The Secret Lives of Maps

Keira Street, WOLLONGONG
21st March – 3rd April 2022
Co-exhibitor: Margaret McHugh

Marg McHugh was a part-time student in the Diploma of Visual Arts at Nowra TAFE in 2020-2021. Marg always worked through many varying processes before she arrived at producing her final artworks for all classroom projects and exhibition. Marg became my benchmark within the overall class as I considered her energy and enthusiasm to be of the highest order.

After booking the “Project Contemporary Artspace” for my own solo exhibition, I discussed the concept of Marg and myself sharing the space.

We spoke about the responsibilities that go along with developing suitable works for display and worked towards the culmination of this joint venture.

“The secret lives of maps” became a successful exhibition for us both and for our own personal standing within the Illawarra and Shoalhaven Arts community. There are always lessons to be learned and shared.

The work that I exhibited was a mixture of the ‘old and the new’, with some pieces created at the very beginning of my “mind maps” concept, while others had been developed especially for this show.

Mind Maps Revisited

Warwick Keen 19 March 22

I have been creating mind-maps for over 40 years, I still have a couple of mind-map drawings in a diary that I sketched in from around the time I was 17 years old. Of course way back then I didn’t refer to them as mind-maps, they were merely drawings that consisted of a collection of various images and items that existed within my youthful mind, surrounds and experience.

Female shapes can be seen many times in my ‘maps’ and this aspect of my conglomerate of varied imagery, tells an underlying story.

I was 7 or 8 years old when I found a box of adult men’s magazines, by the side of the road. Incidentally, at this time in my young life my father passed away. He and mum were separated and my 2 brothers and I lived with mum, my maternal grandmother and her sister, my great aunt.

I sneakily took the magazines home with me, hiding them ‘beneath the briar bushes’ up the back of our house. When I could get away I would head up to the briar bushes and look at my fascinating collection.

In hindsight, I have come to realise that my secret habit heralded the commencement of my sexual objectification of the female body, a habit that has left a huge imprint on my life.

I was ignorant about the consequences of my attitudes and behaviour. I have no excuses other than to state that Australian mainstream culture during the 60’s and 70’s was indeed rife with this mindset and the attitudes that I too adopted. 

My access to these printed images ended when my mother found the stash and placed the blame onto my older brother, Robert. I let him take the ‘rap’, mum gave him a dressing down and removed the magazines, and that was that.

I married at the ripe old age of 20, and after the birth of my 2 sons I found myself divorced at the age of 24. At that stage of my life I didn’t possess the wherewithal, courage, support or emotional strength to deal with what had occurred. Alcohol and drugs began to take over my life. I ‘threw in the towel’ at this point and my immature attitude along with the abandonment of my parental responsibilities began to alter the course of my life in a very negative way for the next 10 or 11 years.

At the age of 35 I crawled my way out of the ‘abyss’ of substance abuse and commenced utilising my artistic skills to assist me in rebuilding a better life for both my sons and myself.

I had retained most of my faculties and possessed a yearning to make more of my life than I had previously done. Painting pictures intermittently during these times was the one thing that assisted me in retaining some semblance of sanity.

To be able to practice my Art was a real godsend and through the participation and completion of another Art course I was afforded the opportunity to develop and deliver Aboriginal Art programs to remote Aboriginal communities in western NSW and southern Queensland. I spent 18 months in this position before joining TAFE NSW in 1997.

During the late 1990’s I began to produce my first mind-map paintings which I describe as being a reflection of my ‘mind’, mixed with an assortment of other  objects that join together to create a sketch of my own psychological makeup. There are recurring images and repeated patterns and designs that I utilise to ‘glue’ my ‘maps’ together.

My first mind- map paintings featured in a group exhibition entitled “SURFACE MEMORIES” at the Tamworth City Gallery in 2003. The exhibition consisted of a collection of work from local and regional artists living, teaching and working within the immediate Tamworth area.

The following quote from the catalogue for that exhibition is still relevant today: “I have made a conscious decision to reconnect with the imagery that I was producing in the initial stages of my journey as an Artist. I decided to redevelop the raw scribblings and doodle like patterns that emerged as I let my imagination roam free. I perceive these works as being a reflection of my mind, both physically and imaginatively”.

the curator

Varied objects and images that emerged from my mind would be painted onto the canvas and then this shape or object would form the basis of the next adjoining image, similar to a spider spinning a web.

Earlier on I used to refer to the images created as ‘blueprints’ of my mind.

In the beginning my ‘mind-maps’ were produced for the most simplest of reasons, purely meditative, naïve yet personal image making. Previously, I have created my mind-maps with the thought of them not being serious art, thus I considered them to be merely something that I could make while I was considering and exploring other more meaningful subject matter and projects.

“The Secret Lives of Maps” is a foray into the unknown, an opportunity to observe and consider the audience responses and reactions to both mine and Marg’s ‘body of works’.

Marg’s work for this exhibition identifies, explores and narrates her own intimate experiences and stories about the landscape, both the natural and the intrusive man-made aspects of living within that landscape.

My works tells a story of existence, determination, resilience and the ongoing personal challenges that we all undergo, in various ways during our lifetime of different yet similar experiences.

This exhibition, for me is ‘a work in progress’, the commencement of a more significant ‘body of work’. Where this journey takes me has no guidelines or assertive descriptions or plans for the direction of the route I will travel as time passes. “more will be revealed”.