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Christopher Zanko | SWEET MISGIVINGS

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Filming + production by: Silversalt Photography
Audio track by: Ashley Bundang + Alec Marshall

In Sweet Misgivings, Christopher Zanko elevates the carved intricacy of his work with increasing surface complexity. He continues with a focus on the mid-20th century home where fibro or brick veneer geometry becomes an armature for all sorts of decorative features. In his paintings we first see the cubic structure neatly placed on the block. From there we may enjoy (as the artist does) all the textural shifts across roof tiling, stairs and gates, the formal gardens, the sculptures and paving stones. Each painting represents a cultural world. Cast concrete planters, conifers positioned like pillars on either side of an entrance, baroque and neo-classical sculptural additions. Ornament gives expression to stories of migration and cultural difference, in some cases also demonstrating the technical skill of an owner-builder (like the Terrazzo brought from southern Europe).

An array of stylistic expressions established a sense of home in a new country while recrafting a house plan to fit the needs of its residents. Zanko mirrors these construction techniques via his own set of tools and skills, carving surfaces or precisely masking up an area to lay out a texture, like formwork is used to frame up a driveway.

In her recent study of mid-20th century migrant housing in Melbourne, Mirjana Lozanovska notes the diaspora aesthetics of the period, describing “a distinct architecture evolving from the interaction between the dwelling habits of migrants that were transported and the material order and form of the detached house.” The modifications to these catalogue homes tell a story of the residents, their habits and their needs. This narrative detail was already evident in Zanko’s work but he has more recently made links with his own family’s history of migration. The paintings in the current show emerged in parallel to conversations with his father about the family’s arrival in Australia, via the United Kingdingom, as refugees from eastern Europe.

Sweet Misgivings sees a progression in the artist’s work from nostalgic taxonomy to a deeper study of character. Zanko enjoys “the way these houses built from a plan offer so much variation in character and story 60 or 70 years on.” The house and its block is a stage on which elements are all organised to suit the habits and relationships within the household. The paintings in this show are then another kind of stage that honours the varied cultural expressions this built form allowed for.

Christopher Zanko was a finalist in the 2020 Brett Whiteley prize and, significantly, the 2019 Wynne Prize. In 2020 he was part of a commissioning exhibition organised by Hazelhurst Arts Centre, “The Home”, that celebrated art deco residential design in Australia. Another great opportunity has been the recent 70th anniversary commission to paint Rose Seidler House for the Sydney Living Museum Collection. Zanko’s work can also be found in the Wollongong Art Gallery and University of Wollongong collections.
- Melody Willis

Prof. Mirjana Lozanovska presentation, “Migrant Housing. Architecture, Dwelling and Migration”, 21 Dec 2020 (accessed 16 October 2021)

Lozanovska, Mirjana 2019 Migrant Housing: Architecture, Dwelling, Migration, Routledge

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