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Australian art

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Two cigarettes in an ash tray



Fiona McMonagle


1977 -


Fiona McMonagle works principally in watercolour, drawing her subjects from her personal experience and environment, and the milieu in which she and her contemporaries came of age. It recalls something of the work of Marlene Dumas and Luc Tuymans, both of whom she admires, and her imagery – both found and from life – has an edge of challenge or defiance, tinged with pathos.

McMonagle favours watercolour for its particular visual and technical qualities. While able to create images with a soft evanescent quality, its fugitive nature also presents the artist with challenges as she seeks to control her application of the watery pigments on paper.

This painting of a cheap, dirty ashtray with pink lipstick-stained cigarettes presents a contemporary twist on the traditional still life. Despite its banal subject matter – a utilitarian object of mean and humble origin - the work suggests multiple narratives of social, gender and cultural relevance.

'I paint people because I am interested in the complexities of the human condition. I like my subjects to provide clues and suggest what their story may be. The viewer will always bring themselves to a work, their own experiences views, and this will ultimately influence their perception of the work. When making ‘Two cigarettes in an ashtray’ my approach was no different to how I would approach a portrait. There’s just a couple of things missing. The people'. (Fiona McMonagle, 2017)




Media category


Materials used

watercolour, gouache on paper


55.0 x 79.0 cm sheet; 71.6 x 95.0 x 4.0 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r. verso backing board, pencil "Fiona McMonagle/.../ 2016".


Kathleen Buchanan May Fund 2017


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Fiona McMonagle

Works in the collection


Referenced in 1 publication


Gabriella Coslovich, Look, Article "Studio visit", pg. 60-66, Sydney, Jul 2017-Aug 2017, 66 (colour illus.).