eX de Medici: Beautiful Wickedness


eX de Medici’s extraordinarily layered works reveal the artist’s ongoing concern with the value and fragility of life, global affairs, greed, commerce, conflict and death.

‘Oh, what a world, what a world! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?’, screeches the Wicked Witch of the West in Victor Fleming’s 1939 screen classic The Wizard of Oz. They are the last words the villain utters before she melts, having been inadvertently doused in water by the film’s innocent protagonist Dorothy, who is trying to extinguish a fire the witch has lit. The movie is a psychoanalytic response to L Frank Baum’s allegorical novel, which alludes to unscrupulous industrial magnates — so-called robber barons — who preyed on human and natural resources across the United States’ drought-ravaged Midwest at the dawn of the twentieth century. As John Steinbeck wrote in the opening of his contemporaneous masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath (1939): ‘The clouds appeared and went away, and in a while they did not try anymore’, as the banks and the industrial-scale ranchers proceeded to devastate the livelihoods of the small landholders in their path.

eX de Medici ‘Blue (Bower/Bauer)’

eX de Medici, Australia b.1959 / Blue (Bower/Bauer) 1998–2000 / Watercolour over pencil on paper / 114 x 152.8cm / Purchased 2004 / Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra / © eX de Medici

Subversive, countercultural and brilliantly surreal, The Wizard of Oz metaphorically sets up many of the targets eX de Medici trains her sights on. An avowed environmentalist and activist, the artist is dedicated to uncloaking abuses of power and revealing their effects on ordinary and everyday lives, highlighting the excesses of global capitalism, and disclosing the economic imperatives that drive public policymaking. She has steadily and defiantly followed a yellow brick road of ‘wicked’ beauty, seducing viewers with enthralling detail to expose the opaque underbelly of consumerism and the insidious reach of systems of surveillance, authority and state-sanctioned control.

The largest exhibition of her 40-year career, ‘Beautiful Wickedness’ takes us into the exquisitely dark heart of de Medici’s abiding concerns: the value and fragility of life, global affairs, greed and commerce, and the enmeshed, universal themes of conflict and death. Crossing over different artistic paths, she has been resolute in her critique of inequitable and unethical social and political systems.

eX de Medici ‘Pure Impulse Control’

eX de Medici, Australia b.1959 / Pure Impulse Control 2008 / Watercolour on paper / 110 x 114cm / Luke Fildes Collection / © eX de Medici / Photograph: Murray Fredericks

Responding to the labyrinthine manoeuvres of world politics and the destructive influences of state and corporate power, de Medici conceals surreptitious yet razor-sharp barbs among lush arrangements of historical and contemporary emblems of excess. The recurring motifs of the moth and the gun represent two parallel figurative ecologies: nature with its evolutionary imperative to survive versus the self-destructive impulses of humans whose technologies are rapidly destroying them and the planet.

In de Medici’s own terms, ‘I have in my work, tried to examine the pernicious forces at work within the human hegemony — the fetishistic allure of power over the macro and the micro, the human and the non-human’.1 In this regard, paintings like The Theory of Everything 2005 (illustrated) seem indexical to her assault on the relentless march of cultural consumerism and, paradoxically, on the creation of natural wastelands in its wake.

eX de Medici ‘The theory of everything’

eX de Medici, Australia b.1959 / The theory of everything 2005 / Watercolour and metallic pigment on paper / 114.3 x 176.3cm / Purchased 2005 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © eX de Medici

eX de Medici ‘System (This is the Place Where the Martyrs Grow)’

eX de Medici, Australia b.1959 / System (This is the Place Where the Martyrs Grow) (detail) 2022 / Watercolour and tempera with gold leaf on paper / Three panels; two panels: 114 x 115cm; one panel: 114 x 145cm; 114 x 375cm (overall) / Collection: eX de Medici / © eX de Medici / Photograph: Rob Little Digital Images

Chris Saines, CNZM is Director, QAGOMA
This edited extract was originally published in eX de Medici: Beautiful Wickedness, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, 2023

1 eX de Medici, ‘NVAEC 2016: Plenary session 1 – eX de Medici’ [20 January 2016], National Visual Arts Education Conference (NVAEC), National Gallery of Australia, 15 June 2016, <nga.gov.au/on-demand/nvaec-2016-plenarysession-1-ex-de-medici/>, viewed September 2022.

‘eX de Medici: Beautiful Wickedness’ in 1.2 and 1.3 (Eric and Marion Taylor Gallery) was at GOMA from 24 June until 2 October 2023. ‘Beautiful Wickedness’ offered opportunities for dialogue with ‘Michael Zavros: The Favourite‘ presented in the adjacent gallery 1.1 (The Fairfax Gallery) and 1.2.