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‘Treasure hunt’: Joi Murugavell hides secret messages in Finding Mikey exhibition 

‘Treasure hunt’: Joi Murugavell hides secret messages in Finding Mikey exhibition 

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The first thing you need to know about Australian emerging artist Joi Murugavell is that she doesn’t like putting her artwork into words. “Because today’s truth becomes tomorrow’s lies,” we’re told in Joi’s latest catalogue, compiled to accompany her upcoming solo exhibition at the Peach Black Gallery in Chippendale, Sydney. Presented by art advisor Sarah Birtles, the high-octane exhibition will run from April 29 until May 2, showcasing five “double-mattress-sized” paintings, five collaged “toy paintings” and a large-scale installation work, each capturing the spontaneity and humour of life.

The exhibition’s title, Finding Mikey, is a direct reference to Joi’s working relationship with her colleague and friend – Mikey – who has long scanned and documented her colour-filled collages and paintings. “When I think of the title and why I called it that, I think of my practice and the people who are in it,” Joi explains. “Mikey would be someone I talk to a lot for work reasons, and I enjoy and learn from glimpses of who he is.” 

Finding Mikey exhibition by artist Joi Murugavell
Finding Mikey exhibition by artist Joi Murugavell

Finding Mikey exhibition by artist Joi Murugavell

Over time, Joi began leaving secret symbols in her paintings specifically for Mikey to find. But only he knows which “tidbits” were intended specifically for his discovery. “Within each painting are hidden messages and clues left behind for Mikey,” Joi explains. “It’s a challenge for the viewer to work out which parts of the painting are for Mikey, which are nods to the network of people in my life, and which are coded for your own personal treasure hunt.”

Each joyful quote, toon, toy and shape is a potential clue, we’re told, though there is no hierarchy among the colourful din. “We are allowed to love each brush stroke, pompom and pun equally,” the catalogue reads. “The words, toys and cartoon symbols often land like an inside joke you have been let in on – a message hidden within the painting hoping to be found and to resonate,” the artist explains. “No one is excluded from the fun.”

Delivering playfulness in spades, the toys in Joi’s work nod to the artist’s evolution as a dreamer. Joi recalls she was one of “those children” who would create “epic worlds” in her imagination. First, with her toys as characters: “I think I played with toys behind closed doors till I was 15-ish. I’d make them talk to each other and reenact situations,” she says. Then, in vivid daydreams which would go on “way too long,” she admits. 

But while Joi declares “I can’t stop seeing characters,” she hasn’t always felt at ease with their presence in her work. That was until one rainy night in her studio, when alone in the darkness, that the company of her “pictures” brought her comfort, just like the characters she’d dreamed up as a kid. “I just sat with them for a while,” she recalls. “That was the first time I felt that these pictures on my canvases could be friends.”

Finding Mikey opens April 29 at Peach Black Gallery, 126 Abercrombie Street, Chippendale, and continues until May 2. An opening event will be held on Friday April 29, 6-8pm. Entry to the exhibition is free.


Presented by art advisor Sarah Birtles, the high-octane exhibition will run from April 29 until May 2.

Daily Architecture News
Finding Mikey exhibition by artist Joi Murugavell

Above: Mikey’s Fluff Parlour, 2021, acrylic, oil stick, wax crayon, spray paint, charcoal, collage on canvas 120 x 90cm.
Artist Joi Murugavell (pictured above right) in her studio, surrounded by works from her upcoming Finding Mikey exhibition.

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