The Artwork of Fiona Hall
Born in Oatley, New South Wales in November of 1953, Fiona Margaret Hall is an Australian sculptor and photographer. Born to radio-physicist and astronomer Ruby Payne-Scott and telephone technician William Hall, she developed an early appreciation of nature during weekend walks in the Royal National Park. During her primary school years, Hall’s mother took her to the Art Gallery of New South Wales to see the 1967 exhibition “Two Decades of American Painting” which heightened her exposure to the world of art.
Fiona Hall made the decision to pursue an art career and majored in painting at the East Sydney Technical School, now the National Art School, under John Firth-Smith, a Sydney abstract painter highly regarded for his Sydney Harbor scenes. Through her participation in Sydney’s early 1970s experimental art scene, Hall became interested in photography. As the college did not offer a major in photography, Firth-Smith initially mentored her in the subject. Hall later studied photography as a minor for her degree under printmaker and photographer George Schwarz; it was Schwarz who wrote and taught the first photography course at the National Art School.
In 1974 while still a student, Hall exhibited her photographic work as part of the “Thoughts and Images” group exhibition at the Ewing and George Paton Galleries, a central hub for experimental art in Australia during the 1970s and 1980s. Hall graduated in 1975 with her graduate exhibition solely based in photography. She relocated to London in January of 1976 and spent three months of that year visiting numerous art institutions in Europe. Upon her return to London, Fiona Hall began working with Peter Turner, the editor of the photography magazine “Creative Camera”.
While in London in 1977, Fiona Hall became an assistant to black and white landscape photographer Fay Goodwin and held her first solo photographic exhibition at the Creative Camera Gallery in London. Returning to Australia in 1978, she had her first Australian solo exhibition at the Church Street Photography Center in Melbourne. Hall relocated to the United States to study at New York’s Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester where she earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Photography in 1982.
Throughout the 1980s, Hall established a significant profile in the art world through her involvement in solo and group shows in Australia. In 1981 in Australia, she created “The Antipodean Suite”, a series of photographs of objects such as power cords and bananas. In the same year, five of her photographs were acquired for the public collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Beginning in 1983, Hall lectured in photography at Adelaide’s South Australian School of Art until her formal resignation in 2002. She received a commission in 1984 to document the new Parliament House of Australia and produced a portfolio of forty-four photographs depicting the new structure.
Beginning in the 1980s, Fiona Hall began to incorporate more sculptural works into her exhibitions. In 1984, she produced the series “Morality Dolls: The Seven Deadly Sins”, a group of seven cardboard marionettes constructed from photocopies of medical engravings. Hall’s “Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy” consisted of photographs of human figures made from painted and burnished aluminum cans. Starting in 1989, she produced a continuing series of work entitled “Paradisus Terestris” which used sardine tins to form botanical sculptures. These botanical forms sat on top of opened sardine cans which revealed human sexual parts corresponding to the attributes of the plants above. By the late 1990s, Hall had completely stopped her photographic work to focus on sculpture.
Since then, Hall has received numerous commissions for many public works. Among these are the 1998 “Fern Garden”, a twenty-square-meter permanent installation of landscape art at the National Gallery of Australia; the 1998 series “Cash Crop” at the Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens; the 2000 “A Folly for Mrs Macquarie” in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens; and a sculpture for the Chancellery Building of the University of South Australia.
Fiona Hall represented Australia in 2015 at the 56th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale with an installation work entitled “Wrong Way Time”. This work was created with the collaboration of the Tjanpi Desert Weavers, a social enterprise of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council which provides a range of community, family, research and advocacy services. This exhibition focused on the themes of death, extinction and annihilation. Included in the installation was Hall’s “All the King’s Men”, a series of twenty sculptures constructed of shredded military uniforms knitted by the artist into twenty oversized heads adorned with teeth, bones and found objects. These hollow skeletal figures represented the many who have fallen, and would fall, in war and conflict.
Hall continues to exhibit her work at the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Sydney where she has exhibited since 1995. In 2013 she became an Officer in the general division of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the visual arts as a painter, sculptor, photographer and art educator.
Note: An interview between Fiona Hall and Anna Dickie on Hall’s “Wrong Way Time” exhibition can be found at the online art magazine “Ocula” located at: https://ocula.com/magazine/conversations/fiona-hall/
A listing of Fiona Hall’s exhibitions and additional images of her “Paradisus Terestris” sculptures can be found at the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery site located at: https://www.roslynoxley9.com.au/exhibition/paradisus-terestris/5ukxp
Second Insert Image: Fiona Hall, “Wrong Way Time”, 2015, Installation View, Australian Pavilion, 56th Venice Biennale
Third Insert Image: Fiona Hall, “”Lair”, 2004, 15 cm / “Lesion”, 2004, 19 cm / “Rising Tide”, 2002, 15 cm, Musical Snow Domes, Private Collection
Fourth Insert Image: Fiona Hall, “Wrong Way Time”, 2015, Installation View, Australian Pavilion, 56th Venice Biennale
Bottom Insert Image: Fiona Hall, Untitled, 2015, Coal and Aluminum, 50 x 40 x 32 cm, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery