Artists love to pull the carpet out from under our eyes, so to speak. In Perth at present are a number of shows which aim to remind us that what we see is not always the whole picture.

Gillian Warden’s Mystery Tour at Gallery East in North Fremantle takes the viewer back to the naive wonder that is seeing when you’re a child. Full of creatures with beautifully articulated expressions, Warden’s paintings express a desire to reacquaint the mind with the fantastic capacity for imaginary vision that we tend to lose somewhere beyond childhood.

Her big, four-panel work which lends its name to the title of the show dominates the wall as you enter. A small boy drives a carnival train and each carriage contains one of his imaginary animal playmates. The pink and polka-dotted kangaroo in the second-last carriage seems to have done something wrong – it points to itself incredulously as if implicated by the other passengers.

The expression on the face of the small monkey in the last carriage has been caught beautifully. It is the expression of a small child who is next to the one being told off, looking down, half hiding, not wanting to be castigated as well, while sneaking a curious look at the events.

In this work, as with the majority of Warden’s paintings, the paint is expressively used through a combination of techniques, sometimes illustrational, sometimes completely washed and rubbed back. This pushing of her paint techniques across the canvas adds to the tension and indeed melancholy that accompanies the images. Although the big canvases dominate the show, it is the small board panels that best capture Warden’s dark wit.

In one panel, a goat-like figure appears with its bags and trench coat, arriving unannounced in our dreams. In another, a pink bunny lies in the green grass, arm decapitated and replaced by a synthetic limb. Broody and with the heart of the French carnival, Warden captures the dark innocence of imagined viewing that haunts the edge of the adult mind.

Mystery Tour,
Gallery East Western Australia


Terrorists have struck again, so what one should do to let them know in a little way that their effect is minimal and to live one’s life as normally as possible. Well off I went on Gillian Warden’s Mystery Tour with her paintings at Gallery East and a good time seemed to be had by all no matter what belief, lifestyle, race or religion they belonged too.
But that’s the nature of art, to breed/promote tolerance into a community, it is one of the great benefits that rarely gets accredited to artists and they seem to be always under attack by moral crusaders (As a former Professor of mine pointed out: did Jesus ever say in the Bible that he was shocked or surprised, I think he said “I forgive you”), who think they have a right to be offended by this ongoing expansive tolerance artists desire to create, always pushing the paradigm of how one might want to look like, paint, perform and photograph within a community. Some of my friends have really felt the brunt of these moral crusaders, along with the tedium of their arguments. This kind of quasi ethical censor who seem to always desire damaging mission creep when seeking out a victim, must be confronted and challenged everytime they raise there gormless moral arguements with a civil dialogue. So here I am now on painterly Mystery Tour.
Warden’s description of her desires with paint “I am on paint’s wonderful Mystery Tour discovering painting, describing paint” are interesting because more recently in a post on the Artwall about Cézanne’s, who desribed his uncertainty as a painter as he progressed towards the end of his life. Here Warden reveals that it is pleasure to find the kind of insecurity in painting and turns it into excitement, this really is a positive attitude in painting. Warden’s most successful artworks on show are the smaller works, like Trolley Cats, Nemesis, and Dog Boys. The smaller works in this exhibition are really good they are a pleasure to engage as paintings, no matter what the subject matter may be, that’s the seduction of good painting. Like most painters though they struggle to execute the same sensibility in painting on large scale works in terms of hue contrast and tactility of oil trace applications, in a way that is visually unifying. Large scale paintings are exceedingly hard to do (Goya is an example of a painter who can do it well), the masters struggled and a number of artists are best not to attempt such painterly issues, it’s just not them, experimenting for experiments sake, without consolidating the realisations gleaned from prior painting may not be the best option for any painter to take. But if there is a serious bona fide reason for execution of large scale painting by all means have a go. In saying this I am not relating it specifically to Warden’s exhibits, its just that her work Mystery Tour reminded me of this omni present struggle painters take on when they need not to, she may have had her reasons (maybe she should examine Japanese screens to see how they executed such imagery).
In the painting Jackbird she handles paint exqusitely in some areas, particularly the heart shaped multi-coloured buttoned material on the bird’s breast is sensational painting, but just to the right of the bird, there is a red box and on the top edge leaning against the wall the oil traces seem to rupture the unity of the painting ever so slightly, but it’s these little forensic issues in painting that Rubens, Vermeer and Rembrandt did not let go of they hunted the sensations down visually and executed them in paint until they got it in sync with the complete memory, whether they be fantasy painting or portraits.
There are several other paintings in this exhibit that are very worthy of scrutiny.
Dog Boys it is one of the most unified painterly images in the show and there are many good ones. Dog Boys as a painting leaves one wondering about the curiously developing system in painting the artist uses, especially that she has stated the abandonment of brushes has occurred mostly during these works, which is a strange statement. But how one develops memory (vision) in painting is never static it’s like dropping mercury onto the palette and seeing it spread in every direction, it’s never going to go the same place twice. A problem can arise for the artist in that the enjoyment of manipulating paint, coupled with the thematic intentions of the image which may seem to become a secondary issues or in Warden’s case just maybe the narrative in figuration is just a vehicle to the joys of painting for this artist who is extraordinarily passionate about it. But both fantasy and painterly manipulation can work as evidenced in the artworks of Richard Dadd and I certainly look forward to her next show to see what happens, this is a really good show and well worth taking time to enjoy the imagery. posted by art-refugee at 7:22 AM



Welcome to a world of unique creatures that set the mind to dreaming, and colourful paintings that bring joy to the heart. It’s always rewarding to find an artist who enjoys working with paint, pushing the medium through its range of possibilities from subtle innuendo to knock-out power. And when this exploration is underpinned by sure graphic ability, as seen in these exhibits, it’s an added bonus.

Gillian Warden admits she loves to play with ‘living, breathing paint’. And she plays with her imagery too as these exhibits take us through the looking glass and introduce us to a collection of real and hybrid animals in a kaleidoscope of colour. Here we meet William Pointbeing, a philosophical looking human/rabbit in a golden feathery coat, who points a long delicate finger upward to accentuate a specific fact in a discussion. Then there’s Marcus, a ‘travelling salesman’ wearing a trench coat knotted at the waist and carrying two heavy sample cases in his hands. The only odd aspect of Marcus is that he has an antelope’s head.

Warden’s collection of characters charm the viewer with their reference to human traits. There’s Sweeney, a gaily coloured mouse-like creature who appears rather shy and Emerald a dear little deer with a heart shaped spot. Timid or bold, they invite us to come up close, to look past the picture and examine the painting’s surface. That’s when we discover the true wonder of Warden’s art as we fall into the luscious paint. Layers of hue are rubbed, splashed, flicked or scrapped onto canvas or board. During this process, the medium is respected and allowed to do what it does best ~ glow.

We can understand how the artist’s imagination is set free by this exploration of medium when viewing the excellent diptych Wonderbeast. Here a tailless horse, with flowing striped horns, gallops though a fantastical landscape composed of multiple hues, interesting marks and suggested shapes. Then there’s Something beginning with … a dreamy image that seems to reflect the artist’s own approach to her work. This painting celebrates both the human imagination and the act of painting, as a woman/rabbit lays on her back in a sun washed meadow surrounded by the texture and colour of her own thoughts.

This is a fantastic exhibition of fine paintings that will remain in the mind’s eye, long after leaving the gallery. The artist admits she on on a “wonderful mystery tour discovering paint, describing paint” and we’re all invited to join her. Get to the gallery, take the tour, it’s a beautiful visual adventure.