Sean Rafferty, a Brisbane-based artist born in Ireland in 1979, uses cardboard fruit and vegetable cartons to explore connections between people, objects, histories and landscapes. He draws from a collection of over 800 ready-made produce cartons to create eclectic, large-scale installations and carefully considered arrangements to tell stories. By positioning fruit and vegetable boxes as art objects, abstracted from their original purpose, Sean invites us to consider the influencing social, cultural, and historical context that informs their aesthetics and function.
In his work Market Place (2017) featured in the Museum’s exhibition Tastes Like Sunshine (2017), Sean layered cut-outs of fruit carton images collected across Queensland in a playful large-scale composition.
Selected cartons also spanned an entire wall in an arrangement that corresponded with their farm’s location. The installation displayed vibrant and fruity caricatures from far-north Queensland, including laid-back bananas and tropical mangoes in bikinis, alongside more subdued cartons from southern regions that used bold colours to represent seasons, migration patterns, and landscapes. While this iconography is at once fun and comforting in its familiarity, and uplifting in its celebration of fresh produce, behind its whimsy and joyfulness lies a more in-depth consideration of place, belonging, and identity.
Through his research archive Cartonography (2017), Sean invites viewers to explore connections between produce cartons and their respective farmers and regions. He tours regional and remote areas across Australia, establishing meaningful relationships with growers, discovering and mapping the impacting environmental factors, and interpreting the aesthetics of cartons.
Sean’s evolving archive reveals that growers often move beyond a simple consideration of colour, humour, and wordplay. The boxes are designed with symbolic imagery, encapsulating anything from personal narratives, expressions of identity, and stories of migration, to representations of humanity and the natural world. Sean’s complex, ongoing, and multidimensional practice uncovers the histories, conditions, and systems that connect people with places as well as the continual shifts that affect this sense of connection and belonging over time.
Since receiving a Masters of Fine Art and Design from the University of New South Wales in 2007, Sean’s extensive exhibition profile includes Stills Gallery, Cairns Art Gallery, Artspace Sydney, and The National 2019. He is the recipient of numerous awards and residencies including two studio residencies at ArtSpace Sydney and the Hazelhurst Regional Art Prize.