We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


The adolescent is a boy?



Vivienne Binns


06 Nov 1940 –

  • Details

    Media category
    Materials used
    acrylic on canvas
    160.5 x 160.5 cm
    Purchased with funds provided by the Patrick White Bequest 2021
    South Building, lower level 1, 20th-century galleries
    Accession number
    © Vivienne Binns/Copyright Agency

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    Artist information
    Vivienne Binns

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Vivienne Binns has constantly experimented with and pushed at the boundaries of her artistic practice. Born in 1940 in Wyong, New South Wales, she attended East Sydney Technical College (now the National Art School) between 1958 and 1962. A trailblazer of community-based practice, Binns is also recognised as a vanguard of feminist and collaborative art. While predominantly a painter, Binns has also worked across printmaking, performance, sculpture and drawing. Over the years, alongside her art practice, Binns has nurtured generations of Australian artists in her role as an educator, teaching painting, drawing and art theory at universities in Sydney, Albury and Canberra. In a distinguished career spanning over sixty years, Vivienne Binns has made an impressive and important contribution to Australian art.
    ‘The adolescent is a boy?’ 1984 is a painting that emerged directly out of the works on paper series known as ‘The Castration’. During this period, Binns’ was creating works that explored the transition from child to adolescent in the formation of identity, particularly as it relates to gender.
    This painting was created following a sustained period of community-based work during which Binns had moved away from painting. Exhibited at Watters Gallery in 1985, alongside other paintings, it represented a return to the medium and was created in an attempt to enhance the content of earlier drawings from ‘The Castration’ series.
    ‘The adolescent is a boy?’ is a raw and dynamic portrayal of the confusion often felt during teen years. Paint has been applied in an expressionistic and frenzied manner, creating a forceful image where an indistinct silhouette emerges from an eruption of colour and chaos. To the right of the figure, text reads ‘Thrown into Chaos’. The period of adolescence and the formation of sexuality and identity can be a tumultuous period, and the painting gives potent visual form to that feeling. The question mark in the title of the work speaks to the confusion and doubt often felt by teens as they experience great change in both their body and sexual identity. As a gay woman at a time when homosexuality was not socially accepted, Binns felt confusion and conflict about ‘coming out’ and some of this feeling and vulnerability is reflected in this work. Below the text we see the Vagina Dentata (toothed vagina), first seen in Binns’ iconic work of 1967 and redeployed here as the castrating device of the adolescent. The shadowy figure represents both Binns and us, should we project ourselves into the frame.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 1 exhibition

Other works by Vivienne Binns

See all 9 works