Jon Marthick on The Cut
Initial observations of Julie Fragar’s series of expressionistic paintings bring forth confrontational and disorientating themes of the human body which appear to revolve around the medical and anatomical. Formal elements which are commonly associated with cubism, surrealism and neo-expressionism are compacted in the abstract configuration of bodily forms, emphasised by the frenetic application of paint. Visually, a selection of these works are eerily reminiscent of early artistic impressions of Dante Alighieri’s revelations of hell from his epopee titled Inferno (ca. 14th century).
Within the medical fluorescence of the predominantly white gallery, the works protrude and emerge from the setting/position as a multidimensional sequence of imagery that invites, and intrigues furthers clinical inspection. Wooden frames conflict with the scientific environ but offer a level of visual contradiction and soften the harshness of the lighting and colour schematics. The bright lighting echoes the sterility of the surgical environment and bolsters Fragar’s discernment for the dramatic and routine operation of medical procedure. Furthermore, the overall visual balance and relationships generated from the proximal placement of works reinforce notions of scientific examination. In effect Fragar’s paintings are perceived through a more clinical lens, rather than purely artistic scope due to their sterile exhibition.
The visual juxtaposition generated from the intermingling of soft, feminine shades of pastel and fuchsia pink in comparison with an overtly dark, monochromatic undertone speaks to the apprehensions, deep uncertainties and possible benefits of medical intervention. It is this quiet simple merger of colour which describes simultaneously the brutality and delicacy of surgical practices and the universally inevitable reality of mortality and obliteration. Explorations of the formal composition and physicality of the human body are figuratively manipulated perhaps in an effort to articulate the potential for the biological and chemical states of the human body correlated to the mental and/or psychological experience.
The contorted bodies/subjects depicted within Fragar’s painting The Surgeon (2020) illustrate a sense of angst and internalised turmoil expressed through dense and opaque layers of paint, applied in an energetic disposition. The intricate performance of surgery is exposed in a clinically distorted manner, perhaps to highlight the somewhat herculean task which comprises major medical operations. From an observational standpoint, the surgeon illustrated within this painting is represented in a more realistic style in distinction to the surrounding abstract surgical environment. The surgeon remains focused and professionally composed in the presence of such intense pressure and immediate uncertainty.
The Anaesthetist (2020) elucidates to the complex and stringently controlled scientific temporal process of anaesthesia. A synthetic cocktail of drugs utilised in general anaesthesia to induce an artificial state of sedation, the mind becomes unconscious, the body paralysed and any perception and reaction to pain and time is negated. Fragar captures this atypical state of being, and suppression is expressed through the distorted perspectives of the patient and surgical theatre. The effects of anaesthesia on the mental status of a patient can produce an array of cognitive and emotional changes such as postoperative delirium, hallucination and confusion. Pharmaceuticals used for sedation and analgesia such as ketamine and opioids have profound effects on the psyche and in a sense distort and alter one’s coherence of reality, as shown by this painting mode of expression. Specifically, Fragar’s Anaesthetist evokes a level of dysfunctionality in perception through the absence of any sense of reality or visual normality.
Conversely, a lone, smaller portrait of an elderly woman interrupts the core dreamlike imagery which in turn draws closer examination. The female patient depicted appears frail and weak, yet an appearance of hope is exercised by her facial expression. Her presentation within the series highlights a more realistic, human representation of health and disease. An isolated smaller painting, of landscape orientation, centrally positioned, offers a welcome dissociation to the more frenetic and
phantasmagorical paintings. This particular image depicts an isolated hospital bed and layers of soft pillows which evoke notions of rest, yet not of recovery. The metal and black leather of the bed is surrounded by an infinity of darkness, which conjures a remote feeling of desolation, suggestive of death and the imminent void that ensues.
Hospital environments are an intense microcosm of activity, foreign in every which way to everyday familiarities. The establishment itself and its operations feel removed, concealed from societies focal view and concern; especially the more dramatic instances of accident, emergency, illness and treatment. For example, oncology, palliative care, and psychiatry. Even though the general population has become saturated and desensitised by medical practices from predominantly mainstream media (for instance, reality shows, television drama series and the like), there still remains a distinct personal experience of brutal confrontation and strong empathic and emotional response.
Fragar’s series of artworks remind the viewer of the thorough and toilsome duties performed by health professionals in such adverse circumstances. These paintings traverse the functionality and psychological effects of the hospital from a multitude of perspectives, which leave a contemplative impression on one’s own experiences in sickness and in health as well as that of others. These images bring to the forefront ideas which circumnavigate what it means to be human. Is our consciousness and/or soul/heart merely a complex, ever evolving arrangement of atomic particles, chemical reactions and electric signals? Is our subjective experience and sensational awareness of the world around us perpetually operating in a state of flux between the dark boundaries of presence, absence, and life and death.
Jon Marthick is a recent Bachelor of Contemporary Arts Honours graduate (First Class) from the University of Tasmania’s School of Creative Arts (Inveresk). Throughout his academic studies, Jon has found an affinity and fascination with interdisciplinary arts practice, specifically the nexus between the visual arts and physical sciences. He is particularly drawn to the cathartic and/or therapeutic effects which can arise from the engagement with creative art processes. A prime focus of his arts research was the conceptual and theoretical development of psychological themes conveyed through scientific modalities and procedures in combination with traditional art practices, such as abstract painting and digital-macro photography. Jon’s art places an emphasis and intrinsic value on the complexities, nuances and ambiguities of emotion, such as affection, as well as the catalysation of chemical reactions which precede and cease such sensations within the human body. He is currently studying a postgraduate Diploma of Creative Arts & Health (Art Therapy) and aspires to complete a Doctor of Philosophy in order to develop, refine and express his creative impulses.