Research notes – Tracey Moffat

At first, the series Under the Sign of Scorpio (link)(1) by Tracey Moffatt appears to be mockery. Some of the characters depicted seem to be caricatured (that is the first impression I got when looking at her O’Keeffe’s portrait (link), which seems more of a play on the various pictures of her hands taken by Stieglitz rather than an homage to the painter as such) and the garish, over the top backgrounds (see here or here, for instance) and extensive use of halos to delineate the subjects (as in her Indira Ghandi image) remind me of a mash-up between over the top HDR and Martin Parr’s Autoportrait series (link)(2). However, she has prepared extensive notes to accompany the series and when one reads these in conjunction with the pictures, the initial impressions start to fade away and I can begin to understand why the artist had made some of the aesthetic choices that define the series. It is also clear that she both seems to have the utmost respect for her subjects and that she has tried to connect with them, to live under their skin, as part of her research into each of the portraits. The connection is both through the artist’s obsession with talent, which had led her to research and collect memorabilia in connection with many of the characters portrayed (all of which she considers talented), but also (perhaps primarily) through the projection of her own character into what she believes the persona of these subjects was (or is) – the base of the project, as such is that, like the artist, all the women portrayed were also born under the astrological sign of Scorpio and as such share with her many personality traits. It would seem like many of these could perhaps be veiled stereotypes and the artist herself acknowledges in her notes that some of her apprehensions, based on her own experiences, may actually be misguided. She mentions that Scorpions do not take flattery positively, but would act with suspicion instead. However, she then relates that she had a positive reaction from one of her subjects when she mentioned she was doing a series about her. With this series the author seems to be exploring the life of others at the same time she was exploring her own.

Some of the portraits taken appear to include an element of black or brown face make up or special post-processing effect, which is always controversial in the context of performance (see for instance the Mahalia Jackson portrait, or the previously linked Indira Ghandi image). I think it is unfortunate and perhaps unnecessary for Moffatt to have done that, but she is very explicit in her respect for her subjects (and seem to have been mortified at the idea of offending them, from what I can infer from her exhibition notes), and consequently I do not feel as apprehensive as when used by Nikki S Lee in her Projects series (link to my comments).

As per the depictions themselves, I do not feel particularly connected with the technique used by Moffatt and I believe it is just too “pop” for my taste. In some cases, it maybe because I do not have sufficient knowledge of the subjects in order to understand the reasons why she has chosen a particular prop or background. In others, I feel the connection is too casual (for example, I could not understand why she has a curly hair wig and bright yellow background on Hillary Clinton’s portrait). In a few cases I believe the portraits to be quite effective. I particularly liked her depiction of Nadia Comaneci, which is full of energy and transmits the rhythm and motion of the gymnast quite effectively. I also particularly liked her representation of Frieda Fromm-Reichman, which is perhaps one of the more subdued pictures and lends itself well to the self-reflection that is part of psychoanalytical process.

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(1) Tracey Moffatt – Under the Sign of Scorpio, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, 2005 – Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. 2018. Tracey Moffatt – Under the Sign of Scorpio, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, 2005 – Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.roslynoxley9.com.au/artists/26/Tracey_Moffatt/380/. [Accessed 28 January 2018].

(2) Martin Parr | LensCulture. 2018. Martin Parr’s Hilarious (Self) Portraits – Photographs by Martin Parr | LensCulture. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/martin-parr-martin-parr-s-hilarious-self-portraits. [Accessed 28 January 2018].

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