Out on a Limb 

Bathurst Regional Gallery 2004




Sally Clarke: Out on a Limb

Sally Clarke recently moved from Sydney to the Blue Mountains and the works in Out on a Limb in many ways reflect her changed environment.

Clarke uses found bush materials combined with plasticines and other manufactured substances to create works such as Inside Out and Dismemberments. Organic material like decaying tree trunks crawl with bright pink maggot-like creatures.  Moments of deep cultural anxiety - death and subsequent rotting flesh - come to the surface in these works with pink plasticine.  The humour in combinations like these is not so much black, but pink.

Over lunch recently Clarke talked about her interest in commenting on the conservatism of some canonical art.  A number of the 'Dismemberments' series refer to well known paintings.  Dismemberments: Remembering Manet references Edouard Manet's famous painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1892).  In Manet's work the canvas is crowded - a barmaid at a bar with champagne, beer, creme de menthe, flowers and fruit.  Behind her is a large gilt framed mirror which reflects the spectators in the smoke-filled room.  In the top left hand corner, barely noticed, are the cut off legs and green boots of the trapeze artist. In Clarke's painting the canvas is stark - the gaze is directed to the top left hand corner where one finds not only the green boots but dripping pink amputated tree limbs.

In The Body in Pieces (1994) Linda Nochlin suggests that in Manet's paintings the fragment works at a number of levels - total contingency ('Mallarme's "view I would see if I framed my eyes with my hand at any given moment"); total determination (the image cropped through 'the artist's will and aesthetic decision') and, in the case of the cut off legs, the fetish.

Clarke's art also works at a number of levels - deconstructing the apparently random nature of focus; revealing aesthetics and will as gendered and subjective, and disabling the fetishism of suggestion by confronting the gaze with abjection.

The view from out on a limb can be very new ...

Dr Melissa Boyde, 2004


Image: Sally Clarke, Dismemberments: Remembering Manet, 2004, acrylic paint on canvas, 23 x 28 cm.  Image credit: Mixed Media Photographic Studios

Text copyright: Sally Clarke and the author