Previous Exhibition

Frances Powell —
A Tender Disco — Plaything Playhouse

Nov 16 – Nov 24, 2023

About the Artist      

A Tender Disco — Plaything Playhouse observes and mocks the inveterate feminine daily performance of complying with social conduct. This ritualistic routine often functions under the veil of etiquette and habit, almost a communion to the gods of social convention. Frances considers this as mimicking a dance routine or a puppet performing. There’s a reason why the viral TikTok trend of ‘to be a woman is to perform’ has taken off. Elements of this performance can serve us and satisfy our identity, other elements can feel directed by an omnipotent social force greater than us. 

This exhibition references the later collage work of Henri Matisse and his heavily reproduced and revered body of work, which observes paid female muses in an act of posed performance.

In Frances’ work, she subverts this dynamic and often places herself in the role of ‘observed muse’. She references herself, her partner and her friends mimicking acts of daily pantomime — of partnered performance, self-monitoring and introspection — the disco of our social roles.

Materially, Frances treats her figures like dolls by cutting and pasting figures contained within paper sets. She has also reproduced these snapshots of paper dolls in paper sets within brightly rendered paintings — a still of a plaything in her playhouse. The doll's partner may make an appearance, or she may be looking at herself in the mirror or consciously being observed.

A Tender Disco — Plaything Playhouse is ultimately an observation of the elements of feminine performance that can either feel tender and personal or counterfeit and confused.

Colourful Collage Workshop with Frances Edwina Powell
Join Frances for a Colourful Collage Workshop at Side Gallery on Saturday, 18 November. 

Create vibrant cut-and-paste artworks inspired by Frances’ collage practice and learn how to approach collage — the art of overlapping pieces of material to create a unique composition. Frances will run through a series of activities to guide you in creating a small collection of your very own collages using artist-quality materials. 

Snack on chips, sip on some wine and enjoy a Saturday afternoon of colourful making. Limited tickets are available. Book here

Artwork Notes


'A Tender Disco' – Plaything Playhouse is a sherbet hued revue of pirouetting muses in implied interiors, statuesque and soft at the same time. For a first time solo show, Tender Disco confidently presents artist Frances Powell’s bold approach to composition-lead figurative work, where the versatility of the materials and processes encourages her to experiment with arrangements of colour and shape, and this freedom informed by play leaves a distinct substance to her visual language.

Frances’s collection of collaged works for Side Gallery represents an energetic direction in her emerging practice, where traditionally a more austere approach to figurative and comforting everyday imagery was dominated by oil pastel and neutral shades.

Tender Disco draws heavily from Frances’s interest in the work of Matisse; specifically his later collaged works, and her muses also reference his approach to dynamic movement through simplified shape - suggesting nude sitters trapped in graceful movement or quiet repose. As the show’s title suggests, Tenderness is also front and centre, with several figures caught mid-embrace. That Frances’s manipulation of paper and line can capture the physical intimacy of those close, personal moments, particularly in the aptly named Behold/ Hold, and Morning is an indication of her promising artistic practice.

While Matisse and his contemporaries provide a generous stylistic legacy for contemporary figurative works, our reflective view is somewhat contentious, specifically for their narrow and controlled representation of women. Daisy Dixon, writing about how we should approach great art by contentious artists, likens these depictions of women’s bodies to musical instruments. Then, the grace and beauty of the sitter became a means to an end, and the historic oppression of women is arguably perpetuated by these images and attitudes. Beauty to be consumed, flesh captured without subjectivity or complex consciousness.

Frances’s practice makes an important diversion from these one-sided, voyeuristic impressions of femininity, and its with purpose that through her lens, this missing subjectivity and complexity becomes the fabric of the work. While researching Matisse’s catalogue, she was struck by how pervasive these images are in popular culture, often appropriated in marketing and design targeted specifically towards young females. In her own words “I wanted to reconsider these motifs from a female perspective by hyper-feminising them and making them deeply personal and contemporary.”

In fact, Frances’s collage process itself is a technique long associated with critiquing social discourse. For the Dadaists, re-purposing the visual language of the status quo allowed them to explore ways of recombination and subversion that made mockery of social class, and aimed to dismantle and destabilise through abrasive visual language. While Frances’s figures are far from abrasive, her ambitions are not far off, and Tender Disco’s nudes aim to satirise the idea of ’the female muse’. Here, presented amongst sugary suggestions of abstracted domesticity, they are paper dolls in a ‘playhouse’, but their generous curvature and carnal posture seem aggressively feminist.

This seems grim – that women are, close to one hundred years later, still trying to reclaim their own image in a variety of ways, and aiming to present any suggestive nude as something deeply personal is something of a tricky assertion. Margaret Atwood’s famous lament from The Robber Bride comes to mind- “You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur”. Its one of the complexities on the radar of many young women in the social media age and is another key influence on Frances’s practice. The work for Tender Disco acknowledges this and openly examines our collective cultural conditioning where lines blur between genuine action and performed action. A quick scan through the titles for the collection demonstrates a playful but sincere awareness of this psychological duality – Is This My Dollhouse?, and To be a Woman is to Perform some clear examples.

For the artist its important that these kinds of self-aware representations are created by women in order to strip nuances of tokenism or belittlement, and she likens the narrative behind these works to discussing your innermost thoughts openly with your closest friends.

“As I get older, I continue to uncover just how pervasive certain experiences are specifically to female-identifying people - body dysmorphia, eating disorders, sexual assault and confusing power dynamics in relationships. I think it’s important to shine light on these experiences, not something to feel shame about, but rather something to dissect, understand and learn what it says about the world around us. Some of this is mocking or using humour to grapple with these big themes, sometimes, it’s gentle conversation and listening.”

Frances’s commitment to this ideology runs deep. In her private life, she owns and runs a successful creative space with her business partner, and one of their most prolific ventures is a weekly life drawing class where amateurs and skilled artists work side by side. The girls have fostered a welcoming and non-judgemental community, and patrons often take the opportunity to model – circulating around the crowd during breaks to critique and take snaps of their own form, reflected through the eyes of their peers. This represents a practice-based evolution on the tradition of the nude subject- these sitters are also the artists, and in this little studio space in Spring Hill, the nude reclaims a little more autonomy.

In Frances’s practice and in her business model, the performative woman (or person) is celebrated for their humanity and their reality. Across the bright, joyful work in Tender Disco, the difficult tradition of the nude is a little more democratised, here, she is presented as real, pleasant, playful, tender, and warm.

About the Artist

Frances Powell

Frances Edwina Powell (she/her) is an emerging artist and arts facilitator based in Meanjin (Brisbane), Australia. She explores the ideas of the body, relationships, performance and home, primarily working on paper. Frances often references figure drawing, abstract shapes and colour associations within her work. Working from her home studio, she crafts collages and illustrative oil paintings that explore form and concept. Her practice is often informed by material and process, letting her thoughts percolate as she engages with tangible materials. 

Frances studied a Bachelor of Fine Art (Studio) and Business (Marketing) at the Queensland College of Art, graduating in 2021. Currently, Frances works within the visual arts industry as a Co-Founder of a community-focused Life Drawing Studio, facilitating arts events and workshops.

About the Curator

Laura Brinin

Laura Brinin is a curator of contemporary art, currently facilitating the vibrant program at Side Gallery in the heart of Red Hill, Brisbane. With an unwavering passion for nurturing connections with emerging and established creatives, Laura is dedicated to fostering artistic growth through avenues such as social media, branding, and identity development.

Laura has exhibited her own work both in Australia and overseas, as well as working as an independent freelance curator across Brisbane for over ten years. In her downtime, you can find her reading, travelling, or stalking dogs.