Australian Arts

Arcadian repose

12 September 2020

9:00 AM

12 September 2020

9:00 AM

A friend of mine, a bit of a watermelon really like most of the cultural milieu, asked me why I am so opposed to socialism. Broadly I told him that socialism always brings bigger government with increased taxation and regulation and these days seems to effortlessly transform into Marxism. The penury of the middle class follows with high taxation. The monies they once spent on the arts are then directed by government agencies such as the Australia Council for the Arts. Artists who can no longer survive in the ruined private sector have to apply for government grants – you only have to look at the type of work supported by bodies such as the ACFA to understand they have a highly politicised agenda favouring the usual leftist subjects; gender, global warming, group identity, etc. So socialists take hold and control the arts. It is possible to say (and to see) that artists accept that government grants are in a way being made to toe a party line. Having taken ‘the King’s shilling they shall do his bidding’. My view is of course based on a degree of self-interest, but it doesn’t change the fact that the arts can become a propaganda arm of the state.  In the Western world it is the large prosperous middle classes that allow artists to flourish in freedom.

A large number of my paintings use clouds in the composition of a landscape to control the tonal mood and general atmosphere. Clouds themselves are a subject of infinite change in shape, colour, size and movement – never still – you have to use memory and fleeting plain air sketches to grab the feeling of the cirrus and cumulus – photographs are of little use as the lens can only convey the static. Clouds are fugitive and define the immutability of time. Julius Cesar would not be unfamiliar with the clouds over Rome today. Just a thought.

Years ago I routinely searched out the old country town tips, not the contemporary dumps as I wasn’t interested in plastic rubbish. I expected objects to find me and in a way they did becoming subjects for future work. One day amongst the mounds of detritus I saw a mattress sprawled, one end propped up giving it’s squalid circumstance a curious domestic warmth.  I did a rough drawing and took a photograph and I used the image over a decade later. Again, memory being the editor.


There is a dreadful post modernist fashion for placing explanatory statements by artists on the wall beside their work. It seems axiomatic to me that if a work of art is competent and well executed – say successful – it doesn’t need an explanation but if it is a failure then words won’t help. Conversely, if the explanation is accurate why hang the artwork? They can read about its greatness on the label.  Besides that, a lot of artists are not good at explaining their work and mostly these days they are using impenetrable post- modernist jargon. An artwork by a well trained, competent artist should not need explaining. However there may be cases where an apology is necessary.

On a lighter note, in 1980 I found myself at the Asian Film Festival in Bali; it was a beautiful evening at a reception and I was standing around with Brett and Wendy Whiteley. Brett had a very amusing habit of wearing tee-shirts printed with slogans he had thought up – OYSTERS THINK and ENDLESSNESSISM are two that I recall. I noticed a smartly dressed man approaching us in a rather purposeful manner. ‘What does that mean?’ he asked, pointing at Brett’s tee-shirt emblazoned with KUWAIT JUST WAIT. He then explained that he was the cultural attaché for Kuwait. I mumbled something about OPEC and the oil crisis and started to laugh. I can’t recall Brett’s answer but he was smiling in his ruddy way. The thing is he had a great sense of humour and Wendy still does. Although slightly perplexed the attaché ended up amused as well (I think).

George Orwell got it wrong predicting the future as a boot on a man’s face.  Watching ‘Virus Dan’ on the TV live from Victoria is far worse. Waterboarding would be a relief by comparison, even Dr Phil!

I’ve been listening to a rather remarkable song by Dion called ‘Song for Sam Cooke (Here in America)’. It is a soulful lament, sad and poignant and unfortunately so relevant to what is happening in America today.

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