The Drawers - Julie Oakes   Commentary written by Ashley Johnson

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Julie Oakes

Existentialism teaches that experience is always modified in the telling; consequently, we are surrounded by fiction. Australian Aborigines value “the dreaming” over a fixed sense of reality and enjoy a multi-layered perception in which identity and objecthood are flexible.

Julie Oakes’s exhibition “Conscientious Perversity” is a rich autobiographical narrative that is laden with metaphor. This is the last element in Oakes’s “Human Sacrifice” trilogy (comprising “The Quercia Stories,” “The Revolving Door” and “Conscientious Perversity”), which draws on libertine adventures and different ways of exploring sexuality as a woman. The main characters are the siblings Juliette and Justine Quercia, alter egos of the author borrowed from the Marquis de Sade. Juliette serves as a foil for the more libidinous Justine.

Although the works have titles corresponding to chapters in a book by Oakes, they are not strictly illustrative. Indeed, the writing often seems painterly, with expressive metaphors piled up like vehicles in a traffic jam. The artwork is metaphysical and packed with humorous undercurrents that are manifested through cartoonish simplification. Thus the hapless donkey held upside down for a sex act in the colourful story of an incident in a Mexican bar makes numerous appearances. The repeated appearance of the artist’s trademark orange bob hairstyle (even worn by the donkey in Ludicrous Strangeness) alerts us to the fact that these are self-portraits.

There is a beguiling menace in these works, like a female spider about to devour her mate in the act of making love. A delicate, feminine sensuality is embedded in the web of imagery with the inclusion of lingerie or exposed limbs. Clairvoyant third eyes peer through various orifices and negative spaces, observing the voyeur. Hilarious silhouettes burst into life and dash across the works’ surfaces, frantically trying to lose clothing. Carcasses of dead animals become energized again.

The fervid atmosphere is passed on to the viewer, giving one the sensation of entering a whirling mass of imagery. It is an illusion, however; the works are disciplined, with certain forms echoing throughout. Oakes uses dissonance: virulent crimson tones abut oranges and maroons with an occasional startling blue. The inversions of scale conjure a scene reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno.

Canadian Art -In Review, Spring 2007 Vol. 24 No.1
by Ashley Johnson
Copyright © 2007