Important Australian + International Fine Art
28 April 2010

Ex de Medici

born 1959

watercolour on paper

110.0 x 114.0 cm

inscribed lower left: I've been dead. There's nothing there. (K.P.) / 19

$25,000 - 35,000
Sold for $26,400 (inc. BP) in Auction 14 - 28 April 2010, Melbourne

Boutwell Draper Gallery, Sydney (label attached verso)
Private collection, Sydney


Black Flag, Boutwell Draper Gallery, Sydney, 19 September – 20 October 2007

Catalogue text

One of the most brilliant enigmas of the Australian art world, eX de Medici is widely renowned for a vast and varied oeuvre which typically investigates relationships of power and control alongside motifs encapsulating the fragility and brevity of life. Since the late 1990s in particular, she has attracted critical acclaim for her monumental, fastidiously executed watercolours and drawings such as the present which pay homage to both the traditions of natural history illustration (specifically the exquisite taxonomic drawings of Ferdinand Bauer in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra) and seventeenth-century Dutch vanitas painting. By combining these two pictorial conventions, de Medici thus exploits the cultural nuances of each - the development of natural history classification and drawing as an agent of colonisation and empire on the one hand, and the association of still life with the vain acquisition of material goods on the other.

Interestingly, the artist's preoccupation with natural history illustration arose initially from the simple desire to record the remains of a dead butterfly, plucked from the grille of a car by a friend.1 Indeed, this poignant episode not only provided the impetus for her large and complex watercolour Red (Colony) 1999-2000, awarded the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery's prestigious 'National Works on Paper Prize' in 2001, but inspired sp. 2001, a series of 54 watercolour studies of tiny, unclassified moths that the artist produced during a residency at the CSIRO Entomology Division's Australian National Insect Collection. Notably, the latter also complemented her work on the group portrait of rock band Midnight Oil, commissioned the same year by the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, in which de Medici transferred patterns from the moth's wings onto each member's neck to symbolise their roles as spokespersons for the environment.2

Executed over nineteen days (the strokes at the bottom left of her work mark each moment she and the moths pass in captivity together), I've been dead; there's nothing there (K.P) 2007 features the beautiful, almost gothic image of a moth which is dead - the right feeler is broken. Alluding to the famous statement by Kerry Packer after his near-death experience, the title of the work suggests a very Australian, no-nonsense attitude. More universally perhaps, with its topical relevance and irony, de Medici emphasises the highly ephemeral nature of our existence - thus positioning the work as a contemporary momento mori, a powerful reminder of one's own mortality and the futility of worldly pursuits.

1. Leong, R. in eX de Medici @ MPRG, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Victoria, 2004, n.p. 
2. ibid.