Cover image of the review
Installation view of Anne Wallace, *Strange Ways*, 2020. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

Anne Wallace: Strange Ways

1 Aug 2020
Art Gallery of Ballarat 1 Jul - 20 Sep 2020

Over the decades, progressive politics has believed in continuing social improvement and change without end. Its neglect of the human need for belonging … has created a bourgeois left that is deracinated … (and) poorly equipped to address the questions now confronting its own children about the nature of adulthood, and the meaning and purpose of life …
—Jonathan Rutherford, “How the decline of the working class made Labour a party of the bourgeois left”, New Statesman (2018).

And when you want to live, how do you start? Where do you go? Who do you need to know?
—The Smiths, “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side”, The Queen is Dead (1986).

Currently on display at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Strange Ways is a retrospective of Australian artist Anne Wallace’s three-decade painting practice curated by Vanessa Van Ooyen. Though incredibly diverse in style and subject matter, Wallace’s figurative paintings are united by a slick, advertisement-like aesthetic and preoccupation with post-war iconography. Wallace’s work was recognised early in her career. Many paintings exhibited in this retrospective are from the 1990s when the artist was in her 20s. Echoes of Giorgio de Chirico’s eerie architecture and elongated figures (which also bear similarities to Australian modernist Russell Drysdale’s work) populate these early paintings. These are also the most transparently embedded in adolescent anxiety, as epitomised by Exemplar (1993) which depicts three young women forming a neat half-circle around a towering matriarch. Each clutches behind her back an object of entertainment—a toy airplane, a slingshot and a bundle of books. In another painting of the same era, we see a similarly rigid representation of schoolyard discipline: Untitled (1993) shows a group of male figures, wiry with adolescence, pacing in a circle, heads bent toward open books. Though Wallace has refined her painting technique in the decades since these works were produced, an adolescent tone carries throughout her oeuvre, portentous because it is not entirely nostalgic or reflective. Rather, it conveys a sense of arrested development—a perpetual investment in the emotions, fantasies and cultural preoccupations of youth—that is increasingly ubiquitous today, spurred by a society in which the promises and expectations of traditional adult life are becoming less attainable.

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