One day on her way to Telopea Park High School Patricia Piccinini just kept on walking and ended up at the National Gallery of Australia.
“I was about 14,” says the world-renowned artist, “I wagged school and ended up here and had this amazing day discovering this place by myself.
“I’m a migrant, I don’t come from a background of privilege, art was never in my world … and after my day here I knew I wanted to be part of this world, that I wanted to do this whatever it was.
“It almost like being in church, it was a kind of spiritual place, a place of contemplation, a place to be calm, a place of ideas, a place of possibilities.”
And how far has she taken those ideas, the possibilities, indeed perhaps impossibilities, her fantastic hybrid creatures are revered around the world.
And now seven of them have found a place back at the National Gallery of Australia, as part of the Hyper Real exhibition which opens on October 20.
Nearly 50 works, from 32 artists around the world feature in Hyper Real and NGA director Gerard Vaughan is proud that seven of them are Australian.
“What we wanted to do was recognise that we have a group of Australian artists who are not just Australians participating in a global movement and responding to it, but they are leaders in this global movement and that’s something we should be celebrating,” he said.
Dr Vaughan said he expects Hyper Real to invoke a range of emotions in people.
“When we unpacked Sam Jinks’ The Deposition yesterday it blew us away,” Dr Vaughan said of the piece especially commissioned for the exhibition.
“Already people are standing in front of it with tears running down their face.”
He said some people might be horrified by “the genetic mutations, if I can call them that”, and that some people might be confronted by the nudity.
From the astonishing precision of replication of Paul McCarthy’s work, to the idealised beauty of John DeAndrea’s sculpted women and the oversized, emotionally exposed figures of Ron Mueck, the nude is central to hyperrealism..
“But the whole thing adds up to a very powerful statement about a contemporary movement. There have been very few exhibitions that have put it all together.”
NGA senior curator of contemporary art Jaklyn Babington said the exhibition not only celebrates the astonishing material and technical feats that have made hyperrealism such a globally popular genre, but it also explores the conceptual framework within which these works operate.
“Contemporary hyperrealism has pushed beyond static sculpture and into the digital realm,” Ms Babington says.
“It is a shape-shifting genre, simultaneously traditional and innovative, familiar and provocative.”
For Ms Piccinini, it’s all about taking that familiar and stretching the boundaries.
Standing in an infinite field of stamen-like sculptures, sits Bootflower.
“This work is about the idea how our idea of the body has changed so much,” Ms Piccinini says.
“It is possible now to imagine a body that’s not just blended and merged with other species but it’s conflated with an inanimate object, in this case a boot, and she is like a flower, she is a flower.
“And a flower is a sexual organ of a plant and here she is giving birth, an auspicious occasion, and she’s surrounded by these organ-like flowers in a special place and we’re privy to this intimate but important moment.
“I’m interested in women’s reproduction, in the body, how it feels, I’m interested in depicting this in a non-stereotypical way in a way that allows possibilities to open, to flower if you like.”