Australian artist Joan Ross manipulates paintings created by someone else, adding her own touches of highlighter yellow and fluoro orange. Sometimes, she animates these paintings. As Ross does this she simultaneously references a bevy of themes. They include the following: our attempt to civilize nature, imperialism, consumerism, our throwaway culture, global warming, tagging, naming, and claiming. It’s a tall order to engage these all of these things, so Ross uses historical paintings as a starting place.
Specifically, she uses the paintings of Joseph Lycett. He was an Australian painter producing work during the time that the British government colonized Australia (to use it to banish criminals, among other things), between 1788 and 1850. Taking his landscapes, lush and calming views of the ocean, Ross inserts loud, disruptive colors, graffiti, and symbols of invasion. A couple wearing hi vis yellow vests interrupts a group native residents. Other times, a similar couple vandalizes the natural environment. In many of Ross’ paintings and animations, subjects are destructive.
Lycett was a well-known painter, but ultimately found to be an impostor who forged his work. From a young age, this fact interested Ross, who mentions it in her artist statement. She writes:
As a child I was fascinated by the fact that the important colonial painter Joseph Lycett was a forger. In a sense I am continuing his tradition of taking something and forging something new out of it.
One of the reasons for Lycett’s fame lay in the fact he was one of the first to depicted the Aboriginal population engaged in traditional activities, and much of my work has on some level an element of the continuing dance of the races.
The mentality behind colonialism can manifest itself in many ways and the ongoing creep, nay, invasion of high vis yellow and fluoro orange are a modern-day example. I didn’t vote for these colours, yet they are everywhere!
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