An outrageous Gothic wit

Rhonda Dredge

Strange Arctic landscapes by Janice Gobey were exhibited at fortyfivedownstairs in May with the figure of a white wolf staring knowingly out of the canvasses.

This was Gobey’s fourth exhibition of paintings in the CBD and she is slowly building a following.

Art mounts an argument and this exhibition is playing with the word primal.

Gobey seems to be saying that a wolf is friendlier than a human in the grip of anger and she has evidence to prove it.

Of the 18 paintings in Primal, four of which depict screaming men in various poses, two sold. Both were of furry creatures curled up in cute little balls.

Humans like to be scared and then have a reassuring message to take home. Primal does that par excellence, performing the shock tactic of good art, making people think about the issues.

Gobey grew up in South Africa and recently did an art residency in Liepzig where she followed the great figurative painter Neo Rauch who depicts worker alienation in graphic colour. 

Gobey still suffers from the trauma of her own upbringing but wears it lightly. She used to own a gun but didn’t use it. Anger seems to stalk her. Primal lets the viewer fill in the scream.

Some viewers might be shocked by the emotionally confronting nature of her work, which combines beauty with cultural commentaries that are becoming more and more relevant.

Men are doing push-ups in the snow while rabbits look on. Others are opening their mouths so you can look down into their gullets. Human males are scary in her world. They are greedy and weird. They put on airs and pretend to be tough guys even when they aren’t. The fur makes a joke about their bestiality. 

“This is a critique of toxic masculinity but it is done with humour,” Gobey said. “Everyone is feeling it now between the sexes. It’s amplified and people don’t know where to place their anger.”

Gobey said she couldn’t stand the politics and has used her art to enter an escape hole. She wraps fur around her angry male figures so they can’t hurt anyone. “I’ve given them a vehicle. Screaming is a bad look.”

As a child Goby had pets and stuffed animals which helped her through an “awful upbringing”. She studied psychology and works as a headhunter in human resources. Her clients are receptive to her message. 

“You are alienated when you don’t fit the mould,” she said. “There are hundreds of rules about art here.”

 Daniel Reader is receptive. He posed for her painting Hear Me Roar. “I used to be a skinny and shy,” he told CBD News. “Then I took up body-building and it helped in front of the camera.” 

Now he plays the villain in TV shows. “Most of my roles are of the bad guy, ex-military, body guard.” He played a lance corporal in the zombie movie Last Hope and a gym trainer in Home and Away.

Gobey took a picture of him doing a push-up and screaming for the painting. Is she manipulating our feelings by getting him to pose in an animal-like way with fur wrapping?

The residency in Liepzig helped her tone down the literality of her past painting, bringing out the abstract in the landscapes and the fury in the figures. 

They dominate rather than struggle with their settings and force the viewer to deal with their meanings.

Art is about raising questions. Gobey has been using fur as a comfort in performance work over the past decade. The animal/human divide is her topic. It brings out her outrageous, Gothic wit.

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