The sun shining ultravioletly one day upon the protean sea

The sun shining ultravioletly one day upon the protean sea

Connected narratives across time and place emerge subtly in the work of Heather Shimmen.

15 December, 2023
In Exhibitions,
Printmaking, Q&A


Heather Shimmen:

A rogue son and a Royal visit, 2021-23, mixed media (felt, linocut, aluminium, feathers, embossing, sticks, lithography, thread and faux fur).


Circle work, 2008-2023, mixed media (aluminium, faux fur, feathers, embossing, linocut and felt), unique state.

The sun shining ultravioletly one day upon the protean sea, 2023, multi-panel, linocut and carbon transfer, monoprint and ink on paper.

Suspended anima, 2010-17, mixed media (thread, solvent transfer, ink, linocut, cut paper).

A work in five parts, 2021.

Q: What were some of the foundation ideas for this exhibition project?

A: The themes, cogitations and explorations in the works incorporate Australian colonial history and associated tales, concerns for the natural world and origins of life on our planet and more. New preoccupations have been developing while older ones have been revisited over several years.

I am a natural collector of flotsam and jetsam as I am with ideas that inform my work. Motivations have evolved over time as have all elements within my art practice. In the last few years I have been interested in Australian flora and fauna, much of which is now endangered. I feel compelled to create versions of many Australian critters that are found nowhere else and are little known. I am driven to continue making the work to capture elements that are elusive, yet nevertheless striven for.

Many themes come from tales originating from the Australian bush, ocean voyages or sometimes an urban myth or legend. The resulting stories translate as a series of portraits or cameos that evoke the past and hint at a possible future. Distortion and refraction within the images are but part of a continued exploration of relationships between female form/s and the world.

Females take a central role in my work. I strive to imbue them with strength and power and a touch of introspection. Some are lost souls, others are discoverers.

Q: How did the artwork selection take place?

A: It was an intuitive process between David Ashley Kerr, (La Trobe Regional Gallery’s senior curator), Gabriella Duffy (assistant curator) and myself. One large work had been made for a specific space, the other works easily found their positions through our collaboration. I brought far more work than required but with three key pieces in place, a narrative emerged. I don’t impose a political standpoint or ideology, however I include subliminal elements and personal stories that may resonate with the viewer.

Q: What are some of the key works and what subject matter do they deal with?

A: Suspended Anima: this presents eclectic, oversized, suspended artist books incorporating traditional processes, such as linocut, alongside unconventional media. These works combine pop-up elements and resemble a strange collection of critters or ‘animas’. I play with combinations of the human and animal/insect world discovered in a variety of locations, from a library to a bush setting. I think these creatures, although preposterous, are not entirely benign.

The sun shining ultravioletly one day upon the protean sea was created as a site-specific piece and is a large multi-panelled work on paper incorporating linocut, monoprint and carbon transfer. I have been fascinated by strange life forms evolving in the primordial seas. In Greek mythology, these seas were thought to be the home of several deities including Proteus, a shapeshifting god of ‘elusive sea change’. Similar creatures are still found in the depths of the oceans.

A rogue a son and a Royal visit is a large mixed-media wall installation based on the 19th century visit of a wayward son of Queen Victoria to Australia. It depicts a welcome by the ‘natives’, in this instance a motley group of Australian animals from possums, emus, kangaroos etc. The weedy-looking prince is alongside a lion representing the British colonial power. I’m interested in this power imbalance and the ramifications of colonisation.

Circle work is another wall installation comprising of 153 circular pieces created over many years, many derived from larger works. It was my experiences in Papua New Guinea as a teenager witnessing scarification and facial tattoos which led me to an interest in the 18th century fashion for facial disguises for smallpox scars (black dots and other shapes made of silk and velvet). In 2019 I made a series of objects called Small and Big Pox, exploring archaic viruses.

Q: What is it about the printmaking experience that you most appreciate?

A: I began as a painter and I think I approach printmaking, to a degree, with a painter’s mindset. Printmaking allows versatility (linocut especially) with the potential to make works that are translations of concepts that could be realised in other media. I like to push the boundaries of printmaking with multiple outcomes and manipulations.

The sun shining ultravioletly one day upon the protean sea, is at La Trobe Regional Gallery, Morwell, until 11 February.


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