Marilyn Baldey

Plenty
Spring Hill Baths, Brisbane

Marilyn Baldey was a court portrait artist for the Fitzgerald Inquiry. She thus held the peculiar position of an institutional artist-an artist without a personal voice, a 'recorder of the facts'. Plenty, Marilyn Baldey's exhibition at the Spring Hill Baths, was created from a deep need to show positive images of people, especially women. Her exhibition may be defined in opposition to the court room-intimate, dignifying, releasing versus anonymous, labelling, pigeon-holeing.

The exhibition, as a cathartic journey, began in the club room of the Baths with colour photographs of personal friends, most of whom were connected with the inquiry (mainly through the media). They are intimate, candid shots-ironically factual in their photographic reality yet far from the impersonal 'record' of the court portraits. Of these same people, Baldey produced large oil portraits with expressionist colouration and brushwork, emphasising an inner life. Because she produced these images in response to the court portraits and hung them in a non-institutional space, the genre of portraiture was given new vitality. Rather than empowering individualism, Baldey's expressionist portraiture testifies to a cosmic spirit (supported by her quotation from Zen in her statement accompanying the show). This cosmic spirit is personified in Hybiscus- a water creature featured in a series of ink, pastel and acrylic drawings and in a published book entitled Undulations, which were also displayed in the club room of the Baths.

The main feature of the exhibition, however, and the climax of its catharsis, are the figure sculptures which were situated in and around the pool. Somewhat smaller than life size and all but one of them female, the sculptures are made from cellulose-coated fibre-glass resin-a dark amorphous material. Glazed clay face masks give colour and expression.

It is in the use of the space, that Baldey's exhibition excelled. The nude female body, such an icon of Western culture, was environmentalised- diving into the pool, resting casually at the edge, cradling babies in the water, stretching full length belly down on the surface. The water imparted a 'naturalised' vulnerability of nakedness.

Baldey's sculptures are obviously derivative of a long tradition of women bathers in modern art. However, the French modernist landscapes of les baigneuses (of Cezanne, Monet, Renoir and others) are viewed from a position of privilege. Female nudity is aesthetically arranged to be revealed to an authorial, voyeuristic artist and audience. Baldey's sculptures have more in common with Degas' dancers-women in action, rather than beautiful objects in a formalist exercise in landscape. The artist/audience in Degas looks in mutuality, 'surrounded' by intimate and casual activity, unconcerned with the beauty of the pose. In Baldey's exhibition this 'surrounding' is actual as the audience moves around the public pool and the sculptures. it is a space that marries the public and the private.

Although containing images of men, Plenty may be considered woman-centred. The cathartic development of the work is linked to the central image of water as a birth metaphor. While the Fitzgerald Inquiry was an originative event, not explicitly commented upon in the works, it is cast as the show's Other. Thus Baldey's humanist aims are politically anti-patriarchal and the body is pivotally situated as the site of power. This allows portraiture and figuration to transcend traditional boundaries, imbuing Baldey's work with intense positivism and thereby powerfully achieving her original aim-"to show strength and human dignity."