Adrienne Doig: Someone Like Me - Art Collector

Issue 72, April - June 2015

Working primarily in self-portraiture, Adrienne Doig’s portrayal of self is constantly evolving. She talks to Louise Martin-Chew about her recent work, which further embraces abstraction as well as the changing realities of the environment. Portrait by Nikki Short.
Adrienne Doig, photographed for Art Collector Issue 72, April - June 2015. Photo: Nikki Short

 A female figure lies on her back on a patchwork quilt. She is viewed from above, surrounded by grass, onto which abstracted flowers are sewn. Her eyes are closed, behind sunglasses – she is apparently asleep. A book, open on her chest, has a cover that variously reads, implores or solicits: “LIKE ME”.
LIKE Me (2013) created in patchwork, appliqué and embroidery for the University of Queensland National Artists’ Self-Portrait Prize, is knowing in its exploration of the human need for Facebook-style approval, so current and so 24/7. Yet its flatness and abstract qualities also offer up traditional crafts (women's work) in its media and portray the manufactured natural environment into which technology increasingly throws us. This is the witty and multi-layered self-portraiture that has sustained Adrienne Doig’s art practice over the last 15 years.

Her earliest self-portraits (2001) were a series in which she created her life as a doll. Doig commissioned doll makers from around the world to use her features, but with their own cultural and individual emphases. Her life and environment are used to express the self, but she suggests: “It is not so much about a physical likeness; rather how the idea of a person is created out of the things that surround them and feature in their day to day life.”

In recent years Doig has used embroidery and patchwork on found and pieced together backgrounds to continue to explore her own figure. Her 2013 exhibition, Splendid, turned the casual remarks people had made about her work into slogans carried on placards by her self-portrait. These remarks – “FEMINIST CLICHE”, “NOT WORTH IT”, “SPLENDID” and “VERY INTERESTING” – deal with the impact of these (often feckless) words on the artist. The self-deprecating humour, coupled with increasingly strong abstract qualities in these patchwork images, made these works highly successful. Yet lately, says Doig: “I have become a bit tired of my image.” More recent work sees the artist turning her back to the viewer – an invitation to stand in her shoes. “These allow the image to be less about likeness and more about exploring the self,” she says. “I’m interested in how little of the person is needed – it becomes more about the other things that might express me.”

The most recent work sees Doig’s interest in abstraction continue, together with a new interpretation of the changing realities of the environment. “I have pieced together (with patchwork) a more feminine view of the Australian landscape, inspired by my local bush. I was looking at the harshness of Nolan’s desert paintings and the intense colour and pattern in Larter’s landscapes, to take the ideas elsewhere.”

For her latest exhibition, titled Look Out!, her innovation in media continues, with paint used on the fabrics from which these images are built. “In the past I have used tea towels or a ready made or found background and worked myself into the piece so that it became like a backdrop,” says Doig. “In this project I am taking aspects of the real landscape around me and working them into a designed landscape that contains portraits of me and my significant others.”

Recent bushfires in the Blue Mountains, where Doig is based, have heightened the artist’s awareness of increasingly rapid environmental change. During her daily bushwalk, the local birds have come increasingly close. Out There reads like a geometric vortex, drawing the birds and Doig into an inescapable centre. Bushfire Flowers transforms flowers in to patterned and kaleidoscopic landscapes. The result is an exploration of figures within landscapes that express a sense of unfolding crises.
The new work marks another shift for Doig, away from her figure to a more holistic exploration of ideas, reflecting the increased pressure on the environment while still acknowledging and referring to Australian art history. “I want the viewer to step into that space,” she says.
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