Forever and ever: Brad Rimmer

Brad Rimmer explores how memory resurfaces and challenges in a major exhibition of three series at St John of God Murdoch Hospital Linking Gallery. 

 Connie Petrillo, St John of God Health Care Group Art Curator and Manager Arts Program, and Brad Rimmer with his work Crows Nest #12, Booralaming, Autumn 2017, Edition 1/3, 100 x 134cm, at St John of God Murdoch Hospital. Collection St John of God Health Care. Photo Lyn DiCiero.

Forever & ever, a major photographic exhibition by Brad Rimmer at St John of God Murdoch Hospital explores how experiences persist in our memory and shape our future selves and how we archive sounds, music, smell, colour and form, relived automatically at the smallest trigger. In his 2008 series, Silence, Rimmer relived the memory of his 19-year-old self in 1981, caught between staying or leaving the small town of Wyalkatchem in the Wheatbelt. The series captures the landscape around the Wheatbelt and portraits of inhabitants of its small towns, all about the same age he was when he left.    
 
He says it was a year that changed him irrevocably. “Failing high school, the romance and fantasy of falling in love with almost every girl I knew, I was drawn to a heady mix of cars and speed, sport and alcohol, and any of life’s extremes that presented themselves. It’s a narrative playing out over and over again in small towns.” An image of wheat silos, a monumental structure in the landscape, alludes to his year spent working in wheat bins while saving to move to Perth, and ultimately, art school. Silence is also influenced by the hidden, unsettling, unspoken secrets in small communities. “It was about the stories I’d heard, and the stories people knew but didn’t speak of, so it’s not just about the quietness of a place, but the silence. Behind each portrait is a story, sometimes heavy and disturbing.”
 
A book on Silence followed in 2010, but Rimmer felt the story was not complete and followed up in the same vein with the exhibition Nature Boy in 2015. “The memory of incidents and the landscape kept resonating with me, like the red earth staining everything. I kept being told I should write down the stories of these places, or get someone else to. I decided to write my own story, so over several years, I wrote a set of short stories for a book on the Nature Boy series. It’s a totally new thing for me, and scary because of the subject matter. They’re very personal stories of a particular time. I’ve changed the names of the characters, so locals from the area don’t recognise them, and the portraits in Nature Boy are in no way connected to the stories.” Blunt and incisive, the brutal honesty of the stories is as unforgiving as the land, where decades of over cropping and drought have created struggle, changing its inhabitants mentally and physically.
 
Notably, the Nature Boy series has fewer portraits. Rimmer says it’s because there are not many people left. “I started the book in 2014 and finished it in 2019. Even in that time period, it was like a generation had left. Youth is disappearing in these country towns, as they all leave for Perth. The population of Wyalkatchem is only about 300, so when you lose people, it’s noticeable.”
 
Dependent on the age of the sitter, Rimmer says there’s a lot of discussion with parents before a photograph is taken. “There’s something really beautiful about people of that age group – a vulnerability about the decisions they have to make at that age, which affects their parents and everyone around them. The local school may have closed down, and parents can’t afford to their children to a private school, so then another family leaves the area.”
 
The subject matter for the third series in the exhibition could not be more different. Don’t Look Down, first shown in 2018, is the result of an Artsource residency in Basel, Switzerland. Here, photographs of stunning vistas across mountains are altered to create a foreign and unsettling landscape, questioning our experience of known memories. “I inverted the images to look more like a negative. As a commercial photographer, I was always more interested in the negative than the finished photo.”

Ricki, Tammin, Spring 2014, Edition 1/3, 100 x 134cm) by Brad Rimmer.

Rimmer’s works are in numerous national and corporate collections including the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of WA, Parliament House, Canberra, and Artbank. He has exhibited in the UK, China, Switzerland, Lithuania, Finland and around Australia. He says exhibiting in a hospital is as honest a place you can be. “There are people who are going through a certain kind of trauma, and staff is dealing with these situations, so the works take on a different meaning for those people. Also for myself, because you wonder what effect the works will have on them. It’s an open book in that regard.”
 
Connie Petrillo, St John of God Health Care Group Art Curator and Manager Arts Program, says she previously exhibited a small selection of Rimmer’s works at SJOGHC head office in Perth. “The reaction was really good. I thought the subject matter might be a bit heavy for the audience, but everyone really loved them, so I was quite surprised.”
 
“Of course, a lot of our doctors are collectors as well, who have been known to complain when there’s not an exhibition up, and the walls are temporarily bare. It’s great they notice when there isn’t anything up – it creates more impact when there is a new exhibition. I have had requests for Brad’s work to be shown in Bunbury after the CEO there saw them at our main office. They would certainly work really well there, and the connection to the country would be amazing.”
 
“A lot of our patients in Perth are from the country too, so they do travel here for various operations, and they do notice what’s on the wall, and especially with something like this exhibition, they’ll really take notice.”
 
Forever & ever is on show at St John of God Murdoch Hospital Linking Gallery until the end of June, currently with limited access.
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