Installation view of Vivienne Shark LeWitt’s work <em>Massa Peccati: The Seven Deadly Sins</em> 2010 on display as part of the <em>Melbourne Now</em> exhibition at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne from 24 March – 20 August 2023. Image: Tom Ross

Vivienne Shark LeWitt

Vivienne Shark LeWitt
(b. 1956, Sale, Victoria. Lives and works in Daylesford, Victoria)

Vivienne Shark LeWitt is a painter whose witty and subversive artworks have been widely exhibited for over four decades. Drawing upon an idiosyncratic cache of artistic and literary references, her enigmatic paintings reconfigure influences, sources and traditions in ironic and surprising combinations, creating allegorical and ambiguous narratives that explore the peculiarity, complexity and absurdity of being human.

Shark LeWitt deploys biblical tenets in Massa Peccati: The Seven Deadly Sins, 2010, to examine personal moral codes. With eyes closed and palms open, a female figure in a gossamer gown floats in mid-air, at once translucent and radiant on a bare linen canvas. She appears angelic, even saintly, but her serenity comes from disregarding the world around her. A winged demon strokes her hair. Flames, emerging from the gaping maw of a beast, lick her bare feet.

Shark LeWitt takes her title from the Augustine doctrine of massa peccati (mess of the sins), which proposed that the cardinal vices were innate to the human condition. Here, Shark LeWitt shows immorality arising not from external temptation but interior drives, which emerge from the woman’s chest as serpents spewing unexpected scenes of lust, gluttony, wrath, envy, greed and sloth. Pride, however, is reserved for a person who shuts their eyes to what Augustine suggested was a natural and constant state of the soul. This woman may be mortal after all.

Shark LeWitt has been exhibiting since the late 1970s, with numerous solo shows at Anna Schwartz, Rosyln Oxley9 and Tolarno galleries, as well as the Gippsland Art Gallery and the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne. Her work has been shown at major institutions across Australia, the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, including the NGV, Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Institute of Modern Art (Brisbane), Museum of Modern Art (Paris) and the Guggenheim (New York). Shark LeWitt trained at the University of Tasmania’s School of Art and Alexander Mackie College in Sydney, and her work is held in many significant public and private collections, including those of the NGV, Guggenheim, Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Australian National Gallery, Parliament House and the universities of Melbourne, Queensland and Western Australia.