Hazel Dooney

Lisa Cugnetto, Yen Magazine, February / March 2003

At first glance, Hazel Dooney's art is sleek, bold and eye-catching - as are the female images that grace her work. But they are also a metaphor for something bigger. Dooney's work has double-meaning, they are a fresh take on old sexist clichés. Her women are sexy and confident, but they are relaxed and comfortable with their sexuality. Dooney weaves together the traditionally-contrasting values of sex appeal and femininity with power and assertiveness.

It was the strength of her art that saw Dooney asked to be part of an expedition that most artists can only dream about. A venture in which multi-millionaire businessman, David Deague, with the help of his personal art consultant, Ken McGregor, invited 10 artists to stay and work in the tiny town of William Creek in the remote outback of South Australia's Lake Eyre. Deague commissioned each of the artists to produce 10 pieces inspired by their surroundings in a no-costs spared, lavish endeavour to resuscitate the dying art of landscape painting.

Dooney, who was the youngest of the group, which included the likes of Tim Storrier, John Olsen, Jason Benjamin and Jeff Makin, was also the only female. Dooney, known for her glossy, condy-coloured, pop-art images of strong and sassy women, was also the last of the 10 to be chosen.

"The whole thing was surreal, not just the landscape," she says, "It was strange to be with those artists in that circumstance. I mean John Olsen and Tim Storrier were two artists that I had studied at school. I was just flattered and scared. They were all fantastic, lovely and encouraging, and accepting that everyone has different approaches to working and there is no right or wrong approach in terms of art."

A collection of 150 pieces from the project aptly titled "William Creek and Beyond" opened in November at the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Sydney amidst controversy. There was speculation about Deague's intentions in investing nearly one million dollars into the project when it was less than seven years ago that he declared bankruptcy, owing more than $52 million to creditors. The exhibition was an extravagant and high-profile affair.

However, Dooney remains untouched by the event. "I'm not really into hype. I'm into doing my work and if it works it'll speak for itself. I'm pleased the book is out there and I was really focused on doing the work for it, but events like that don't have much meaning to me."

A refreshing and grounded attitude for a 25-year-old who is building herself an impressive resume including solo exhibitions at the Jan Murphy Gallery in Brisbane, Greenhill Gallery in Perth, a group exhibition in Tokyo and private collections around the world.

Perhaps this could be attributed to her upbringing which is best described as "free". Dooney reflects back to a childhood of home-grown vegetables and home-cooked meals, endless hours spent painting and a small black and white television which was hardly watched.

"My dad always encouraged me to do everything that boys traditionally did, like motorbike riding and shooting. I was encouraged by both my parents to be an independent thinker and not to be limited by my gender," says Dooney.

When Dooney was in her mid-teens, her mother introduced her to feminist books while her father initiated her into the world of comics through his vast collections from the '70s including Vampirella; a tough, curvy, female vampire. Influences which are evident in her art today.

Dooney lists Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman and Allen Jones as artists who inspired her to become an artist as well as two university friends who "showed me stuff that I hadn't seen at school".

"We would meet every Friday night. One of us would research a type of art like cubism or something like that and tell the others about it. Then we would have a go at doing something in a cubist way and try and understand what it was about," explains Dooney, "After doing that for a semester I realised that art was what I really needed to do."

Dooney's process is a unique one, with her pieces looking more like glossy magazine advertisements than paintings. This result is achieved by drawing the images (based on photographs that Dooney takes of herself in different poses) and then using layer upon layer of gloss-enamel paint to achieve the seamless end result. One where brushstrokes and line marks are practically invisible and people are almost able to see their reflection mirrored in the paintings. An effect which only seems to emphasise the lusciousness of the images.

So how did Dooney manage to keep her style and still convey her ideals while painting for the project?

"It was a challenge in terms of landscape, it was pretty bare and desolate. It took me a couple of days to see the subtleties in colour and it really changed my palette. As was trying to figure out how on earth I was going to do a landscape in a way that I found interesting and engaging," explains Dooney, "So I ended up using the landscape as more of a context and a kind of metaphor to place a figure within. I can appreciate straight out landscape painting, but personally I'm not interested in that. I'm more into people and society and culture."

Now it seems that with the conclusion of the project, Dooney plans to spend some time working alone or perhaps on a smaller project with another artist.

"The most important thing to me is to continue growing within my work, to continue pushing it and developing ideas, making them better and refining how I do them," says Dooney, "I'm open in terms of what I'm going to do with my work but I just want to be in the studio for a while, I just want to get back to doing things on my own."