Spring Lamb, 1997, oil on canvas, 15 x 20 cm

'Penelope Aitken gets a laugh out of some of the things some tourists buy for friends back home, past collections of her work have celebrated (if that is the right word) the awfulness of the flag-waving Akubra-wearing clip on koala. In her show at the La Trobe Street Gallery (April 19 - May 21), she offers many invitations to laugh at ourselves right here at home with irreverent combinations of images, including some of our most precious icons. Risking the charge of cultural heresy, Aitken has commandeered prints of Heidelberg School works, used a heavy wash to make them no more than a memory, and overlaid them with images of toy bunnies or lambkins of the kind used to promote "genuine Australian wool". They bound out of Arthur Streeton's feathery grasses or rise in the foreground of a Tom Roberts Shearing shed. The works are funny, and have something to say: here is what we have as our cultural image - and what we could have. Closer inspection shows the toys to have been painted with surprising delicacy and detail that lend them with a certain dignity.

'Easter as a festival of rebirth has influenced some of Aitken's recent work. They symbolic eggs, chickens and chocolate are here, sometimes obliquely. In Lamentation, meticulously copied Giotto angels lament the sins of a silver-foil city instead of the body of Christ and in a formal still life of egg shells on a cushion, the artists plays homage to one of nature's miracles. Another room presents a collection of chickens and eggs, including plaster egg shapes, the outlines of egg shapes, and several small paintings of a chicken, apparently pottering around on rather a muddy ground. Again, the detail draws the viewer closer; through the series the chicken pecks here and there, turns it's back, pecks in another corner. The paintings would have worked well on their own and the series has a minor narrative that does not need embellishing. In other words the chickens do not need the eggs.

'The colours are solemn, rich and earthy, recalling Renaissance images. Collectively the works have a sensuous intimacy that comes as much from their small size and detail as from the subjects, with their fluffiness, their sinful chocolatey-nes and their hints of ritual and passion.'

Christine Mowle, "Symbols questioned in some detail", Business Review Weekly, April 14, 1997, p.95




'It's a beguiling modesty shared, to some extent, by Penelope Aitken at La Trobe Street Gallery whose small pictures ridicule the inappropriateness of the Easter bunny in a land whose primary industry has been set back billions of dollars by the spread of rabbits. Aitken takes a malicious delight in floating her own sentimental toy rabbits over Victorian masterpieces and giving them titles such as: In which an introduced species overruns Streeton's pastoral scene.'

Robert Nelson, "Impressive moulding of imagery", The Age, 30 April 1997, pC7



Shearing the Lambs, 1997, oil and colour laser copy on board, 45 x 70 cm


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