Exhibition review: Andrew Fyfe, Joanna Wolthuizen, Lee-Anne Raymond, Demetrios Vakras, SOL Gallery

SOL Gallery’s latest exhibition is another triumph of Melbourne’s artistic diversity and character.
SOL Gallery. Image by artist Demetrious Vakras of night sky and a naked woman facing away from us, her lower half dissolving into an x-ray type biomechanical image. To her right is a small fire and to her left is a skull.

It’s fascinating how much the technology of a generation influences social behaviour – you don’t need to look far to see how social media affects life now. Before social media, iPhones or the internet, watching the variety TV show Hey Hey It’s Saturday was what millions of Australians did on Saturdays between 6.30pm and 8.30pm, and did so for nearly 15 years. Even Irish singer Enya, who has sold over 80 million albums without ever doing a single tour, mimed a couple of songs on it.

One of the people who remembers Hey Hey’s heyday is Andrew Fyfe, one of the artists in SOL Gallery’s new exhibition. 

Fyfe’s role on Hey Hey was that of an improv artist, filmed as “pen cam”, allowing viewers to watch as he created. Judging by the pieces in this exhibition, he obviously lives in Melbourne – every stylised, cartoonesque work is a loving postcard to somewhere in the city or inner suburbs. From the city’s Degraves Street and Flinders Street Station to boating and throwing your e-bike in the Yarra, from Albert Park Lake to Luna Park, he’s there. His take on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy shows some local icons such as the urban cowboy Grant McCracken having a coffee with the statue of poet Adrian Rawlins (although there are various versions as to whether the two got on), with Carrot Man walking past (I personally think he’s a one-trick pony and regard the outer northern suburbs’ Walking Man as more enigmatic). 

Fyfe’s style could be loosely described as pop retro, presumably influenced by Mad magazine and contemporary US artist Shag. His portrait of the embarrassing drunken aftermaths of the Melbourne Cup races is wonderfully accurate, as is the seagulls playing footy with a chip; his image of a homeless person walking past a Prada store is becoming an increasingly common sight in Melbourne. In all he offers a wonderfully vibrant, colourful and stylish look at Melbourne.

Artwork by Andrew Fyfe. Photo: Supplied.

Two artists bookend the gallery, Demetrios Vakras in the front window space and Lee-Anne Raymond in the back room. While their works share a similar thematic mood – darkly surreal visions of the human psyche – they have very different origins and artistic styles. Vakras’ art is computer-created montages, often merging the feminine form with elements of bone and metal, in wastelands of machines, bones and rust. Going through his website, his debt to Swiss biomechanical surrealist H R Giger becomes increasingly clear, yet this exhibition shows that he is developing his own compositional and narrative style (evidenced by the titles of his pieces).

Raymond’s artistic technique is very different. Hers are lusciously-painted portraits that show great talent with a brush. This exhibition, entitled The Red Mass Series, has its origins in a defamation lawsuit involving both herself and Vakras. As reported on her website, this is a rabbit hole of a situation, and the resulting paintings feature nakedly symbolic depictions of corruption, duality and hypocrisy, inhabited by faceless caricatures of judges, religious figures and the skeleton of what could be mistaken for a two-headed dodo. The works are compositionally simplistic, never having more than a few elements each, but this simplicity lends them power. Check out her website – her past repertoire is equally impressive. 

Sandwiched between these artists, in the middle gallery, is the work of Joanna Wolthuizen, offering a complete shift away from Fyfe’s playful cartoons, Vakras’ biomechanical wastelands and Raymond’s twisted courtrooms. Wolthuizen’s work is, to quote her website’s tagline, ‘Leading Art for Luxury Interiors’. Her works are abstract, often minimalistic in style (for example, the pieces Symphony and Scribe) or technique (Loop), yet sometimes lattices of colour (Rush Hour). Whichever style, her art is aimed at a different demographic than the other three artists – her art is for people who want a large-scale abstract piece to adorn their lobby or restaurant, to breathe artistic life into an interior.

And this is one of the beauties of independent galleries like SOL, that artists with potentially very different audiences can co-mingle and share ideas, techniques and, sometimes, buyers. Wolthuizen has been painting for over 20 years and her work is in collections on most continents of the world. 

Read: Theatre review: Homo Pentecostus, Malthouse Theatre

If you have just bought a restaurant, hotel or office, work by any of these four artists would give your interior an amazing burst of life and character. Alternatively, if you just happen to have a spare wall, this exhibition may be just what you’ve been looking for. 

Andrew Fyfe: Marvellous Melbourne
Lee-Anne Raymond: The Red Mass Series
Demetrios Vakras: The Riddle of the Sphinx
Joanna Wolthuizen: Joanna Wolthuizen 

This exhibition at SOL Gallery in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, Victoria, will be on display until 26 May 2024.

Ash Brom has been writing, editing and publishing books, stories, journals and articles for over 25 years. He is an English as an Additional Language teacher, photographer, actor and rather subjective poet.