy presented scenes of people viewing artworks or taking photographs, but removed the object of their gaze. This interesting case of the observer becoming the observed reveals a humour in the way people interact with objects that they consider worthy of their attention, or even a photograph. Lahy explains “I am particularly interested in moments where a physical change is wrought through the mediated gaze of the camera, especially when people let their cameras capture an experience for them and their bodies twist and contort to capture the perfect shot.” In her work ‘Looking at a Work of Art II’ the fascination and bodily contortion that Lahy describes is present and reveals the hilarity in this obsession with capturing a moment. Also, in her work ‘Looking at the Mona Lisa II’, Lahy’s humorous approach to her subject matter is apparent as the image is a crowded group of heads, which is the view of the Mona Lisa that most people experience. The majority of these works were painted onto perspex, which is set forward from the wall, causing a shadow to appear that gives a physical depth to the work.

Lahy managed to fuse the iconic and the ironic with a collection of works featuring scenes of typical Australian culture. Caravans, road signs, ‘blokes’ and attractions are all given a new life on a small scale. In this series Lahy painted each image directly onto or inside glasses of varying shapes and sizes, utilising the convex nature of each glass to either insinuate distance or make the images seem as if they are jumping from their surface. The work ‘Big Mango’ is a perfect example of her technique and subject matter coming together to question stereotypes in a humorous way. Not only is Australia’s obsession with ‘Big’ tourist attractions characterised, but the clever use of both opposite sides of the glass’s surface means the Mango is small in size due to the sculpture’s physical dimensions, and even smaller as it is depicted as the backdrop to a holidaying woman. The big becomes small and the small becomes tiny revealing the power of the miniature, even when exploring subject matter of a huge scale.

Waratah Lahy, 'River Camp' 2007, oil on glass - 2 pieces

Extending beyond clear surfaces are Lahy’s drawings on brown craft paper, which manage to capture similar themes with a different effect, whilst still maintaining simplicity of form. As opposed to the figure either jumping forward from or receding into the circular glasses, or leaping from the shadowed perspex, these drawings cause the eye to fall down the page as if the drawing will drop out of the paper. This has been achieved through her sole use of vertical lines to create the image. Even though Lahy is using a more conventional medium that does not have the aspect of translucency to create movement and distance, these works do succeed in tricking the eye through technique. These drawings were also featured in her exhibition ‘Look’ and similarly characterise and focus on the viewer.

Top image: Waratah Lahy, 'Beer Bloke' 2006, oil on beer can on board, 21 x 8 x 1cm

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