Retrospective

Tessa MacKay


Off the back of a residency at the State Buildings, Tessa MacKay’s Retrospective consists of
three large-scale hyperreal portraits, representing the last five years of her devotion to this
demanding style of oil painting.

Among the exhibit is Tessa’s portrait of actor David Wenham, titled ‘Through the Looking
Glass’. A 2019 Archibald finalist and winner of the ‘Packing Room Prize’, the iconic artwork
has toured extensively through the Eastern States. This retrospective marks its first public
exhibit in Western Australia, alongside the unveiling of a brand new work, nearly two years in
the making.

These large works, meters in dimension, envelop the viewer within near abstract micro-details
that come together to form the overall subject. But the pursuit of detail is not in sole mimicry
of the reference photography upon which the works draw from. The works simultaneously
embrace the medium of paint. Subtle but intentional instances of less-refined brushwork
provides relief and reminds the viewer they are before an artwork made by human hands; an
interpretation, not a reproduction.

The considerable time it takes to generate these works, often a year or more, is necessary to
technically realise such detail at scale, but also forms a ritual-like, meditative practice that
feeds a free-forming interpretive journey. In doing so, this lengthy transposing of the subject –
from reference photography to oil paint on linen or canvas – becomes intuitive and non-
intellectualised. Although the subjects are not of a religious context, the drawn out repetitive
labour involved is devotional-like, in the hope of imbuing the finished works with a degree of
awe, felt by the viewer.

These three works have seen Tessa experiment and refine her technical ability to render the
various elements within her compositions, be it the translucence of human skin, fibres of cloth
or the reflections in glass and metallic geometry. This again speaks to a duality; the
requirement for a near scientific familiarity with the medium of paint and its chemical
behaviours but navigated instinctually, as a kind of alchemy, earned over time.

Although these works are separate and do not represent the continuation of a specific theme,
they are nonetheless linked by an intent. At a time when images of faces are more ubiquitous
and disposable than ever before, it is through the apparent labour and time involved that
Tessa strives to facilitate the viewer’s connection with the subject and their world, even if it is,
itself, only fleeting.

Tessa MacKay humbly gives thanks and acknowledgement that this retrospective is
presented on the boodjar of the Walyalup Nyungar nation and pays her respects to their
communities and Elders past, present and emerging.

The exhibition will open on Friday 26 August from 7pm to 9pm (RSVP essential at admin@psas.com.au) and run from Saturday 27 August to Sunday 11 September Tue-Sun from 10 to 4