AND THEMIS MOVED ACROSS THE LAND 2019
Revisionist history accompanying post-colonialism has encouraged debate and the removal and desecration of conquest markers. In some cases statues have been relocated to less offensive places. With these debates receiving an airing each Australia Day, January 26, a couple of Goya etchings from his Disasters of War folio caught my eye. I figured Ronnie Webb and Gerald Rice about to heave the statue of Themis, the Greek Goddess of Justice, into a pit with Robert O’Hara Burke and Arthur Phillip lying in fragments. They are joining John MacDouall Stuart, an especially contentious Alice Springs sculptural piece. Commissioned in 2009 by members of the Masonic Lodge, the 4 meter concrete giant has been relocated several times in response to community opposition. James Cook is about to join the procession on the ridge overlooking Alice Springs.
EDWARD'S HAT (LARGE VERSION) 2018
Roxanne Neal asked me to make a work commemorating her recently deceased father, Edward. She went into their dwelling and emerged with his cowboy hat and placed it on a chair to photograph. I was surprised. I’d attended several funerals of legendary horsemen where their hat was placed on top of the casket and interred with it. I pondered the photo during that week unclear as to what to do. When I returned to help recycle cans and plastic bottles collected by widow, Bonita, Roxanne assembled her daughters, grandchildren and mum for a group photo. She suggested relocating them before akngwelye apwerte/, the puppy dog Dreaming hill that can be seen from their dwelling two hundred meters distant. Having grown up proximate to it, the children inherited its stories.
ROCK ENCHANTMENT 2017
Singing the Country and the title of Arrernte author, Kathleen Wallace’s superb book, Listen Deeply to Country suggested this fantasy. Many people regard the land as being saturated with spirit entities. Whatever, I’d long harbored the desire to reposition Albrecht Durer’s beautiful angel. The Coulthard children, when asked if they’d like to be in a painting, jumped at the chance. Rodney junior had been playing with a guitar soon after he could walk, encouraged by and imitating his father, a gifted musician.
UMBILICAL & SISYPHUS 2017
High above the town a group of indigenous kids tug-o -war with unseen combatants. In the valley below, nestles the gridded city of Alice Springs. In the distance, Heavitree Gap, where in another painting, Sisyphus struggles to ‘close the gap.’ Two contestants mask their identity. And what is the prize?
FAMILIES AT ULERALKWE 2016
This painting derives from photos taken by my friend, Tom Psomotragos, between 1990 and 1991 when he camped with the Whitegate families. What resulted were four astonishing graphic black & white folios documenting the time, place and people. I collaged several of these for this composition and added the galah flock to spice the drama.
DEEP WATERS 2016
Narcissus was out hunting one day when Echo saw and fell in love with him. She followed him and talked with him. She had never seen anyone as beautiful and declared her love for him. When he rejected her she was broken hearted and disappeared leaving only her voice. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, punished Narcissus by leading him to a pool in which he saw an image so beautiful he became enchanted and visited the pool daily to gaze at it. Ultimately, he realized that the image couldn’t love him or exist independently of his act of looking at it. His love was obsessive and unrequited. He was enthralled by a reflection, a reversed image he hadn’t seen before, not as he knew himself to be. The story of Narcissus has special appeal to realist artists and he has sometimes been regarded as the inventor of painting.
Renaissance theorist Albertis explained, ’What is painting but the act of embracing by means of art the surface of the pool?’ I’d considered alternate reflected images in the water. What would a contemporary Indigenous youth see? Perhaps a landscape at variance with that surrounding him? Possibly ghosted members of an earlier generation. I wanted to say something about the confusion confronting the present generation, the welter of imagery arriving through social media, the loss of language and relevance of much old story, the displacement from traditional ‘country’. When Jason Webb and I arrived at Wigley’s Waterhole where I’d planned the setting, recent rain had stirred the water and inadvertently, provided the answer. Jason’s reflection would be muddied.
Friend and marathon devotee, Dr. Howard Goldenberg, regular participant in the Alice Springs annual marathon, posed for this (as Freud on the couch and a doctor listening to a rock rather than his patients in earlier works). I’d thought to contrast the disparate recreational pursuits of the cultures re-describing a moment that recurs regularly on the shared riverside path coursing from the CBD south to Heavitree Gap.
THE ANATOMY LESSON 2012
Inverting the usual course of looking at indigenous people has been a recurrent occupation. In this instance, I played with Rembrandt and Mantegna antecedents. And who should be anatomised, scrutinised, and placed under interrogation, if not myself? The Artist
‘The painting is shocking because it goes further than nakedness. It represents an artist who has made an offering of his whole body. The body is, admittedly, a corpse, as dead as the figure painted by Rembrandt in 1632: the body, barely covered with a loin cloth, is stretched in a posture of absolute surrender, akin to Christ on the Cross. Yet one pulls back from the temptation to make much of this thought. The painting is drained of anguish. It simply presents Rod’s body as it has been offered body and soul to the Aboriginal men he has befriended in their years of suffering…’ Barry Hill
THE STAND-OFF 2006
My son, Raffi, reported over Easter 2006 how he'd been bailed up on his bike by a taunting ring of indigenous youths on the track that runs over the hill near our Alice Springs home. Any potential scuffle was aborted when, fortunately, one of the lads recognised him. He rode on home unscathed but shaken by the event.
Such incidents are indicative of the racial tensions that percolate each day. His childhood mates, Patrick Hayes, Johnathan, Max and Daryl Loo-Hayes surround him in this re-staging at the very site where the incident occurred on the edge of the town estate.
All text courtesy of the Artist