A biography of painting - part 2

In November 1981 I was able to travel overseas. This opportunity was of enormous importance to me and so I was keen to document it as thoroughly as possible. I took a sketch book (the image on the right is from that book), some paints and a camera.

Every experience must ultimately end up as art.


We grow up with a distinct vocabulary of images of the world. They are ubiquitous to the point of cliché. Travelling and seeing these often seen objects in real life seems to bring the symbolic and the experiential world into collision.

For instance I grew up with the idea of a windmill as being integral to my cultural identity. To then be in Holland and actually see a windmill is ... in a word ... confirming.

Cliché, despite having a bad reputation, is an enormously influential signifier. As I travelled from one well known city to another I was acutely aware that I had been well prepared to encounter these places. Each place could be encapsulated in a single clichéd image.

I collected these images as post cards and some souvenirs.


So the next series of paintings that I worked on was about these images that we associate with places. To emphasise the point I wanted to name the place with text so as to create a tautology of signification in two distinct modes. I had an interest in text in painting derived from my experience painting the milkbars. The problem was how to combine the two.

The solution to this came from the painter Neil Jenney, whose work I encountered on my travels. These paintings inspired me in a number of ways:

They solved my problem of how to incoporate text into the painting; the text and image reiterated each other in exactly the same way I wanted; they used frames effectively as an integral component of the art work and the painting was direct and not contrived by too much aesthetic manipulation.

This last point was important as I had been looking at a way to find an equivalence in painting to punk music. Although some thought the equivalence was in neo-expressionism, as adopted by Peter Booth, my approach was that it was in what was known then as "bad painting" [ Wikpedia article ]. This was the deliberate avoidance of technique and contrivance to seduce with an imposed aesthetic ( a form of implied artistic narrative) and have the painting confront the viewer with the rawness of the painting and, usually, an obviousness of image.

In practice this meant painting the pictures with a deliberate nonchalance. If I found myself being too careful I would blank my mind, keep it rough and messy, but not a contrived messiness. Having the paintings large and boldly framed was the equivalence of the loudness of a punk band.

Unfortunately my intentions were lost on much of the art establishment at the time and there were critics who were not attuned to this anti-aesthetic approach. Although there were many painters working in this manner. Thankfully I was able to exhibit the paintings at Pinacotheca gallery and, with Paul Taylor's support (Paul published the magazine Art & Text), at Roslyn Oxley Gallery the following year (1984) - certainly Sydney was not attune to this approach.

[ Click here for images of these paintings ]

Another aspect of the "Punk", or post punk attitude to art was the use of 8mm film, a kind of pared down DIY cinema. One of my contributions to this can be seen here:

[ Click here for an 8mm film I wrote and made in 1985. ]

In order to emphasise the symbolic it is often necessary to reduce the representation of an image to its most essential form. The gap between representation and abstraction becomes very narrow. It is this idea that was next project I undertook.

Objects that represent place collected while travelling


Neil Jenney 1970

Other painters from the same era include:

Linda Marrinon

Jenny Watson 1987

Elizabeth Newman 1985

San Francisco (from sketch book)