Words by Elizabeth Gertsakis
Julia Ciccarone's received store of iconic images are intersections of 'Australian colonial landscape painting', superimposed with the patterns and shallow foregrounds of an ltalianate metaphysics, What is the result? Is she a mural painter reinventing a grand historical tradition, itself the the origin of landscape painting? The convergence of the Renaissance fresco, panel and predella with the ‘landscape' motif could never have determined that its inheritors would make 'landscape' a vexed property, overwritten by demanding concepts of nation and individual identity.
In this instance, Ciccarone quotes a fantastic tale from the seventeenth century as a via assurda, continuing an Australian miscellany of false and confused origins. Her source is the 1693 French publication by James Sadeur, a Frenchman, who, in keeping with the pulp fiction of his day, describes 'A New Discovery of Terra Inognita Australis or The Southern World ' with an inventory sufficient to feed the public taste for 'description(s) of the manners, customs, religion, laws, studies, and wars, of those southern people; and of some Animals peculiar to the place: with several other rarities,'Sadeur's strange southern anthropoids are variously violently terrifying or strangely nurturing, they are red and naked hermaphrodite, eight foot high with black hair and beards, who bring forth children as a sacred act and lay them on 'Balsamic leaves'. They call Europeans 'Sea Monsters', evolved from the copulation of a woman with a serpent, they leave this life by literally dancing to death, and are given by Sadeur the name, 'The Australians'.
If Ciccarone finds parallels for colonial political ironies in pre-colonial texts, she also reconfigures the lessens of modernist figurative painting with the tastes and preoccupations of her seventeenth century Italian, French and Flemish pictorial antecedants. As an artist in 1996 she can employ the formalist legacies of the contemporary to remark up on and voyerize the past, producing an irony that can mix the pictorial and illustration al residues of Kahlo, Hockney and 'A Boys Own Adventure Almanac', with those of Piero Di Cosirno, Luca Signorelli, Poussin, Giovanni Bellini, Bosch and jordaens. Why? Because in side-stepping English colonial history, textually and pictorially, the artist acknowledges other influential cultural histories, confirming the parallel existence of this place and its peoples (even if it was a pure invention by Sadeur) prior to, and outside, the limited and jealous imaginative historical memory of Australian academic bicentenary culture.
Ciccarone's own academy is consistent with her tale. In Sadeur's seventeenth century, fashionable mythological theme for painters were derived from account by Lucretius and Vitruvius of Man's origins and his relation to animal creation. Seventeenth century mannerism is to Leonardo da Vinci what postmodernism is to Cezanne except that in the present historical moment, there is a thesis and antithesis are not inclined to follow. Did they ever?
In Italian painter Piero di Cosimo's Discovery of honey and The battle of the Centars and Lapiths, 1500, strange and fanciful details were illustrated from tales of travelers, with their often exaggerated accounts of the lives of primitive peoples. Ciccarone’s painting The Urgs, with it’s monstrouse pink pterodactyl ridden by man, is very lose to Luca Signorelli’s flying scenes from the Last Judgement, 1502, fresco in Orvieto Cathedral. Ciccarone's illustrative coloring converges familiar images like the fabulously pastiched early special effects in films like Jason and the Argonauts with the reified shrillness of Jacopo Pontormo's Desposition, 1525, Poussin's Midas and Bacchus, 1625, Giovanni Bellini's mythical Feast of the Gods, 1514, and Hieronymus Bosch's Last Judgement (1).
'The Golden Age' and its romance with antiquity and aesopian bestiary slowly grew to become the most strongly rooted literary ideal of the seventeenth century. Ciccarone's The Southern World series relocates its icons; elements from Titian's Bacchus and Adriadne, 1522, and Jacob Jordean’s procession of animals (different ones) in Satyr at the Peasant’s House, 1620 (2), appear in a colonial landscape moving from left to right and from myth, allegory, and fantasy into the finality of self-portraiture. The figure of the woman, clearly a European and not a pink 'Australian', stands slightly apart; she releases into the air the prehistoric piscean bird. She, unlike her partner, is not a herrnaphrodite. In Sadeur's tale, those born of a single sex were strangled as monsters. She Obviously survived the fiction of being Australian.
1. For illutraions see Alistair Smart, The Renaissance and Mannerism in Italy, Thames and Hudson, London, 1971 pp 101, 162, 100, 201
2. Wolf-Dieter Dube, Pniakothec Munich, Hamlyn, London, 1968, 86, 155