Tom Kearney & Michelle Gearin: Nest. In the Art Factory

Nest, Tom Kearney and Michelle Gearin, 2010
Nest, Tom Kearney and Michelle Gearin, 2010

Nest is an exhibition of works and a collaborative play installation by Michelle Gearin and Tom Kearney. It is currently exhibiting in the Art Factory’s dual exhibition and project spaces, beautifully demonstrating MRAG’s intentions to present contemporary, intriguing and interactive exhibitions that develop the appreciation of art in child audiences.

In Nest, a flowing and expressive painting on paper by Michelle hangs beside Tom’s amorphous resin and fibreglass sculptures, and the two have worked collaboratively for the project space, combining their individual aesthetic interests to create a visually splendid mural spanning ten metres.

Tom’s voluptuous sculptures, derived from materials more commonly associated with surfboard manufacture, are the product of his prevailing aesthetic interest in surf and music subcultures. His works pull the audience toward ideas of culture and its influence. Celebrating and appropriating imagery and patterns from far-reaching cultural and kitsch sources; anything from atomic-age fabric designs to vintage lifestyle magazines; board shorts to exotica LP’s, his totemic creations are invested in cultural history from the 1950s to the 80s, when a sense of individualism, rebellion and freedom were attached to the associated lifestyles.

Contrastingly, Michelle’s paintings draw predominantly from personal experience, manifesting into emotive, expressive works. The meaning and intent behind her imagery is at times transparent and other times opaque. I want my paintings to inspire an inward seeing of an outward experience, explains Michelle. Motifs of animals and recurring female figures appear intuitively across her work. As she develops her paintings, layers of imagery are selectively worked on to recede or come forward and like memories; elements poignantly blur and overlap, sometimes lost, sometimes distinct.

Michelle and Tom’s individual exhibition histories span several significant prizes, exhibitions and personal achievements over the last decade, and the two have been bound as a family unit with their three year old son Maximillion for the last five years. Between the two artists, their personal styles and attributes are not dissimilar, but their works when placed beside each other, resonate very differently. Both artists are attracted to the nostalgia of times gone by, and allow autobiographical aspects to filter through their creations. Their process, materials, and conceptual inspiration however could not be more diverse. And yet essentially, as Michelle has said of her own work, they are both concerned with the relationship between personal experiences and associated external signifiers.

A nest is a safe place; a place of shelter from the elements; it’s an environment of protection. The interactive mural exhibited in Nest references the kitsch visual qualities of house and home; traditional values and the nuclear family. The hyper-real scenes of everyday life, inspired by 1950’s advertisements and promotions, present a bright and shiny world reinforced by objects and facades. Slightly tongue in cheek, Tom and Michelle encourage the audience to subvert and sabotage the reality on display, by hanging any one of over seventy hand-painted motifs over aspects of the composition. This installation builds for our young audience an understanding of how Tom and Michelle both subvert and control the realities presented in their artworks.

But there’s something not quite right about the reality we can see in Nest. When was the last time an octopus perched itself in the top corner of your bathroom?

Lauren van Katwyk

Education Curator