Source, cut, paste.  Repeat.

We know it's not oil painting, but collage is an art form we don't see nearly enough of in Brisbane's art scene.  For me, it evokes childhood memories of clumsily cutting and clagging (new verb: clag glueing) images from my favourite picture books into the one, fairly shambolic location of an piece of A3 paper.  For some, collage is still a guileless medium for the assemblage of favourite pictures.  Yet for other collager-makers (admittedly those with more co-ordination and much, much more deliberation than I ever had), the juxtaposition of various ideas can make for a smart and subtle social commentary.

Rachael Bartram's work fits neatly into the latter category, though without sacrificing visual attractiveness.  Her artwork, predominately collage with gouache or watercolour embellishment, is vibrant, fun, innovative and, above all, witty.  It's a call for attention from the forgotten medium of collage.

Rachael's latest work questions representations of femininity - from the steel-exterior superwoman to the schoolgirl superbitch - across a broad body of literature.  Her exhibition, Lost Girls, Strong Girls and the Assembled Image, officially kicks off this Friday, April 5th from 6pm at Fortitude Valley's White Canvas Gallery.

Here's a sneak preview of what she has in store!

"The Flying Girl sequences are focussed on the movement of a nameless storybook character that zooms through contrasting scenes, settings and worlds.  Elements of the project as a whole relate to stories and fictional representations, so there is sharp irony in the image of a ditzy schoolgirl flying like Superman."

We caught up with Rachael earlier in the week to have a chat about what she's got planned for Friday's show, her artistic beginnings, and her style.

1. To start us off, tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

My work typically involves the ongoing use of processes such as collecting, cutting,
assembling and drawing. I am interested in the thematic connections between stories/
narrative and self-reflection. Some specific concepts also reoccur in my work and these
often include: identity; feminism vs. femininity; the dream state and visual metaphor. Not
to mention humour.

2. What do you get up to on your days off?

Days off for me can be tricky. I will often be in the studio continuing with a creative
project. This seems to happen intuitively and I think sometimes you just have to keep
going. Especially if a piece is almost finished or I have a fresh stack of moth eaten
National Geographic magazines and books to cut up. In any other instance I love to get
outside, experiment in the kitchen, go driving with my significant other and see my gal-
pals. Bowling, Karaoke, swimming and going to craft markets are also on the top of my

3. If you had to describe your work using three words, what would you


4. How did you start out?

I was born on the sunny Gold Coast and graduated from the Queensland College of
Art in 2010 with a BA Visual Media – Fine Art (honours). Since then I have focused
my energies on producing work for various group exhibitions and events. Eventually I
reached a crossroads – push further or continue on the same trajectory? After having
a collaborative show with my partner Warren Handley at Jugglers Art Space in 2011, I
thought it was a good time to dive back into some research and concept baking. The last
12 months has been huge learning curve in grant writing, project management and self-
directed research. In short, this all started at the tender age of 10 with a tin of Derwent
watercolour pencils.

5. Your work spans across a variety of mediums. Do you have a medium
of choice?

When I was studying at university, drawing/mark-making was my primary or default
medium. Hours of life drawing and sitting in the bush doing ‘plein-air’ must have had an
acute effect at that time. It was not until I started using the silhouette image in my work
that I began experimenting with video and stop-motion. After graduating I turned more
to assemblage methodology and have continued using collage since then. It was only
last year that I began to combine collage and drawing with video/performance. This
combination subsequently came together as one studio investigation - namely the Lost
Girls… project.

6. What does collage offer you that other mediums
might not, and how do you toy with it to get what you want?

Initially I think my absorption with collage spawned from two things: theory lectures about the beginnings of montage and assemblage and a habit of collecting old books
with unique or alluring images. Cutting up black paper with a scalpel to make silhouette
figures lead to cutting up the books and magazines I was collecting at the same time.
Making a precise incision with a blade is like drawing a line - so I think there is also a link
to drawing. Artists like Hannah Hoch, Kara Walker, Max Ernst and John Stezaker have
been a significant influence. I love using contrasting cutouts taken from both fictional
and non-fictional texts together. The intersection of the cutouts on a new plane re-
contextualizes the origin/identity of each individual fragment. The new image can then
create a completely different scene, message or ‘interrupted reality’.

7. How did the Lost Girls, Strong Girls and the Assembled Image project
come about?

The Lost Girls… project came about after I applied for the 2011 JUMP program through
Youth Arts Queensland. The proposal was unsuccessful but YAQ offered some
constructive feedback and I thought that I would be a prize fool to stop there. The other
driving element was the need to push my work further and experiment with a medium
I had not previously used at an in-depth level (video). So in early 2012 I had a tip off
from a former QCA teacher and applied for funding through my local council. I put my
new project idea forward to the Regional Arts Development Fund (a partnered program
between Gold Coast City Council and Arts Queensland). With a successful application
outcome I was able to commence my first major solo project Lost Girls, Strong Girls and
the Assembled Image. The project culminates with the Lost Girls… exhibition.

8. Have the themes of the exhibition, or your creative process, developed
since its beginning in 2012?

It has and I need to acknowledge that I had very solid support from my partner Warren
and my family throughout the duration of the project. When I started the project I knew
that venturing outside my comfort zone and using digital video would require me to seek
a little assistance. Warren assisted with the camera operation, video editing and sound
design for the 2 video works that were produced in the Lost Girls… project. Watching
and learning along the way was key to the development of my own practice. So I do feel
like the process has enabled me to push my skills further and boost my confidence.

9. Lost Girls questions portrayals of a range of literary portrayals of
women, including anything from contemporary teen fiction to melodramas
of the 40s and 50s. What was the research process like?

My collection of old books and magazines was instrumental in the
research process. As I amassed a bulging folder of cutouts, I became more acutely
aware of the contrast between non-fictional and fictional portrayals of women and
girls. Visual depictions of the ditzy/innocent schoolgirl archetype featured prominently.
These often derived from texts published between 1930s and the1950s and the subtle
messages (to the reader) seemed to be ‘If you’re a good girl you will get the perfect
man and nice house etc.’ In contrast, whilst producing work for the Lost Girls… project,
I was also considering the obstacles faced by marginalized women around the world
today. The stories of both Bibi Aisha and Aliaa Magda Elmahdy for instance, left a deep

10. How did you twist or rework these portrayals?

In one aspect, irony and cheeky humour played a part. I wanted to create alternative
visual aspects to these silly schoolgirls while also dropping clues about issues
correlative to the women’s rights and gender equality. I made a cluster series of
illustrated collage pieces about the contents of an unnamed heroine’s purse. The items
allude to superstition and vanity but also defiance and compassion (see Rescued
Wombat). In contrast, wordplay and idioms were also employed to highlight the contrast
between the phony/real portrayals of women. One piece in the Lost Girls… series
is titled Do Not Use If Seal Spell is Broken and was made with cutout lettering. The
ambiguous phrase sounds clinical - like something you might read on a prescription
label. But I was also thinking of signage, metaphor and the ‘Hero’s Journey’ template of
fictional storytelling.

11. Depictions of femininity are common to a lot of your work. What about
this theme appeals to you?

I have always been interested in the idea of femininity vs. feminism and this weighs
in on my own life too. At home my parents had always emphasized the importance
of hard work and self-respect in their pep-chats. I think this instilled a different notion
of femininity in my impressionable mind. As I began to play with the traditional and
contemporary visual representations of women (particularly ‘lone women’) – references
to femininity became more tongue-in-cheek or veiled.

12. In a broader sense, what motivates you to create?

That is a tough one! I would have to describe the motivation to create as intuitive. I want
to make art because it is an innate feeling. I believe that there is also the need to evolve.
If I never changed my tools, ideas or way of making artwork I think I would be going
round in circles.

13. Most rewarding aspect of the creative process?

Resolving an artwork is rewarding. But engaging in discourse with the viewer/audience
can bring you (as the artist/creator) to all sorts of alternative conclusions. What one thing
represents in my mind could convey something completely different to someone else.

14. How do you find Brisbane's art scene in terms of accommodating
emerging artists?

Brisbane’s art scene is unique, colourful and arguably less competitive than those of
Sydney and Melbourne. In addition, the influence of GOMA/QAG on the art scene is
palpable especially in regards to the developing cultural identity of the city. It is fair to
assume that Mr. Newman could not care less about supporting and advocating for the
enrichment of the arts sector. However, Brisbane is home to a strong community of Artist
Run Initiatives and it is this network that helps facilitate and establish the careers of
many artists. The work of initiatives like Jugglers Art Space Inc, Bleeding Heart Gallery,
Boxcopy, Love Love Studio, The BOX and MAAP Media Bank to name a few, is of the

15. What's next in terms of challenging yourself after Lost Girls?

I can't be sure yet. Further experimentation with different mediums and hands-on
processes is likely as well as the use of larger scale. I am thinking about combining
spatial installation with static/moving image.

You can catch Lost Girls, Strong Girls and the Assembled Image from April 3rd to 21st at the White Canvas Gallery. In the meantime, help yourself to more samples of Rachael's work here and here.