Artwork Detail

Paramount Art Winner, Wallace Art Awards 2010

Sam Mitchell’s Janus was inspired while the artist was working in Australia and researching stories of convicts and transportation. In classical mythology Janus is a two-headed figure representing beginnings, and the opposite sides of a split personality. Here the theme is treated in a less black-and-white manner. In choosing to blur the distinction between the left and right manifestations of her character Mitchell is effectively questioning the whole paradigm of duality as traditionally presented in images of Janus. Instead, she opts for a sort of stereoscopic distribution of contrasting elements, randomly allocated to one side or the other of this ‘wild colonial boy’.

The character of the Janus figure is also tellingly random. The early convict population of Australia was almost defined by randomness, the only common thread of their history being that they were brought together in chains, to form a new country at gunpoint. His body in both incarnations is covered in random tattoos, bearing apparently random signs with apparently random meanings, seemingly unconnected in their implications. On closer inspection the tattoos and their inscriptions contain a multitude of references to colonisation and the colonial heritage of Australia and New Zealand. And in this respect Mitchell has evidently introduced some selectivity into the signals she has applied to the right- and left-hand figures. The left-hand figure, it would seem, wears a predominance of signs and slogans which actually promote or espouse colonial endeavour: militaristic designs, sailing ships, idealised and patronising images of indigenous people typical of colonial art. This figure could be seen as representing the ‘good’ side of colonialism in the antipodes as promoted by its colonial proponents – the ‘pretty’ side, suggested by the rose on the boy’s cheek. The right-hand side, by contrast, can be read as representing the ‘ugly’ side of colonialism, the effects caused in carrying through the invasive programmes suggested by the slogans on the left. So we see a more aggressive, less idealised, more cynical collection of emblems on the skin of the right-hand boy, epitomised by the slogan ‘tell me sweet little lies’ above the emblem of the American Eagle.

Catalogue text:
Published on the occasion of the Twenty Wallace Art Awards Paramount Winners Exhibition,14 February to 22 April 2012 at The Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre and 2 August to 30 September 2012 at the Wallace Gallery Morrinsville.
Acrylic on perspex, diptych, framed
1055 x 805mm (each panel)
Each signed and dated on verso.
Accession date
22 Dec 2010
Accession number

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