Lynch, Marburg, McHaffie and McKenna: “Model Pictures”

James Lynch Disaster of the Month 2007Thursday, 3 March 2011

James Lynch, Amanda Marburg, Rob McHaffie and Moya McKenna:

“Model Pictures”, Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne

The recently opened Model Pictures at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, gathers together works by four contemporary Melbourne-based figurative painters, James Lynch, Amanda Marburg, Rob McHaffie, and Moya McKenna. The title of the exhibition and the curatorial premise that unites the works on display refer to the current artistic trend of increasingly turning inward and creating (or re-creating) imagined environments. The intelligently written wall text anchors this development in the writings of Nicolas Bourriaud, but also references Juliana Engberg’s one and only Melbourne Biennale as a seminal event, which premiered sculptures, installation works, and paintings reflective of this artistic movement.

Ron McHaffie You Can Have the Power I'm Going to Bed 2007There is a noticeable commonality between the works of Rob McHaffie and James Lynch, inasmuch as they both draw inspiration from objects in the artists’ and / or their friends’ possession. As such, their paintings represent a snap shot of contemporary pop-culture, with fragmented pictures of celebrities, nudes, pets, and oblique references to current affairs. Though these paintings are essentially still-lives in a wider sense of the genre’s application, they can also be interpreted as composite portraits of the artists’ friends – or even self-portraits of the artists themselves – expressed through objects and images that are descriptive or representative of various individuals. Lynch’s works are perhaps more politically aware of the group, as his paintings feature images of rioters and street protesters. However, the artist acts as an impartial observer rather than an active participant of the scenes. While McHaffie and Lynch’s works are beautifully and even delicately executed (especially given the modest size of their works), it seems that both artists are fully reliant on painting from photographs rather than from life.

Moya McKenna Ancient Path 2008-9I must confess that I am not the biggest fan of works by Moya McKenna. I am aware that she had quite a bit of publicity recently; sold a number of works from her exhibitions at the Neon Parc and Melbourne Art Fair; had a feature article published in the Australian Art Collector; and had her works acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria. The inclusion of her works in this exhibition is therefore hardly surprising. However, I find her paintings muddy and unresolved; too heavily reliant on Expressionism; and filled with blatant and repeated borrowings from the Old and Modern Masters. I do not subscribe to the popular idea that McKenna’s ability to finish a painting within a day is a sign of artistic genius. Perhaps if the artist had a longer period to execute her works, they might result in a better resolution of the colour schemes, compositional construction, psychological depth, and original iconography.

Paintings by Amanda Marburg look infinitely more magnificent by comparison. She also seems to be making most effort (in a purely physical sense) to create her “model pictures”. She begins by making plasticine models; placing them within plasticine interiors; photographing them; and then painting from these photographs in a loose, painterly technique, producing ethereal, dreamlike compositions.  As such, her paintings are technically situated between the crisp reality of Lynch and McHaffie and muddied expressionism of McKenna. Her fluid execution and pared-down colour palette adds a sense of suspense and mystery to her film-noir-esque mise-en-scènes.

Amanda MARBURG The cold was dry 2007I have observed over the last few years an increasing trend among younger artists of turning inward, disengaging from social and political issues, and participating in a collective exercise of navel gazing. I ascribed it to the peaceful environment of Australia, the lucky country, untouched by major conflicts or social upheavals, where artists have little (if anything) to react against, and thus are free to escape into the world of their imagination. International artists display by far more awareness of the current issues affecting the world and the global community than their Australian “brothers (and sisters) of the brush”, where the only politically-charged canvasses are produced by urban Indigenous artists. For better or worse, Model Pictures confirms and “institutionalises” this trend of disengagement and disinterestedness in contemporary Australian art.

[© Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 2011. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

March 2011


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