Real Julia #2013-0209-1
Porcelain and mixed media artwork by Penny Byrne depicting Julia Gillard.
The artwork ‘Real Julia’, which is related to another piece titled ‘Saint Kevin 07’, represents contemporary artistic commentary on a major political event involving two Australian prime ministers. The artist, Penny Byrne, has described this work as ‘a survey of the current Australian political climate and the martyrdom of St Sebastian aka Saint Kevin 07 shot in the back with arrows at the hands of Julia Gillard’. Byrne conceived the piece as a result of the takeover of the leadership of the ALP by Julia Gillard in June 2010.
The artist Penny Byrne was born in Victoria in 1965, studied law at La Trobe University and completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at RMIT in Melbourne in 1987. Byrne’s trademark sculptural style is to use familiar objects from our mantelpieces, china cabinets and toy boxes to transform vintage porcelain into powerful works of political commentary. Byrne’s artworks convey her concern, anger or amusement, and voice her views on social justice, the environment, war and politics.
Byrne first began to adapt traditional porcelain figures to make political commentary in 1990 when, as a student of ceramics conservation, she was given a porcelain statue of a woman with a dog at her feet to restore:
“‘I made a pink bow and put it round the dog’s neck’, says Byrne. ‘I didn’t say anything to the assessors. I just left it to see if they would pick up on it. And they didn’t. That was my first naughty little act.’ Since then she’s become naughtier. When her mother gave her a couple of Dresden figurines of ballerinas to restore a couple of years ago, Byrne quickly realised the figures were beyond help. But not beyond use. She created ‘It’s murder on the dance floor’ in which a ballerina wielding a samurai sword has beheaded another. It was a nod to the bloody ‘Kill Bill’ movies and their samurai swords. It was also a winner of Melbourne’s Linden Postcard Show in 2005. Since then, her career as an artist has taken off.” Joyce Morgan Sydney Morning Herald, March 6, 2007.
She has had several solo exhibitions including Mantelpiece at the Linden Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne in 2006, Blood, Sweat and Fears at Sullivan+Strumpf Fine Art in Sydney in 2007, and Political Porcelain at MoAD in 2011. Penny Byrne’s work has been purchased by several major Australian art galleries, including the Art Gallery of WA, the Powerhouse Museum, Artbank, and Newcastle Region Art Gallery, and is held in private collections in Australia and overseas.