Mia Darling is unregenerately romantic and has invested her being in a fantasy world of courtship, romance and magical thinking. A female analogue of Peter Pan, she is the girl who never quite grew up, and accordingly Gallery 99 Loop has been painted in baby pink and baby blue. These nursery colours provide a fitting backdrop for Darling’s blurred and tender world of girlish dreams and wondrous imaginings. The exhibition’s title, ‘Things to Hide Behind’ indicates the artist’s prime concern is with inhibition, and the camouflages used to hide vulnerability and protect an inner self from hurt.
Magical thinking is the belief that one’s ideas, thoughts, actions, words or wishes can determine the course of one’s life in the real world. In the case of Mia Darling’s three paintings Things To Hide Behind I, II and III, the magical thinking takes the form of an array of objects which perform talismanic or warding functions, bringing good luck, protecting from mishaps, and helping Darling realize her dreams. Things to Hide Behind II consists partly of wish fulfilment and contains two key recurring image of bliss that occur over and over again in the artist’s imagery, the moonstruck, lovelorn swain adoringly presenting his inamorata with a bunch of pink flowers, and the happy female recipient of this floral tribute playing peek-a-boo as she coyly conceals herself behind the bouquet and peeps out at her suitor. An element of self-parody is implicit in the highly exaggerated character of the image, and Darling is ever ready to send herself up and thus achieve a certain ironic distance and detachment.
The other motifs consist of fetishist or symbolic objects which function like lucky charms. The heart-shaped lock with a heart-shaped key surely implies that the possessor holds the key to her boyfriend’s heart just as the gleaming flawless pearl in its opened oyster shell betokens her virginal status. The mask, which like Mia’s other favourite prop, the fan, both number amongst the appurtenances of flirtation, used to reveal and conceal, to tease and arouse. Finally there is the anthurium, a flower the artist uses to delicately allude to the male and female sexual organs – the tall stamen recalls the phallus while the heart-shaped pink spathe provides a gentle reminder of the vulva. All these are objects of enchantment, part of a girl’s weaponry in the battle of the sexes, and to spell their meaning out so bluntly, is to strip them of their bewitching allure and aura of fateful mystery.
Much of her work consists of isolated, islanded objects all of which are modelled in Plasticine flattened behind the glass of the frame which casts a strong shadow onto the board. The deep pools of shadow behind the magical objects emphasizes how they exist in splendid isolation, and makes them appear to jump out of the frame toward you.
Plasticine, Darling says, represents the very essence of her aesthetic of childhood and the deliberate cultivation of nostalgia, naivety and a fairy-tale otherworldliness. Like mud-pies and sand castles, Plasticine restores her to girlhood, to a simpler time where she could just let go and uninhibitedly do what she wanted. Through painting with Plasticine, she accesses a mode of play and conveys psychological truths through highly artificial, confected imagery. Darling cannot resist frills and furbelows and, in her many paintings of clothed and nude woman in their bedrooms and bathrooms, everything is gussied-up to the hilt and the prevailing colour is the girliest of pinks. It may sound like pure self-indulgent kitsch, but Mia’s irresistibly seductive colours and flair for lyrical effects usually transmute this potentially campy material into visual entrancement leavened by humour and wit. Finally there is a certain psychological progression, and in the final painting the girl has shed her fears and confronts the world wearing nothing but the deepest blush.