Sunday, October 11, 2009
Roberta Thornley: Idle
Tim Melville Gallery
15 September – 10 October 2009
Roberta Thornley is a recent Elam photography graduate who has been attracting attention because of her skills in manipulating tonal and chromatic contrast. This is her second exhibition, and her eight medium sized photographs catch your eye because their distinctively glowing colour appears to be radiating from deep within the commonplace objects she uses as props - not reflected on their surfaces and originating from outside. The backgrounds are dark and murky so these ghostly but mundane items seem illuminated by their own internal electrical currents – like fish with light-emitting lures dwelling in the cavernous depths of the ocean.
This sense of light that is within makes her use of illumination very different from say Bill Henson and his spot-lighting of skin. She creates something almost supernatural, like Aberhart and Cauchi in its symmetrical composition. Like them her images have a suggestion of animism where inanimate objects acquire souls
Occasionally Thornley gets too close to the theatrical chroma of Brian Brake where a certain sweetness and ordinariness of hue creeps in. Her best work is without figures, narrative or melodrama, celebrating the artificial and non-human where ‘spirit’ now dwells. Judging from her earlier show it seems initially inspired by Boyd Webb’s surrealism and also X-Files.
These photos are rich in unexpected associations: a swimming pool turns into a horizontal neon rectangle hovering above the ground; two stacks of translucent chairs are like an incongruous couple, bending away from each other and about to topple over; partially inflated balloons that are clustered together in a group like fruit, seem to be wrinkled jellyfish or suspended testicles.
The best images are hauntingly simple in the way ordinary objects are transformed into something slightly spooky. Their beauty beguiles but also makes you a pinch nervous. Ominous but very understated.