A biography of painting - part 3

In the last group of paintings there was included a painting, not of an iconic image of place like the others, but a painting of an art style: Neo expressionism.

This was an art style that had gained something of a foothold in Melbourne around that time, mainly due to the work of my old art school teacher Peter Booth and others.

My interest in this approach was not that it was a genuine expression of some sort of artistic angst but rather that it was an adoption of a set of established codes that symbolised emotional expression. (Barthes, R.1957. Mythologies)

It occured to me that a painter could paint an art style as a subject, just as they would a still life or a landscape. Inherent in every work of art there was the implied narrative of art history and its current cultural context. This was not usually explicitly acknowledged. In Australia it is even sometimes explicitly ignored in order to construct a nationalist identity that some how emerges independently from a unique experience on the world's largest island.

I could not paint in that pictorial style as for me it was too illustrative of that implied narrative that art encapsulates emotion and "artistic genius". There were at the time painters who had adopted the style of the likes of Karel Appel or Jean Dubuffet and yet this was considered to be personal self expression, puposefully ignoring their fundamental appropriation of an established art style.


Peter Booth 1977

We recognise the emotional qualities of the above painting because of the codified messages used: the thick black paint, distortion etc... The painting utilises the language of van Gogh, Munch or Ensor, through whom we have been taught to interpret angst visually.

Karel Appel 1957


I wanted to see how much I could reduce an image to a stylised form that still represented an emotion (angst) - Something that sat on the edge of the illustrative and symbolic. While at the same time not seeking to become "expressive" as described above.

In primitive art, and early 20th century modernism, forms are simplified to their most minimal representation. I thought this must be so they can be repainted or reproduced in much the same way the primitive alphabets were dervived from pictographic images.

During this time there emerged an interest in the rawest forms of representation of painting, most notably with the work of A.R. Penk and later, in a more stylised manner, Keith Haring.

Graffiti art, which was seeping into Australia in the early eighties, had a lot in common with primitive art because it had to be painted quickly and directly on unprepared surfaces and it was stylised so that it could be repeated. The images were easily understood and communicated directly, without even requiring, at least initially, the context of a gallery to be considered art.

These paintings were exhibited at 200 Gertrude Street gallery in 1986.

Continued ...



A.R. Penk

Angst 1986


Untitled 1986