Ladies in waiting, a popular print from the Sydney-based artist Dina Broadhurst
Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Perhaps you’ve seen one of Dina Broadhurst’s artworks, Plastic fantastic, on your Discover page – the one where a pearl pink Acne Studios bag lies adrift in emerald waters?

Or maybe you know the perennially popular Ladies in Waiting? In it, two well-oiled and swimsuit-clad women recline in armchairs with giant white orchids staring out in place of their heads, like extras awaiting instruction on the set of a Day of the Triffids revival. These are the kind of characters who, alongside Broadhurst herself, populate the Sydney-based artist’s pristine world – a world where glitter, foliage and the flotsam of luxury goods obscure faces and nipples in equal measure; where with great temerity and frequency, bounteous blooms burst forth from – or obliterate entirely – bikini lines.

Dina Broadhurst keeps a studio on the top floor of her mother’s four level terrace in Edgecliff. Recently, she expanded her practice to a studio space in Alexandria to accommodate a body of work that is currently in situ at Westfield Chermside in Brisbane’s northern suburbs. It’s her first public exhibition of work to date, comprised of both new and archival pieces produced in collaboration with the centre’s key brands whose imagery has been reinterpreted with the artist’s signature panache. Her home, a converted Georgian sandstone cottage in Woollahra, also functions as a third workspace. In a rear courtyard, Broadhurst works en plein air, as it were, photographing the models and raw materials that will eventually end up in her composite pieces and, by extension, on her popular Instagram account. It’s her favourite space to work.

“It’s very, very easy,” Broadhurst says of working from home, setting down a cup of green tea in the glass and steel atrium that adjoins the original cottage. Leaning against the window behind a modular sofa is a framed print of one of Urs Fischer’s Problem Paintings, a series wherein the Swiss artist superimposed organic objects inflated to inorganic sizes atop portraits of Old Hollywood icons. In doing so, Fischer obstructs their identity and confers on, say, a slice of orange, a comparable sense of importance and a great deal more lascivious humour. Where the objects in Fischer’s pieces work to obfuscate the familiar and elevate the quotidian, the objects Broadhurst uses are intended to underscore an altogether different meaning.

Ultimately, what that is though is up to you.

Clockwise from top: Broadhurst’s work seen in situ at Westfield Chermside; Broadhurst signs a print of Plastic Fantastic; and the artist’s Golden Girl
Credit: Courtesy of the artist

“Definitely, [Fischer] is an inspiration”, says Broadhurst, who is two thirds of her way through a fine arts degree at COFA – her third – that she recently put on hiatus due to multiple competing commitments. She enjoys the space, both literal and metaphorical, that the campus allows for an extension of her practice into other media, like ceramics. “My plan is definitely to have all that in-house. To have a massive factory like Andy Warhol”, she says of her goals for the near future. She also cites Warhol, Jeff Koons, Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman, her self-portraiture in particular, as being the creators of a pop art legacy she has inherited and continues through her own work.

A one-time student of interior design (she practiced for almost ten years), Broadhurst first studied visual communications on leaving high school because of a desire to “get into advertising” – a path that ultimately she would not take but plays a small role in her work nonetheless. “Always it was about with me being not trying to be perfect,” she says of her time spent studying. “The imperfections and the mistakes were what I loved. That’s what interests me.” Asked whether the interest in eschewing formal conventions stems from a desire to take risks, Broadhurst quickly responds in the affirmative. “Yes, and to be different, and let things happen organically.”

Her collages are made by hand, pieced together from found imagery that she then archives in her mother’s home. It’s a continuation of a meticulous system that Broadhurst, a Virgo, formulated during her time as an interior designer, with samples arranged according to fabrication and texture or dictated by the theme of whatever it is she has foraged: there are folders devoted to dolls, thread, paint samples, broken taillights, cuttings from magazines, you name it. To hear her tell it, it sounds like a peculiar form of controlled chaos that now encompasses the digital.

Historically, collage has been a means of decontextualizing an image, instilling within that original an altogether different meaning. The desire to subvert that meaning plays a significant part in the process of pastiche today – a time when the use of another’s imagery is a practice fraught with the potential to offend. Asked how she negotiates the issue of image rights in her collage work, particularly where luxury brands whose packaging she re-appropriates is concerned, and Broadhurst replies that those images have instead become her own: “I’m using a product in a still life. It’s my image. That’s the whole point of the artwork, to have their brand in it, to give the message.”

Take, for example, the Acne Studios bag works (there are a few variation on this theme). The message there, Broadhurst says, “is a global message. Plastic in the water, what we buy, what we consume. We get seduced by the pretty packaging [but] do we think about the effect it has on the environment? The throwaway nature of society, but the beautiful pink, alluring colour floating? It’s just all the mixed messages.” I ask whether it’s possible for Broadhurst to discern from her work an underlying philosophy, something that underpins her broader art practice. “The main thing is the face that we show to the world versus the inside. We put makeup on, we put clothes on, [and] we want to present a perfect image. That’s the shopping bags, the beautiful package. That’s the desire, the allure – what’s really on the inside?” The implication is that the viewer is intended to project their own meaning onto the vessel that her images create. “I don’t want to be too confronting, or too challenging, or too dark,” she says. “I want to allure, like a beautiful boutique, and then you question.” The intention though is not to critique that culture, but celebrate it. “There’s nothing wrong with beauty. As long as you also own if you’ve been crying that day. With social media, everyone wants to show the beautiful side of things and there’s nothing wrong with that. Why would you want to put your bad stuff out there? As long as you have people close to you and you have your people you can go to talk about it.”

Broadhurst’s portrait of Tahnee Atkinson, seen in the artist’s living room
Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Broadhurst counts her 11-year-old son, a few close girlfriends and her boyfriend, whom she met a year ago through mutual friends, as being the core members of her inner sanctum. When she says her son is learning to code as part of his extra curricular activities, I ask her if she has ever entertained the prospect of learning the same skill, and if she became fluent, developing a game-changing app of her own. Quick to laugh, one idea she entertains is a highly-curated ‘Airbnb-style’ arrangement between creative people; another is “for putting little bits on nipples when you have to cover them – a collage app.” She says her son, who features prominently on her Instagram, loves his mother’s art practice and relishes the opportunity to get involved in each aspect of the process from the photography to the decision-making processes of the editing suite to the printing of the work itself before the images are shared on Instagram, the site where a great deal of her sales and commissions come from.

“Don’t be tricked [by appearances],” she cautions of social media’s obfuscating properties. “We’re all beautiful, we all do things to enhance it, we all want to go and buy the beautiful thing that seduced us by the advertisement. But know that everyone else has dark times.”

Social media, undoubtedly, has been a proponent of Broadhurst’s work, evinced most keenly in her tens and thousands of followers. She remains adamant however that it does not factor into her creative process, nor does she have a strategy when it comes to her output. “It actually, surprisingly, has such a positive response. From what I put out there, I guess it could attract a lot of sleaziness and negativity. I probably get not even one per cent of that compared to the positive. It keeps me going, it’s very empowering because the majority of people [thank me] for allowing them to open up and give them confidence. People will write and tell me. That’s the nicest part of my day. People will send me pictures their husbands took of them on holiday: “’I got nude because you made me feel confident!’ It’s really lovely.”

At left, Take 2; and right, Fruits of the forest both by the artist Dina Broadhurst
Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Like countless teenagers before her, Broadhurst was exposed to a world outside her own as a teenager in Kangaroo Point, south of central Sydney, through religiously collecting magazines like The Face and Black & White, the images from which she would collage and lacquer onto any available surface. Her art teacher was, and remains, a fascinating figure who would share with Broadhurst the details of her personal work, the galleries she would frequent and the artists who inspired her (“She was very into Brett Whiteley at the time – if only I’d bought one when she was talking about him.”) For her final major work, Broadhurst says she created “eight drawings directly traced off the pages of the Madonna Sex book,” which she then hand painted, collaged, traced and layered in different permutations, before adding “things like diamantes on the nipples.

“Actually, [it was] very similar to what I do now. It’s very unusual that it has come full circle. I’ve explored landscapes, but it always comes back [to the form]. It’s because it’s me. It’s me. So it’s kind of like being in a therapist’s room. It’s coming out, it’s discovering myself. That’s where the real pleasure is, the real connection.”

Adjacent to the Urs Fischer print is a portrait Broadhurst has taken of the Next Top Model alumni Tahnee Atkinson, her face obscured with a swatch of lilac flowers and her arm sheathed in a piece of poster Broadhurst “picked up on a walk”. I ask what that piece might reveal about its artist, and she ventures that “it would be about armour and protection. Reflection with all the reflective elements. Things that shape you along the way. It’s all about a journey. You can’t make out what the words say, so interpretation: people getting the wrong idea about you. People changing stories along the way.” Her process, she says, is totally instinctive and what each piece means to her as well as how it fits in an art historical context is only realised in retrospect.

As far as misconceptions of her and her work are concerned, Broadhurst pauses for a beat, before asserting that she’s actually very shy. “People would think that’s absolutely laughable probably because I expose so much of myself and am comfortable being naked. I’m actually very guarded and very untrusting. I like being a recluse, I love it.”

She speaks even more candidly when she describes how spent much of her twenties rebelling against the ambition she saw in her mother, whom she considers “a fighter”, by wanting to “help my man and build him up. Rather than putting the effort into myself, I would put that effort into my man. [I thought] ‘If he makes it and he does well, he’ll take care of me.’ I wasted a lot of time, I think, not finding who I wanted to be. Leaving my marriage took away that security which at the time scared me [because] I just had a young child and I didn’t have a plan or know what I was doing but now that I look back I had to push myself to find myself, to get out of that mindset that I had formed growing up.” I contend that perhaps Broadhurst was unknowingly channelling her mother’s ambition, albeit into the wrong outlet, all along and she agrees. “Now I feel so much happier,” she says. “I don’t have to rely on anybody.”

Tile and cover image: Courtesy of the artist