Originally from England, Joanna Braithwaite has lived in New Zealand since 1965. She graduated from the Ilam School of Fine Arts and has won numerous awards over her career since, both in Australia where she’s regularly been exhibited, as well as New Zealand. Her works are characterised by animals portrayed in human ways, which unravels her quest around topics such as “identity”, “power” and “societal hierarchy”. With a great dose of humor, she depicts the fine boundaries existing between humans animals: in how far “are we really different”?.
Joanna Braithwaite was part of the Nomadic Art Gallery's digital exhibition "Alienation". Contextualisation of her work within the exhibition theme:
"Mostly, I am attracted to art that raises questions about how and why we are different from animals. This unconscious feeling of superiority ended when contemplating Braithwaite’ subversive painting practice which breaks down the barriers between people and animals. In a strangely realistic but pleasant way her artworks reminds us where we come from and how much we can learn from the animal kingdom, about ourselves and societal constructs.
The painting "Department of Justice" stylistically offers a reinterpretation of artworks from the past while laying down a lucid and amused glance at the power structures running through our contemporary society. With a Baroque gesture between homage and drama, the rich, Carravagian brushstrokes derive their expressive power from the light-dark contrasts and rather limited color palette.
Her painting shows an intimate realism in perfect balance with the surrealistic aspects continuously flirting with a radically free approach towards the questioning of conventional symbols (Court dress blown over from colonial times) and our behavior towards those symbols. Although this painting is more subdued and less exuberant than some of her previous works, the more striking is the attention paid to psychological aspects, subtle emotions and ironic pastiches, giving her paintings a multitude of interpretations.
At first sight, the humorous grandeur stands out. The judge's wig as a token of justice and hierarchy corresponds so visually to the coat of the sheep that we should actually consider them as equals. The sheep is painted with more reverence, which makes us imagine that the roles of responsibility could be reversed. And then we think of Caligula's horse that became consul and laugh at the fact that we just thought what we thought. But wait, could some horses not be better judges than people?
In essence, the painting’s humor attracts us, holds us visually and conceptually until we see reality, with a dose of healthy imagination, closer than before. In this work, the judge has clearly missed his career boat and therefore chosen alcohol as his mistress. His facial expression is one of failed expectation and shortcomings in the powerful eyes of the sheep. The reversed juxtaposition, without references to time and space, enlighten us on the wider issues related to authority and hierarchies, still running trough our contemporary society.
But eventually, by letting humour and politics masterfully cross their paths, it allows us to throw the mirror on ourselves and think about all our shortcomings and put these in perspective. It is quiet amazing what a non-verbal conversation between a sheep and visual remnants of an old system can teach us. The sad thing is that the longer you look at it, the stronger the Velasquan mystery grows."
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