Claire Healy & Sean Cordeiro: Ikebana Bubbly: Gold.

Andrew Frost, Art Collector Magazine, 12 Oct 2022

When Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro were named as winners of the 2022 Sir John Sulman Prize, those who'd known the duo for their large scale sculpture projects might have been surprised to find a work by them had taken out the prestigious award for genre painting. Their piece, Raiko and the demon Shuten-döji, 2021 was a striking rendition of the warrior and demon of the title, and was painted in bright acrylic gouache, jute and tape.


That the winning work was painted on the surface of a Vietnam War-era helicopter shell was a hint at the pair's decades-long practice that has included disassembling a house for re-installation in a gallery, taking the complete fuselage of a light aircraft that they then deconstructed and posted, part by part, through the mail, and a vast and imposing black monolith of VHS videotapes (with a complete playtime roughly equivalent to the average human lifespan).


Playful and conceptual, Healy and Cordeiro experiment with form and image, finding evocative metaphors in the meeting between painted image and surface. Their latest works that can be seen in After The Gap Year, opening at N. Smith Gallery, Sydney, in October, are a further exploration on this process, albeit on a smaller and more intimate scale.


Take for example Ikebana Bubbly: Gold, 2022. Like all the pieces in the show, and in keeping with their established process, the work is both painted surface and object. In this case, the delicate ikebana plant, in red on a gold background, painted on to a flat-tened, cardboard box designed to contain a single bottle of champagne, the sort of box any Australian would know from their local bottle shop.


The backstory to this work, and all the pieces in the show, is that it's inspired in part by the life of Florence Broadhurst, the famed designer, painter, dancer, cultural appropriationist, and fabulist. After The Gap Year refers to the period that Broadhurst worked "in her father's Queensland pub after arriving back from Shanghai and before starting her world-famous textile and wallpaper business."


While the work subtly hints at the collision of cultures - the Australian culture of drinking, and the pan-Asian appropriation of Broadhurst's designs - the works might also reference the long, studio-bound periods the artists spent during Covid-19 lockdown. As the artists said of recent work, it forms part of a new art movement that joins " the pandemic lexicon together with iso haircut; iso fashion; iso bubble - iso art: art created when you have time on your hands and nowhere to go."