2009 ALASDAIR MACINTYRE: PLAYTIME
A lone figure stands, centrally located upon a canvas rolled out across a slab of concrete, cap on head, umbrella in hand. The storm has seemingly passed, but instead of the ground and concrete being drenched and sodden, the figure is surrounded by an intricate lacework of multi-coloured paint, each component becoming part of the whole, a vivid concatenation of lively splatters and drips. The small-scale figure, (Macintyre’s self-referential alter-ego that has now become known as “Aecap”) is sheltered from the multitude of spatters, isolated within his halo of bare canvas, untouched by the splashes and drips of paint, his trusty umbrella bearing the brunt of the onslaught.
Drip (2009) is yet another in a long list of Alasdair Macintyre’s reverential nods to the canon of art history, in this case, the Abstract Expressionist painter, Jackson Pollock. Drip is an amalgam of both a lived experience on the part of the artist, and a fantastical dialogue with the concept of “action painting”. In reality, the slab of concrete and its grassy surrounds are to be found behind the house that Pollock shared with his wife, Lee Krasner, in East Hampton, some 3 hours north of Manhattan. Pollock was filmed by photographer Hans Namuth in 1950, demonstrating his own “drip” technique, on the very slab that Macintyre himself stood upon, during his own worldwide artistic pilgrimage over half a century later.
In Playtime, his fourth solo exhibition in Sydney, Macintyre returns to familiar themes and explores new territories. While previously eschewing creating artworks prompted by contemporary political events, Macintyre has blended both politics and social-commentary in the Saussurian Signifier/Signified, in which a particularly nerdy looking Australian Prime Minister has slapped one of his own campaign stickers across an infamous Bill Henson photograph: an indication of Macintyre’s feelings on the controversy, fuelled by both hubris and ignorance, surrounding a recent Bill Henson exhibition, and in particular, the heated spontaneous reactions much of the public (and many politicians) displayed towards Henson’s images of a bare-chested adolescent girl.
Alongside such social and political commentary pieces as Monkey Business and The Third Renaissance which, (despite the artists protestations to the contrary) could be read as a response to the recent Victorian bushfires), Macintyre throws his long-suffering Aecap character into the wilds of “Splatsville”, a place which, according to Macintyre, is a psychological state of mind manifested in a corporeal form, with each component representing an elemental archetype, similar to Jung’s archetypes of the unconscious.
It would only be a gastronomic masochist or a stomach of steel that would sample the offerings within the bain-marie in Soft Concepts, inside a refectory that Macintyre has re-created from his memories of his time at the Queensland college of Art in the late 1980’s.
A similarly repulsive blood-like sludge, reminiscent of a terrifying scene from the Kubrick film “The Shining”, pours forth from a slot machine which has hit the jackpot, in the form of three aligned red dots (the commercial art world’s symbol of a sold artwork). Yet again, the Aecap is the fall guy in this scenario, as the sludge, although frozen in time, seems ready to immerse him.
The tables are turned somewhat, and the bloodletting theme continues as the Aecap takes on a more sinister persona in The Artist’s Lunch, in which a lone chicken seems to be about to meet an untimely end by the hand of the artist, who stands threateningly at the door of his studio, super-sized axe in hand. In a symbiotic reversal of roles, harking back to the themes explored in Drip, the chicken stands upon what looks suspiciously like another painting of the New York school abstract expressionists, Mark Rothko. The art historical link here is the fact that Rothko took his own life by slashing his wrists, and was found in a pool of blood in his studio. Is this work symbolic of the popular myth that artists are prone to self-destruction? Perhaps the fact that the artist stands in the doorway of his studio, a literal “threshold”, symbolises a psychological liminal space which is only crossed in the most extreme of situations, with a catastrophic personal result.
Whether or not Macintyre has cleansed himself of certain neurosis by creating this recent body of work is a question that only time will tell. There is certainly an ominous slant to many of the works, but despite this, taken as a whole, Playtime does encompass in a visual medium, in a darkly humorous way, much of the angst that is apparently part and parcel of being a citizen of the western world in the third millennium.
Dr. E. E. Znapmihc,
Curator of Australian Art,
Splatsville Contemporary Art Gallery,