"Rain'n'Heaps" (2001-02):

(catalogue essay from Rain'n'Heaps)


Rain'n'Heaps is a body of work consisting of a series of rain paintings and a series of heap images together with an installation.

Here on the West Coast we are well versed in statements such as "it's raining cats and dogs." In fact, we have it all – rain, showers, downpours, misty drizzle, gales, acid rain, etc. Imagery in figurative language has always been an important aspect of my work and the idea of raining objects has become an intriguing subject matter. In many ways, the rain paintings are like the Internet, where a mass of images, products and ideas are floating around, and are thrown at us on an ever growing communication highway.

The exploration of objects, in both organic and manufactured form, and the roles these objects play in defining the individual and our culture historically, and in contemporary times is examined in these images. Suspended in air, each item and person gains a new significance as well as a sort of uselessness. In the contemporary art environment, where everything is questioned and recontextualized, the rain paintings show the breaking down of the figurative painting field.

The rain images are bleak. They show a time in our history when our safety and mortality is being questioned and tested. Our lack of control over the world which we inhabit and the emotional instability caused by this often makes it seem like the structure of society is raining down. The paintings and drawings also contain feelings of hope and euphoria; we experience the exhilarating sensation of soaring through air and the freedom that this represents. In times of uncertainty, the sun always manages to break through.


The calm after the storm.


Like much of my previous work, the rain images are full of motion and speed. The heap paintings, in contrast, are much more contemplative and still. When we think of piles – "piles of dirty laundry," "heaps of work," "piles of crap," these phrases all come to mind. Heaps seem to have negative connotations in our culture. It is artists who want to rummage through the mess, and reevaluate what society throws away or disregards. All good sleuths know that one can learn a lot about a person by going through their garbage.

While traveling through South-East Asia this past year, I became aware of how integral to life the pile is in many non-Western cultures. The markets are composed entirely of heaps – piles of fish, piles of fruit, vegetables, spices, shoes, machine parts, etc. Whereas Westerners consider piles the epitome of disorder, in the East they represent the ultimate in the organization of necessities. The duality of meaning in such a basic structure perfectly illustrates many ideas on simplicity versus complexity, necessity versus excess, and the stereotyping that occurs in the colonial world view.

My paintings throw the pristine arrangement found in traditional and modern still life, portrait and landscape paintings into disarray, sweeping the elements into haphazard, yet carefully constructed heaps. They are like scientific categorizations of meaning ready for visual dissection and consequent reconstruction by each viewer. The works are a post-modern recontextualization of art, images and disparate styles.

As well as paintings and drawings, the exhibition contains a sculptural installation. Painted three-dimensional objects appear to tumble out of a painting. The objects are both found and constructed items, drawing a wavering line between art, value and garbage. The objects play with scale and proportion: a giant box of cigarettes is juxtaposed with a child's bicycle. Two dimensionality is butted up against the third dimension creating an uneasy visual discourse. The painting is trapped inside the television set, the bottles are round yet flat, two dimensional ghosts inhabit and disturb the luscious painted curves of a sofa-chair. The installation pushes the boundaries of the painted space, which, thus far in my work has always been contained within the frame of the canvas.

The works are like cars with all the features: traditional German dependability and engineering, racy new colours and a modern look, with as many gadgets crammed on as possible, including a pig on the hood and a mouse in the muffler.

all content © Lisa Birke 2015