simon mee

Smyrnios Gallery, Melbourne
26 September - 19 October, 2002

The work of Simon Mee is underpinned by two prominent features. The works are executed with technical dexterity. The other defining element is a dark, sick sense of humour. In a recent exhibition, which sees works spanning nearly five years, it is possible to discern the development of aspects of the artist's earlier praciice in the most recent work.

In a painting such as The Annunciation, a rat-like creature with a predatory gaze (it could be a distorted Minnie Mouse) is blessed by an eagle, its popped eyes betraying the mock beatific scene at hand. The Madonna of the Bitten Nipple depicts a haloed mother suckling a newborn, its menacing teeth about to bite her nipple. Nocturne: The Secret Squirrel is another early painting, where a squirrel dressed in rocky mountain hunting gear blows the smoke from a recently fired gun. In each case a narrative is set up and defined by comic interaction. The recent works tend to inhabit less infantile terrain. The earlier jokiness - the bite of a nipple or the smoke of a gun - seems to have diminished. In its place is a dark uneasiness unlikely to raise even a titter.

It is difficult to fathom the reasons for its production, but there exists a toy doll which closely resembles a newborn infant. Wrinkled, with eyes askew and the uneven remnants of the umbilical cord dribbling from the belly, these dolls are grotesque. Mee has acquired one, and in a pencil drawing entitled There was an old woman one such baby balances above a boot, as if on a pedestal. The baby has emerged from the shoe as though it is a womb. This image contrasts with the pop-eyed cuteness of earlier works, taking the sense of pillaged innocence a step further.

Finally, a one-armed doll, toothy and grey, lies bedraggled within a box that also is falling apart. The Miss Havisham of dolls, her tousled hair, sagging cheeks and glassy eyes are encased in a delicate white lace dress. The initial reaction is repulsion, but the seductiveness of the background patterning suspends the dismal scene at hand. Upon returning to the narrative it becomes clear that In the Box raises the following question: do inanimate objects have a lifespan? In Mee's world they do. They are also born, suckled, violated, ravaged and killed. Much like humans really.