To be on the receiving end of a fine arts education in Brisbane in the 1960’s was to accept Cezanne as King, John Molvig as guru, and Ian Fairweather as eminence grise. If you wanted to exasperate your lecturers, you poured out a lot of gestures in space. There was a lot of space around ,and a lot of empty gestures. Even the life class became dominated by the “gesture drawing” , derived from Nicolaides’ book “The Natural Way To Draw” (1) It strikes me as extraordinary that half a century later, the life class rarely gets past “mark making” gestures and negative space. I dont know why they hire a model.
“Mark making ” is a shibboleth,as academic and just as silly as anything from the Beaux Artes tradition. Digging a hole in a creek bank becomes “feminising the landscape”(2) and digging holes in ourselves a “creative ” act. Some art lessons from Lucien Freud would help, but it takes a Sigmund to explain that Courbet was ” a feminist in spite of himself” (3) Still, this is an age where the smallest chicken in the window is the “large” size. That parody of text and image “disconnect” is worthy of Magritte.
It has taken “three or more generations of university educated artists” (4). a gallery system obsessed with the “white wall syndrome”. Directors who demand “30 of these” for a commercially viable show from the “stable”, a decade and more of barren works emerging from Clement Greenberg’s flat, punk angst Neo-Expressionism, the technologically driven photo-realists, Christo wrap and Beuys fat to arrive at our site specific layering of subversions of inversions of perversions. Dead ends can be a lot of fun.
Confronted by cyberspace,po__og__phy,media exploitation of violence, and an obsession with body image it is no wonder we hear the cry,”I want my body back!”. Ersatz menstrual blood and visual dissections will not restore it.
Part of the Modernist project has been the double hypocrisy of elevating the Old Masters to the status of Gods,( which they were not) and at the same time to discourage or even disparage any who tried to follow them. I am not talking here about picture restoration, appropriation in any of its forms ,or a retrograde conservatism. Spending time in Arnhem Land with aboriginal artists served to remind me that as a white ,middle aged ,educated male of European descent ,I had a culture too. The Modernist Project began to look like a bit of a hiccup. The Renaissance, as home base.
Time magazine had declared that God was Dead, and Fujiyama that History was dead. Sitting on my Derrida at a Saussure sizzle, having a beer and a Chompsky on a Baudrillard roll, I was assured it was now OK to rummage around in the museum without walls, and Foucault you!
It was ok to be eclectic,ethnic,regional,gendered,personal and even fetishistic. Robert Hughes could play Molly Meldrum. Artists could be shamans .alchemists,scavengers……….all in the same week, and before the artists 10th one man show at the age of 25!
There was hope for me yet.I had given up. In despair,for twenty years I had coached football and played basketball instead of painting. There at least,the body could be celebrated,mourned,broken,nourished; but always inhabited by a spirit that went beyond the physical. It needed no justification.
So,after ten years of drawing -I am nearly ready to try my hand at painting. Drawing is terrifying enough. With every mark-I confront my own inadequacy,and the whole of our history. My consolation sometimes lies in the fact that the gallery public have been educated to tolerate the most awful mistakes by a century of distortion and fragmentation of the body. When I begin to paint though, their instinct about their bodies will not forgive—unless some art critic declares that the small chicken is actually the biggest in the window.
David Paulson told me I would not live long enough to paint a good academic nude. I will settle for just one. Then, like the Sumi-e master, I can put down my brushes.
Brian E Deagon.1999 revised2007
1: The Natural Way to Draw: Nicolaides. 1971
2: Body. Exhibition Catalogue. Art Gallery NSW. !997 p.28
3: Courbet: Feminist In Spite Of Himself. B Faunce in Body. p95.
4:Drawing Now : B Rose 1976 Museum of Modern Art, New York 12.