'End of a Chapter': Dagmar Cyrulla at Wagner Contemporary
In Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Othello’, the treacherous Iago confesses heinous acts and invites he says by wearing his heart upon his sleeve black crows to peck at him.
It is as sure as you are Roderigo, Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago. In following him, I follow but myself; Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty, But seeming so, for my peculiar end; For when my outward action doth demonstrate The native act and figure of my heart In complement extern, ’tis not long after But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.
Othello, Act 1, Scene 1, 56–65
And while Shakespeare used the idiom to wear one’s heart upon one’s sleeve to reveal Iago’s dishonesty, feigning openness and vulnerability of heart to appear trustworthy and faithful to Othello, it has come over time to purely mean exposing our true emotions, making ourselves vulnerable. And no doubt in today's world takes a certain amount of courage to let it all hang out.
It is fair to say that artists tend to make much of such braveness, opening themselves and their work to scrutiny, but few today so nakedly as Melbourne artist Dagmar Cyrulla.
In her latest series of portraits including self-portraits, showing at Sydney’s Wagner Contemporary, Cyrulla cultivates being an observer in her attempt to distance herself from what is going on. It is said focusing on others is psychologically beneficial, until it becomes awkward.
Dagmar Cyrulla, 'After Hopper with blue wallpaper and flower motif' (2022) Photo: Wagner Contemporary
But in setting about this, Cyrulla is honest in admitting her failure. Not as an artist as there is no denying her talent, but at keeping up the walls that once may have fortified her, protecting her from pain.
It is Cyrulla’s observations of the actors of her paintings that contrarily draws us back into the artist’s inner world, for a truly intimate glimpse into her own psyche.
And while the relationship between an artist as an outsider and what this may reveal about the world they inhabit is not new in art, consciously pushing the focus onto others and what they may be feeling is - when it purposely reveals more of the artist’s inner-self.
Dagmar Cyrulla, 'Distracted 1' (2022) Photo: Wagner Contemporary
Dagmar Cyrulla, 'Daniela and two dogs' (2022) Photo: Wagner Contemporary
Like many of us, Cyrulla has no doubt been through life’s highs and lows, experienced family, loved well and felt loss but remarkably has chosen to embrace it, unvarnished. These complex, melancholic images are in that honest sense, truly nostalgic.
Cyrulla is a wonderful proponent of the impressionistic use of colour, not as an end in itself, but rather to define her subjects and the space they occupy.
But these latest works are also deeply reflective. One can sense the anguish, the longing and the overwhelming sense of things ending. But these are not morose paintings. They have a redemptive quality, particularly those portraying young children, which herald the end of one chapter and beginning of another – although we are left pondering their futures.
Dagmar Cyrulla 'Hotel room during Covid 2 in yellow' (2022) Photo: Wagner Contemporary
Dagmar Cyrulla, 'Larry In The Shower' (2022) Photo: Wagner Contemporary
During the pandemic Cyrulla insightfully talked about the emotional experience of sifting through and reflecting on old photographs and her life’s mementos and the creation of the latest paintings for her poignantly titled exhibition, ‘End of a Chapter’. This puts her at the very centre of her paintings.
Emotionally, Cyrulla appears aware that the more you accept yourself the less inner conflicts you will have, the less of a strained ego to react with painful defences. If you nakedly accept yourself, you become far less vulnerable.
And while none of this is easy, for now we can console ourselves with our humanness, and an understanding that accepting our vulnerability will in time bring its own rewards.
Dagmar Cyrulla: 'End of a Chapter' runs until 24 November 2022 at Wagner Contemporary, Sydney
Dagmar Cyrulla, 'Loss in Green' (2022) Photo: Wagner Contemporary
Dagmar Cyrulla, 'Washing Hands ritual' (2022) Photo: Wagner Contemporary
Main Photo: Dagmar Cyrulla Photo: Le Bien Public
Andrew McIlroy is an artist and arts writer living and working in Melbourne, Australia