‘Cabin Fever’ is the latest body of work by Abbey McCulloch, two-time Archibald finalist (once for her portrait of Toni Collette) and regular in Australian Art Collector magazine’s list of the ‘50 Most Collectable Artists’.
In ‘Cabin Fever’ Abbey continues her exploration of women, turning her gaze to flight attendants. She invokes the glamour and allure that surrounded air travel in 1950’s and 60’s, before $1 airfares and post 9/11 airport security. The times when gentlemen wore hats and ‘trolley dollies’, with their pencil skirts and pillbox hats, perfectly coiffed hair and sunny smiles, sashayed down the aisles embodying all the promise of foreign destinations.
‘I love thinking about the lives of flight attendants, particularly those women that I recall as a child. It was pure exotica. They were a rare and exclusive species and they personified adventure and allure….. Flight attendants seemed foreign, perhaps more so than any destination could be and when I think back, they provided a curious and compelling landscape.’ Parrots and masks are a recurring motif in many of the works, offering parallel themes of exoticism, claustrophobia and, ultimately, escapism.
Abbey’s vibrant works capture a moment in time, an idea. They simultaneously celebrate and interrogate long-held notions about air hostesses; reviving dreams on one hand, excavating and challenging ideologies and histories on the other. They recognize contradiction and embrace complexity, in both principles and people, shying away from neither. Her subjects are at once brave and vulnerable, glamorous and self-conscious, ostentatious and self-controlled offering a version of beauty tainted by the unsettling and strange. …. The beauty of McCulloch’s women is in the way they are rendered, for they are raw and unconstrained. (Jess Berry Flying Colours Catalogue Essay, 2010)
The absorbing contradictions inherent in Abbey’s subject matter is mirrored in her medium. Careful detail alternates with sketchy delineation; flattened background hues provide a counterpoint to the bold gelato colours and evident texture of the faces, sparseness in portions of the canvas accentuates laden brushstrokes in others. The result is works that are simultaneously engaging yet unsettling, assertive yet restrained.