Conversations, Some Like it Hot

— by Communications Manager

Exhibition Installation, Flinders University Museum of Art (FUMA) Photo: FUMA

Some like it hot, is an exhibition curated by Wendy Garden that showcases the work of two accomplished, much lauded and much-loved Northern Territory based artists: Therese Ritchie and Franck Gohier. These artists are well known for their satirical work that combines wit and humour with astute social observation. In this exhibition Garden reflects on their practice through the lens of gender representation in the context of settler imaginings of the tropics.

Wendy Garden has held numerous curatorial positions in public galleries in Victoria and the Northern Territory. She is currently Assistant Director Access and Engagement at the Libraries and Archives of the Northern Territory. She has over twenty years’ experience curating exhibitions including solo artist retrospectives, group shows and touring exhibitions.

Read the Conversations between Artback NT’s former Visual Arts Development Manager, Jo Foster and Wendy Garden, Franck Gohier and Therese Ritchie below:


What inspired you to curate this exhibition?

The idea for this exhibition came from my experiences of living in Darwin over the past six years. First of all it’s very hot. Coming from Melbourne I was used to scorching days over forty degrees, but Melbourne’s heat is very dry and the weather is changeable. I was unprepared for the relentlessness of Darwin’s’ humidity which makes the ambient temperature feel much hotter, particularly in the build-up. The heat can be overwhelming.

Many years before I moved here, I carried out research for my doctorate at the Northern Territory Library and came across late nineteenth century newspaper articles that expressed fears of the effects of heat on the white population expressed as ‘going troppo’. There were degeneration anxieties which was a response to both the heat and isolation of the Top End and a sense that it was a place beyond civilisation. I found these articles fascinating and they were definitely a prompt to dig deeper into the relationship between climate on character.

The other thing that I observed living in Darwin was that a particular type of masculinity is more apparent here than in cities such as Melbourne and Sydney. The Territory has always been understood as a very ‘blokey place’. In the early years of Chinese and European settlement in the nineteenth century, non-Aboriginal men considerably outnumbered non-Aboriginal women. Early historians described it as ‘no place for a woman’, ignoring the fact, that not only were Aboriginal women living in this part of the country for thousands of years, but that there were women here running stations and doing hard physical work.

Darwin has changed a lot in recent years, as have understandings of gender, but I observed vestiges of earlier gender tropes in some of the men I met. There is also a romanticising of difference here, which I have never encountered in other places in Australia. Long standing Territorians think of themselves as very different from the rest of the country, particularly regions ‘down south’. At the same time Darwin’s population is very itinerant and multicultural so there is a tension between the dynamism of the new and old Darwin which is interesting.

The exhibition provided an opportunity for me to reflect upon these different aspects and bring the various threads together in an attempt to understand Australia’s most remote capital city.

Why did you select these two artists?

When I first arrived in the Territory to take up the role as Curator of Australian Art at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT), the museum was preparing a major retrospective of Darwin-based artist Franck Gohier. I had the opportunity to write about his work and that gave me a chance to do a deep dive into his practice and develop a strong understanding of his work and the issues he addresses.

Much of Franck’s work is informed by the periphery- centre debates of postmodernism in the 1980s and 90s. Being located in Darwin these continue to have great relevance. Gohier asks the big question: What if? What if the dominant movements in twentieth century art came from Darwin? What would Pop Art look like if Andy Warhol lived in Darwin and not New York? But the one body of work that I hadn’t addressed was his paintings of women. Standing in the gallery towards the end of the exhibition, I thought I must write about these one day.

For me curating an exhibition is really an excuse to write and it is through writing that I crystallise my own understanding, so Franck’s images were really the catalyst for the show.

In 2019 I curated a retrospective of Therese’s work at MAGNT. She is also an artist I have huge respect for. She is a fierce social commentator and has an astute eye. And while she doesn’t usually make work specifically about gender, she is interested in the behaviour and attitudes of the non-Aboriginal population in Darwin, particularly men and I knew she would contribute with perceptive observations for this exhibition.

Both Franck and Therese are critical observers of life in the Territory and so it made sense to bring them together for this show.

What are the key themes that this selection of work highlights?

Gender is central to this exhibition. The exhibition is about considering the constructs of femininity and masculinity and the legacy of twentieth century stereotypes that linger today. While there have been huge shifts in understandings of gender to embrace greater fluidity, these have really only gained traction in recent years.

Gender stereotypes were questioned and disrupted during the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 70s, however they still informed the socialisation of many people growing up at this time. I’m interested in the enculturation that occurred during many people’s childhoods – the pervasiveness of popular culture role models that reinforced heteronormative gender understandings and instances of the subversion of these.

How would you describe the practice of being a curator?

I’ve always thought of my role as a curator as that of a conduit between artists and the public. It is about creating platforms for conversations not only between the artist and the visitor, but also between artworks. I am very conscious when I select artists to work with, and and which artworks to include in exhibitions, to consider what artworks have to say and how diverse works interact.

By juxtaposing images and objects that are saying different things about a subject you can create a space for dialogue which the visitor then enters into.

I think the role of the curator is to push boundaries, ask difficult or interesting questions and provide a forum for the audience to consider the human condition and issues of relevance to us today. And this is achieved by bringing together visually thought-provoking work.


Frank Gohier, ‘Monday’ 202. Synthetic polymer paint on board

What motivates you to create art?

Initially, as a child, my motivation to create art was simply to copy images from comic books to pass the time as an awkward introvert. Since then I have created art to communicate ideas that I find difficult to express in other manners…a struggle to find meaning in a meaningless world.

How would you describe your artistic process?

My artistic process usually starts with an interesting conversation or a snippet of information from an article, an event on the news, a meme on social media, an image in a comic book, an encounter with another human or an epiphany. This is soon followed by a quick doodle and some rough notes in a sketch book.

After this I work out which medium is most suitable to convey the idea. Should it be a painting, a print… a sculpture? Do I want to create a single iconic image or do I want to get the message across to as many people as possible in a print run? Is scale important to convey the concept? Large scale pieces can dominate and over power the viewer whilst smaller artworks are more intimate and invite the audience in. Once this is figured out I then gather the necessary materials and tools from the studio.

A large part of the artistic process is also having a good inventory of materials to work with already stocked in the studio. Knowing where to acquire materials and the logistics and costs of getting them to the studio are also critical. I am always scouring op shops, antique shops, lawn sales and auction sites trying to find new and interesting materials and objects that speak to me and will be interesting to incorporate into new works.

Do you have a clear idea of a work before you start?

I don’t always have a clear idea of an artwork before I start. Sometimes I simply find a comic book image that really resonates with me on some level. I trust this intuition and scale the image up onto a canvas on board and just start painting.

The resolution of an idea can come later…or not. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re creating you’re not procrastinating.

How do you know when a work is finished?

A work is finished when it feels right….this is not a cop out answer. It’s very difficult to describe instinct or intuitiveness. After devoting most of my life to art I don’t think about it anymore. An artwork will let you know when it’s finished or when it’s not working. An understanding of formal aesthetics and colour theory go a long way though.

What is important to you as an artist to communicate to audiences?

My primary focus has never really been to communicate to audiences per se. I make art mostly for myself. I am my own primary audience. If a work is finished and I am happy with it then my work is done. The journey of making the object is what is important to me, not the end product so much. After that point, after that process, I have no more need for the object and am of course happy to release it to an audience. Everybody brings their own subjectivity to the table and so I do find the discourse and dialogue an audience generates really interesting too, as an artifact of the making experience.

What is your interest in comic books and how is it referenced in your work?

When my family arrived in Darwin mid 1975 the whole town was still devastated by Cyclone Tracey from Xmas eve of 1974. My parents had bought a sea chest full of Franco/Belgian comics such as Asterix & Obelix, Lucky Luke, Iznogoud, Tintin, Smurfs etc. We moved from caravan park to caravan park until Darwin was rebuilt. My folks both drew when they were younger and so I took up copying the comic book images into cartridge journals to pass the time. There is also a nostalgic appeal for me with comic books with the products advertised within them. They speak to a time and place.

As an undergrad at art school I realised that comic book images could be transgressed for socio-political messaging such as the Situationist International movement (1957-1972) which later informed Punk aesthetic artists like Jamie Reid from Britain. At uni I had always found traditional Pop Art way too tame and a bit of a dead end. I was disappointed as I had spent so many years appropriating comic books and so was looking for a way to make the genre a bit more edgy. Neo Expressionism was a la mode and so I started combining visual elements that more closely duplicated my sentiments.

I often finish paintings with an expressive black line around the edges. This is to further reference the artwork as a singular comic book frame. A still in a celluloid film. A point in time. It denotes the possibility that an event may have happened prior or an event may occur after that particular image.

The Phantom is a character that you incorporate repeatedly? What is the connotation of this?

The Phantom comics have always had great appeal in places like Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, PNG, India etc. This is because it is one of the very few comic book publications that contained Indigenous people. The Phantom comic character’s ancestor was a European victim of piracy who washes up shipwrecked on the shores of a mythical place called Bengali. He is nurtured back to health by a local Indigenous tribe and then promptly appoints himself as the arbitrator of law, morals and ethics, settling inter-tribal disputes with his guns blazing. I utilise the imagery of the Phantom as a symbol of colonialism at worst and at best as a well-meaning but partronising ‘white fella’. I worked for many years with Indigenous communities as a collaborative printmaker and I met plenty of Phantoms over that period.

What is the role of text and typography in your work?

Text in imagery can allow me more direct and immediate communication of ideas. A word will often jump out at you visually before the actual pictorial elements do. This is a powerful tool for messaging and slogans etc.

Typography is very evocative of certain time periods and genres. As such it can be used to great effect to communicate extra layers of meaning. As an example, the Cooper Black font is bulbous, fun and evocative of early 1970’s even though it was created in 1922. French Clarendon, a font released in 1845, is closely associated with the wild west and rodeos. Typography comes with its own cultural baggage which can be used to reinforce its own historical narrative or it can be subverted, out of context, to create chaos and confusion. Text and typography are great tools to have in the tool box.

What is the significance/process of titling your works?

Most of the titling of my works comes after I have decided that an image is finished. The title becomes a summation, an extra clue, breadcrumbs to deciphering the meaning of the artwork. The top layer of the strata.

How would you describe the aesthetic of your work?

Pop expressionism, Agitprop, Situationist, Absurdist, Socio-political.

Are there artists/art movements from history that inspire you?

Rosalie Gascoigne, Joy Hester, Barbarra Hanrahan, Ian Fairweather, Ken Whisson, Peter Booth, Wilson McCoy, Kitty Kantilla, Rover Thompson, Asger Jorn, David Shrigley, Robert Rauschenberg, Anselm Kieffer, Phillip Guston, Bill Traylor, Sailor Jerry, Louise Bourgeois, Niki de St Phalle, Alfred Wallis… and more.

How would you describe the artist’s role in society?

I’m still not exactly sure about the artist’s role in society but my intuition says that it’s not really to manufacture huge 30ft, chrome Hot Dogs to trade as commodities to the 1% or sell to institutional collections so that they can attract as many perplexed humans through the turnstiles as possible…or is it? Lol


Therese Ritchie, ‘Bushrangers and buffalos’ 2021. Pigment print

What motivates you to create art?

Anything motivates me. Emotions, colour, light, snippets of conversation on a bus. Grief, pleasure, a person’s face, or their tone of voice. Life is so interconnected and all aspects of the experience of life from the sublime to despair are inspirational, they are textural, dynamic and insightful if you stay the course.

How would you describe your artistic process?

Tricky as it is never one thing. The constant part of the process is that I commit to following what inspires me. These flashes come in small grabs, accompanied by a feeling of excitement, as if I were about to embark on an adventure. The second step is to trust the inspiration, and always act on it, as it almost never plays out chronologically and I often don’t know what I am doing, it’s a very vulnerable stage, so I keep it close to my heart and keep working and trust my instincts/feelings within the process. I stay with it until the pieces all fall together, this can take a long time or a short time.

I take photographs of skies, clouds, trees, people, objects, plants, birds, animals, insects whatever inspires me. I use my camera or my phone and I upload them onto my computer regularly. I store them in folders according to their subject matter and back them up. I also photograph drawings/ scribbles/notes that I might create or images that I like or parts of images and file them. I never stop collecting as this process is the bones of my work and I enjoy the research. I will spend a lot of time preparing the images that I collect by clipping and masking areas out that I don’t want, preparing the colour and tone of the elements that I do want. This preparation can take hours and days but I enjoy it and it helps for a smoother more satisfying experience when marrying or juxtaposing elements when creating the collages. If I am reading as well, I take notes on my phone and email them to myself and file them in separate but related folders so I can reference them at a later date. Words inspire me. I generally build or collage my images with a Wacom tablet or mouse in Photoshop, but use illustrator, Painter, and Studio Paint simultaneously, so am often taking images in and out of several software programs to get the effect I want. I have a very good commercial printer who uses archival paper and inks and who knows my files. I always need a proof to size and on the archival paper to check for flaws and or if the tone/ emotion translates properly.

How do you know when a work is finished?

I get a sense of peace or feel relaxed.

What is important to you as an artist to communicate to audiences?

What I feel and how interconnected everything and everyone is, and I want them to be able to open up, even momentarily, to perhaps feel the beauty that lives inside the hardest places.

Describe your interest in photography and the role it plays in your work.

Photography keeps me grounded. I love its immediacy and in particular, the intimacy of portrait photography. I use photography to collect images, follow light and document actions and people. They are all important parts of my research and the final process of building a collage.

What do you like about collage? How do you incorporate it as a creative strategy in your work?

I just love using images or parts of images that already have cultural weight and meaning and I love juxtaposing these images with contradictory images to challenge, open things up and ultimately to confront. I love the art of refining those visual puns or tricks so that the viewer can have the experience of working it out for themselves. The process of finding these images is also exciting.

I get very hungry for the right tone, colour, shape. It is like a treasure hunt and very intuitive.

How does your work as a graphic designer sit with your practice as a visual artist?

Being a graphic designer has helped evolve the skill of refined communication. Creating an image/concept that is not too ambiguous, not too didactic, just the right amount of humour. It’s a recipe, like alchemy. You have to give the client what they want. Learning what they don’t want is always the first step. I enjoy the intimacy of this relationship, it hones my insight and ability to read a person, see what is behind their words etc.

On a technical level, the software programs are very satisfying and have become second nature to my creative process, I love the combination of text and imagery, very, very powerful medium.

What is the benefit of/attraction to creating a series of related images?

I can work on up to 10 images at once as there are many elements of other images that I am trying to incorporate. I seem to have a lot to say all at once. It is difficult to just stop at one image, so much easier to work with all the elements if I can move them from file to file, I never really know where they will end up. So a series is logical, I might make 10-15 images but only several make it to the wall. It’s like driving a car—so many things to think of at once, but the coordination and trust creates movement. Movement is life.

What is the significance/process of titling your works?

Sometimes the title of a piece will come to me before the actual image. Other times I am at a loss to title my work. Titling my work is convenient as I make a lot of pictures and need to find them in my archives, but it is also significant because a good title is like full stop at the end of a sentence. Makes it complete and final.

What is the role of research in your work?

Very important. Sometimes I read maybe 4-5 books on a topic of interest, taking notes, absorbing, this can take months. I also collect images; I walk and observe and take photographs—it’s the trawling stage. I collect data and then I let it settle until I can begin building the images.

Would you consider your artworks as conversations or statements?

Both. But I am hoping they generate that texture or feeling that collapses time and is often indescribable.

Would you describe your artworks as paintings or photographs or prints?

All of the above, sometimes, straight photographs, or collaged paintings but they are digital prints at the end of the day as they are created within a virtual environment that then have to be printed out digitally.

What is the role of intuition in your work?

Everything. You will have people love your work, dislike your work, ignore your work, put it on a pedestal for a moment in time, but none of that is important, because all those judgments, if you take them seriously, will take you off course. Staying true to your intuition as you evolve as an artist is an honest life, it’s the only way to stay true to yourself.