All work by Madeleine Pfull. Photos courtesy of Chalk Horse Gallery and photography by Docqment.
Sydney artist Madeleine Pfull sure knows how to capture an expression.
Set amongst quintessentially Australian suburban landscapes, the characters in her paintings wear their hearts on their faces, and it’s impossible not to feel a connection to them. I think it’s because we all know women like them in our own lives—the strong, no-nonsense Aunty, the sticky-beak neighbour with a heart of gold, the unapologetically honest mother. These are the types of women that Madeleine is drawn to, because ‘there is no bullshit to them and they are tough as nails.’ Her work has a nostalgic, suburban Australiana feel to it, so it comes as no surprise to learn that The Castle and Muriel’s Wedding are among her favourite films. Madeleine’s new solo exhibition opens this Thursday at Chalk Horse Gallery in Sydney, and she was kind enough to give us a sneak peek of some of the works while having a yarn about her paintings, her influences, and the desirability of living an ordinary life.
Your upcoming show is your first solo exhibition with Chalk Horse, is that right? How long have you been working on it?
It’s my first solo exhibition with Chalk Horse Gallery in Sydney, and my fifth solo exhibition in total. I’ve been working on it for about seven months, which is not a lot of time for me as my paintings are quite labour intensive.
Will there be any pavlova at the opening?
If only. What a mess that would be. To be honest, I am not a fan of pavlova, it’s a massive bellyache waiting to happen.
Did you grow up in suburban Australia? If so, how has the landscape and culture influenced your work?
Yeah I did, I grew up in Ryde. I think the characters around have been a clear influence. I don’t think they are that unique to where I’m from though, I believe colour has also been a huge influence.
Are all the subjects in your paintings based off real people in your life?
No, the majority aren’t. It might be based off of someone I saw at the shops or overheard on the bus. Sometimes it’s something I’ve seen but mostly, I think these are tropes that allow me to explore something further in my work. The characters themselves are based off of me in a way. I create these characters through dressing up with wigs and makeup and taking photos. I don’t feel that they are me, it’s more using myself as a tool to invent characters. If it comes out looking too much like me, I’ll disregard that character or exaggerate an aspect of her.
How do we get our hands on those photos of you?
Haha oh no, you never will. I’m taking them with me to the grave.
Do you sit in the shadows of your family gatherings just taking photos of expressions to paint later?
Haha, no no. I don’t think my family is the influence of my work. Though I’m sure some of them must wonder.
Most of your subjects are older women. Why do you think you are drawn to them?
They are my favourite characters. They are fascinating to me. There is no bullshit to them and they are tough as nails. I think as a young woman I feel a bit frustrated to see youth be considered such an important aspect of being a woman. I like that these women exist further than the expectations society has put on them.
You manage to take the banality of everyday life and transform it into something intriguing. Are you purposely trying to convey that there is more to every story?
An aspect of the work I’m trying to convey is that there is no shame in having an ordinary life. Quiet humility is a graceful and desirable trait. I loved The Castle for its easy depiction of a run-of-the-mill home life that wasn’t really run-of-the-mill at all. Muriel’s Wedding does that as well. The mum in Muriel’s Wedding has to be one of my favourite characters. I think she is one of the most complex and despairing characters as well. It also could be a way of escapism; I think with global issues it’s easy to be overwhelmed with how the world is turning out. It’s hard for me to picture myself as a middle-aged woman with the same seemingly banal worries when it feels like the comfortable world, as we know it, is going to end.
Do people with poker faces scare you?
Not scare me, but they might make me disinterested in them. I do love people with expressive faces… though subtle micro-expressions are interesting. When an actor can successfully convey real emotion in an extreme close-up shot, it’s wonderful to watch.
Madeleine’s solo exhibition opens this Thursday, May 2nd, at Chalk Horse Gallery, 167 William Street, Darlinghurst NSW from 6pm – 8pm.