The law says a weed is wrong and shall be killed
The weeds say life is a white and lovely thing
Megan Keating: Nature Strip
By Dan Rule
It would be easy to frame the paintings that populate Nature Strip via the discourse of the decorative. At a glance, Megan Keating’s silhouetted forms might almost resemble a kind of elegant, economised recasting of the gestures and repetitions of the art nouveau print. The drape of the leaf and the sinew stem climb and sway and entwine with an almost poetic grace. Their beauty is subtle and enveloping; they are pleasant to share company with.
Indeed, on first take, these paintings on timber board might read as mere pretty pictures – the smaller works presented as if a network of tiled botanical ‘portraits’; the larger, a stunningly tangled mis-en-scene of encroaching plant life.
And encroaching it is. The very nature of the plants that Keating describes in these stunning, translucent paintings works to complicate their very bearing. Put simply, Nature Strip captures common variety garden weeds. Specifically, the blackberries, bindweed and dandelions that periodically overpopulate the tiny strip of green that skirts Keating’s Hobart flat. The lean, curving stems and leaves belong to plants that are considered by most to be as insidious as they are voracious.
That Keating chooses to elevate these unwieldy plants to a position of beauty and reverence doesn’t merely speak of a contrarian. Allegorically, even politically, these works speak of suspension, of a tension wrought by a state of being between places. Keating frames her subjects as “contested” or “displaced” plants, cast as the horticultural villain not so much for their qualities as plants, but via the cultural hangover of post-colonialism and the European garden.
But still, these works resist straightforward characterisation or posture. Keating’s process, as well as the formal elements of her work, contributes to its orientation. Taking plant clippings over a 10-day period, only to photograph her specimens and digitise their silhouettes to create a stencil with which to paint, her methods resemble both that of botanical science and digital mediation. Indeed, while these works share an indexical relationship with their source, the subtle, elusive iridescence of their mica pigments, suspended in up to 42 layers of translucent synthetic polymer, speaks of our contemporary detachment from the natural world. The fact that these works – suspended behind reflective, glass-like surfaces – in some ways resemble that of the ubiquitous digital screen is no mistake.
In a city and a state in which the debates surrounding ecology and nature are fierce and omnipresent, Nature Strip offers another intriguing vantage. These aren’t mere pretty pictures; they’re wild and wonderful weeds.