I think of Trent Whitehead’s paintings and sculptures in this show as totems. There is definitely image magic in them and they appear more like effigies than art. They have the intensity of outsider art with rhythmic obsessive marks and strange morphing characteristics.
The sculptures particularly — part vase, part mask — feel like votive artefacts of a church, but not a church of organised religion. This is the new spirituality uncoupled from social construction and centred more on a direct relationship between you and your own mystical feelings.
The portraits and sculptures in this show become a friend or fellow traveller. They are like slightly skewwhiff clowns that no doubt whisper truths into your ear or on a bad day perhaps needle your anxieties.
There is great beauty here that seems to add to the fetishistic power of the works. The colours are primarily subdued with bright coloured accents activating the images. The gouache and acrylic too is dry and tactile, eliciting touch. These are works that want to be cuddled or at least cared for. As if in this very cold winter of Sydney we should wrap blankets around them to keep them warm.
You could of course kill all this voodoo-like power and link them to a long line of naïve or art brut painters and sculptors, to outsider art and the way that modernist art mined various forms of strange and outré work (from children to the mad). But under the particular psychic pressure of the contemporary world you will forgive me for seeing more than the aesthetic tradition wants to offer.
These works instead promise more than art. They are your friend and perhaps even protector. At the very least they are the perfect house god for urban tribes.