From 9 September to 10 October 2016, Australian artist Joanna Lamb’s colourful artworks stood out against the white walls of the Sullivan+Strumpf gallery at Gillman Barracks. The Sydney based art gallery opened its Singapore branch in June of this year—the first Australian gallery to make a permanent presence in Southeast Asia.
A very specific use of colour is most prominent in Lamb’s art, but the subject matter—of domestic landscapes, architecture and interiors—is also representative of her obsessions. Some have interpreted her rendition of these sceneries, void of the human element, as a reflection of the ennui of suburban life. Yet, at the same time, there is a certain picturesque delight created by her clever blending of colours—pastels and richer shades such as corals, punchy tangerines, deep cobalts, aquamarines of shadows, creams, muted yellows and autumn browns—that is irresistible to the eye’s gaze and an alluring mood so distinct of quiet, monotonous, peaceful and languid afternoons in the ‘burbs. These images are familiar, yet foreign. Reality and dreams come together on these canvases. Cropped close-ups of objects of contemporary domestic life update the traditional still life image, bringing to mind pop art influences.
We speak with Joanna about her inspirations, musings and background. Playground will continue to feature artists and their works, as it believes that art is integral for the inspired mind, the inspired childhood, and adds to the melange of living and the home.
Hi Joanna, please share with us about your growing up years, your childhood and how, if it did, influence you into a creative career?
I grew up in a beachside suburb in Perth, Western Australia. Most of my memories of childhood seem to revolve around summer and activities that you would associate with summer months—swimming, sport, and riding a bike around the suburbs. There were several older members of my extended family who were artists—mainly painters—and I remember being drawn to them and being in awe of what they did. The theme of the suburban landscape still influences my work today and in some of it there is a sense of nostalgia, which I think stems from my idyllic childhood experiences.
You studied architecture for a year and then science before becoming an artist. How do these subjects influence your artwork, if they do, in any way?
I’ve always been excited and interested in architecture and there were more solid job prospects at the end of my study but my passion for painting and art won out. I studied science when I was thirty and just for a year. It was at a time when I was questioning the validity of what I was doing as an artist. I realised quickly enough that I was surrounded by people who had a passion for science that matched my passion for art and I should go back to doing what I had been doing. The experience revitalised me and pushed my work in a different direction. The science of colour and how it reacts on a physical as well as emotive level became more important in my work from this time on. I think my colour intelligence has developed over time and I am able to use it more thoughtfully now.
Disconnect, banality and the mundane in the urban/domestic life are the themes, or rather, the effect your work gives and how people interpret your work. Does the absence of people in your sceneries say something about your thoughts on the way people live now? How much of these themes resonate with you in reality and what is your own home/way of living like in the modern landscape like? Are you a parent?
I think the repetitive nature of every day living is the thing that I deal with a lot in my work. The disconnected, banal and mundane are intrinsic to the theme of repetition. The absence of people in my work is more about having a formalist approach to art making and not wanting to create an obvious narrative in the work. The themes of repetition and disconnect resonate very strongly with me in my life, which is why they are so prominent in my work. I don’t see this as a negative thing but something that just exists as a matter of fact. I hope this comes across in the work. I am a parent to two young children. Apart from the obvious joy they bring to me it does emphasise and increase the incidence of routine and repetition in my life.
Please elaborate on your techniques and also your use of colour in this Singapore exhibition.
I have used several different techniques or materials in this exhibition. The Planter pieces are fabricated using powder-coated acrylic and neon in combination with a wall painting, which distorts the size of the work to create more tension. There are painted paper collages of suburban houses, acrylic paintings on canvas and works made from Laminex, which is an Australian product used more traditionally as a surface treatment in domestic kitchens and bathrooms and in commercial fit-outs. A lot of the colour used in this exhibition is taken from available Laminex colour swatches. They have great names like ‘Juicy’, ‘Olympic Yellow’ and ‘Espresso’.
In your art, you have moved from urbanscapes to architecture, to interiors and now in this exhibition, to objects, or fragmented pieces of them. Can you elaborate on this progression?
Some of the work in this exhibition is a definite progression for me. The works in the ‘Abstract Still Life’ series combine wall painting as an integral part of the artwork. The works have already been reduced and abstracted further than I have gone before. The addition of the wall painting takes this investigation into abstraction deeper again.
(Continue this sentence) Play to me is:
Feeling free to do whatever you want to do, and it can only inspire feelings of joy. Every art practice needs an element of play.
Sullivan + Strumpf’s upcoming exhibition ‘Pygmalion’ by Alex Seton will be on from 27 October to 4 December.
+ images courtesy of Sullivan+Strumpf