Fiona McMonagle presents ‘Classy’

Bayside Gallery in Melbourne have closed their doors to the public for a second time due to the recurrence of Covid-19 social distancing and lockdown measures. In light of the disruptions the gallery continues the exhibition titled ‘Classy’ by Fiona McMonagle, online.

McMonagle is a Melbourne-based contemporary watercolour artist who rather than taking a traditional approach to working with the fluid and translucent nature of the medium has developed her own techniques and processes with it. “When I started working with watercolour, I kind of just made up my own rules. I encouraged things to go wrong, so I have to then find my way out of that situation,” shares McMonagle in her artist talk.

She extends her storytelling practice to include the innovations of the moving image with animated video works, and more recently has added oil paint to her artistic palette.

Fiona McMonagle, Holly, 2014, watercolour, ink and gouache on paper, 43 x 31.5cm. Private collection, Melbourne. Courtesy the artist and Bayside Gallery, Melbourne

‘Classy’ dishes up a major exhibition of works spanning a decade of McMonagle’s artistic practice and includes a series of new paintings. The collection explores female identity, the complex meanderings of self, suburban youth culture, class in Australian society, celebrity culture, and with a note of nostalgia the artist shares recollections of her family and friends.

Elegant, sophisticated and stylish are a few of the synonymous persuasions that immediately come to mind when we hear the word classy, but is it a feeling that radiates within us, does it lend itself to subjective and personal interpretation, or is it a pretentious concept reserved for the upper-classes?

Bayside Gallery Curator, Joanna Bosse suggests, “The term evokes notions of projected status and the subtle and not so subtle languages of self-expression that can both shield and reveal our true selves. The title also conveys a sense of ironic humour, for none of McMonagle’s subjects are chic or cultured but instead convey a somewhat hardened world-weary demeanour.”

Fiona McMonagle, Selfie, 2020, oil on canvas, 114.5 x 66.5cm. Courtesy the artist and Sophie Gannon Gallery, Melbourne

Throughout the exhibition we are drawn to the pose and gaze of McMonagle’s female subjects. Large-scale portraits reveal both the strong and vulnerable characteristics of self, capture outward cosmetic expressions of identity, and trace the chameleon-like transformations that occur between childhood and womanhood. Six new oil paintings portray impulses of self-representation by young women of the internet generation and a society that is overtly concerned with image.

McMonagle’s animation video The park at the end of my road (2016), which was commissioned for the 2016 Adelaide Biennial is a highlight of the exhibition. McMonagle worked on an extraordinary series of 1,000 individual paintings to create a magical suburban parkland experience.

The digitally enhanced exhibition program includes an artist talk, an artwork slideshow, a guided tour, a downloadable catalogue complete with exhibition essay by Bayside Gallery Curator, Joanna Bosse, and the above mentioned animation that once viewed audiences can partake in The Great Art Detective challenge. Explore it all here.