#SheInspires Anne Wallace 

April 15, 2020


Before the world stopped and held its collective breath I had the joy of going on a lovely day out with a friend. We lunched on a spicy cauliflower salad with pomegranates, sitting outside in the sun at the GOMA café bistro while watching the City Cats wend their way along the river. Groups of friends strolled along the path and excited groups of students laughed as they shared their lunch after a gallery visit. Later we wandered over to the QUT Art Museum where an exhibition called Strange Ways was exhibiting the art of QUT alumnus, Anne Wallace. 

Anne was a parent at the school where I taught and I was lucky enough to purchase one of her paintings The Emerald City at a charity auction. When I bought the piece I had no idea how special her work was or how much I would come to love and admire her figurative style. Her colours are vivid and at first glance her work may seem conventional…. but when you look deeper her paintings are anything but ordinary.They all exude a strangeness derived from her unusual use of perspectives, the superimposing of images, and the borrowing of disparate sources.

I think her work is particularly relevant in these troubled times as they give you that sense of uneasiness, just like we are feeling now, but they are also colourful and beautiful, just as the world continues to be. Many make me feel that they show an almost Alfred Hitchcock fifties style. Familiar objects are combined with the unfamiliar, capturing the tension between the real and imagined. 

Her paintings have an uncanny ability to tap into a shared psyche, drawing upon the language of pop culture. I bought the book Strange Ways by Anne Wallace and the lady at the desk said she would so miss being surrounded by Anne’s work every day. She was very impressed when I told her I had one of my own. My friend had been blown away by the paintings she saw and was going to recommend the exhibition to her artistic sons.

About Anne Wallace 

Wallace emerged in the 1990’s in the Australian post modern art scene as one of the few ‘strange’ artists exploring figurative painting. Born in 1970, Anne Wallace grew up in the Brisbane suburb of Kenmore. She knew that she wanted to be an artist from an early age. 

When Wallace was six she entered a contest in the Courier Mail. The task was to conceive a title for the iconic Tintin books and Wallace won by dreaming up the title Tintin and the 10 000 Balloons. Her prize was a complete set of the Tintin stories. Artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein have cited the comic and its peculiar pop aesthetic as inspiration. To this day Anne drafts her painting compositions in hand drawn rectangular shapes in her sketch books, a process she attributes to the comics.

Anne attended St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School where her high school art teacher encouraged her to pursue drawing. A few years later in 1988 Wallace enrolled in a Bachelor of Fine Arts at QUT with the view to becoming an illustrator of children’s books. However her then lecturer, William Robinson, renowned landscapist, encouraged her to explore painting as a possible medium. Coincidentally, William Robinson was also a lecturer for me when I was studying the art element of my course at Teachers College. 

One of Wallace’s very early works, produced at age 21, is an extraordinarily complex and deeply symbolic Sour the Boiling Honey. For this work , Wallace set about proving her worth as a “real “ painter. Over 3 metres long – this semi autobiographical triptych borrows its title from a line in a Dylan Thomas poem ‘ I See The Boys of Summer ‘. The painting sets the scene of young people cavorting on the beach and in the centre panel, seated somewhat ceremoniously in jacket and tie with book in hand is a young Wallace.

A few years later Wallace moved to London as the recipient of an art scholarship, which enabled her to undertake post graduate studies at The Slade School of Fine Art, where she matured and developed as an artist. 

Her Art 

References to music, books and films is one of the few threads linking the idiosyncratic work of Anne Wallace to the contemporary art world. I love the portraits of Brisbane band The Go Betweens and John Lennon in a quintessential Queensland setting , sucking on a cigarette outside a stucco house in Spring Hill. In the exhibition were lounge room scenes with records and record players. The vinyls fit into the retro visual language found in much of Wallace’s work. 

For a Brisbane girl like me scenes such as I Shall Be Released showing budgies in a cage in front of a Brisbane suburban yard evoke childhood memories.  2005 ‘s Consolation is a painting I covet with a women lying on a bed reading a book. It speaks to me on so many levels. Lavender Miss makes me quite uncomfortable. She Is is another favourite. Boo Radley is based on Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and depicts two children dwarfed by a giant tree.

In recent years Anne’s work has become more political with the 2014 ‘ Wolston Park and Forgotten / Now Remembered Australian Portraits showcasing the lived experiences of individuals as subject matter to illuminate social injustices and forgotten stories. 

The QUT exhibition brought together more than 60  artworks from public and private collections, spanning three decades. I feel so privileged to have seen such a comprehensive exhibition of one of my favourite home grown artists and although she now resides in Melbourne her work has been shaped by my hometown of Brisbane’s scenes. Anne’s paintings reflect everything I love – books, music, film and a sense of theatre and pop culture, with a sense of the quirky and strange forcing you to look more closely. When I think of a young girl from Kenmore having such a talent and going on to have an art career spanning three decades I am  in awe and that is why #SheInspires.