More than 17,000 years ago this land’s first artists expressed their belonging and their identity by covering their palms in ochre and putting their hands on rocks, leaving a sign for the present and the future.

It was an act of individual creativity in the context of community. It signified the mutual human connection with nature through paint.

Paint exercises an inordinate influence on humans. Through play with the material, we have the capacity to represent, to identify, to create and express ourselves.

Mary-Jean Richardson and Anna Gore sit close to each other, opposite me on a rickety two-seater couch in the sitting area behind the Floating Goose Gallery in Morphett Street.

Both are painters and teachers: Richardson is head of painting at Adelaide Central School of Art (ACSA) and Gore teaches at ACSA and UniSA.

They are also mother and daughter.

As I sit down, I glimpse daughter Anna Gore checking in on her mother with a kiss, gently stroking her hand.

Gore was six years of age and her sister, Lucille, was five when Richardson decided to study art at ACSA. Richardson attributes her own success in the course and her subsequent career to hard work, good management and a loving and supportive partner.

Later, Richardson taught Gore painting as a discipline, as a theory, as a practice.

At first, Gore didn’t want to focus on painting.

“I love making things, but I thought – because  I knew everything – I just thought painting didn’t appeal to me, but I never really tried it until I started at art school and when I did, I fell in love,” she says.

Now, paint – what Richardson calls “this buttery oily coloured mud” – has brought mother and daughter together in a year-long creative collaboration resulting in the SALA show Relics and Ruins, showing at the artist-run Floating Goose Gallery.

“Why relics and ruins?” I ask.

“We were thinking about what it means to be a relic or a ruin, history and the future,” Gore says.

“It’s about myths and stories and how things persist and how we construct ideas and how we maintain ideas.”

One negative myth is that painting itself is a relic,  that it began to die when photography was born.

In an introductory essay on the pair’s work, Riley O’Keefe says:

Artists, critics and curators alike have seemed determined to close the chapter on painting, as though it should be relegated to the storage cupboard like outdated technology. The well-worn narrative of painting’s demise hinges on the belief that the new things that manifest in the art canon ought to replace the old things.

This exhibition pays credit to painting’s past and creates continuity while challenging those assumptions.

An installation view of Relics and Ruins, which includes works with three-dimensional elements. Photo: Supplied

Richardson says  painting’s history is a major concern of their work: “[It’s about] how much the past influences the present and how social structures and institutions determine what is a relic and what is a ruin.”

Gore expresses their very strong connection to both the history of painting and its future:  “Whenever you are painting, you are always engaging with the legacy of the painting that has come  before you… and it’s hard not think about what will come after you, especially as a teacher, because you’re seeing all these new artists that are developing and finding their voices and language.”

Richardson and Gore decided a year ago to do a show together.

Relics and Ruins, paper mache, acrylic and oil on linen.

Richardson says she is not naturally collaborative, but when she decided she would try a collaboration, Gore was the natural choice.

They don’t share a space, but work in their own studios. Gore uses a spare room in her rented house. Richardson works in her own house, too, but her studio used to be Gore’s bedroom.

On Sundays they loaded up their cars with their week’s work and took them to a central space in the ACSA building at Glenside to share them, critique them and build on them.

Like any mother and daughter, there has been conflict in the past, but time has worn away the old anxieties and friction.

“Anna’s always been a very independent thinker, so it was many years ago that she made her own path,” Richardson says.

She reminds her daughter that one of her friends says Anna once told her: “I would never work with my mother.”

“I don’t remember saying that,” Gore says. She thinks again: “I probably did say it.”

“Obviously, I can trust Anna,” Richardson says. “Obviously, we can be very honest about it with each other – not where you have to hurt each other’s feelings but you have to wear it.

“It just feels like there’s nothing stopping me from telling the truth about what I’m actually seeing,” Gore says. “That feeling, I think, has been really important to this show.”

“I think maybe I can separate Anna the daughter from Anna the artist,” Richardson says. “I think we’ve gotten to a point in our careers where I feel that Anna’s more than an equal in many ways.”

“We do always talk about art, anyway,” Gore says. “We’ve travelled together and do lots of art together, so having this opportunity to do this very experimental work was precious.

“I’m always impressed and curious around what she thinks about things,” Richardson says.

 “I think something that’s been nice about the relationship we have is you can be completely honest. You don’t have to hold back,” Gore says.

“Really?” I ask incredulously.

“Absolutely! You can really say what you think about the work and be very honest about ourselves and our own work as well,” she responds.

“When we started, we didn’t know if we were going to [take] flight or fight or take the mother-daughter role,” Richardson says.

Gore points out how much more experience Richardson has as a maker, but Richardson is focused on how much there is to learn. “I never want to think that I know it all,” she says.

They agree they are very different.

“I’m much more a conventional painter and Anna has more three-dimensional elements in her work,” Richardson says.

“But,” Gore adds, “I think we have been able to have enough space for each other’s approach. I think that’s where the differences usually are.”

An installation view of Relics and Ruins, featuring works by Anna Gore and Mary-Jean Richardson. Photo: Supplied

Richardson thinks that the collaboration has helped both of them.

“It has been challenging but not in an emotional way. Intellectually, [it’s been] really challenging.”

They recount the creative process at ACSA on Sundays .

“We would make things, bring them together, talk about them, look at them, change things…” says Richardson.

“Sometimes we’d leave stuff at each other’s studio as well,” Gore says. “With notes saying, ‘I don’t know what to do with this. You can finish it’.”

The work bears marks of both artists.

“There will be some works which we both have handled,” Richardson says.

“If there’s been paintings that Anna or I haven’t physically worked on, we have discussed them; we have sort of interrogated each other’s work. I feel like we’ve had our intellectual hand in all the works”

“But,” Gore says, “there have been literal collaborations as well.”

She says they wanted the same things for this show – an extended meditation on the theory and practice of painting and the process of painting itself as a critique of the hyper-exploitive capitalist world we live in.

O’Keefe’s essay sums up their stance on painting as a counter to a world:

…that prioritises profit over humanity, where people are seen as data-producing machines of capital. The constant flow of information, delivered in fragments, short-circuits our desire for reflection and understanding.

Painting provides an antithesis to the constant hum of the modern world. It predicates planning, slow movements, patience and constant reflection.

Richardson says she’s valuing the craft of painting more as time goes on, because the relationship of painters to the “oily buttery coloured mud” is similar to that which a potter has to clay.

 Mother and daughter riff on the subject of craft, process and history:

 “It’s a very materially-driven process,” Richardson says. “As artists, you have an idea. How do you articulate that? As makers, it’s about how you do it. As makers, it’s the nitty-gritty.

“No matter what you’re doing, it’s always come from somewhere,” Gore says.

Richardson says it’s very much about the “how”. “How you do something is so connected to the concept,” she says.

Gore agrees, building the thought and focusing on the consideration of each application of paint.

“Then you put one mark down and the ‘how’ changes all over again because now you’ve got this balanced against whatever else you were going to add. There’s always a choice.

“It could go in any direction, any combination. There are material limits, but if you think about painting as a tool for representing spaces, shapes, objects, time – it’s limitless.

“I think both what you are representing and the technique really, really matter, so what you’re representing and what you’re using both play into it,” she says.

“They sort of hold hands, I think,” Richardson says.

Her metaphor sums up the nature of this powerful, intimate collaboration between artist and artist, painter and painter, mother and daughter.

Relics and Ruins is showing at Floating Goose Studios and Gallery, 271 Morphett Street, until August 27 as part of the South Australian Living Artists Festival. Read more SALA articles here.

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