Madeleine Pfull: Pfull Stop

Witty, waggish, wonderful: Madeleine Pfull’s world of women is a pungent reminder that ordinary life is exceptional.

For commuters in Sydney, 12 June 2015 was a sombre day. For it was on this day that the free, tabloid newspaper mX released their last published edition. For those who don’t know, mX was a pithy commuter newspaper that’s content comprised of “celebrity gossip” (if you regard what Neil Perry did with his ponytail on the weekend “gossip”), rumours, readers’ gripes (“Vent Your Spleen”) and my personal favourite, “Overheard.” “Overheard” was the section where devoted readers could SMS bizarre things overheard on their daily commute. Picking up an mX almost always guaranteed one to bray like a donkey trying to visualise the contours of “Pauline, Platform 25” who was overheard saying “leave your husband and become a chocolate like me!” Did she identify as a chocolate? Was she part of a roller-skating derby called The Chocolates?  I’ll never know. What I do know is that Pauline, Platform 25’s mythical facial features will remain tattooed in my imagination for life. If you’d like to imagine her too, think of a Madeleine Pfull painting. 

Painted against a brown enviable of everyone’s head teacher, a bulb-shaped woman stands caught with a face in between a private-to-public moment. Her hair has been ceremoniously combed. Her jumper, lovingly de-linted. She reminds me of everyone that has ever made me smile: she’s your aunty, your gymnastics teacher, your bus driver, your neighbour, she’s Pauline, Platform 25. Why and how does she feel so familiar? 

In her new exhibition, Madeleine’s deftness in beautiful painting of beautifully everyday women is a sharp-tongued reminder that the comedy of prosaic life is complex, meaty, chaotic and shared. The frilly-faced and exacting presence of Madeleine’s characters leave me woozy with familiarity – one even made me gasp-whisper “Mrs Bourke?” 

There is something in the way Madeleine paints these characters, these women, that feels like you have just confessed your inner desires: it’s as if they’re all sharing something with you, or about you. They are reminders that in everyday life, we rehearse limited openness – that potentially none of us are really connecting deeply, meaningfully, or really sharing with each other. That maybe we’re all just witnessing and judging this exquisite world (and everyone in it) one sound bite at a time. 

Standing in a room with Madeleine Pfull paintings feels like you’ve arrived at a “uniform” themed dress-up party dressed as a “unicorn” accidentally, and everyone thinks you’re much more hilarious than you are. Her paintings remind me that elegance shares a border with crankiness, and that in life, it is a gift to be interesting. Her paintings make me say weird things out loud like “What’s in rich people’s kitchens?” and “Why don’t I like exposed ankle socks?” She reminds me that I want everything from youth – to milk life for all it’s worth before my inevitable, middle-aged metamorphosis into Pauline, Platform 25. But most of all, she reminds me that as a woman, I find it much more relaxing to mock myself than to take myself seriously. And that is a mighty reminder. One that I will marinate in for a long time. Full stop.

This essay was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 57, 2021.
Images courtesy the artist and Chalk Horse, Sydney.

Madeleine Pfull
18 November  – 18 December 2021
Chalk Horse, Sydney

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