JULY 2016

I have been rejected from this year’s McGivern Prize.

My submission was this one:


The theme was ‘Text’. My 200w ‘statement’ ran thus:

‘This painting is from a series I completed earlier this year on the theme of activists. The settings were mainly street demonstrations of modest scale. A key element to demonstrations is text, presented as banners and placards, on t-shirts and badges. Text provides the obvious and usually blunt message to a demonstration, while activists animate or activate this with chants, gestures, sometimes costume and distinctive group formations. The idea is to attract attention and hopefully the mass media, through which their message will gain wider support. Demonstrations became something of a ritual in urban centres throughout the 20th century and now exploit digital media as a further arm of promotion. But text remains the anchor, provides the salience to a cause, while activists provide a human dimension and lively presentation. Demonstrations occasionally turn violent but most pass as part of the civic landscape.

The relation between text and activists has interesting parallels between pictures and text. Text spells out its meaning, pictures weave a context around it. Pictures typically have titles, but the title is hardly the equivalent, but rather a jumping-off point from which one then interprets the picture and text. In other words, they share a symbiotic relation.’

I gave the title as Activists Pretext, acrylic on canvas,  112 X 92cm (within their constraints). Luckily, I only submitted the Photoshop file, so at least I’m not out of pocket for time and expenses.


I was also rejected from this year’s Geelong Art Prize. It’s been a big month for rejections.

My submission was a variation on ROBO-14 from my series ROBO:


The work was titled ROBO at Stringy Bark Creek, its specifications given as 163.3 X 137cm, acrylic on canvas, 2016. Actually it was just a Photoshop file as well. I didn’t really expect to make the cut here, either going on past experience with curator Jason Smith (in 1996 when he was an assistant curator at the NGV) or tacit bias toward artist’s represented by prominent galleries, a tendency shared by most ‘public’ art prizes.

In other words, I was going through the motions, hoping for a miracle.

ROBO at Stringy Bark Creek was intended as a complex play on iconography, the title alluding firstly to Sidney Nolan’s famous Death of Sergeant Kennedy at Stringybark Creek (1947), then to radical and somewhat futuristic transformation of the Victorian landscape and economy. In the Nolan painting, one of a series chronicling the crimes of outlaw Ned Kelly in a faux naïf style, the artist deliberately depersonalises Kelly, depicting his famous home-made armour as a flat black Modernist square – as essentially a mechanical or robotic figure. It provides metaphorical armour with which the artist can sally forth into Australian culture, so that Kelly becomes not just a resourceful outlaw but a deeply subversive folk hero.

My work updates, inverts and relocates that story, while retaining a rural Victorian setting and armour-plated figure. Rather than the grazing country of Northern Victoria, it features the vineyards that have come to dominate the Yarra Valley, like many other areas of Victoria. (Hence the slight change of spelling for Stringy Bark Creek (near Coldstream) as opposed to Stringybark Creek, further north, near Mansfield). The view rarely attracts a landscape painter because it has little or no local distinction. It could be anywhere. In my painting, it is precisely that anonymity that is played against the roadside sign announcing some vestige of the original creek nearby. Even without the robotic figure, the landscape deals in a heavy irony of locale and identity.

But it is not just a later time and land use that is contrasted with Nolan’s vision, but the armour-plated figure, now in the service of global corporate agriculture, in spite of a conspicuously nationalistic livery of green and gold. Crucially, the figure is rendered in the style of children’s comic strips or animations, is a mythic or futuristic robot for that. But he is here given a very particular occupation and location. His shoulder disks operate as spraying nozzles, much like the spraying disks mounted in elaborate racks on special elevated tractors that straddle the vineyard rows. The armour thus takes on a protective role against toxins as much as transgressors, suggesting a different kind of threat. It is a more troubling message, even for its smooth, simplistic style and like the Nolan it deals in an unlikely juxtaposition of styles. For Nolan folk art falls in step with Modernism to promote a grassroots outlaw ethos, in art and culture. In my case, slick children’s illustration is mixed with digitally modified photography to urge an insidious and oppressive conformity, pictorially and economically. One seeks escape, the other confrontation with overwhelming forces. Both deal in vital Australian cultural issues.