Drawing on experience

SMH (Spectrum), p.16-17
10-11 September 2016
John McDonald

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In its first incarnation, the Dobell Australian Drawing Biennial concentrated on landscape. For the second biennial, subtitled Close to Home, curator Anne Ryan has come up with something much cooler, namely "narrative based on memory and experience".


Skill is more conspicuous in Catherine O'Donnell's Inhabited Space (2015-16), but there is an emphatic side as well. Known for relatively small, precise pencil drawings of buildings, O'Donnell has taken a new turn here, finding a way to make those drawings inhabit an entire wall.

On a scale of almost 1:1, O'Donnell has reproduced the facade of a 1960s fibro bungalow from a western suburbs housing estate. The outlines of the building are mapped out in simple lines like a diagram, while two sets of windows, the front door and screen door, are drawn in hair-splitting detail, complete with shadows and tiny scuff marks. It sets up a contrast between the ideal Platonic form of the "dream home", and the prosaic reality of life on an estate where every house has the same features.

Within these uniform structures, each family plays out its own messy dramas; each child sets his or her course for the future. Some will find the pattern of their lives in the mindset of the housing estate, others will escape at the first opportunity