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She Is and Only Human: James Makin Gallery Exhibitions

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by Courtney Symes (subscribe)
Courtney is a freelance fashion, art and design writer and content creator for www.mrgift.com.au - an online boutique specialising in quality gifts for men. Read more of Courtney’s work at www.alittlepinkbook.blogspot.com.au
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I have a particular perfume that prompts positive comments from women and men every time I wear it. The notes within this fragrance are feminine; soft but noticeable, floral but not passé, sweet but not sickly, fresh but not masculine. This scent embodies something that many women strive for – admiration from other women, as well as attention from men.

Two unmissable exhibitions at James Makin Gallery this month also embody similar qualities to this fragrance. Gria Shead's exhibition She Is represents the soft, floral notes, whilst Tamara Dean's Only Human provides the fresh, commanding component of the fragrance. Both exhibitions have a female focus and celebrate the female form on the stage and within the Australian landscape. Despite concentrating on women, these two exhibitions are remarkably diverse, offering a contrast between Shead's sexually confident Burlesque dancers and the natural purity of Dean's women.

She Is explores the creative sexual power expressed through burlesque dancing. Shead draws inspiration from clubs around the world as she examines the identity of these women, and the role that they play on the stage. Using mediums such as oil on linen and Conte, graphite and/or charcoal on paper, Shead captures the mesmerising movements of her dancers. Generally depicting a single woman in each piece, Shead varies her work by catching the dancers in different moments. They may have just stepped onto the stage, where they appear confident and seductive, or conversely be engrossed in a quiet, contemplative moment, perhaps in preparation for their performance. The specific moments Shead has selected are also interesting and add a 'real' quality to her work.

Gria Shead, Dressing Up, Oil on Linen, Image Size: 35 x 30
Gria Shead, Dressing Up, Oil on Linen, Image Size: 35 x 30


Whilst capturing the curves of her dancers, Shead also realises
the power of accurately conveying the drape and fall of the decorative fabrics used for the dancer's costumes. The dark backgrounds of Shead's works are often contrasted with opulent indigo and deep burgundy tones which are lifted with flashes of white. Shead has masterfully used her medium of oil on linen to bring to life her dancer's soft chiffon and feather garments that gently billow in the bright lights of the stage - think Degas meets Christina Aguilera.

Gria Shead, Insouciance, Oil on linen, Image Size: 35 x 30
Gria Shead, Insouciance, Oil on linen, Image Size: 35 x 30


Tamara Dean's exhibition, Only Human, is set within the Australian landscape. Her photographic works (pure pigment print on cotton rag) feature women in a vulnerable, fragile state, firstly because they are the mercy of the Australian bush, and secondly because in the majority of the works they appear unclothed. This state of undress indicates a powerful purity and transparency of emotion.

Tamara Dean, Ladies of the Canyon #1, Photography - pure pigment print on cotton rag, Image Size: 76 x 102
Tamara Dean, Ladies of the Canyon #1, Photography - pure pigment print on cotton rag, Image Size: 76 x 102


Dean offers little explanation as to why her subjects express the emotions they do, or why she has selected these locations for her works – that is an integral part of the journey for the viewer. Many of Dean's works depict the interaction two subjects, which evokes further interest in their relationship. The faces of Dean's subjects are often concealed, as seen in Only Human (awarded Highly Commended in the Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize 2011), which creates further intrigue. Dean also opts for dark colours and uses shadows for contrast and definition, which add an element of mystery to her work.

Tamara Dean, Only Human, Photography - pure pigment print on cotton rag, Image Size: 67 x 100


Certain pieces, such as Untitled #3 and Untitled #4 consist of close-up shots of hands and feet, which make for simple yet powerful compositions. Once again, Dean utilises shadows for definition and to draw attention to certain components of the piece, like a ring on one of the hands.

Tamara Dean, Untitled #3, Photography - pure pigment print on cotton rag, Image Size: 38 x 58
Tamara Dean, Untitled #3, Photography - pure pigment print on cotton rag, Image Size: 38 x 58


In addition to her subjects, Dean has also skilfully captured the landscapes in the background of her shots. Despite the dark ambience, it is evident that it is daytime in many of Dean's images and that these have been deliberately dimmed to enhance depth and impact. Dean's subject matter also varies throughout the works presented. Conjure, for example, simply and skilfully captures a cloud formation that differs from Dean's other pieces, in which women are the main subject.

Tamara Dean, Conjur, Photography - pure pigment print on cotton rag, Image Size: 76 x 102
Tamara Dean, Conjur, Photography - pure pigment print on cotton rag, Image Size: 76 x 102


Both exhibitions run from 5th to 29th of May 2011.
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Why? Celebrate the wonders of women
When: 5th to 29th of May 2011
Where: James Makin Gallery
Cost: Free
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