Curated by Ida Lawrence
Contributions by Kate O’Boyle, Kathleen Linn, Monika Proba & Sebastian Henry-Jones
The Fitri Graham Foundation and KINGS Artist-Run proudly present the first retrospective of Australia’s least celebrated artist, Fitri Graham. This survey honours the life, oeuvre and cultural legacy of Graham – a legacy which has not only shaped the visual arts as we know it today, but, as this exhibition reveals, one which has coloured so many of our memories.
Fitri Jane Graham (1922-1980) was an abstract painter whose exhibition Melancholia (1949) was ill-received by just about everyone. Art critics described it as “dismal”, “lifeless” and “depressingly bad”; the public was overwhelmingly underwhelmed; and Graham’s own mother suddenly, and without discussion, moved cities two days after the exhibition’s opening. Haunted by her exhibition’s “failure”, Graham never touched a paintbrush again.
However, Melancholia hadn’t been as unappreciated as Graham had perceived – imitations began appearing in the backgrounds of school, family and graduation portrait photography and, by the 1970s, had become the dominant backdrop. Realising this, Graham took legal action in 1974 against fourteen photography companies including Rise ‘n’ Smiles and Cherished Memories Photo Studio. Devastatingly, Graham lost.
To do Graham and her story justice, this long awaited retrospective features many of the original Melancholia watercolour studies and oil paintings, notably Melancholia IV, recently rediscovered down the back of a rental property pantry. Also on view are archives and artefacts from private collections and the Fitri Graham Foundation (and Estate) including exhibition reviews from 1949 and Graham’s belongings and diaries.
Exhibited at KINGS Artist-Run, Melbourne
6-28 January 2017
Fitri Graham’s Melancholia: A Retrospective was an exhibition of the work of a fictional artist, Fitri Graham whose artwork, biography and Foundation I fabricated and whose “belongings” I collected. The project began while imagining the origins behind mottled portrait photography backgrounds. The writers who contributed to the exhibition wrote the texts for Fitri Graham’s diary entries, letters, scathing exhibition reviews and a personal statement, based on a small list of “facts” I sent to them about Graham’s life and story. These texts contain conflicting details, such as dates, names of people in Graham’s life and the gallery where she held her solo exhibition. The retrospective featured Fitri Graham’s biography (above) presented as wall text at the entrance to the gallery; museum captions for each painting and archive; and a camera in front of the largest Melancholia (resembling the size of a photography backdrop), where visitors were encouraged contribute to the Fitri Graham Foundation’s archive by taking photos of themselves in front of the painting first facing the camera, then facing the canvas.
Melancholia IV was discovered down the back of a rental property pantry in 2015 and anonymously donated to the Foundation the same year. Art conservators working with the Foundation’s collection follow a philosophy of minimal intervention.
A recent acquisition purchased from St Vincent de Paul, Burwood, Sydney.
The previous owner of Melancholia IX paid the Foundation to acquire and relieve them of it. The painting offers a different vision to the other remaining oils from the series through its scale and gentle vortex composition. While the recorded number of oil paintings comprising the original series differs between sources, it is currently speculated that there were no less than twelve canvases in the 1949 exhibition, all of 3:2 ratio (height:width). It is believed the styles of the complete series ranged from the smeary and hazy genres through to more mottled, blotchy, patchy and even speckled approaches. Some experts now argue that there were also Melancholias developed inthe stripy idiom.
* Fabricated Histories
Curation by Ida Lawrence