Fur, Flesh, Feather

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					Fur, Flesh, Feather

When Mr. and Mrs. W Stevens emigrated from England to Australia bringing with them a pair
of Staffordshire Bull Terriers, they also bought with them the breed that would become as
much a part of life in the western suburbs as tough stickers and four letter words. 58 years on
the ‘Staffy’ has been used as a symbol of ‘Westie’ rebellion in Wayde Owen’s upcoming show
Fur, Flesh, Feather.

The current body of work by 2005 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship recipient Wayde
Owen, is as much about what is not present as what is. The artist began the body of work as
an exploration of relationships between materials, surface and image following his 6 month
sojourn through Europe.

The exhibition of paintings and contemporary sculpture centres on robust portraits of
Staffordshire Bull Terriers – an icon of the Western Suburbs of small towns throughout
Australia. Building on Owen’s previous paintings of ‘Quails’, the artist hybridises the bottom
feeding bird with whom he has personified and the bold, fearless and reliable ‘Staffy’. The
Staffy’s usual black brindle fur has been replaced by layers and drips of bright enamel paint
along with Quail plumage and delicately drawn tattoo representations. By depicting his own
tattooed Flesh within the pieces, Owen brings an undeniably autobiographical aspect to the

Extending the paintings into sculptural works seems to be a mammoth jump – though the artist
insists this is not the case at all. “Adding Found objects or Taxidermy to the paintings is about,
‘painting and not painting’. I force the paintings into new dialogues; I like the tension in this.”
The result is a menagerie of subjects and materials that are quiet and strong.

A particularly powerful addition to the paintings is the employ of taxidermied birds. These
objects are feathered representations and for this body of work, a real bird holds infinitely more
potential than a painted bird ever could. For Owen they are still living beings, accompanying
the paintings and telling the story that a mere canvas could not tell – as if a life-long chaperone
or protector to the paintings themselves. The literal suggestion of the ‘new eating the old’
within these works speaks to a universal truth of the organic processes of growth and ingestion.

Research for this artist is always the first port of call before a painting begins. Hard to believe
as he identifies with the ‘Outsider’ movement – whose dictum is ‘Warning: Outsider art can be
aggressive, explicit and dangerous to your concept of beauty” (Rexter, 2005, How to look at
outsider Art, p10). The term in this context, refers to self taught, institutionalised and non-
artists who create works which often are not intended to be viewed, purchased or critiqued.
Owen’s identification with this genre can be traced to his origins as an artist from the tough
western suburbs of Sydney, where violence is more common than culture.

“Whatever goes upon four legs or has wings, is a friend”; whose title is taken from the 7
commandments in Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, features a powerful combination of wing, fang
and paw. Is this work a self portrait of the artist, isolating himself from his own breed and
aligning himself with animal kind?

As brutal as these works can seem, there is also a tenderness and vulnerability which reveals
itself increasingly as the viewer examines the works. Case in point the work titled Bird Brain.
Feathers spill out through a hole at the back of the skull suggesting willingness to
communicate. On the other hand we can feel private, feathered memories forming as a
cushion under the fleshless self portrait. Red enamel paint puddles beneath the restful feathers
resulting in a strange tension between material and memory.

An orderly melange of skulls, animal horns, slabs of paint and obscure experiments greet a
visitor to the artist’s studio. Taxidermied birds wink from the top of a large stack of stretched
canvases, if only they could tell the tale of what they had seen. It would seem that the artist
collects obsessively but with great discrimination, with books taking precedence. Biographies
on Christian Boltanski, Anselm Kiefer and Seneca the Younger rest comfortably next to
Stephen Dunn poetry and critical writing by Benjamin, Orwell, Freud, Jung, Marx, Adorno and
not to forget the June 2007 Tattoo Monthly.

Owen is compelled to ask his own questions; in order to break free of old (socio) cultural
moulds. If he does not, then he retains his state of psychological dependence on learned
behaviour and therefore fails to realise his own potential. In this respect Fur, Flesh, Feather is
not only for fighting words, but for fighting deeds.

Shayle Flesser

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