It is not often that art is able to express joy and optimism in ways that are emotionally powerful and yet uncomplicated by irony. For one who grew up in as difficult a situation as Pauline Moran, it is more surprising still that these qualities have remained true in her art as well as in her life. A child of one of the most difficult and troubling periods in Australia’s history, Moran has a completely disarming and singular approach to painting the story of her youth that sings clearly through her paintings of life at Roelands Mission.
Pauline Moran was born in Gnowangerup, Western Australia in 1959. Like many of her generation, as a child she was removed from her family. She was placed in the care of the Roelands Mission, near Collie. Despite the unfortunate circumstances of her coming to be there, Pauline describes fond memories of her time at the mission: it ‘was a dairy farm and was surrounded by seven hills. In wintertime the hills were beautiful and green with wild flowers everywhere. In the summer it was so dry that the grass would turn a beautiful yellow.’ Her works in this exhibition are reflections of these memories, representing a joyful re-envisioning of these times. The paintings are joyful and lively vignettes, representing the bonds and shared experience of the children who grew up together at Roelands, showing exuberant camaraderie in what must have nonetheless been challenging circumstances.
There is a memoiristic quality to Moran’s paintings – particularly to these new works, which expand beyond the boundaries of the Roelands mission to encompass the landscape nearby and further afield, including visits to Perth and to the seashore at Australind. Though on the surface they might seem to be naïve, the attention to detail, to memory and to lived experience in Moran’s painting suggest that her works are something more than simply sentimental or picturesque recollections. Rather, they present a unique record of life at a complex historical moment in Australian, seen through the eyes of a child, but with the insights of adulthood providing another more nuanced perspective.
The title of Pauline Moran’s new exhibition, Coming Back, kindles multiple meanings that emerge from her return to the scenes of her childhood. The title evokes her recent visits to Roelands Mission as an adult after many years away from the area. Equally, it suggests the process of recall that occurs in the memorial process of her painting; the coming back of impressions, sites and events of early memory. Finally, it might also suggest her return to Western Australia: after many years living in the Northern Territory, between Alice Springs and Darwin, Moran once again resides in Perth, close to the vital places of her childhood and Nyoongar heritage.
Landscape has been a sustaining force for Moran since her childhood: from her earliest works, she has been interested in different ways of seeing country. Although she paints landscape in an impressionistic figurative style, and although she was brought up in the Western artistic tradition, her work is imbued with a distinctly Indigenous reckoning of place. It is a way of seeing that was stimulated early in her career by her work as an artist at Jukurrpa art centre in Alice Springs, where she painted alongside many women working in the characteristic idiom of the Central Desert. These early works were ‘inspired by redness of the soil, the patterns in the sand dunes and the shapes of the majestic rock forms’. In Coming Back, Moran has revived her interest in landscape, but her painterly eye has now been refocused on the Southwest, and the place of seven hills that was her unexpected childhood home.
Pauline Moran began painting in the 1990s, after graduating in fine arts at Charles Darwin University. After completing her studies, she moved to Alice Springs where she embarked on a body of works exploring the desert landscape. Although they retained their figurative style, Moran drew much inspiration from the artists of the Central Desert, particularly from the women at Jukurrpa Artists, where she worked. Since 1997, Moran has exhibited throughout Australia, as well as in Japan and the United States. She has been a finalist in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, Togart Art Prize and the WA Indigenous Art Awards and her works are held in the WA Museum and the Berndt Museum of Anthropology at the University of Western Australia. Coming Back is her sixth solo exhibition.
Indigenart – Mossenson Galleries is proud to present this solo exhibition by Pauline Moran. Coming Back will be launched by the artist on Wednesday 18 August 2010, 6-8 pm at Mossenson Galleries Subiaco. For further information please contact Mossenson Galleries on (08) 9388 2899 or firstname.lastname@example.org.