Hawthorn Town Hall Gallery, Tuesday 12 Feb- Sunday 10 March
My first love was with a paper doll called Janet. She had a black bob, cut conveniently just above her shoulders, so that the paper tabs attached to her clothes, creased over her collar bone. She wore a psychedelic purple and black bathing suit, that followed the contours of her boyish figure. Her arms and legs were outstretched, as if she might be goal keeping, in a game of beach soccer.
On Janet’s unwritten body, my texta colour’s traced her outline, as I imagined where she might go, and what she might wear. I filled exercise books with pictures of clothes for her wardrobe. In it were jeans; both flared and tight fitting, high and low waisted, dresses with turtle, round or v necks; and mini, midi and maxi skirts. I wasn’t patient enough to cut out the clothes, and try them on her, but I always drew paper tabs on the shoulders, as if, in the future, somebody might.
I don’t remember why my sister cut off Janet’s head. But I remember the stillness, the perfect silence, as her black bob fluttered to the ground. I felt like part of me had died. Even after her head was stuck back on with tape, the spell had been broken. Janet was nothing more than paper, she could never appreciate the life I had imagined for her.
After school, and searching for the joy I had found desgining clothes, I studied fashion design at RMIT. On my first day, I was shown to a studio full of rows of industrial sewing machines. For six weeks we learnt to sew a straight line and in our single hour of drawing we were given photocopied sheets with rows of faceless, sexless figures on which to draw clothes. The outline of the figure remained visible beneath my drawing, but it was the absence of any personality that I found the most challenging. I longed for Janet, the small clues I had to who she was; her choice of bathers, her outstretched arms, her hair, shaped into a bob.
After completing my degree, I worked with a designer who manufactured and marketed clothes locally. He copied designs from magazines or overseas samples. If something we made sold out, we would quickly make another hundred or two. Copying patterns replaced drawing, and precision was at odds with creativity. I lasted only a few years and then, decided to study art.
In my first year at Victorian College of the Arts, not knowing where to begin, and mining my past for ideas, I painted all my pairs of shoes. Later, it was still lives, assembled from bits of leftover fabric from my sewing days, the material constrained inside boxes or stretched over forms.
In 1985, I began the series, Hot Options, after a trip to India, where I was introduced to the art of painting miniatures. My first painting was of a colorful Indian skirt that I had worn on a camping trip to Wilson’s prom and having being a keen diarist since high school, I included these details beside the date. Over the next three decades, I dipped in and out of this series and as well as periods of adding to it, I had times where I forgot the work existed, only to excavate it, after a studio clean out or move.
It wasn’t until I looked at the work in its entirety, that I realised Hot Options was more than an artefact. The text traces both the significant and mundane events of my life. The maternity dress I wore when pregnant with my daughter, and then twins, and the skirt I wore to my partners funeral just eight years later. In between, are the clothes I pulled on to go to the studio or to walk the dog. But although the work references my body, and triggers memories, the clothes themselves, like the paintings, show only what I choose to reveal, and in the end, may just as well belong to a paper doll who, despite a ready to wear wardrobe, just cannot be brought to life.
Linda Judge 2019