Bodywork boldly reclaims the female body with works from three rising stars of Australia’s art world – Kaylene Whiskey (SA), Amber Boardman (NSW), and Tarryn Gill (WA).  Featuring contorted soft sculptures, a video collage of female celebrity icons, and fleshy paintings, Bodywork explores ideas connected to body modification, self-expression and female empowerment.

We recently caught up with Amber Boardman to find out more about her practice and the incredible paintings she created for the exhibition.

Hi Amber, are you able to tell us about your art practice?

Sure, I make large-scale paintings that examine crowd behaviour and the role of the internet in shaping social norms. I combine my background in painting and animation to create narrative works that draw from the visual language of cartoons. Many of my ideas about the flexibility of the human figure have been influenced by my time working as an animator for Cartoon Network’s [adult swim], Comedy Central and Google.

Can you tell us about the works featured in Bodywork?

The paintings in this show have been selected from multiple bodies of work created between 2014 – 2020. The smaller works mostly contain single figures with leaky or morphing bodies who try to stay on internet trends. Two of the larger works investigate crowd behaviour such as the lethal frenzy that erupts at Black Friday sales events.

The three works made specifically for this show involve the relationship between our bodies and our screens. I think a lot about how we hand over so many of our decisions to algorithms. In Dating App Algorithm, I wanted to show the range of people, emotions and motivations taking place in online dating apps. The swirly dotted lines in the painting are the invisible digital structures – the algorithm – connecting people as they navigate the online profiles of others. Perhaps they are seeking out lifelong partners or one-night stands and everything in between.

In The Internet of Vibes I imagine our unspoken communication and the ‘vibes’ we give off as a kind of ‘internet’. It’s as if the viewer is wearing special glasses that make these communications visible.

Amber Boardman, The Internet of Vibes, 2020, oil on canvas, 183 x 273cm. Image courtesy of the artist. Photography by Pixel Poetry.

For Porn Categories I wanted to push into the idea that if you create shapes with vaguely skin-like colours then it becomes about the body. Some of the imagery references actual pornography, some are imagined, and some is pure abstraction. When I’ve shown this work to people everyone sees something different. Many see body parts in pure abstraction. I think the imagery that comes forward almost becomes like a Rorschach test for the viewer

Amber Boardman, Porn Categories, 2019, oil on canvas, 122 x 153cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

Several of your paintings explore women’s beauty rituals – what sparked your interest in that subject?

I have always been amused by advertisements that announce new breakthroughs in mascara and hair dye technologies. As a child I watched these television commercials and then observed women who dyed, curled or straightened their hair. I was confused about why it is that whatever sort of hair people have, they seem to want it to be different. I tried to imagine if there was a perfect hair colour or texture that someone could be satisfied with and not need to alter it.

I spend a lot of time researching internet trends and crowd behaviour on podcasts, memes and blog posts. I use this research to form the basis of ideas that I let play out on the canvas. I’m interested in highlighting behaviours that have become normalised but start to seem strange when you look at them more closely.

As an American-Australian artist do you think messages around female beauty are the same here and in the US?

The emphasis on beauty here in Australia seems blonder and less diverse to me. I also see the less wild variation in hair, makeup and fashion. But there are a lot of similarities too. I see plenty of gargantuan eyebrows and bee-sting lips. I think social media is creating a smaller range of standard beauty practices worldwide. My favourite moments in beauty trends are when they reach a tipping point and somehow, collectively, people no longer consider something like the pencil-thin plucked eyebrow to be beautiful, and now everyone has to get tattoos to make their brows look fuller. In 10 years I’m sure this will shift again. I like how this stuff is always in flux. If you wait long enough you’re bound to possess some bodily aspect that will be fashionable.

Your fleshy colour palette is very evocative. What draws you to the painting medium?

Ah there’s so much to love about painting, including the smell (my drawing and sculpture-based studio mate often comes into my studio just to sniff the fumes). The medium of painting allows that anything that can be imagined can be created. This isn’t true for other media – sculpture is bound to laws of gravity, photographs need to capture moments that exist in time and space. I get to paint whatever I can imagine. I want the compositions and the perspective in the works to be a bit off-kilter because I like painting impossible bodies and spaces. For me, it’s important for a painting to be a painting and not a replica of a photograph. My colour palette involves fleshy tones because all of my works relate to the body in some way. I also feel that the filmy, oily, gooey. medium of oil paint resembles skin and the body in a way that no other medium can.

What to see more of Amber’s work? Visit her Instagram and website. Find out more about Bodywork.