Exhibition review: Small Dreams

Twelve artists display their miniature works.

We are always hearing about big dreams – big visions – yet memories and imaginings are often haunted by small remembrances from our past; snatches of perception remaining in our present, hopes for intimacy and connection in our futures.

In days of anxiety we need glimmers of delight.

Scale is a powerful element for the artist. While grand scale can have impact and impress, small scale can too. In this exhibition, the relationship of the small piece and the viewer is close – the viewer doesn’t just walk past but stops, looks into a work, and can comprehend a whole and is seduced into the minutiae.

Alice through the looking glass found herself, as we know, in an implausible but splendid other-verse.  This is what the visitor to Stanley Street Gallery can expect. The show provides that in the form of small, often delightful snatches of insight or textural play, fantasy or spectacular skill.

Twelve artists have made multiple works each no bigger than 10x10cms. Some of the works are objects; some wearable objects; others are pictures.

The artists are: Barbara Ryman, Camille Gillyboeuf, Catriona Secker, Christel van der Laan, Claire Welch, Kendal Murray, Kirrily Anderson, Lucy Chetcuti, Renée French, Shaelene Murray, Sue Lovegrove, Viktor Kalinowski.

This review introduces four only as a taster – Barbara Ryman, Kendal Murray, Renee French and Kirrily Anderson. The others are worthy of a look as well. 

Ryman’s work is immaculate. In Beatles every element, and its placement, is considered so carefully and developed with masterful craftsmanship. She combines vitreous enamel with cast and plated forms structured within tiny wood frames. The work has a playfulness and delight contained within a highly structure relief space. Ryman demonstrates a sophisticated learning earned at the hand of Japanese masters, but her work is singularly her own.

As an artform, dioramas usually evoke surprise, recognition and delight. Kendal Murray uses found objects to encase her mini dioramas. In the three pieces in this exhibition, tools of femininity – the change purse and the compact case – are filled with little objects, textures and figures that seem to be responding to their environments with intrigue and happiness.

Scratchboard is another old but intriguing method of picture making. Instead of drawing to leave a mark, French scratches to remove elements of the surface and create a negative image. In her
hands, the images come alive with movement and texture. They are enigmatic but hand gestures and body language communicate a strong sense of fear, anxiety and their physical manifestations. They are endearing pictures and the viewer is motivated to stroke and calm the humanoid in Thursday.

Anderson has created hyper-realistic ink and watercolour paintings that draw us into the aesthetics of natural objects as prosaic as burnt wood and rock. The artist plays with our perceptions of perspective as we encounter them as still lifes that have clear structural and sculptural qualities. The prosaic objects are rendered here so delicately that they suggest a state of meditation in their attention to detail. They evoke memories of the horror bushfires of recent years (before the floods).

Read: Exhibition review: Objects In-between, Bic Tieu

Each artist brings a sense of intrigue and demands close-looking. As an added bonus, the staff at the gallery are always knowledgeable and welcoming so that you leave feeling that you have learnt something from the work but also from the way the pieces have been encountered. Make the effort to visit this diverse and lively show.

Small Dreams
Stanley Street Gallery
East Sydney
Small Dreams will be on display until 30 July 2022

Helen Wyatt is a practising visual artist, writer and curator living in Sydney, NSW. She has a Bachelor of Art History (Sydney University) and Masters of Visual Arts (Griffith University). She has previously written for ArtsHub across a range of visual arts forms. In her own practice she produces small, often wearable, objects. Helen shows small object work in her window gallery space in Rozelle.