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Molly and the circus dogs, 2011 by Anna Culliton._feature

Lucy and Anna Culliton: Two women with a vision and an eye

Unity Paterson

Contemporary art’s most common criticism is that it is unapproachable – the average gallerygoer feels intimidated by conceptual content.

Lucy and Anna Culliton, however, are two sisters being described as a breath of fresh air in contemporary art and, in a serendipitous move, both artists’ work are present in the National Portrait Gallery’s current exhibition The Popular Pet Show.

The sister’s success has straddled both the commercial and institutional art worlds. As well as being represented by commercial galleries across the continent, they are represented in the collections of many of the major institutions. Why are these sisters such a success? Their works are so characterful and charming they put any audience at ease, allowing viewers to see a livelier and more approachable side to art.

Anna Culliton

Anna Culliton, 2016 by Mark Mohell. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Although their careers enjoy similar successes and acclaim, their styles could not be more different. Anna is predominantly a ceramicist. Her works posses an earthly charm, and combine masterful skill with honest emotion so that each piece is more enchanting than the last. The artist draws from personal experience; her work depicts memory, family and friends.

An animal lover, the subject of many of her works are native and domestic Australian fauna. As it says on the NPG’s website, “Anna’s succoured many native animals that came to her as orphans, and she’s a gentle advocate for changes to laws that prohibit the keeping of creatures like quolls, bilbies and sugar gliders as domestic companions. “

Anna with Roley, 2016 by Anna Culliton. Courtesy of the artist.

Anna with Roley, 2016 by Anna Culliton. Courtesy of the artist.

Anna’s works are homey and intimate, showing small snapshots of life with animals.

Lucy Culliton is a painter, her portfolio covering everything from portraits of animals and humans to landscapes, food and domestic knickknacks. Her works capture an essence of Australian domesticity, but are in no way mundane.

As the NPG itself puts it, “the essential virtue of Lucy Culliton’s idiosyncratic paintings of fowls and other beasts is that they’re alive, full of vigour, and represented as the individual characters she’s found them to be, over months, even years of living in their midst.”

Lucy Culliton, 2016 by Mark Mohell. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Lucy Culliton, 2016 by Mark Mohell. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

In Lucy’s paintings, basic subject matter is imbued with so much personality it is no wonder her portraits of animals hang on the walls of the NPG.

These two women bring a certain approachability to the commercial and institutional world. While a large proportion of art history does depict animals, plants and landscapes, the Culliton’s work is refreshingly different.

Emitt on the chair, 2001 by Lucy Culliton. Courtesy of Lucy Culliton.

Emitt on the chair, 2001 by Lucy Culliton. Courtesy of Lucy Culliton.

Contemporary Australian art is mostly motivated by tricky conceptual meaning or subversive politics. Their portraits of scruffy dogs, landscapes, colourful interiors and kitsch ceramic vases have struck a chord in the hearts of Australians, because as well as being visually captivating, they are relatable.

This aesthetic has landed the sisters in national institutions and in the living rooms of art lovers and their works welcome viewers to finally enter a conversation many have never felt was theirs to have.

Self portrait with two cocks, 2003 by Lucy Culliton. Courtesy of Lucy Culliton.

Self portrait with two cocks, 2003 by Lucy Culliton. Courtesy of Lucy Culliton.

the essentials

What: The Popular Pet Show
Where: The National Portrait Gallery
When: Until 13 March 2017
Web: portrait.gov.au/exhibitions/the-popular-pet-show-2016

HerCanberra are proud sponsors of The National Portrait Gallery

Feature image: Molly and the circus dogs, 2011 by Anna Culliton. Courtesy of the artist.

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Unity Paterson

Unity originally hails from Sydney, making the leap to Australia’s capital to study at The Australian National University in 2014. Finding herself in the midst of an Art History degree, Unity remembered that she also had to pursue some other passions in her spare time, which led her to HerCanberra. She believes that Canberra has a lot to offer, and can’t wait to keep exploring as this cosy city grows each day; her ultimate goal being to finally convince her inter-state friends that Canberra is way more than just Lake Burley Griffin and roundabouts. More about the Author

  • Rob Gill

    I was never a great fan of sheep but was blown away by Lucy’s depiction of her woolly mates … such individual character in each portrait. And Anna’s ceramics were equally inspiring. Major domestic problem is that we have a house full of windows with little gallery space. Second storey you say?

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