18 PAINTINGS OF CHRONIC CAR INHABITANTS PLUS 19 EXTRAS
This series is a kind of flipside to Domestic Routines. Instead of communal joie de vivre with life’s little rituals the pictures deal in grim nomadic isolation, in people who spend a lot of time in cars. I don’t mean petrol heads or street car nuts. I mean ordinary cars, people with jobs that involve a lot of driving. Car people are really at home in cars, as at home as they’ll ever be. The paintings treat them in a cool, restrained way, making oblique, fragmented icons of their poses and expressions, giving even their forms a provisional, transitory quality. They deal in a personal space and vulnerability, a quest of displaced routes and rootlessness; complete with the double entendre that Australian vernacular allows that term. Car people cruise for sex, an aspect addressed in several of the paintings. But Car people cruise for most things, anything. I’ll say more about the theme and development of the series after the reproductions.
The series was painted between 1992 and 1995 and coincided with my MFA course at the Victorian College of the Arts (my alma mater) – 1993-5. I went back to art school (at 41!) thinking the qualification might help to get work teaching. Ha! Anyway, it made a welcome change to my studio routine and I probably produced more works due to course requirements. It provided useful feedback and helped my confidence. I made new friends among my younger classmates. I had to do a presentation and crits of classmates for the first time. It also led to the series being shown three times, in different versions. It was exhibited at Pinacotheca (my gallery throughout the 90s) from the 31st of August to the 17th of September 1994, then, following some revisions, as ‘Drivers’ at Ether Ohnetitel in Melbourne from the 11th to the 15th of October in 1995 as my graduation show – hence the brevity. Finally, as a result of the Ether show, a smaller version travelled to the Legge Gallery in Sydney from 27th of February to 16th of March 1996.
So they had plenty of exposure although the only feedback was again from a small band of fellow artists I forced to attend at gunpoint. No critics, curators or collectors troubled themselves, which was disappointing, especially given the money I’d invested in a small colour catalogue. This was in the days before online social networking when a colour catalogue seemed like a handy promotional tool. But it turned out to be quite expensive and didn’t seem to generate any more interest. But if I was ever going to spend big money on a show, this was the one I’d spend it on. I still regard it as my best and boldest work and the two largest works, Pearly Queen: Maid in the Ways of the Worlds (1993) and Underworld: Shadowplay (1993) are regularly given pride of place when I assemble a career survey in the public gallery of my mind. It just never got any better than this – well at least not for about another twenty years.. I’m still stunned that these two pictures were never collected or reviewed. But that’s local art-world politics. That said, I also know that this page is amongst the least liked or looked at on my site, confirming their sour mood, obtuse form. It in no way detracts from their ambition and originality.
Now they’re off their stretchers, rolled up in a bundle and stored in some crummy storage warehouse in the suburbs. But I can at least put them on display here in the hope of random appreciation – ENJOY!
Terminal (1993) 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas
Bad Apart (1992) 214 X 168cm acrylic/canvas
Knowing my background in film and television, some people commented on the obliquely cinematic quality to the series. The ‘noir’ side I had drawn on, registered at some level. Some works were more explicit. The title ‘Bad Apart’ was a play on the 1963 movie Bande À Part by Jean-Luc Godard, the background freely inspired by the comic scene beside a canal or river.
Driven (1993) 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas
Extricate (1993) 214 X 168cm acrylic/canvas
Two Necessities (1993) 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas
Private City (1993) 214 X 168cm acrylic/canvas
Down Town (1995) 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas (destroyed)
Cinderella’s Big Score (1994) 214 X 168cm acrylic/canvas
Nowhere (1994) 214 X 168cm acrylic/canvas
Displacer (1995) 214 X 168cm acrylic/canvas (destroyed)
Underworld: Shadowplay (1994) 187 X 496cm acrylic/canvas (Enlargement here)
Pearly Queen: Maid in the Ways of the Worlds (1994) 215 X 350cm acrylic/canvas (Enlargement here)
Shot of You (1994) 168 X 120cm acrylic/canvas
Lack of Desire (1993) 168 X 120cm acrylic/canvas
After Kingsmead (1993) 106 X 83cm acrylic/canvas
A Driveby (1993) 106 X 83cm acrylic/canvas
Cruiser’s Creek (1994) 83 X 106cm acrylic/canvas
Green Light (1995) 83 X 106cm acrylic/canvas
The seed for the series really lay in the gradual compression and simplification of means in the later Domestic Routines paintings from 1992, such as The Power Tool Gift and Unfolding the Stroller. I was aware I’d pushed the fragmentation and diversity of means far enough and now began to distil the style. But it could not be a matter of just painting domestic routines more efficiently or masterfully. They would simply not be an ecstatic view of domestic routines with less extravagance, less diffusion. A change of form brought a change of content, to some extent. Once I noted how the more restrained approach made the figures strangely inert, evasive or guarded, I began to cast around for a more appropriate theme.
It’s true I was a motorist and it’s probable the long drive home each night from my studio suggested a suitable counterpoint to the merry frolics of domestic routines, after a couple of years. But equally, I was aware of the iconography of drivers in movies and the noir mood vaguely attached to them. They filled the bill. The title perhaps arose riffing on Cat People. I was not interested in some dry study in sociology in these things – the overtones and poetry of pictures was far more important. Again, it was a theme that was part of contemporary culture, without properly amounting to a genre or prompt recognition. This marginal or overlooked quality appealed to me and sat well with the psychology of the two preceding series.
Where Domestic Routines were reckless, celebratory and hyper, Car People was grim, calculated and downbeat. The distillation of means brought a sobriety and detachment that was quite new to my work. It broadened my range. It may be that my MFA studies added to this new emphasis on discipline. But reducing the palette or colour range, the degree of fragmentation or displacement, the extent of abstraction or ambiguity did not result in merely a compromise or a watered-down version of Pop Surrealism. The pictures now failed to cohere more starkly, to deliver obvious or familiar content on fewer and bleaker terms. In Domestic Routines the style could push outward to an abstract diversity without quite losing all of its content, in Car People it could contract inward without quite surrendering a formal dissonance. One was glorious and the other was gloomy. Both were striking as paintings.
The fugitive quality to the people in Car People was emphasised by the irresolution to form. The evasive or fleeting roles for car people allowed no more than broad strokes, approximate accents. We glimpse them behind painting’s best chances, special moves. The people are never really candid or complete there because painting has no place for them that way, they are incidental or excluded from the bigger picture, its dark poetry. They belong elsewhere. Whether in or out of their cars they are always on their way to somewhere else, to someone else. The sexual encounters, especially in Pearly Queen… heighten the sense of disconnection, of a world holding no stable place for them, of dealing with someone as just a car, of dealing with a car as just someone.
EXTRAS – 16 Anomalies and experiments, mostly destroyed
Carpark Embrace (1992) 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas
Recent Victoriana (1992) 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas
Bus Stop (1992) 84 X 112cm acrylic/canvas
Hatchback of Noted Dame (1992) 214 X 168cm acrylic/canvas
Second Marriage (after Hockney) (1992?) 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas
Madison Routine (1992) 55 X 75cm acrylic/paper
Sneeze (1992) 92 X 73cm acrylic/canvas
Streetlife (1992) 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas – The first painting in which I used a spray gun.
Driver’s Seat (1992) 106 X 87cm acrylic/canvas
Crossing (1992) 112 X 84cm acrylic/canvas
Mousehead (1993) 75 X 55cm acrylic/paper
VCA Study 2 (1993) 75 X 55cm acrylic/paper
VCA Study 1 (1993) 55 X 75cm acrylic/paper
Study After Recent Victoriana (1993) 75 X 55cm acrylic/paper
By The Canal (1993) 83 X 106 acrylic/canvas
By The Canal 2 (1993) acrylic/paper
By-passer (1993) 84 X 112cm acrylic/canvas
Rollerblader (1993) 168 X 120cm acrylic/canvas
Crosstown Traffic (1993) 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas