REDHEADS

This series was shown at the Girgis & Klym Gallery in Melbourne from the 17th of July to 11th of August, 1987. It was my second solo show, occupied both ground and upstairs galleries and was well received, although no sales followed. Like the preceding show, Waldeimsamkeit, I now think of it as essentially a transitional phase, as I moved from being a dilettante or dabbler to more serious engagement. At least the pace had quickened by this point. Redheads covers roughly a year‘s work, whereas the landscapes had taken three years. As with the preceding series, development within the body of work tends to flag a certain impatience and ambition, perhaps at the expense of theme or statement.

The starting point was really the intersecting linear style that had emerged with the forest landscapes. There, it expanded on the ambiguities of light and distance to become a broader contemplation of pictures and wilderness. But did it have a use beyond forests? I was particularly interested in its application to figures. I started out by limbering up on some life drawing and portraits, these now have their own page – Drawings 1985-6 .

I started thinking about people, as involving a comparable confusion or ambiguity. How we define or identify a person may also contain limitations of context or perception – a limited ‘depth’, so to speak. A person is usually classified in many ways, depending on situation. Not all categories are compatible. Who ever really knows or sees someone from every side on every occasion? At the same time I wanted something a bit lighter, less rigorous after my solemn meditation on nature. So I began with a deliberately frivolous or superficial category of Redheads as a type of person, inevitably involving various activities and attitudes. Redheads had not figured prominently in my life, although my father was one.

Formally, the pictures are still built on a grading from outlines to more abstract intersections of volume. But now, rather than differences of light or time, the differences are more a matter of clothing, pose and props; ranging from slight to extreme disjunctions. Outlines are also contrasted with modelling or tonal and colour extension. In computer parlance, this is the ‘fill’ to outlines. These too vary from the realistic to abstract; or strictly two-dimensional design. But neither outline nor modelling are sustained or provide a complete picture of the person– as redhead, or the many other categories to which they also belong. This series was about making this incompleteness to portraiture explicit, and hopefully, fun.

Elvis Clones 1986, 185 X 150cm coloured pencil/paper (courtesy of the Bridget McDonnell Gallery).

The series really began with Elvis Clones. It was based on a book of photographs of Elvis Presley, titled Private Elvis, taken in German nightclubs, during his military service in about 1958. The photos are the work of professional paparazzi and have a Weegee-like appeal, documenting a period and milieu. I’m not an Elvis fan. I happened upon the book in a music shop, but the sustained scrutiny of such a media icon was undeniably fascinating. With so many different views of the same period Elvis, I decided to construct a multi-figure scene where everyone, male and female would have Elvis’s face – and red hair. They were a band of redheads, with striking facial similarities, yet differentiated in other ways. Of course Elvis was not a redhead and redheads in general hardly resemble Elvis to any notable extent, so we have people identified along two distinct and frankly comic axes, since neither really tells us much about their activities, apart from perhaps a certain narcissism. The structure of the picture extends the fragmentation or incompleteness of identity.

But Elvis Clones was really a one-off, shown in the Roar Group Show at Roar Studios in 1986 and unexpectedly sold to dealer, Bridget McDonnell. Private Elvis also contained photos of various friends and minders accompanying Elvis on his nights off, and these held a different interest, sitting at little tables by themselves, looking warily at the camera. These suggested simple, somewhat formal interactions that also announced differences of character, and inspired a series of double portraits –

Two Redheads Waiting 1986 75 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

Two Redheads Toasting 1986 75 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

Two Redheads Sharing a Joke 1986 75 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

Two Redheads Dating 1986 75 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

Redhead Couple 1986 75 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

Two Redheads with Television 1986 75 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

Two Redheads Dieting 1986 100 X 150cm coloured pencil/paper

Two Redheads Dieting (2) 1986 50 X 75cm coloured pencil/paper

Beyond social interactions, I began to think about ways the single figure might signal an identity – through gesture, costume, adornment, fashion and so on –

Redhead with Blue Ball 1986 150 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

Redhead Sitting 1986 150 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

Music Lover 1986 150 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

Pregnant Pause 1986 150 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

Shanna 1986 150 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

A rare direct artistic influence at this time was the 70s and 80s work of Valerio Adami. I found a couple of books on him in second hand bookshops around then. He too used a curious intersecting line. I was familiar with his 60s work where print graphics meets Cubism, basically. He was really post modern from the outset, but later work sheds the primitive shapes and volumes for pastiches of classical drawing, while still enveloping them in an intersecting line, retaining flat, now somewhat muted colours. For some reason the later stuff never really caught on outside France, even as French theory was deliriously embraced in the English speaking world. Maybe they were just too elegant, too arch. Anyway, while resisting his classicism in drawing and flat, subtle colour, I occasionally did use a heavier interlocking or occluding line that – for me at least – betrays his influence.

Redheads Studies 2 1986 6 sheets @ 45 X 30cm brush/ink/coloured pencil/paper

Similar examples are included under Extras, below. But really, I was interested in the way line could smoothly be assimilated to realism, so my modelling was full-bodied as opposed to Adami’s discreet cross-hatching or flat colours. Thus also, there is little of his print or revivalist inclinations in my work. Yet Redheads did acquire captions, titles included within the works, which do give it a slight relation to Pop Art. Adami introduced an elegant script to 70s work which naturally aligned to his classical drawing. But what type face or font ought I to have used? There was something intensely linear about text that seemed to complement the emphasis on line in both our work. A caption provided a blunt summary or definition of the subject, which seemed a welcome addition to my approach. But I was never entirely happy with simply casual block capitals as a type face. They lacked some more direct or elegant connection to the drawing. But captions did give the work a kind of ironic distance or amplify the formality to some of the poses –

Two Redheads Shaking Hands 1986 100 X 75cm coloured pencil/paper

Soon other works took captions to more remote, metaphorical allusions –

The Emotionally Advantaged Man 1986 150 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

The Sixties 1986 150 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

Tasmania 1986 150 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

In still other works I began to wonder about the format or picture size and dimensions for the single figure. How much background or setting ought to be available? For a single figure I began to use a life-size height and width, leading to a series of tall, narrow works that now wove fragments of figures into vague poses, and operated under allegorical or personifying roles. I combine them here in threes simply for more efficient use of the web page space.

L>R

The Well-Defined Woman 1986, 200 X 50cm coloured pencil/paper

Miss Read 1986, 200 X 50cm coloured pencil/paper

The Over-Developed Man 1986, 200 X 50cm coloured pencil/paper

L>R

Call Me Mr Critical 1986, 200 X 50cm coloured pencil/paper

Genius of Shame 1986, 200 X 50cm coloured pencil/paper

Call Me Mr Sensitive 1986, 200 X 50cm coloured pencil/paper

L>R

Germaine 1986, 200 X 50cm coloured pencil/paper

Sex Subject 1986, 200 X 50cm coloured pencil/paper

Menzies 1986, 200 X 50cm coloured pencil/paper

Finally, I was tempted to larger, more complex compositions and these ultimately stretch the theme beyond usefulness. The pictures still contain redheaded people but now deal in too many additional themes.

Café Anouchka 1986 150 X 200cm coloured pencil/paper

Iconography here runs from Godard movies – Vivre Sa Vie and Masculine Feminine both use Parisian cafes as key settings and end in tragic deaths (Anouchka was the name of Godard’s production company ) – to noted suicides, Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division, novelist Richard Brautigan, and Vincent Van Gogh (who actually was a redhead, was pictured in a Parisian café by Lautrec, but here the portrait derives from Australian artist and friend of Van Gogh, John Russell – to the tramp figure from Degas’ L’Absinthe to Paul Cezanne’s The Card Players and even Bruno Ganz in a Werther-like mustard jacket. The carefully harmonised palette probably reflects the influence of Adami. But this more free-ranging content only seemed to emphasise how easily the style served illustrational purposes, ultimately devalued the incompleteness and ambiguity it started from. Café Anouchka seems to want it both ways but only ends up staking out an elegant, even slick, middle ground. This is a dilemma I still struggle with. I think that’s why I never destroyed this work.

EXTRAS

Absolute Birmingham 1986, 150 X 200cm coloured pencil/paper

The picture ended up having less to do with an area in Birmingham where I stayed while working for Central TV in past years, than a song by The Fall, titled Winter. Some of the lyrics appear as text, the Down syndrome boy in a pirate hat and Mark E Smith, singer and lyricist of The Fall, as a redhead, make the painting more a general grim vision of British urban life.

The Concept of a Job 1987, 150 X 200cm coloured pencil/paper

She’s Lost Control Again 1986, 3 panels each 200 X 150 cm coloured pencil /paper

This was based on the Joy Division song, She’s Lost Control, but here given a sunny suburban setting. The work was destroyed.

Study 1 1986, 40 X 30cm coloured pencil/paper

Mark E Smith 1986 40 X 30cm coloured pencil/paper

Mainly Fine 1987, 150 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

The Pill 1987, 150 X 100cm coloured pencil/paper

Posted 18/09/2012 by gerrybellart

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