Internationally renowned artist Patricia Piccinini’s creations are a feast for the senses.
Often hybrid in form, they are a mix of characters inspired by the intersect between science, nature and technology. There’s a strange otherworldliness about them but something also eerily familiar and relatable about them too. They stir up all sorts of reactions and complicated feelings that challenge our sensibilities.
Through works such as the Skywhale and ‘Graham’, a character created for the TAC campaign, she aims to coax us out of our accepted ways of thinking to take a walk along the line that divides the natural and the unnatural, the beautiful and the grotesque, and examine our relationships to them.
For an artist whose work is capable of evoking such a complexity of emotional responses, it’s interesting that she has a pretty black and white view of the line that divides the types of people who enjoy music.
“I think that the world divides pretty neatly into two sets of people, people who can hear lyrics and people who can’t. I think that’s actually a phenomena about this and I am one of these people who cannot hear lyrics! Which means I have a different relationship to music.
“So I can put a song on high repeat and I don’t find it repetitive at all because what I’m listening for is atmosphere. It can drive everybody around me crazy. The lyrics can be incredibly facile and I just won’t even know!”
She grew up in the ‘80s on a steady diet of English alternative bands like The Cure, The Smiths, New Order, The Clash. She loved these bands but had no clue what they were singing about. The main musical attribute she sought out was atmosphere.
The dark emotion of a certain Morrissey song has stuck with her to this day. Her love of the mood of this song led her to look up the song lyrics for this particular tune, only to find that Morrissey was exploring ideas and ethical questions that are somewhat analogous to concepts and themes that Patricia is passionate about herself.
“'November Spawned A Monster', it’s about a girl who is disabled, and there are some incredible lines in it about how she’s undesirable, and she’s ‘a hostage to kindness’.
“The video clip is of him in the desert in this salacious outfit, like a see through shirt. He looks really attractive and yet he’s singing about this girl; ‘would you dare to kiss if the lights were out on the mouth or anywhere at all?’ It’s really incongruous and it’s just a minefield of ethical and emotional issues.
“What the song is about is relating to the other. To something that’s not perfect, that’s not natural and that’s what my work is about. Often it’s about empathy and how hard that is to do.”
Great art, like that of Patricia Piccinini and Morrissey in this 1990 track, seeks to coax audiences to confront our thought and emotional processes. And it’s driven by motivations that come from a very personal place.
“Yearning to be loved, to be accepted. Like in this song ‘hug me’, that’s very evocative for me,” Piccinini says.
“In my work I try and do the same, I try and create characters where they speak to us and they say ‘How do you relate to me? I am grotesque, different and yet I am alive and what’s your relationship to me? Pick me up, hold me, nurture me’. That’s where it inspires empathy in the viewer.”
Hear more about the song that changed it all for Patricia Piccinini on Don't Look Back.