The Kingdom Retrospective
1998 - 2018
The Kingdom Retrospective presents a collection of drawings and linocut prints spanning the last twenty years, selected from the body of work that Phyllis created in response to time spent in Saudi Arabia. This show explores the connection between identity, culture and place. Each piece describes the artist's relationship to these ideas as it has evolved from early experiences, defined by the foreign and unfamiliar, to developing a personal connection with a previously strange place. Old and new work are presented together, exploring an evolution in discovery and attachment experienced over twenty years of navigating life in Saudi Arabia and responding through art-making.
The earliest of these prints were made while living in Saudi Arabia, many of which are based on drawings done after Phyllis first moved there. Her sketchbook, also featured in the exhibition, reveals the focus of this era of work as an exploration of the veiled woman. This focus acts as a representation of the artist's desire to navigate her place as a woman within a new, foreign and sometimes restrictive culture. As the unfamiliar becomes familiar, her writings, drawings and prints begin to describe more intimate and personal observations of a society once little known to her, and still enigmatic to many. The narratives presented in these works centre on the internal lives of women, the domestic spaces and public places they navigate.
Phyllis' recent work builds on these themes from a point of reflection. She continues to experiment on the intersection of different printmaking techniques and interpretation of Islamic and Bedouin artistic traditions that have influenced her practice. Living permanently in Australia, Phyllis is now removed from first-hand observation and must rely on memory and sketches. Now the narrative and movement characteristic of earlier work is absent. The stillness and dream-like hues of her latest prints hint at contemplation, they seem to respond to the idea of physical absence from a place that became a home, and the artefacts and objects that embody this memory and nostalgia.
Visual artist (and daughter), Hobart
Phyllis was brought up quite traditionally by her newly migrated Greek parents. They, like a lot of migrant parents, worried about their children losing their heritage. Phyllis's early work documents this time and their lives. These prints suggest that Phyllis is negotiating Australian culture from an outsider's perspective.
This upbringing may have helped her integrate into Saudi Arabian culture and her experience of Saudi becomes a new source of inspiration. This show depicts Phyllis's integration and adoption of Islamic culture. Her technically proficient prints are dominated by patterns and vibrant colours using a reduction technique. The patterns in the works evoke the geometric pattern making in Islamic art.
As printmakers we hide our marks behind the process of making prints. We use tools to cut the lino (in this case) and the whole image is printed on another piece of paper in reverse. This almost removes us from the process of making the piece. Printmaking, the use of patterns along with the multiple veils, reinforce this sense of distancing. The viewer's kept outside and Phyllis too, remains on the outside.
Phyllis eventually becomes a part of the culture, soon embracing and passionately defending it. Now Phyllis is back home and she's left lovingly depicting the relics she brought back from Saudi Arabia.
In this show there's a sense that there's a lot going on here that we haven't been invited in to see. We're left wanting to know what's beneath the surface.