For the last Adelaide Festival, as part of the S.A. Art Gallery's show Drawn and QuarteredAustralian Contemporary Paperworks, Micky Allan exhibited The Prime of Lifetwelve painted photographs of people aged between 30 and 45. Aspects of aging, and how we are affected by our experiences and choices at certain ages, have been a strand through Micky Allan's work since 1976 when she made a series called 'Babies'. In 1978 she made forty painted photographs of old people. This Old Age series was a component of her live-in show of photographs, drawings and poetry. Micky Allan's other major areas of concern have been more obviously 'social', in such works as the black and white series for the CSR Pyrmont Refinery Centenary (1978), and Botany Bay Today (1980) which examines the heavily industrialised areas around the site of this country's beginnings; and Travelogue (1980) which is about our languageour complex response to it, our use and, in some cases, exploitation of it.
There is a non-literal link between the concept of the 1978 live-in show and the work Micky Allan is doing for this year's Festival in that it creates an environment which she is calling The Family Room. The work consists of fourteen large panels, each a full-length portrait of a member of the artist's family with a still-life above each figure, arranged zig-zag around an octagonal ceiling piece which is painted with images of domestic pets. The work will be housed in the rotunda in Elder Park. I talked with Micky Allan about The Family Room:
P.B: What will 'The Family Room' be like?
M.A: It's going to be a bit like being inside a huge painting. And I hope it will also be like being right in a family. It's not a really 'unusual' family. I hope there'll be all the crosscurrents and complicationsall the friendliness and the tensions which most families have. When we're kids we're told not to stare, here we have a chance to really look and feel what families and aging might involve.
P.B: How did 'The Family Room' evolve?
M.A: When Jim Sharman first asked me to do a show as a joint exhibition with Mark Thompson, it was in terms of 'life rituals'. I went into a lot of thought about birth, conception (or love), and death, and I became very involved in this, and also about photographing people in situations such as birth and death. After months and months I found I couldn't talk to people about it as if I really liked the idea. And, since Mark Thompson was doing the seven ages of man, I thought I'd do the seven ages of woman. Although I still think this is a great idea, when I went to photograph women it seemed absurd to pick one person out to represent one of the seven ages. Anyone would have done, been terrific in fact, and I'd had this idea for ages that you could photograph anybody and they'd look terrific. Everybody is so intense and complicated if you really look. So, on the spot, in the street, with my camera, I decided to go to Melbourne and take photos of age in its variations through my family. And this side became just as importantthe phenomena of a family, what a family means, especially in this society, as well as the passage from young to very old.
P.B: 'The Family Room' is under the umbrella title of 'The Pavilion of Death, Dreams and Desire', how does that title relate to your work?
M.A: Above each person is a photograph of an object which loosely represents their desires. Just as The Family Room is a very plain title within that grand one, so are their desires straightforward and not fantasy. The 'dreams' are more integrated into their expressions, expectations and feelings, and not made into a separate issue. The, presence of death is there and birth, too, since there are two entrance panels which repeat the portraits of the youngest and the oldest members of the family with a bouquet and a wreath. They are there as presences elsewhere because the photographs span a lifetime.
P.B: Why do you paint most of your photographs?
M.A: Paint has such vitality. A photograph can represent texture but it doesn't have texture as directly as paint does. I prefer to bring the colour in this way rather than use colour photography because of the independence of the colour and the energy of the texture I've just talked about. I like the part of photographs which say 'this place, this person exists'. Photography was originally invented as a means of drawing with light rather than pencil as the basis of a painting and, in some ways, this is how I use it. Sometimes, however, instead of the photo supporting the painting, the painting supports the photo. Several people in the Prime of Life series preferred the painted photo of themselves to the black and white because they said the colour gave it more 'life'. I think the painting gives the photographs warmth. I guess that's the colour really. Colour is crucial.
Artlink, Vol. 2, no. 1, 1982