Tag Archives: rococo

Sweet Fragonard

What is it to have taste? Most people can taste, in that they are aware of the sense, but that is not the same as having taste. The cultivation of taste is a way that society uses up the excess and there was nothing as excessive as the Rococo, except the contemporary industrialised world.

In his exhibition, “The Fragonard Room” at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Stieg Persson comments on excess. There is the excess of the Rococo, with its over the top images and execution. The excess of tagging, the over the top calligraphic curves of tagging letter forms that are carefully copied in gold paint by Persson from stuff on the streets of south-east Melbourne. The excess of food, the over the top coffee culture or the current fad for multi-coloured macaroons. The animals as a symbol of excess; eating like a pig or goat, breeding like rabbits, more monkeys and long haired lapdogs. The empty oyster shells, except for one with a pearl. Yet amid all of this excess there is great restraint in Persson’s art.

For me a key image is a small painting of Prada silk ribbons with the Prada tag, a symbol of luxury, woven into them and the beautiful curves of the ribbons like a cloud, an ephemeral thing of beauty. I have seen Persson’s paintings for years but they have been one or two paintings in large group exhibitions, as in Melbourne Now, and I haven’t really got them. Seeing this solo exhibition with the alternating hanging of sub-themes at Anna Schwartz Gallery it all became clear.

Where is Persson in all this appropriation? The style and taste portrayed in his paintings from the cool modern abstract play with paint, to the fiddly bits of Rocco style painting to the brushstrokes of the tags are all from somewhere else. The hand of the artist in the drawings is obscured by more tags. What is left of Persson is the flickering taste of the consumer of food and images.

Take a virtual tour of the Frick Institute’s Fragonard Room. Speaking from my synesthesia, Fragonard’s art is so sweet that it is like spun sugar that is gone almost after it touches your tongue. The current fashion for cooking and foodie culture is about the cultivation of ephemeral tastes.


Explosion in a Rococo Allusion

Lisa Young’s vision is of the baroque/rococo world exploding, like the painting of unstable architectural fantasies by Monsù Desiderio (1593-c.1644). There is a hyper-rococo exuberance about her lines; they look like the doodles that have suddenly become masterpieces. At a distance the image doesn’t make any sense, just a dynamic movement of lines and close up you are consumed by the details. The fantastically detailed lines are like the overblown apocalyptic detail of comic book explosions, except that Young knows when not to draw everything. In Young’s images the detail is more evocative than illustrative. Amid all the wonderful intense lines it is the absence of detail that makes these images, the parts that have been left out. It is like reflections in rippling water at the point of disintegration.

Sarah Scout presents Lisa Young “Big World”, a small exhibition of digital prints. Sarah Scout is an upstairs gallery on Crossley Street (in the same building that in the 1850s the landscape painter, Eugene von Guerard, lived and worked). Lisa Young started her art career in Adelaide but is now based in Melbourne.

Young created the digital prints by combining traced images of so much baroque and rococo (or late-baroque) ornamental detail. The digital prints have been hand colored – the hand coloring is kind of minimal, again just fragments, the white on white paper, or small patches of pale color.

The Rococo is an ornate grotto decorated with shells (and “Grotto” is a title of the one of Young’s images). Another one of Young’s titles refers to the French Rococo painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard.

Transformation is at the heart of the baroque vision, it is a world that is unsettled and in motion – a world not unlike our own. It is vision of over the top splendor and amplified emotions. If I wanted to expand to write about other baroque influences in current art exhibitions I wouldn’t have to look any further than the Bill Henson exhibition at Tolarno Gallery. Henson’s neo-baroque vision is more somber than Young’s rococo exhuberence but the feeling of unsettling mysterious change is the same. Henson captures this in the look in the eyes of the woman turn away from Rembrandt’s painting “The return of the Prodigal Son”; and in another photograph with Rembrandt’s “Danaë” floating like a nimbus above the people in the museum and again the face of a woman looking away. Henson’s photographs are less ornamental and decorative than Lisa Young’s digital prints but the awareness and mystery of transformative experience haunts them with neo-baroque sensibilities.


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