17 PAINTINGS CELEBRATING SUBURBAN LIFE PLUS 7 EXTRAS
It took me four years to find another gallery. I pretty much asked everyone. Some were nice and some were not. And all the while the work only fed on my alienation and frustration (see note at bottom of Workouts) grew more extreme, more diffuse. And obviously by 1992, I had a fairly large body of work. There were not just a lot of them, but many were quite big. In fact they remain the largest works I’ve done, certainly are among my major works. Consequently, when they were shown at Pinacotheca in Melbourne (4th – 21st of March 1992) – quite a big space – the show comprised only 10 works. Here I present the full body of work, including anomalous or destroyed works, as Extras.
The work developed smoothly from the preceding series. From fitness workouts, which had sometimes used daily activities as the opportunity for certain exercises, poses grew more balletic, so that quotidian activities were conducted in a kind of extravagant dance. This extravagance was matched by pictorial means. The move from fitness poses to dance is not that bold really, just amplifies a kind of extroversion or theatricality. Now figures are not so much improving or testing themselves as flaunting their position, celebrating. And the figures tend to be in company rather than alone now. The idea of treating everyday tasks or domestic routines as somehow exalted and strange obviously implies a remote perhaps disturbing perspective, an outsider’s point of view. And in this sense the work is about a deep disconnection from normal life, implies another, harsher place. From there, domestic routines loom as an obscure, unattainable or even incomprehensible ideal. The pictures all but disintegrate in delivering them.
I’ll say more about the formal or technical issues after the pictures.
The Barbecue 1989 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas
Receiving The Bills 1989 168 X214cm acrylic/canvas
Feeding The Dog 1990 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas
Moving The Sprinkler 1990 112 X 84cm acrylic/canvas
The Laundry 1990 168 X 120cm acrylic/canvas
The Bathroom 1990 112 X 82cm acrylic/canvas
In the Bedroom 1990 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas
At The All-Night Servo 1990 5 panels, 214 X 168cm each -overall length approx 884cm – enlargement
An installation view. In the old money this is about 26 feet wide, 7 feet high.
At The Fast Food Restaurant 1991 244 X 380cm acrylic/canvas. Enlargement here.
At The Video Library 1991 244 X 380cm acrylic/canvas. Enlargement here.
The Power Tool Gift 1991 214 X 168cm acrylic/canvas
Unfolding The Stroller 1991 214 X 168cm acrylic/canvas
Washing The Car 1991 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas
Putting Out The Bins 1991 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas (destroyed)
Ironing And Watching Television 1991 168 X 120cm acrylic/canvas
Mowing The Lawn 1991 168 X 120cm acrylic/canvas
Remote Control (1990) 168 X 120 cm acrylic/canvas
The project as introduced by Workouts inherited three problems. Firstly the use of organic volumes or shapes – animal and/or vegetable details – as parts of figures recalled Surrealism and distracted from the wider array of forms available. Secondly the fragmentation suggested a collage derivation that obscured other construction. Thirdly the degree of abstraction or stylization often overwhelmed the content and rendered the pictures as errant formal exercises, if not travesties.
To remedy the Surrealist influence I had to balance organic volumes a little more carefully against gestural or painterly parts (which may or may not be organic but resist a tighter rendering) and stricter two-dimensional or graphic forms, which also may be biomorphic, but equally geometric or calligraphic. So it had to be a richer mix. The Surreal tip is still there but held in check now by various Pop, Expressionist, Cubist, Futurist and so forth strands. Consequently the work becomes more elaborate, denser and time consuming, often flagging this sustained involvement with layers of forms or techniques, a history of revisions.
To counter the impression of collage I needed to deconstruct or demonstrate the steps between photo sources and others. Domestic Routines became more emphatically collage-like in places in order to contrast other relations between parts. Masked edges, for instance, often suggested a self-contained item – a collage-like element – but hardly ensured an obvious derivation or content. As often they contained yet other such collage, or blurred or shared other parts. In other words they were part of a spectrum of means. Hard edges, whether masked or not, did not always function as borders to isolated elements, just as much flowed between parts, or over and under others, were alternatively content and form. Again, collage was not excluded but rather used as relative to a wider pictorial structure. The pictures are collage plus, although this didn’t stop people still dismissing them as just ‘collage-based’.
To address the tendency to abstraction also called for a delicate balance. On the one hand I was confident that the array of forms could not fully escape content and be read as just a sort of pattern. But I wasn’t satisfied with anything as open-ended as that either (although works such as Study 1 and 2 in the Extras section testify, I did go there on occasion). I wanted the content to have a bit more focus; but not too much. Rather than let the works simply settle on a middle ground, I tended to allow them to seesaw between recognisable figuration and obscure abstraction. Not everything can be smoothly deciphered under one stylistic rule. Some parts just remain problematic, messy. The pictures are incomplete in this sense, not only committed to a sense of process, but to multiple and overlapping objects.
The immersive, procedural aspect also contributed to the expansive scale. The All-night Servo (1990) The Fast Food Restaurant (1991) and The Video Library (1991) all took three to five months to paint and deliver epic visions of suburban institutions, haunted perhaps by the choreography of Hollywood musicals or at least television commercials. The play between compelling perspective or a depth to setting and a flurry of two-dimensional veils to the foreground in these works unquestionably benefits from the scale, allows the spectator to be enveloped in the scene, involved in the process. In some respects this is the balance between abstraction and figuration, in others, it simply restates the way advertising uses commercial architecture.
These works obviously reflect my growing confidence with the project, a sense of culmination for the series and the scope and ambition now available. The series was well received from other artists but ignored by critics and curators. I was satisfied I’d at least put myself on the map. Finally, I want to add that I do not consider these works, or the preceding series, a description or endorsement for drug-induced hallucination or some unfortunate psychosis. I have never done drugs and I have no interest in such solipsistic experiences or psychiatric afflictions. At best, I drew inspiration from hard core indie bands of the time, such as The Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, Big Black and The Fall. But there, the influence is one of attitude, an aggressive countering of complacent musical and social norms.
An Alien Stole My Girlfriend 1988 168 X 214cm acrylic/canvas
I think I undertook this with a view to entering The Möet and Chandon Prize in 1988 (at 35 it would have been the last year when I qualified) which is hilarious when I think about it now. In any case it took me so long to complete I missed the deadline.
The Red Mouse Bar 1988 214 X 168cm acrylic/canvas
Watching Television 1991 92 X 76cm acrylic/canvas
Study 1 1991 112 X 82cm acrylic/canvas
Study 2 1991 112 X 82cm acrylic/canvas
The Kiss 1991 92 X 76cm acrylic/canvas
Study for At The Video Library 1991 92 X 76cm acrylic/canvas