Friday, February 14, 2014


Here is he review of Mark's exhibition Trouble Set Me Free that I wrote in 2010. Images from the exhibition may be found at this link

Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Southbank
Julie Clarke © 2010

I'm looking at Mark McDean's artworks in an exhibition entitled Trouble Set Me Free (Curated by Catherine Bell) at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery at Southbank this afternoon. Mark is beside me and I'm aware with every comment that I make, that it is HIS experience and pain contained in the works I view. Each a remnant of his past trauma, each holds a special place in his memory.
The skull guard that he wore for protection after craneo-surgery, the pillow-slip bloodstained from a small puncture drain hole at the base of his head, a crocheted shawl in muted colors given to him by friends and the Walter van Bierendonck T/Shirt that he wore that night, two and a half years ago when he fell into an unmarked ditch in the road.
The terror, the blood clots, the operations and Mark had to learn to walk and talk again. The T/Shirt cut from his body in the emergency room is sutured together like the chest cavity of an autopsied corpse ~ the stainless steel staples form a scar on this disembodied skin that hangs in the gallery space like a body spent. They are emblematic of the staples that held his fractured skull together whilst it healed. Part of the 'Gold Team' bold type imprinted on the lower edge of the shirt depicting footballers, disappears in the folds and so the text presents as 'Old Tear' ~ a reminder of past anguish. The eyes fill and it's a strange absence, one we also witness in the oval void in the middle of the shawl carefully folded, in half and in half again to form an uneven square ~ evoking the four facilities of the mind ~ the Will, the Mask, the Creative Mind and the Body of Fate. They're all depicted here in one way or another either through the artifacts or, the conspicuous shadows on the wall. But there's protection too, in the solace that things from childhood bring. The whirly windmill, a bright and cheery hospital gift, is transformed into a six-petal contraption covered in another skin ~ a silvery coat~ a prima material of clarity and rebirth that resonates strongly with the tiny kitsch buttons and gaudy icons stuck to the helmet scaffolding. We all loved those things when we were kids, they made things 'all pretty' again. The homely comfort of the shawl crafted in soft baby hues, its yellow layer referencing the sour lemon yellow of the plinth, speaks to the first color that Mark remembered when he woke from his coma. There's a raw, honesty and integrity in the materials Mark has used in this exhibition. The pillow case, with an almost perfect circular dried blood stain shrieks of rationality against the erratic marks made in an attempt to trace the scars on Mark's damaged head - here, they are sewn and inscribed on the almost white surface of the pillow case. I immediately thought of CyTombly ~ his erratic scribbles, his ambiguous mark making and this took me back to being at RMIT two decades ago, where we were told never to use large blocks of the color yellow in our paintings because it was associated with madness, sickness or fear. And yet, how can this be so, think of Van Gogh's yellow wildflowers or the speckled dots in his Starry Night. I left this exhibition feeling like I'd witnessed something precious and fragile ~ the exhibition, which also contains the works of five other artists is on until 3 July, 2010.

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