7 June 2015

Amber Wallis and Ari Athans at Edwina Corlette Gallery

Words: Saskia Edwards
Images: Jonathan Rae

The uncanny was a concept first characterised by Sigmund Freud in his essay Das Unheimliche. It’s that feeling when something looks simultaneously distinctly familiar and distinctly unfamiliar. It’s probably how you felt when you watched The Polar Express or saw a RealDoll or maybe that time you went to Madame Tussauds.

Within Amber Wallis’ work the uncanny takes on a different shape. In her paintings you catch glimpses of recognisable forms - a cactus, palm trees, clouds. But at the same time they look totally alien; like the landscapes have been melted, contorted and warped.

“A lot of people can read what they want into it and they might see objects or land or sex or what have you,” says Amber.

“And I think that’s an interesting place because it’s kind of neither here nor there. So then it’s not super obvious.

“I find straight portraiture or straight landscape, I just get a bit bored of it. If I’m painting myself, it’s something that gets a bit stuck for me.

“So I do like that space where things are a little bit confusing.”

Amber’s works tread the precarious line of representation and abstraction. Forms often fall off the precipice of reality into a more visceral interpretation of the objects or landscapes. It’s also a method of Australian artist Ken Whisson.

“I just love the way he composes his imagery and especially his earlier works.

“There’s just something, that line between abstraction and representation, and once you’re going down that path it does become about the painting and the formal qualities of it and I just think he nailed it, I just think he’s an amazing painter.”

Inherent in Amber’s works is her emotional state. Her mother died a few years ago and that grief has been laced through her process.

“Well you go through big heavy grief stuff you get very aware of the preciousness of life, the fragility of it.

“I think thematically, I was thinking of my mum and a lot of the objects she used to have around the house.

“She used to be a ceramics artist and in the back of my mind, I was sort of thinking of that stuff.

“I don’t think it shows in the work that much, but I know that it’s been created in that space.”

In validation of her talent, Amber was awarded the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship.

“It meant that I have continued to have an art career one way or another.

“It really changed my life, enabled me to travel and be funded while I travel and make art for the first time in a full-time capacity for a certain amount of time.”

Now Amber is preparing for the Sydney Contemporary in September. But for now you can see her exhibition at Edwina Corlette Gallery. And really, you can see whatever you want in the uncanny. 

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