eX de Medici: Beautiful Wickedness - Queensland Art Gallery
Sat 24 Jun 2023 - Mon 02 Oct 2023
Beautiful Wickedness is a remarkable art exhibition by Australian artist eX de Medici. Her works of art analyse her deep apprehension about life, domestic violence, greed and affairs in the world, power, wars, and death.
eX de Medici watercolours show her botanical studies, her interest in the ephemeral beauty of moths and her love for tattoos. The constant use of symbols in the paintings, like flowers, moths, helmets, guns and skulls is to communicate the force of nature, power and despair.
The exhibition highlights of the artist include her powerful portrait of Midnight Oil Nothing’s as Precious as a Hole in the Ground
2001, and Shotgun Wedding Dress/ Cleave
2015, a bridal gown based on Julie Andrews’s dress from The Sound of Music.
eX de Medici has worked as an artist for more than 40 years, expressing her surreal art using watercolours. eX de Medici analyses the system of surveillance, control, abuse and domestic violence.
Red (Colony) by eX de Medici, 1999-2000.
is one of the early watercolours produced by the artist in red. The artist took a long time to create Red Colony
as she would produce separate individual studies before adding them to the body of the larger work.
Red Colony, 1999-2000; watercolour over pencil on paper. Winner of National Works on Paper, purchased by Beleura - The Tallis Foundation, 2002. Collection Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Victoria
There are many objects in the work of art, the artist kept adding them, adding different meanings. There is a fox, red flowers, even a Pokémon
The artist marks the number of days and nights it takes to produce the work on the artwork itself. The tally marks are like those used by the prisoners to try to keep track of their time inside the jail cells.
The Theory of Everything by eX de Medici, 2005.
Known by de Medici as ‘Big Pearly Yellowcake’, the Theory of Everything
includes symbols that, for the artist, represent the intemperance of John Howard’s monetary policies and neoliberal excess.
The artwork features an imaginary, diamond-studded poodle, groomed purely for decorative purposes. Originally the poodle was bred as a water retriever and clipped so its thick coat would protect its vital organs from cold water, but now the purpose of this dog is purely decorative.
In the painting, there are also Semper Augustus tulips, a reference to the first documented boom and burst that beset seventeenth-century Holland, when tulip bulbs were imported by the Dutch East India Company from the Ottoman Empire were bartered for untenable prices.
These emblems of extravagance nestle beside darker objects, including exploded ammunition and a Smith & Wesson M&P pistol. The tableau recalls seventeenth-century Dutch still-life paintings that warn of the lure of worldly possessions. In the background looms the Ranger Uranium Mine in the Northern Territory which de Medici explains: “…lies in the middle of Kakadu National Park. On traditional lands…So it is the idea of wealth at any cost, and acquisition at any cost….it’s a hideous critique of what’s going on".
Live the Big Black Dream by eX de Medici, 2005.
The Theory of Everything, 2005; watercolour and metallic pigment on paper. Purchased 2005; Collection Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art.
Another of de Medici big picture, Big Black
represents the consequences of the greed that she denounced in The Theory of Everything
2005. De Medici made the train wreck waiting to happen ahead of the 2007-08 Global Financial Crisis, envisaging the artwork as the capitalist system derailed.
Like many of the Medici’s watercolours, the painting is loaded with symbols: for instance, an AR-15 machine gun, discomfortingly referred to as America’s rifle. Also included is a miniaturised image of the atomic bomb that the United States dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki in 1945 to end World War Two. In the artist’s imagining, the missile is being towed by a weevil, a beetle that invades by stealth.
The idea of covert acts hiding in plain sight is underscored by the presence of a CCTV camera, a reference to surveillance in our networked age.
Nothing's as Precious as a Hole in the Ground by eX de Medici, 2001.
Live the Big Black Dream, detail, 2006; watercolour and metallic pigment on paper. Purchased 2006, Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art.
In 2000, the National Portrait Gallery commissioned de Medici to make a portrait of Australian rock band Midnight Oil. She depicted the group in front of the Ranger Uranium mine in the Northern Territory to foreground their environmental activism, titling the artwork after their anthem “Blue Sky mine’ (1990) and using mangrove bark pigment of vellum (calfskin) in a nod to her tattoo practice.
The commission coincided with de Medici’s first residency at the CSIRO’s Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC), where she began detailing the intricate wing patterns of microlepidoptera (small moths). The designs that feature on the throats of the band members correspond to five moths ANIC scientists had collected from land owned by the Mirar people before it was turned into a mine site.
A year after the commission, de Medici used moth ‘pelts’ to cloak a pistol in the watercolour Hate Machine, Mindless Virtuosity -Brown Luger- 2002 to highlight the imbalance of power at the heart of the nature-culture divide.
That's a Good Dog by eX de Medici, 2013.
Nothing's as Precious as a Hole in the Ground, 2001. Mangrove bark pigment, watercolour and gouache on vellum. Commissioned with fund from the Basil Bressler Bequest 2001 Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra.
While working in her studio, de Medici spends hours absorbing the news and analysis of world affairs. Her views of global politics are reflected in her art and in her public declarations. A vocal critic, the artist has said: ‘Most of my work is outrage at the USA and its historic and ongoing hypocrisies’.
That’s a Good Dog
is an indictment of Australia’s involvement in America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and our country’s eagerness to follow the US into another unwinnable war.
The watercolour was informed by de Medici’s engagement with politics in the region, which she developed during several trips to Iran, the first in 2010. The gun is a Steyr rifle, the standard military weapon issued to Australian armed forces – its stock is embellished with Australian desert camouflage and the Southern Cross constellation. The grip features the stripes from the American flag and the weapon is entwined with Verdigris, the corrosive crystals that form when an insect is secured with a nickel or copper pin.
Tooth and Claw by eX de Medici, 2009.
Tooth and Claw
That's a Good Dog, 2013; watercolour on paper. Private collection Melbourne.
2009 was made by de Medici in response to the notorious 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad, Iraq. The carnage unfolded when mercenaries employed by Erik Prince’s Blackwater Security Consulting fired on unarmed Iraqi civilians.
The military contractor was hired to guard US Department of State employees; however, in a turn of events disputed by Iraqi police and other witnesses, Blackwater’s gunmen determined that a US embassy convoy was under attack and began shooting into the crowd with heavy artillery.
Iraqi police and armed forces subsequently returned fire and a bloody 20-minute battle ensued, leaving 17 Iraqi civilians dead and many others wounded, provoking outrage across Iraq. Gour Blackwater employees were tried and sentenced for their crimes before being pardoned by then-President Donald Trump in 2020.
Erik Prince subsequently rebranded Blackwater as Xe Services in an attempt to distance his business from the atrocity and, in 2011, the firm was renamed Academi by its new owners Constellis Holdings, Inc.
Domestic Violence and Coercive Control.
Tooth and Claw, detail, 2009; pen and ink mica drawing.
Throughout her career, de Medici has trained her sights on the violent impulses of humanity, seeking to uncloak the wickedness that our species can be capable of. Underneath the beauty that defines her work lies a compulsion to explore inequities and imbalances of power. As the artist has explained, ‘I find the whole premise of power and violence utterly overwhelming; I think that’s why I’m obsessed with it’.
Significantly, de Medici has pursued a subject that few artists have confronted in their work: the scourge of domestic violence, which in Australia alone, sees one woman die at the hands of her current or former partner each week.
Determined to unmask an epidemic that is only now being discussed openly, de Medici has created a number of artworks that foreground this deplorable situation and underscore the need for increased social support for victims and survivors.
Shotgun Wedding Dress/Cleave, 2015.
Shotgun Wedding Dress/Cleave
I killed Her with My Club, detail, 2017; watercolour and egg tempera on paper. Private collection, Sydney.
2015, was made by de Medici with several collaborators. This installation is based on her watercolour Cleaving Clint Eastwood, 2014. It is also based on the wedding gown that Julie Andrews wore as Maria, her character in the classic screen musical The Sound of Music
The shotguns on the dress are the kind that law enforcement agents sometimes use to suppress civilian protestors. Denoting coercive control, guns represent a psychological weapon that is a frequent feature of domestic and family violence. Metaphorically, the firearms also double as a protective shield and evoke images of women who have resisted oppressive circumstances.
Shotgun Wedding Dress/Cleave, 2015.
The Law Glock by eX De Medici, 2013.
Cleaving Clint Eastwood, detail, 2014. Watercolour and white gouache on paper.
De Medici paints her art works in a very meticulous way. The large-scale watercolours aim to attract the attention of the viewers, to show them the current issues that plague the world.
The paintings are deceptively beautiful, with recurrent themes of politics and power, in a world dominated by powerful multinational companies, greed and capitalist interests.
In the painting The Low Glock, camouflaged in the beautiful flowers there are the symbols of Bp, Shell and a swastika. People are lured by the beauty and false liberty, de Medici's artworks are a warning to remain alert and critical of our surroundings.
Cure for Pain by ex de Medici, 2010.
Cure for Pain
The Law Glock, detail, 2013/14; watercolour and white gouache on paper.
is normally displayed in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Cure for Pain is an artwork that represents the theme of mortality and war.
At first, the painting looks beautiful, but when analysed it reveals the brutality of war, and empty helmets that once were wore by soldiers.
Cure of Pain was donated by Erika Krebs-Woodward to the Australian War Memorial, adding to the Museum a world-class collection. The artwork by de Medici is important to understand the involvement of Australian military forces in conflicts.
The title of the piece of art comes from the poppy, which produces opium, where morphine is extracted. It was used to relieve pain on the battlefield during conflicts.
Skulls are omnipresent in the art of de Medici, a vestige from her past as a tattooer. There are many helmets rolled on the ground, different helmets, from colonial time to current conflicts. The warfare hardware has changed over time, from the spiked German Pickelhaube to modern helmets, but always a symbol of war.
The beautiful flowers are s symbol of remembrance, including the Flanders poppy used in the ceremonies.
Cure for Pain, a significant painting by de Medici donated to the Australian War Memorial.
Cure for Pain, detail, 2010; watercolour on paper. War and violence are recurrent themes in the artwork of de Medici.
Getting to know and understanding Australian contemporary artist de Medici, who shares through her art her feelings, emotions and the injustices of this world. De Medici display's best art works explores and condemn many current issues, including politics, wars and violence in different forms.
De Medici highly visual collection of watercolours include a great use of symbols like flowers, guns and skulls.
To understand the art of de Medici, it is necessary to consider a few milestones of her life.
The artist was born on 12 April 1959 in Coolamon, New South Wales, but grew up and lives in Canberra, the capital city of Australia.
After graduating from the school of art, like many young people, she was struggling economically, earning little money and getting by with casual jobs. In particular, the artist was openly against Prime Minister John Howard and his backward politics and her paintings reflect the Artist’s thoughts.
When the artist was about 27 years old, she got her first tattoo, but despite going to the best tattooist in Melbourne, the tattoo was badly done. De Medici was angry with the tattooist and accused him to do bad jobs on women! De Medici then realised how female tattooists were working underground since tattoo worlds were male-dominated.
De Medici decided to become a tattooist herself and she went to learn as an apprentice in America with famous tattooist Kari Barba. She learned to work with precision and to use symbols that will continue to influence powerfully her artworks. De Medici worked as a tattooist for 12 years in Los Angeles.
Back in Australia, De Medici was strongly influenced by the watercolours of botanical illustrator Ferdinand Bauer, who painted when he circumnavigated the continent with Matthew Flinders in the early 1800s.
De Medici spent time on Norfolk Island in 2000, and it was when she painted Blue Bower/Bauer. The excellent piece of art exudes Australian colonialism and politics through flowers, fruits, ceramics, skulls and shackles. The Artist expresses with mortality symbols the regressive politic of John Howard in those times.
eX de Medici, Blue, Bower-Bauer, 1998-2000; Watercolour over black pencil on paper; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 2004.
De Medici chose to work with watercolours for different reasons: generally considered a female way of painting, de Medici wanted to break the negative, obsolete views towards women and also to take up the challenge, since watercolours require precision and accuracy.
One day, travelling by car, de Medici realised that a beautiful moth got stuck on the outside of her car. She thought the moth was fascinating and there was something very special about the patterns and the colours on the moth. The artist then began to work with CSIRO and studied and classified moths. Under a microscope, the moths revealed the intimal structure of their scales. The colours and the patterns of moths appear in many artworks of de Medici.
One of the moths painted by de Medici and displayed in the QGOMA de Medici art exhibition.
Skinny Day Ambush, Super Family, 2007; watercolour on paper. Like in many other paintings, the patterns of the moths can be seen in this artwork.
24 Jun – 2 Oct 2023
Gallery of Modern Art, Gallery 1.2 & Gallery 1.3 (Eric and Marion Taylor Gallery)
De Medici art exhibition is run together with 'Michael Zavros art exhibition: The Favourite' presented in the adjacent gallery at QGOMA. Immerse yourself in these two irresistible exhibitions from leading Australian artists. Your ticket provides entry to both exhibitions on your day of visit.
Last session 4.00pm daily. Exhibition closes at 5.00pm. Flexi tickets available - visit any session on your day of purchase.
Youth 13-17 ticket is $12.00
Child 5-12 ticket is $10.00
Child Under 4 (no ticket required)
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