Deceased, since demolished bungalow of Campbell, by Thea Katauskas. Photo: Thea Katauskas The late, demolished house at Faunce Crescent, by Thea Katauskas. Photo: Thea Katauskas
Yes, the new exhibition of paintings by Thea Katauskas is going to be full of bright, sunny colours, but the 21 portraits of distinctively Canberraesque homes will figuratively have a little dark cloud dangling above it.
That’s because the houses she chooses to portray, with their olde Canberra uniqueness, are now very vulnerable to demolition and to replacement with modern homes in a more mansionesque mode. She knows of at least two houses portrayed in her 2014 show Lawnscapes – Portraits of Canberran Houses, (much raved about in this column and very popular with Canberrans, with all 30 of the portraits being snapped up) that have since disappeared. In their place she now sees “brand new, large, modern architectural residences” that alter the scapes of the streets they stand in.
After the heritage tug-of-love-and-hate over the Northbourne Flats, one wonders why the sad menace to and loss of characterful old Canberra homes is not exciting those who love this city.
One of the lost, deceased houses of Lawnscapes, (poignantly pictured here on our page) once graced Faunce Crescent, in O’Connor.
And of the houses portrayed in her looming new exhibition Red Brick – Glimpses of Perfect Suburbia, she knows of at least one that has been demolished since it sat for its portrait. It is (pictured here) the house captured in her Rebuild, Campbell.
She knows of at least one other portrayed in the new exhibition, a house nestling in Turner, that today is sporting an ominous For Sale notice. She finds this ominous because the modest little residence is, like so many of her cottage subjects, in a highly desirable inner-Canberra bailiwick where dashing buyers/developers are bound to want to install something more contemporary and swaggering.
The artist tells us that it never occurred to her at the time she was painting all the many homes eventually displayed in Lawnscapes that she was painting modernity-menaced homes whose days might be numbered. That realisation has since set in. She says it “makes the whole process [of painting these portraits while the houses are still with us] a little bit urgent”.
That “process”, as she’s explained to us, is to paint houses that strike her as particularly Canberran.
She arrived back in Canberra in our centenary year (2013) after 17 years elsewhere and found, she says, everyone celebrating Canberra and looking at what makes Canberra Canberran. She wanted, as an artist, to join in celebrating the city’s uniqueness.
And so she decided to paint houses that struck her as being uniquely Canberran (and bathed in Canberra’s pure, clear light), because they reflected the Griffin idea of houses on large blocks, with lots of space and with an older style of architecture.
Living in inner-North Canberra, she was especially taken by old houses of Lyneham, O’Connor, Turner, Braddon and Ainslie, spotted on her travels by horseless carriage and bicycle.
This columnist was given, in 2014, a sneak preview of the exhibition on the day that the artist was arranging the exquisite little paintings (the Red Brick paintings are chunkier) on gallery walls. Seen all together the 30 made a very touching, Canberran impression. One thing that leapt out then (as it will from Red Brick and as it does from this column’s two portraits) was the picture-perfect orderliness of the homes and inhibited, disciplined gardens. No house had an unkempt, bush-like native garden. They weren’t invented until the1970s, long after the homes and gardens she’s portrayed had been set in their quaint, immaculate old ways.
These premises all have for her “an aesthetic of neatness”.
She sees very controlled and ordered gardens that exemplify the idea of Canberra as a clean and planned city, a perfect city with everything in its place. The houses resonate with that idea of ordered space and controlled nature.
In the Lawnscapes paintings and now in the Red Brick series there is an eerie (but realistic) absence of people. No one is ever at home. In the whole of the Lawnscapes series there were few signs other than the immaculateness that the homes were even inhabited. We liked this about Lawnscapes and like it about Red Brick. Intended or not it gives the deceptively simple-looking paintings an air of shy menace, like the scarily immaculate neighbourhoods in the feature film Edward Scissorhands. In Lawnscapes, one driveway was furnished with a wheelie bin but other than that the houses might have been in suburbs from which all people had just been abducted by aliens.
This absence of people from her paintings is deliberate. For her, after living in teeming places, Canberra feels emptyish and spacious and the suburbs can have an unpeopled nature.
She admires the houses and gardens she is portraying. When I asked her, of Lawnscapes, if she was making fun of these houses she was startled by the very idea. She was quick to say that, no, her paintings are “celebrating” them. She feels she is making snapshots of houses and gardens that are evidence of an older, previous Canberra. She’s full of admiration for the householders, for the pride they’ve taken and the efforts they’ve made to present the public face of their houses to the street.
Red Brick – Glimpses of Perfect Suburbia will open on Thursday, October 29 at M16 Artspace in Griffith, ACT.
Details at m16artspace江苏夜网江苏论坛/coming-soon/