Colin Suggett
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Essay: Shelley McDermott

Curator of Colin Suggett's 'Retromoments 2' retrospective exhibition. Latrobe Regional Gallery, 2015-2016.


is pleased to present Retromoments 2, a retrospective exhibition of works by Colin Suggett. As the title suggests, this exhibition is not the first incarnation, rather, it might be seen as the next chapter – 14 years later. 

Donald Coventry curated the original RetroMoments in 2001. The exhibition featured a variety of wondrous and eclectic artworks, including sausages dancing in a pan to the tune of Hawaiian music (Hawaiian Sausages, 1981), and a ‘Dali-esque’ melting alarm clock, perpetually stuck on 11.59 (11.59, 1988), referencing the Cold War term “A minute to midnight,” evoking fears of nuclear disaster. 

RetroMoments successfully portrayed two contrasting moods. The works are witty, amusing and light hearted, yet there is also an undertone of scepticism, fear and anxiety. It is important to look past the often familiar and comforting veneer of Colin Suggett’s work, in order to understand the issues he is addressing. 

RetroMoments was an important exhibition as it allowed some of Colin’s rarely displayed works to be seen by a wider audience. The exhibition was a collection of moments, a journey through the great wonder of humanity, and in Donald Coventry’s words, an exhibition of “wonderful images of beauty and madness.” After the exhibition concluded, Colin kindly donated the entire exhibition to Latrobe Regional Gallery (LRG), where it has been stored ever since. 

The idea to curate a modern version of the RetroMoments exhibition was born out
of identifying the key strengths within the LRG collection. To me, LRG is incredibly fortunate to own so many works by Colin (21 in total), and they are the type of works that need to be seen, not be locked away in storage. Colin’s works are loved by our visitors; Hawaiian Sausages in particular is a gallery icon that our visitors never tire of seeing. LRG has a great relationship with Colin, so there was much excitement about the prospect of working with him on a large exhibition. 

I first met Colin in 2006, when I worked with him in an artist mentoring program called ‘Creative Environment.’ I liked him immediately, and although he was not my mentor (I was mentored by photographer Susan Purdy) he was inspirational and friendly, and would offer helpful feedback. When I started working at LRG in 2009, I was excited to learn that weheld a large collection of Colin’s works. At the time Beach was on long term display in
the gallery corridor, and visitors would often stop to view the work, and ask questions
about it. I didn’t know at the time, but this particular work is about pilots reporting UFO activity over the Tasman Sea in the 1970s. As with many of Colin’s works, you must
look beyond the humour and wit, and it is then that you may discover he is exploring mankind’s innermost fears and concerns. 

There are several things about Colin’s work that I admire, but most of all I enjoy how Colin creates his works, specifically the materials he uses. When viewing Colin’s works you may encounter retro coloured tiles, fluorescent and neon lighting, shiny, polished plastic, metallic surfaces and exposed electrical cords. Electricity is often visible within Colin’s works. He does not try to hide it – rather he accentuates and embraces it. The material components of Colin’s work are just as intriguing and surprising as the themes and narratives he explores. 

These various components and materials assist Colin in creating works with remarkable attention to detail. If you look closely at his miniaturised works you may notice a tiny cigarette, or a piece of rubbish. Colin creates worlds that are relatable, identifiable, and intriguing. But most of all, you can sense his love for his creations, the fulfilment and enjoyment he gets out of crafting each and every piece. 

It has been 14 years since RetroMoments was first curated by Donald Coventry. Now, in 2015, we are proud to have worked with Colin to revisit this superb exhibition. Colin’s newer works continue to comment on social and political issues, referencing events and occurrences in our recent history. Colourbond (2005) refers to the controversy surrounding Australian detention centres, while Hanson (2015) jarringly prompts the onlooker to consider the state of Australian politics. 

It may be bold of me to suggest, but visiting Retromoments 2 could be compared to spending the day at Disneyland: There
is an air of mystery and excitement, with so much going on you don’t know where to look first! The experience of being there is a thrilling and enthralling sensory overload. 

Enjoy the ride when you visit the exhibition, but don’t forget to look twice (or three times), as all is not what it seems. Especially Mickey Mouse... 

Shelley McDermott 

Curator – Retromoments 2