27 PAINTINGS OF RETAIL DISPLAY MANNEQUINS PLUS PROPS
I exhibited 20 paintings from this series at Pinacotheca gallery in Melbourne in August 1996. Deep Shopping was the first and only time a work was acquired by a public gallery (The National Gallery of Victoria) – Mall Teasers (1996) or Donnie, Glennie and Chaddie – an eastern suburbs trinity. It was acquired under the Margaret Stewart Endowment, I recently learned, but has never been shown, as far as I know. Deep Shopping was also the only show to receive a review (although this was just a favour by a friend, Ania Walwicz, not a noted art critic) – see reference at bottom of the page. Seeing them again now, they don’t seem too bad, although at the time I was slightly dissatisfied. But it had set me thinking about my work in a new way. I suspect it was shunned because no one could really get into retail display as a subject. It probably seemed a little too arch or perverse.
The paintings are basically about retail display or visual merchandising (VM) – an area I spent a few years working in, in the late 80s early 90s, as part of my grand tour of the commercial and applied ghetto. VM is mainly window dressing, or augmenting the display of goods with props, lighting, even occasionally sound or smell! What interested me was the way the product was accented in a certain way by the surrounding display. The dressers referred to this as a ‘look’. VM regularly rotated looks, combining different products and props, creating new settings. The product could not be fully appreciated without a setting, including other products, apparently. No setting was ever neutral in this regard. Marketing required the subtlest of harmonies. This had striking parallels for my painting, which up until then had been concerned with a relative formalism and the gradation of whole to parts.
In earlier series, themes had a metaphoric relation to form rather than a literal one. It was enough that style fragmented or made recognition of content multiple and conflicting. But now I saw how some content actually abetted the process, so that rather than just parts arguing with wholes, there was a parallel progression from representation to presentation. With Deep Shopping I found a content that advertised precisely this spectrum. Ultimately, VM is about building a picture around a product. Ultimately, every subject owes something to its picture. It was not necessarily a better fit of content to form for my purposes, just one that had hitherto not occurred to me.
All the same, the paintings lacked some of the fluidity and friction of early work, largely I think because I was scaling down and having trouble adjusting to stricter compositions. The six disembodied heads, titled Spending the Phenomena are in part an in-joke about pictorial perception as discussed by E. H. Gombrich in Art and Illusion as ‘saving the phenomenon’ in part a nod to consumerism. The heads are like notional buyers merged with shop window mannequins or advertising models. They are not real, not strictly sincere, but not unfamilar either.
Point of Purchase 1996 168 X 120cm acrylic/canvas
Escalator 1996 168 X 120cm acrylic/canvas
Mall Teasers (Donnie Glennie & Chaddie – an eastern suburbs trinity) 1996 168 X 120cm acrylic/canvas
Accessory 1996 106 X 83cm acrylic/canvas
Men’s Wear 1996 106 X 83cm acrylic/canvas
Present 1996 106 X 83cm acrylic/canvas
Custom 1995 106 X 83cm acrylic/canvas
Menswear 1996 106 X 83cm acrylic/canvas
Occasion 1996 106 X 83cm acrylic/canvas
Outfit 1996 106 X 83cm acrylic/canvas
Part Body 1996 106 X 83cm acrylic/canvas
Deep Shopper 1996 106 X 83cm acrylic/canvas
Casual Wear 1996 106 X 83cm acrylic/canvas
Customer Service 1996 93 X 72cm acrylic/canvas
Men Swear 1996 93 X 72cm acrylic/canvas
Spending the Phenomenon 1 1996 71 X 56cm acrylic/canvas
Spending the Phenomenon 2 1996 71 X 56cm acrylic/canvas
Spending the Phenomenon 3 1996 71 X 56cm acrylic/canvas
Spending the Phenomenon 4 1996 71 X 56cm acrylic/canvas
Spending the Phenomenon 5 1996 71 X 56cm acrylic/canvas
Spending the Phenomenon 6 1996 71 X 56cm acrylic/canvas
Specimen 1995 93 X 76cm acrylic/canvas
Café Oz 1996 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas
This and the four heads below were intended as a suite, as pictured below, I did them to enter some sort of prize or show with some sort of Australian theme, but nothing ever came of it, as usual.
Fleshhead 1996 93 X 76cm acrylic/canvas
Bluehead 1996 93 X 76cm acrylic/canvas
Greenhead 1996 93 X 76cm acrylic/canvas
Redhead 1996 93 X 76cm acrylic/canvas
Walwicz A: ‘Deep Shopping’ – Art Monthly Australia, Oct 1996 No 94 p.27