The ‘sitters’ in Joanna Braithwaite’s portraits in her exhibition Goes Without Saying stare out at the viewer with expressions that range from haughty self-importance (Luminary) to bemused resignation (As Luck Would Have it). Each creature in Braithwaite’s menagerie is bedecked with accessories that suit their station in life. The melancholic air of the Huia is enhanced by Victorian mourning brooches; with betting slips tucked into their tweed hats, knowing equine glances suggest that the horses have had the inside running all along.
The heroism of "Private Simpson and his little beast” (1) on the beaches of Gallipoli is part of ANZAC history and with Silent Partner Braithwaite acknowledges the unnamed animal. Her donkey, complete with medic’s “slouch hat,” gazes out of the painting with quiet dignity. A finalist in the 2012 Gallipoli Art Prize in Sydney, Silent Partner exemplifies Braithwaite’s skill. She paints with a confident hand and deftly captures the essential form and expression of her subject. The backgrounds of her paintings are left blank, but not empty; the rich, subtly shaded backdrops throw the animals into the spotlight.
Through use of the formal strictures of traditional portrait painting, Braithwaite confers status on her rats, birds and rabbits: they are the ones “immortalised in oils.” Normal hierarchies of viewed and viewer, animal and human, the celebrated and the ordinary are turned upside down. Displaying easily recognisable markers of class and status, the members of Braithwaite’s menagerie occupy established societal niches, inviting us to question the validity and roles of our social signifiers and structures.
1. Colonel Jack Monash, quoted in “Australia’s Favourite Hero,” http://www.anzacs.net/Simpson.htm, accessed 5/7/12.