MERCEDES KNAPP is not nostalgic about the past.
Her art demands we join her in imagining and creating a world that is more honest, connected and alive than the one we have inherited.
“Everything has to be from another dimension with rainbows and no global warming,” says the painter whose first solo exhibition Vibrant World is coming to Fremantle in October.
Asked to describe what her own perfect vibrant world would look like, Ms Knapp says “Fremantle in Guatemala. Jungle. Papaya everywhere. Watermelon growing out of the sidewalk.
“People growing their own food, appreciating colour and using it, and just living really, really passionate lives.”
Central to three of the paintings at the heart of the show are women in the midst of intense physical and emotional experiences.
These works challenge their audience by portraying with frankness and vulnerability an array of experiences that are often shrouded in privacy and even a degree of shame.
The strength at the core of vulnerability is often the quiet subject of Ms Knapp’s work.
Power depicts a woman in labour, her belly electrified with warm orange light, face angelic, anatomy treated without allusion.
The subject of Warrior Embodied is a woman Ms Knapp knows who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
She is painted powerfully, her head cloaked in a wreath of flames and her breasts in healing light.
Guardian portrays Ms Knapp’s friend who crafts elaborate headdresses.
She is depicted in one that belonged to her grandmother “who was always her muse.”
On a whim, Ms Knapp added a parrot landing on the hand of the subject.
When her friend saw the painting, she asked, “How did you know to paint a parrot?”
They had been her grandmother’s favourite animal. The women have come to understand the painting as the image of her visiting spirit.
The spirituality factored into her work feels appropriate since it is a subject close to the heart of Ms Knapp: Raised in a home with religious constraints, she grew up using artwork to exercise freedom.
Inspired by the visual narratives of Buddhist temple artwork, she has incorporated the Buddhist practice of imbuing hand positioning with meaning.
The subject of Power has her hand open and raised, suggesting “surrender to a higher power while still being connected to whatever juicing swimming pool she’s in.”
You can sink into your own “luscious pool of enjoyment” when Vibrant World hits the Sustainable Housing for Artists and Creatives in White Gum Valley.
Opening night is on Friday October 22 at 6pm, and the exhibition runs noon-6pm until October 29.