Rona Green: Bendigo Art Gallery

Rona Green, Submission Magician, 2014, hand-coloured linocut, 56 x 76 cm
Below right:
Rona Green, Shitehawk vs Dirck ‘Foo-Foo’ De Cock, 2015, hand-coloured linocut, 72 x 108 cm
Rona Green, McGoohan, 2015, hand-coloured linocut, 51 x 66 cm
Bottom right: Rona Green at work.

Curator Jessica Bridgfoot discusses Rona Green’s new exhibition Champagne taste and lemonade pockets at Bendigo Art Gallery.

Imprint: What was the history behind mounting this exhibition, and how was Green’s work significant for the Bendigo Art Gallery?

Jessica Bridgfoot: Rona studied printmaking at La Trobe University here in Bendigo and graduated in 1995. During and since that time Rona has remained very active and visible in the Bendigo arts scene – exhibiting regularly at what is now the La Trobe Art Institute – which is directly across the road.  Rona’s work is so distinctive and the characters she has cultivated in her practice have become almost local heroes here. Of course, we felt it fitting that Green’s menagerie of dogs, rabbits, cats and birds come to Bendigo Art Gallery to ‘roost’ in what is a survey exhibition of the last decade of her printmaking practice.

Imprint: Green works a lot with ideas about identity – can you discuss the background to this and how it manifests in some of the works in the exhibition?

JB: Green’s ‘para human’ characters are absolutely unique but there is also a subtle unnerving familiarity about them which creates not only an interesting tension in the works but a kind of entry point for the audience. There are a number of devices Green uses to construct and disrupt notions of identity: the use of tattoos, clothing and body language all play on our embedded collective psyche and the way we ‘categorise’ the world. For example, Green’s work  Submission Magician is firstly a kind of brazen Aussie bloke, decorated in tattoos that suggest nationalist pride (the Southern Cross, Eureka flag), he has the head of a dalmatian and the body of young, lean man. His stance suggests that of an aggressor – maybe on the cusp of a confrontational head-butt – or perhaps he is taking a selfie, baring his allegiances to the world. We recognise Submission Magician as we have seen him somewhere before – he’s a family member, a neighbour, or the angry bloke pacing up and down the supermarket carpark, but somewhere beyond this artifice (in his soulful, puppy-dog eyes) there is also a vulnerability. In this way, Green’s work highlights our (predominantly Western) ascribed value systems and the dichotomies of identity – a serious subject delivered in the form of a playful punch.

Imprint: What were some of the elements of Green’s work you wanted to draw out and play with in the show?

JB: I wanted to convey the feeling that the characters in the works are active and very much alive and tried to reflect this in the hang, to play with notions of the gaze, the works aren’t passive – their eyes follow you around the room! The compositions or framing of Green’s subjects is a key device used cleverly by the artist. Green claims to frame her characters at portrait or ‘mirror’ height (i.e. from the waist up) to allow the audience a moment of self-reflection and in this sense the idea of the subject’s gaze (who is gazing at whom?) can be quite provoking. Many of Green’s characters are rather unnerving. Being confronted by a whole room of them can be a slightly surreal experience – as if the lights go out and they all get together to play midnight poker in the gallery.

Imprint: Are Green’s working methods, from a technical perspective, strongly influential on her compositions and aesthetic distinctiveness?

JB: Since her art student days Green has maintained a distinct aesthetic – notably the graphic use of bold black line. This kind of visual style was possibly shaped by her early use of linocut that lends itself to line-based work. Interestingly there are parallels between the way Green works as a printmaker and the way a tattoo artists works on the skin. Green prints in black ink on paper and then painstakingly hand-colours her work using watercolour and pigment inks – much the way a tattoo artist colours in between the outline of his/her design. This exhibition is a survey of the last ten years of Green’s printmaking practice, and while there are subtle nuances within her technique, the bold, vibrant, graphic language remains strong and I think that sense of conviction and cohesion in her technical process is one of the strengths of her work – that it is the language of Rona Green.

– Andrew Stephens

Champagne taste and lemonade pockets is at Bendigo Art Gallery  24 June-3 September