Marise Maas: Minor Matters

Melbourne-based artist Marise Maas distils narratives from the ennui of the everyday, revealing the poetry in the prosaic. Her object-based visual language captures the ostensibly insignificant moments – the ‘minor matters’ – against which the theatre of life unfolds.

Maas’ new paintings visualise the profound ‘little happenings’ in her everyday life. Each composition is an intimate vignette, a visual anecdote foregrounding daily decisions and the objects she values. Chalky, skeletal lines push their way through shadowy fields of paint as if searching for form. Each mark is rustic yet refined, bringing attention to the materiality of the paintings, which become objects rendering objects. Working from observation and imagination, Maas intuitively engages with elements of composition, line, shape and texture, creating formal dialogues that speak of the currency of objecthood. Built up like a sketchbook, unfiltered and immediate, the paintings siphon her everyday surroundings. As Maas’ meandering brush searches for meaning in the mundane, accidents are given purpose and the unexpected enshrouds the familiar.

For many years Maas has painted horses as symbolic proxies for people – depersonalised embodiments of human tenderness and strength. Drawing from a lifelong love of the animal – stretching back to when she emigrated from The Netherlands to Tasmania and was given a horse – Maas interweaves this equine motif with domestic iconography. Naivete buttresses sophistication as she consciously avoids the over-conceptualisation of her subject. A horse is a horse; a coffee pot a coffee pot – and yet one can’t help but draw new visual associations. Sitting proud, a retro vinyl chair kicks its steel legs back as if about to buck. Meanwhile, a pair of water bottles stand side by side, the different curvatures of their bodies somehow appearing gendered. Honey pourers are elevated to a grand scale, demanding our attention. Displaced from their original contexts, these ubiquitous objects shine a reparative light on the overlooked, the underappreciated and the forgotten in everyday life.

The works in ‘Minor Matters’ consider the ontological valency of materiality – the meaningful ways we subconsciously and subjectively engage with objects throughout our lives. In a consumer society saturated with ‘stuff’, we negotiate each day through a material network. Phones are like bodily extensions; utensils and packaging mediate our eating habits; fashion has become fast and we might spend all day glaring at the unblinking eye of a computer screen. In the face of this object-based epidemic, Maas strips back the use-value of things and considers their affective, aesthetic and emotional potency. Her paintings excavate the beauty in the banal, harnessing small moments as stages for larger – albeit ambiguous – stories. The micro and macro coalesce into new narratives that strip away material hierarchies and open up a space for the somewhat paradoxical experience of subjective objecthood.

Catalogue Essay by Elli Walsh, 2019