Review of Screaming Fans by Emma Anthony

Review of “Screaming Fans” (2007) exhibition by Perth based arts writer Emma Anthony


The depiction of women within Nineteen-Sixties and Seventies pop culture is a continuing theme for Melbourne based artist, Gemma Jones.  In her current exhibition, Screaming Fans, Jones “turns her focus to the image of the hysterical, screaming teen fan” and delivers an exuberant collection of acrylic paintings invested with refreshing energy and originality.  The exhibition consists of just eight works, displayed appropriately, if perhaps a little understatedly, in the intimate gallery space of the DISTRACTED Art Shop in Leederville, Perth.  Though working on a theme that has by no means been neglected within the visual sphere to date, Jones enjoys the intrigues of “representation, reproduction and re-representation,” and manages to breathe an invigorated sense of life into her carefully construed images. Screaming Fans “defies the popular culture representation of femininity” and presents its audience with a loud, vivacious collection of feminine figures.  It is an exhibition which at once appeals to our sense of what is known and familiar within visual culture whilst it simultaneously challenges preconceived expectations of the genre. 

The eight 75 x 75 cm canvases that make up Screaming Fans form a collection of bold and striking visual cohesion.  Each painting involves crisp black or white acrylic against a deliciously pungent colour plane (with the exception of Exploding Star which is striking in black and white alone), with Please Please Me (2007) in deep teal, Electric Hand (2007) in mulberry-maroon, Not a Teenybopper (2007) in lolly-pink, Stars in Her Eyes (2007) in an almost toxic mint-green, Love (2007) in orange, John (2007) in a slightly cool hue of turquoise and She Loves Them (2007) in warm grey.  Though She Loves Them and John occupy the walls of the adjoining hallway next to the main hanging space in the DISTRACTED Art Shop gallery (which may be slightly to their disadvantage), the collection strikes together an enticing visual feast of brilliantly complementing colours. 

The deliberately ‘unpolished’ technique Jones employs in these artworks instils in them the visible history of their making.   The uneven application of paint, visible brush strokes, and - in works such as Electric Hand and Stars in Her Eyes – the inclusion of brush hairs left visibly embedded in the paint surface, all create a sense of intimacy with the artist and imbue the artworks with a sense of individualised warmth and texture that greatly enriches their composition and effect on the viewer.

As Jones’s exhibition guide tells us: “At a glance her artworks appear to be photographic screen prints, but closer inspection reveals that her work is meticulously hand painted.”  This is indeed the case, and it is a feature which lends significant intricacy and depth to her work.  The happy coupling of organic and inorganic form thrives in the canvases of Screaming Fans.  One is dazzled not only by the contrasting impression one receives when regarding the images up-close or from a distance as the image shifts from indistinguishable, abstract brush marks to images of photographic-like clarity, but also by the way the artworks lend themselves to the interpretation of detached, mass-produced objects before being revealed as deeply personal, uniquely crafted works.

Jones’s era-evoking pop culture images bring to mind the likes of Warhol and Lichtenstein, yet in no way are her works lost under such prominent comparisons.  As the artist foregrounds the “anonymous faces of everyday girls” from “forgotten” crowd photographs, in unique compositions and dazzling colours, her reinvented images of this facet of pop culture are as iconic as they are personalised.  There is a sense of playfulness and humour in Screaming Fans which is underscored by a corresponding sense of darker emotion which adds to the works’ multi-layered depth.  Pieces such as Love, Exploding Star and Please Please Me depict the particularly anguished faces of consumed Beatles fans, and the collection is filled with both celebration and nostalgia for the past era.

I admit the anguished, up-turned face of Love brought to mind the face of Kim Phuc Phan Thi from Nick Ut’s haunting photograph from the same era, Children Fleeing from a Napalm Strike, South Vietnam 1972.  John also provoked more regretful associations, as knowledge of the pop-star’s fate can hardly be separated from the recollection of his life and fandom.  Though these associations were perhaps not intended by the artist, it is a tribute to her work that such provocation of emotion and association occurs on their viewing.

Gemma Jones’s Screaming Fans is an exhibition of delightful energy and remarkable complexity.  The amount of thought and care behind these works shines through their bright surfaces, creating a rewarding experience for the audience. 


Bibliography


Jones, G., Screaming Fans Exhibition Guide, distributed by the DISTRACTED Art Shop: Leederville, W.A., 2007.

The Folio Society Book of the 100 Greatest Photographs, ed. by Mark Haworth-Booth, London: The Folio Society, 2006.

Gemma Jones Screaming Fans exhibition guide, distributed by DISTRACTED Art Shop, Leederville, WA, 2007.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Op. Cit.

See The Folio Society Book of the 100 Greatest Photographs, ed. by Mark Haworth-Booth, London: The Folio Society, 2006, pp. 188-189.