Megan Keating: Cutting Through - Art Collector

Issue 62, October - December 2012

Tasmanian artist Megan Keating is finding a new audience for her work since adding paper cuts to her repertoire. Briony Downes takes a look at where this new direction has taken her.

Megan Keating started creating paper cuts several years ago, originally to complement and inform her practice as a painter. Drawn to the strong graphic elements of Japanese woodcuts and the traditional paper cutting techniques found in North East Asia, Keating embarked on a series of residencies to uncover this heritage and gain practical skills. These visits, including to Beijing, Tokyo and Taiwan, became a catalyst for making paper cuts and the techniques she learned became a large part of her practice.

Fundamentally based on conflict and how we engage with it through relationships, language, nature and technology, Keating’s work moves seamlessly across painting, paper cuts and installation, always retaining this common thematic thread. The subject of the environment is also key. Many early paper cuts like
Across Enemy Lines from 2005, which saw her use symbols like palm fronds and military camouflage to illustrate the sublime contradiction between decorative elements and the harsh realities of war. Most recently, the intricately detailed work Pulp and Smoke received the Hobart Art Prize in 2011. Based on environmental issues surrounding pulp mills in Tasmania, Pulp and Smoke curls and billows with gears, workmen and pipes – all cut from fragile black paper and meticulously pinned to the wall.

In her 2010 series
Lenticular Cream, Keating produced both paper cuts and a series of paintings exploring poetic language. Words like truth, purity and absolute are the basis of each canvas, shimmering out at the viewer like a mirage. “The texts are poetic language but once you take them out of context they become empty,” Keating explains. “These works are ambiguous utterings, silent fragile moments, fleeting thoughts that can’t be pinned down with certainty. The text or word fills a space that oscillates between thought, meaning and emotion but never settles firmly on one or the other.” Exploring the slip between language, communication and text, the works expose the inability of words alone to wholly express the varied depth of human experience. They are luminous in their beauty yet heavy with meaning.

A large part of the beauty behind Keating’s paintings comes from a unique pearlescent paint. Developed while working with a chemist, and through her observations of the effects of combining translucent mica with synthetic polymer and oil paint, Keating mixes a solution that allows her paintings to pick up the colour of light and create an effect similar to moving an LCD laptop screen. Depending on where the viewer stands, different views of the work can be seen. “The whole image or painted surface never fully reveals itself. It is always shifting, moving and changing, slipping in and out of sight,” says Keating. “It’s both a literal and metaphorical illusion. It’s about screening as a barrier [to] engagement.”

In her most recent body of work,
Nature Strip, plant life is elevated to a grand scale. Taking pieces of weeds found in her suburban garden, photographing them and then creating a digital motif to paint onto wood panels, Keating turns plants like thorny blackberries into ornamental symbols. Works like Bramble; Autumn and Bindweed #1 display a seductive tangle of plant life, twisting and turning in a filmy, messy wildness. Smaller works present single silhouettes of each weed, lined up like samples ready for a microscope. When placed side by side these create a glistening forest of specimens, elevated from their ordinary status as nuisance to remarkable objects of decorative beauty.

Keating expands: “At the end of the day they are just displaced plants. They take root in contested sites – any site that has been intervened with. They are our botanical partner because they exist where we have been.

“It’s a perfect analogy for globalisation. The weed is a global explorer. Our lives are becoming a lot more connected and so is the environment. My weeds will be the same as your weeds and that not only brings the world in much smaller but it makes us less diverse, less unique.”

Currently working on a new project funded by the Australia Council Visual Arts Board, Keating is developing an installation that will combine her images and paper cuts in the form of designer wallpaper and cut-out animations. Always seeking opportunities to integrate the elements of her practice, Keating states: “The framework is broad for this project but it will allow me to experiment with new possibilities and that is very exciting.”

Megan Keating’s next exhibition,
Nature Strip, is in Melbourne with Mars Gallery from 8 November to 1 December 2012.

Share this page: