Hayley Arjona has a Masters of Art Therapy from La Trobe University (2020), a Masters in Fine Art from the Victorian College of the Arts (2000) and a Bachelor of Visual Arts with first class honours from the South Australian School of Art, University of South Australia (1998). She has held solo exhibitions since 2000 in Melbourne and Sydney.

Arjona has been included in group exhibitions including NotFair, Melbourne (2021), Unfinished Business – on Art and Feminism at ACCA, Melbourne (2018), Identity and Desire at the Art Gallery of South Australia (2005), None more blacker touring to Geelong Gallery, Shepparton Art Gallery, Newcastle Region Art Gallery, Global Arts Link, Latrobe Regional Gallery and Mildura Arts Centre; and Gold Card 1 and Cleanskin at the Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide South Australia (1999 and 1998). Her work has been exhibited internationally in Portugal. 

Arjona is the recipient of Australian Postgraduate Awards (1999, 2000), a South Australian Youth Arts Board artists in Studio Grant from the Experimental Art Foundation, South Australia (1999), the Corporation of the City of Adelaide Award, Helpmann Academy, South Australia (1999) and the John Christie Wright Memorial Prize for Painting, University of South Australia (1997). She has been a finalist in the Alice Prize (2018), the Incinerator Art Prize (2018) and the Bruny Island Art Prize (2016). Arjona's work is held in the collections of the Art Gallery of South Australia and Artbank.






25 MAY TO 11 JUNE 2022

Isabelle Graw in “The Love of Painting” proposes that one of the key features of painting is that it works as a “vitalistic fantasy”. She argues that while paintings themselves are just pigment and binder on a surface – inert and fundamentally lifeless, they give the impression that they are alive, or that they contain the spark of life from the artist. Arjona’s paintings are an exemplar of this effect. They seem to be communicating with us directly, responding to our queries as subtle details reveal themselves over time. But not only does the content speak to a deep set of meanings and associations, Arjona’s palette and colour choices create a shimmering and vibrating surface that seems to pulse and writhe before our eyes. 

The motifs in the works are often taken from Arjona’s dreams and have what might be described as a dream logic. Images morph and blend with each other with unexpected juxtapositions. The works have a comedic quality, an irreverent sense of humour that delights in the ridiculous and the basic funniness of the human body. There is an elusive sense of narrative, a suggestion that things are unfolding in a sequence. Yet in these paintings, as in a dream, the events occur simultaneously, and multiple meanings overlap. Arjona says that the paintings are a form of dream-journal, recording and considering visions which she couldn’t or didn’t want to commit to words. It is one of the great pleasures of paintings that they can convey meaning directly, without requiring the viewer to translate from image to speech. Arjona uses this quality of painting to full effect, treating the viewer to a sensory overload. Arjona’s dreams are a seemingly inexhaustible supply of imagery. She is not using painting to understand her dreams but using the dreams as fuel for painting. What may begin as a subconscious and deeply personal experience takes on a new life as a painting. 

Many of the figures in Arjona’s paintings are spilling or projecting liquid from one or more orifices. It may be spit, blood, semen, or urine. The streams remind us that the figures are organic beings, with the messy fluidity that implies. The bodily secretions function formally to connect the figures with the ground in the painting and we viewers connect emotionally with the work and the artist via the fluid medium of paint controlled by the artist’s own body. 

Arjona’s works often begin as drawings, with colour and tone added as the painting develops. The paintings evolve as she works and Arjona uses sketches and collage techniques to experiment and test visual propositions. The result is a unique blend of chaos and control. The paintings have a clear structure, using symmetry and pattern to control and guide the viewer’s gaze around the canvas. Her technique allows the work to create an overall impression while the details reveal themselves slowly. 

In the work ‘Y’ (2021) for example, the artist paints a self portrait at the fork of a stream or road. The implication is that there is a turning point for the artist. Yet the painting does not favour one fork over the other, both provide a path through a crocodile infested swamp. The black stream/road seems to re-emerge in the work ‘Botega Jesus' (2022), this time it winds through a landscape and up a mountain, where it reveals itself as the body of a snake. Reading back into the painting ‘Y’ this seems to suggest a two headed snake. As Arjona notes, “if a snake has two heads, one must be an arsehole”. So, if we climb the mountain in ‘Botega Jesus’, which snake do we encounter? It is suggestive of the effort we undertake in our interactions, unsure if the result will be reward or repulsion. 

Arjona taps into ancient symbolisms, Jungian archetypes, gods, humans, animals and plants, sexuality, fears, doubts and hopes. Her own meanings are layered onto a cultural subconscious. In 17th century Dutch emblem books such as Jacob Cats’ “Sinne en minne Beelden” (images of sin and virtue) unexpected visual juxtapositions formed images with layered and sometimes contradictory meanings that sought to highlight some aspect of a universal human condition. In the 17th century crocodiles were thought to continue growing until they died, and for Jacob Cats this made them an apt metaphor for an ideal love. In Arjona’s paintings crocodiles are a recurring motif and Arjona explains that for her they represent a link between surface and the depth. Alongside Jacob Cats I am reminded of the Australian philosopher Val Plumwood, who survived a prolonged attack by a crocodile, being subjected to the death roll and stashed beneath a branch as stored food. This event was pivotal for Plumwood’s philosophy, making her brutally aware that she had no special status as a human: we are food. Arjona herself once went swimming in caiman infested waters in South America. The crocodiles in these paintings do something similar: they are a reminder of mortality, or more specifically, a reminder that there are dangers that can consume us without regard for supposed special status. At the same time, the figures in her paintings dance above or around the crocodiles, avoiding danger and revelling in their ongoing life. As Arjona puts it, this is a “…dance between shadow and ego, madness and sanity, known and unknown.” 

Hayley Arjona’s Soul Safari takes the viewer on a journey through a dreamscape. We find recurring motifs, symbols and figures emerging in various forms throughout the series. The paintings are an unflinching look at the artist’s thoughts and emotions where chimeric beasts, unexpected orifices and bodily fluids mingle. They are the expression of an inner life, replete with the contradictions and complexities of the mind. The content is sometimes confronting but always underpinned by an irreverent humour. Arjona uses comedy and cartoonish renderings as visual bait, drawing the viewer in and opening them up for moments of psychological impact. The works are intense, strange, and complicated. Like all great art they reveal themselves over time, making a prolonged engagement with them rewarding. 

Sam Leach, 2022