The focus of Sydney-based Sophie Gralton's art lies in the quality of interaction between medium and meaning. For her, what matters most is not visual accuracy but the relationship between image and ground and the seduction of visual surfaces. It is a misconception to think of Gralton's work as primarily a nostalgic reflection on bygone times. On the contrary, she eschews any notion of sentimentality.
Gralton recounts that the inspiration for her imagery arose during a trip to Paris in 2007 and a chance visit to a gallery where an exhibition of Dutch 17th century portraits of children was showing. She was intrigued by the rendition of the figures as mini-adults, the hidden layers of meaning encoded in certain symbols and gestures and the cool European palette.
Sometime later when again in Sydney and viewing a surprisingly dramatic outcome in a few snap shots of her young daughters, she recalled that exhibition and the hardcover catalogue she'd toted back. It was a pivotal moment that sparked Gralton's decision to pursue the genre of child portraiture but from a contemporary perspective.
Of her now signature imagery, Gralton stresses there is no need to know whom the subject is - it is ‘every child'. The paintings seek to evoke a universal resonance that transcends any sense of specific location or personality. As such, the figure of a young girl characterises a nascent link to the future.
As with the 17th century portraits, Gralton inserts arcane motifs into her paintings. The dog has long been associated with loyalty, protectiveness and vigilance, while the hoop's circular shape traditionally symbolises wholeness and the continuing cycle of seasons. Gralton has also included more personal symbols. In Girl on a Pink Stool the unravelling ball of red thread/wool tumbling from the figure's hand is an indirect reference to her German grandmother's nurturing.
The sumptuously patterned clothing relates to Gralton's early involvement in printmaking and textile design before undertaking Fine Arts studies at the National Art School. She at one time had also collected vintage dresses for their wonderful fabrics and historical contexts.
Explaining the absence of eyes in her portraits, Gralton tells that she's always been interested in the cropped image and so omitting them was not just a means of disguising the subject's identity. In most portraits it is the gaze we tend to rely on to gain understanding of the sitter's essence. Gralton felt the need to push the viewer into a different kind of reading of the subject, one where nuance is captured in the theatricality of the pose and the vitality of brush markings.
Gralton wants us to respond not solely to the subject matter but also to the aesthetic signals the painting communicates. In this quest she employs a direct brushwork technique, the loaded brush spontaneously eliciting form and engendering a visceral reaction. Such spontaneity in the painterly development of form calls for considerable assurance on the part of the artist - an assurance based on understanding and the power of observation.
Every Child is a multi-layered exhibition that evokes a sense of integration between the past, the present and times ahead. Inescapably, each generation experiences life's unfolding lessons with a ‘unique sameness'.