Though most known for her hyper-realistic sculptures of fantastical beings, Australian artist Patricia Piccinini has always considered drawing to be the foundation of her practice. Piccinini's drawings, which range from using graphite and ink to silicone and even human hair, depict tender relationships among her idiosyncratic, hybrid creatures.Read More
In a statement for her solo exhibition Recent Drawings at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney in 2006, Piccinini wrote that she does not necessarily regard her drawings as works of art, as they emerge out of necessity. However, she considered the drawings in the show to be finished artworks 'both in the sense of resolved and polished and in the sense of complete within themselves.'
These graphite drawings feature infants and young children interacting with hybrid animals. A young girl bends over her drawing as a horned ape embraces her in Alice (drawing), while a toddler in James (sitting) encounters an armadillo-like marsupial with a baby crawling out of one of the six pouches on her back. In other works such as Bearded Child and Owl Boy, Piccinini renders hybrid animal-children in a soft gradation of fur and feathers (all works 2006).
All of Patricia Piccinini's artworks begin as drawings, some of which she realises as three-dimensional sculptures with a team of technicians. They employ a range of sculptural techniques, from traditional to computer-based.
Familiar relations recur across Piccinini's creations, many of which appear in twos or groups. In the fibreglass and plastic sculpture Thicker Than Water, two biomorphic motorcycles huddle together, their handles resembling deer antlers. Prototypes for the work can be found in graphite drawings such as Contact, in which a human child reaches out to a baby motorcycle, or Shelter, showing adult and child motorcycles resting together (both 2006).
'The Skywhale Suite' (2019), a group of lithographs, portrays Piccinini's skywhale family. Skywhale was first conceived as a hot air balloon of a female turtle-cetacean in 2013, which flew over Canberra for the city's centenary. In the lithographs, Skywhale swims in yellow-orange and blue skies with Skywhalepapa, her companion who carries their babies. Skywhalepapawas also realised as a hot air balloon in 2020 and launched into the sky for a tour around Australia beginning in April 2021.
Hair is a staple in Piccinini's work, both as a material and motif. Vanitas and Orchard (both 2012) comprise of square supports made of silicone and fibreglass, over which the artist used human hair to make intricate drawings. The pink-ish tone of the base closely resembles human skin, complete with wrinkles, veins, and moles. Piccinini's drawings themselves are an uncanny mixture of the familiar and bizarre: tentacles surrounding puckered slits of skin in Vanitas evoke sea anemone, while the cluster of fruits in Orchard consists of nipples.
Even when presented with the sleek shine of well-kempt hair, it generates unexpected juxtapositions in Piccinini's drawings. A fist sprouts out of what appears to be the back of a person's head in Self Portrait (2015), a two-part graphite drawing that also features curls of hair cascading down from female genitals, the open legs ending in arms and hands. Confusion similarly abounds in Inseparable (Welcome Swallow) (2020), in which two long-haired figures embrace. An arm tenderly holds the other over the back, and a swallow rests on an open palm. One figure's body, however, is hidden entirely behind their companion's, so that the two heads seem to be sharing the same body.
Piccinini's drawings are often exhibited alongside her sculptures, such as in solo shows including The Gardener's Eye, Roslyn Oxley9, Sydney (2020); Patricia Piccinini: Inter-natural, Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco (2018); We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep, Hosfelt Gallery (2016); LIKE US: Patricia Piccinini, Newcastle Art Gallery, Australia (2015); and Hug: Recent Works by Patricia Piccinini, Frye Art Museum, Seattle (2008), among others.
And colour is their flesh, her solo exhibition at Melbourne's Tolarno Galleries in 2015, was one of the few exhibitions to revolve around Piccinini's drawings. It included 'Voyages of discovery' (2015), a series of ink and gouache drawings featuring hybrid plants and animals that suggest a journey into a new ecosystem.