Australian painters - where are they now, and what are they doing? Is their art based on the legacy of the Angry Penguins, or is it a completely fresh, autochtonous outlook? Are there any references to Aboriginal Art? To what extent do they take popular culture into account? Talking about contemporary art from Australia feels like entering a lesser known territory, especially when referring to a specific genre, such as painting. Since the world of contemporary art is often channeled through the filter of mass media, primarily focused on art from the Western Civilization, getting in touch with Australian art sounds like a refreshing deflection from the already familiar contemporary art scene. Who could the most interesting representatives of the Australian contemporary art scene be? Let us find out.
Editors’ Tip: On Dialogue: Contemporary Australian Art
We are going to look at the 8 currently-trending artists from Australia, but before we do that, it could be useful to take a look at a book written by four renowned authors, first published in 1999. This book deals with a similar subject matter, looking at the creative activity in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane and presents comprehensive essays from leading Australian art theorists exploring local and regional art since the 60s. The artists featured are: Hany Armanious, Eugene Carchesio, Domenico De Clario, Peter Cripps, Gail Hastings, Lyndal Jones, Tracey Moffatt, and John Nixon.
Anthony Lister is one of the key figures of the Lowbrow movement, notable within the field of Street Art, nonetheless widely recognized as a painter. The artist envisions a world of fusion between the indigenous Australian art (which he regards as “cave paintings, millions of years old” that had influence over him) and the contemporary context. He claims that he doesn’t see himself as any different than any other traditional painter – it is just the context that makes the difference, and that makes him reflect on the “contemporary mythology” of our own time. Regardless of the genre, most of his works show the instinctual side of his approach which brings a bit of a chaos into his art. It makes it possible for the viewer to understand that his expressive paintings show his entire thought process, as a process, and not as a refined product.
The body and soul of Australian suburban landscapes is portrayed by Ben Sheers, a promising Australian artist whose paintings easily fall under the category of photo-realism. Sheers seems to represent the little things and the entire landscapes with a similar devotion, focusing on the details that ultimately determine the nature of these subjects. Apparently inspired by the atmosphere and the colors of twilight and the late hour, the artist often depicts night landscapes, which involve a broad selection of darker tones, but also the unexpected, vivid ones. He represents the man-made objects and the products of Mother Nature with a similar sentiment, regardless of their size or their supposed value. In fact, they are often in dialogue (when not alone).
Considered a representative of "provocative" art, Ivan Durrant has been dubbed as a sort of a "black sheep" of Australian art. Although the shock value that his art possesses is almost entirely related to his controversial art happenings from the '70s, he was able to translate that same progressive approach to his paintings as well. In painting, as well as in sculpture, Durrant goes beyond the image itself, although it is the plain realistic image that he begins with. This technique is called supraphotolism, derived from extreme photo-realism. In sculpture, this means creating illusory, life-like replicas of butchered meat (for example). But when it comes to painting, his works embark on a completely original treatment of photographs. Lately, his paintings have been dealing with the subject of Australian football and its players, depicted in action, resembling a blurred, zoomed-in scene, the kind we usually see in photographs which are out of focus.
The Melbourne-based Matthew Quick is one of those artists who release their works in series, which consist of pieces that are somehow interrelated and create a narrative collaboratively. Two series of paintings have brought him a great deal of attention - the Pure series from 2008, and more recently, the Monumental Nobodies. These series alone say more about the artist than anything else - he is a skillful craftsman, but a witty persona as well, apparently fascinated with mythology and history. The works from Pure series depict cloudy skies (awfully suggestive of symbolism, resembling eternity, Olympic gods perhaps, etc.), overlapped with a series of random inanimate objects. The other series is perhaps even more direct in its intent, representing the actual monuments from around the world, slightly modified by the artist. The well-known historical monuments are accompanied by objects and accessories from the modern life, which creates an ironical image that regards the significance of the fallen empires.
Always with a lot of color, always reflecting on nature - the works of Carole King are a true feast for the eye. Her paintings often borrow "tricks" from other techniques, such as collage, resulting in beautiful, authentic images that describe her signature style. Nature is present in her works in many of its forms, given the fact that King is not only compelled by its beauty, but also aware of its delicacy and its state of endangerment. She also uses the elements and the appropriated language of nature to represent her own emotion, which could be something she does on purpose, or something completely intuitive. So even though you will never see humans in her paintings, you will certainly get the sense of what she was feeling at the moment of creation.
"Inevitably you’re going to like the guy so there’s really no point in putting it off" - that's something you'll find on Dan Withey's own website (a really charming homage to self). But admittedly, he is right. No matter what you personally like or if you're into painting and illustration at all, his strange, unique characters find their mysterious way to your heart, somehow. Be it because of the completely disarming harmless appeal, or because of the forever perplexing sense of seeing something familiar in a new form, his cartoon-like protagonists form a completely new vocabulary which eventually speaks to both the masses and the individuals. Although he comes from Britain, the artist has been living in Australia since 2004, and now he plays an important role in the country's contemporary art scene.
Here's another Australian artist who swims in the waters of photo-realism, with evident comfort and ease. Still, for some reason, human face in Dianne Gall's paintings is a rare occurrence. She depicts her (usually female) characters from behind, or from the side, or sometimes framed so that the face is rarely the subject of the painting. When it does appear, however, it is made so that it appears distant, never looking directly at the viewer. The figures are depicted in dialogue with the color-saturated interiors, filled with retro patterns on furniture and wallpapers, which stand in contrast to the omnipresent sense of loneliness.
Some of Tom Alberts' most interesting paintings represent various situations in the presence of the Sun, as the final protagonist of his narratives. Whether indoors (like Gold Boy, for example) or outside, the Sun is always there to accompany the story. In general, his work depicts humans and nature in a realistic manner, simultaneously reflecting on the "artificial" nature of our society. However, the realistic manner in painting doesn't mean that the content of his paintings is always as realistic - it occasionally wanders off into surrealism. Alberts also works as a portraitist, and it is what he became quite famous for, especially because of his ability to make the assertive, larger-than-life portraits.