Sketching sadness

DEPRESSION IN DAYS is a confronting title for a 12-year-old’s first art exhibition. But then Chili Leadabrand is no ordinary pre-teen.

What’s even more extraordinary is she was 11 when she created her series of 22 sketches.

Speaking to the Herald, Chili exudes a confidence well above her years, despite confessing to nerves at the prospect of making a speech at the gallery she’s sharing with fellow up-and-comer Jupiter McKenzie (Airhead’s the exhibition).

Chili’s pencil sketches have a slightly Leunig look to them and the humour is almost as dark, but she smiles at suggestions she’s expressing pre-teen angst.

“Most people assume I’m depressed because the series is called Depression in Days, but I observe other people’s sadness and put it into my sketches,” she says.

“I did these last year and a few of my friends were down in the dumps.”

Living in Bali at the time, where artist mother Alia ran workshops, she attended the island’s international school for eight months.

A running theme through Chili’s sketches is a motif of a huge head, with strangely deformed legs.

• Chili Leadabrand and Jupiter McKenzie with their works. Photo by Matthew Dwyer

• Chili Leadabrand and Jupiter McKenzie with their works. Photo by Matthew Dwyer

“I was drawing a little person in class, in Bali, a huge head and I added little sticks to it and thought it looked pretty cool.”

Last week’s opening saw 16 of 22 works sell.

McKenzie, 24, hails from the eastern states and art was more a hobby until he began lodging at the Leadabrands’ Hamilton Hill home, where his quirky oil-on-canvas images were encouraged in a hothouse of creativity.

There’s a common thread to McKenzie and Chili Leadabrand’s art, and images of huge heads, with large, wide eyes, float like balloons over bodies dressed in period dress, or simply in the the air, their strings trailing below.

They are beautifully executed and slightly comical, but with a vaguely disturbing subtext.

McKenzie’s art has been described as lowbrow, (also called pop surrealism) with roots in underground comics and punk.

It’s a label that delights McKenzie: “[My] paintings relate to my twisted views of the modern world,” he says.

Airhead and Depression in Days are on at Pakenham Street Art Studio at the corner of Leake and Pakenham Streets, until December 7.

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