Review: Mona Ryder, Lone Star at Artisan

With this exhibition Mona Ryder demonstrates that she remains a major figure in Australian Art.
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Detail of Mona Ryder Untitled (2018), in Lone Star at Artisan, Brisbane

Queensland Artist Mona Ryder is currently showing Lone Star at Artisan in Brisbane.  With this exhibition Mona Ryder demonstrates that she remains a major figure in Australian Art.

Mona Ryder mines her ‘sensing’ of place with its associated memories, cultural imprints, passing of time and the feel of nature. She uses her collections of prosaic objects – drawing into and out of them her web of deeply personal insights deriving from lived experience.

Through the personal and domestic, Mona Ryder reveals the sublime. Don’t think that this show is quaint. It is awesome!

Why Lone Star? The title suggests Texas and kitsch; it also suggests the struggle for independence and the determination this requires. Queensland, at times, has gone it alone and Mona Ryder’s own determination was manifested early on as a woman artist raising children while making work in the Brisbane of 1980’s.

Mona Ryder has created theatrical scenes. Details may suggest fantasies of the ‘wild west’, Victoriana and burlesque. The details become metaphors, even archetypes, in her hands. They evoke associations of play, intimacy, care, loss, drama, eruption, as well as adversarial and interdependent connections. Ritual and worship are there, enmeshed by implication, in the work.

Materials are literally centre stage and are wonderfully enigmatic while at times they feel overwhelming.

The show packs a punch in visual impact – it is a polyphony of strong colour impregnated with traces of sound. Trains of red fabric greet the viewer on entry and a large frame – a table without its top– hangs from the ceiling creating a vista through the gallery.

The works have no names leaving the viewer to let their awareness range free, unmediated.

There are chair works that bring their patina and histories into the gallery rooms. With some, there is standoff; others suspension; more still are interdependent, nurturing and vacant. The viewer can feel the restrictions where chairs are bound together and yet they make new forms that are richer because of the physical connections. All these works cast the most beautiful shadows that are clearly intentional.

Mona Ryder, untitled (detail) 2018, photograph by Don Hildred

Black mussel shells are a recurring element as they have been in much of Mona Ryder’s art. In this show, one series has them concentrated on wall-mounted platters in various lively arrangements. The colour and the form of these shells are both iconic and highly personal. These works are almost ‘plaited’ forms – reminiscent of Victorian hair jewellery but there is little that is miniature about these pieces.  Mussels have beards of course and hair also recurs in many of the works.

Mona Ryder, untitled detail 2018 photo by Don Hildred

Framing makes the ordinary strange and precious. Visit the altar-like space in the small room and contemplate the installation which includes an ornately presented picture of casuarina branchlets and cleverly conjoined chairs. They become keys to primal memory. These are quiet pieces, soothed by sound, but there are also small quiet landscapes in the body of the gallery – landscapes crafted from crumbs of toast.

Sumptuous red fabric defines the show and in conjunction with shoes, spears, hide, the viewer maybe transported into the world of Hans Christian Andersen, Medea, tribal conflict and even the horrors of 20th century history.

Mona Ryder, untitled (detail) 2018, photograph by Don Hildred

I was certainly reminded of the works of Colombian artist, Doris Salcedo exhibited at the Sydney Biennale, 1992, in which shoes were encased in stretched skins for poignant and political effect. The visceral experience of Mona Ryder’s show drew my imagination back to the sculptures of Swiss Surrealist artist Meret Oppenheim and her inspired use of materials – think Object (Le Dejeuner en Fourure) 1936.

Artisan continues to exhibit great work that demonstrates conceptual strength and skilled manipulation of materials. The space displays Mona Ryder’s work to great effect.

Mona Ryder Untilted (2018); installation view Lone Star at Artisan Brisbane; photo Helen Wyatt

There is a collectible catalogue that includes an excellent interview and exhibition essay by Cassandra Lehman. The text provides insight into this exhibition and some of the thinking behind the work. The art of Mona Ryder is housed in major Australian public galleries and private collections here and overseas. 

If you live in Queensland, or if you are in Brisbane for the Asia Pacific Triennial, make sure that you don’t miss this powerful show.

Rating: Four Stars ★★★★

Mona Ryder: Lone Star
Bowen Hills, Brisbane, Queensland
16 November 2018 – 16 February 2019

Helen Wyatt
About the Author
Helen Wyatt is a visual artist undertaking higher degree research in Jewellery and Small Objects at Queensland College of Arts, Griffith University. Her own practice draws on fragments and traces found in places where industry and nature intersect.