Caroline Zilinsky

Australian artist Caroline Zilinsky’s new series of portraits visualise the real-life stories of local and political identities tinged with the jagged edge of absurdity. Rendered with the artist’s distinctive stylised lines, muted colours and bleak frontal compositions, the works form nihilistic portraits of humanity in all its tragi-comic grotesque glory.

An obsessive and reclusive painter, Zilinsky has been painting social and political work for several decades. Her narrative imagery depicts blighted souls united by suffering, their grimacing faces gnarled from the lashes of time and distorted bodies frozen in contorted poses against bleak backgrounds. Yet buttressing this palpable misfortune is a tone of triumph and resilience; a paradoxical celebration of the human spirit in the face of obliteration. Zilinsky’s protagonists appear defiant; fortified and hardened like a callus enduring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The artist explains, ‘The people I have painted have all overcome extreme hardship, and I have attempted to portray how that has shaped them into odd yet beautiful characters’.

Amongst Zilinsky’s herd of quasi-caricatures, violent criminal Robert Foley reclines on a Victorian velvet chaise in custom-made black swimming stockings, his topless tattooed torso a striking contrast to his regal posture and stately expression. Age has softened this hardened man, who now leads a quiet life after spending over twenty-six years in prison, acquitted of two life sentences. Abjection infiltrates the work Portrait of Emily Hill, which visualises the poet-songwriter’s strange request that Zilinsky ‘paint her as grotesque as possible’. Quivering, lanky limbs, marsupial-like feet, gaping mouth and pallid naked flesh form a flagrant juxtaposition with the stately antique chair – which seems to have more dignity, composure and elegance than Hill herself.

In another painting, a British SAS soldier is being interrogated in Baghdad, caught in and crushed by the absurd cogs of war. Men with blackened faces point with black guns, which appear like cyborgian extensions of their limbs. This is a portrait of human self-annihilation, a mirror of our age-old hamartia. In a similar vein, the fear endemic to contemporary politics is pictured in Zilinsky’s work The Senator (Pauline Hanson), which depicts right wing Australian senator Pauline Hanson wearing full Muslim attire in parliament to protest the Burka in Australia. Shining through the black facial fabric is Pauline’s burning white eyes, impossibly round as if plunged from their sockets by an endless surge of irrational, frenzied fear.

Each work in ‘Spring Never Came’ fuses together the absurd and the profound in a way that is both repellent and magnetic. ‘It is a curious thing to observe the beauty within the inherent ugliness of mankind’, writes Zilinsky, ‘To me this is what makes us unique.’

Caroline Zilinsky | Spring Never Came
24 November – 22 December, 2018
Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney


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