Tracey Moffatt: “Spirit Landscapes”

by Alex R. Travers

Installation_3lr_smallFor Tracey Moffatt, photography and film have always been about storytelling. The Australian artist, who plays with several different printing processes, excels at creating disconcerting, voyeuristic moods. Take, for instance, her “Plantation” series, which features a narrative of a man lurking around a house—images that are both hauntingly engaging and morally ambiguous. In fact, her portrayals of mystery and desire expertly add up to scenes that Hitchcock himself would approve of. Now, with “Sprint Landscapes,” a new five-series exhibition at Tyler Rollins Fine Art, Moffatt goes on to prove her sensibilities with raw and personal associations.

Opening the exhibit is “Suburban Landscapes,” a series of images that transports you back to the artist’s childhood. Here, Moffatt amplifies images of desolate locations with colorful declarations: “STOLE A MARS BAR.” “TOSSED FLOWER PETALS.” Her statements give the settings life and meaning. They also add an element of innocence: The color choices—reds, mauves, yellows, oranges, and blues—and stenciling appear to be the work of a child.

Up next is “Picturesque Cherbourg,” a series that appears, on the surface, to be quite idyllic. It could have been a visual match to the opening scene of David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet; the images include bright flowers, white picket fences, and blue skies. But what spirits rest beneath these peaceful-looking works? After all, Cherbourg was a settlement where Moffatt’s family was forced to live. If you look at the pictures closely, a fractured collage forms behind the frame’s glass. The wove paper the images are printed on is ripped and layered, then pieced back together to form a deconstructive whole. Even at second glance, the series is certainly not a deadpan manifestation of Aboriginal suffrage. But the artist points out that this body of work can also be read as a universal meditation. “The old people don’t want to talk about it,” says Moffatt, referring to members of her own family. You can only be enchanted by her rather subtle gestures.

Another series in “Spirit Landscapes,” “Pioneer Dreaming,” features small-scale diptychs of 1950s Hollywood actresses gazing out onto open lands. The gallery cites Albert Namatjira’s watercolors of Australian landscapes as the inspiration, but those earthy grays, reds, and, yellows also bear a striking resemblance to the colors of the Australian Aboriginal Flag. With these diptychs, Moffatt places the well-known ingénues in the right frames and the wide-open prairies in the left ones. The physical gap between the frames, while small, is a nice touch, creating an even larger distance between the actresses and the lands they seem to value visually. In one diptych, it’s Jean Simmons from William Wyler’s The Big Country gazing gleefully at a sprawling Western-like landscape; in another, it’s Liz Taylor from George Stevens’ film Giant. While their viewing may be passive, ours is certainly active.

Moffatt admits to crafting her work with a director’s eye. And though it’s not the first time she’s attempted to bring a personal, cinematic quality to her art, “Spirit Landscapes” is a brutally honest journey through the artist’s past, present, and future.

Tracey Moffatt: “Spirit Landscapes”
October 24 – December 21, 2013
Tyler Robbins Fine Art
529 W 29th Street, 10W