After meeting and developing a friendship with Roa in San Francisco earlier this year, I’ve been really looking forward to him arriving in Melbourne! I’ve always known Roa loved his animals, but have never appreciated him as much as I do until now.
Roa was invited by Healsville Sanctuary to visit and meet some of their animals and paint some walls. Healsville is a very special place and there is no doubt that experience shaped the entire trip in Melbourne and also heavily influenced the exhibition. There’s nothing like seeing an artist meet an animal, touch it, play with it, and then go off and paint it.
Roa’s inspiration for CARRION, his show that just closed at Backwoods Gallery in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood, was a direct result of the visit to Healseville. The animals, the staff and their passion for the animals and having access to things even most Australians have never even experienced really made a difference.
So how did this impact the show? In so many ways! Firstly, all of the works were Australian native animals. But the installation, as Roa’s shows often are, was something else! The experience began even before entering the gallery, with the scent of something strange to come. Roa painted the wall in the alley way leading into Backwoods with a giant wombat skeleton. The strange smell kept luring you closer and closer, I won’t say it was a pleasant smell, far from it – soon you’ll understand why.
Upon entering Backwoods punters were greeted by a green wall with CARRION painted in red. To the right was a shed built inside the gallery, inside were several videos showing a wallaby autopsy (Roa got to watch and film this at the sanctuary). Rather confronting for those not knowing what to expect.
Fish tanks were assembled throughout the gallery with a set of pipes joining them together for air flow. Inside was the cause of the smell, native Australian animals (a possum, a wallaby, an echidna, a kookaburra and several other birds) being slowly consumed by flesh eating beetles! If you were surprised by the autopsy video this was even more of a shock to some. Bones and various other found items were also scattered throughout the gallery.
The paintings, all of native Australian animals, were beautifully painted and came in a range of sizes and complexity (in terms of how many moving parts/doors they had). My favourite pieces were the Bandicoot, the Echidna, the platypus and the Honey Possum.
I hope my description of the show does it justice, it was truly one of the most amazing and unique shows held in Melbourne. Not only was the show amazing, I was lucky enough to see it develop from the ground up. The building of frames and doors, the sketches and thinking behind each piece and the assembly of the installation. It all came together perfectly in the end. I appreciate each piece so much more because of this experience.
I’ve also included a picture of an Echidna ROA painted in the backstreets of Collingwood near the Gallery. The only piece he painted outside of Healseville. Such a great piece.