2010 MELBOURNE ART FAIR: MARC DE JONG - PNTNGS4 & LAITH MCGREGOR - MOONTOWN
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Melbourne Art Fair 2010
4 - 8 August
Royal Exhibition Building
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MARC DE JONG
Marc de Jong’s PNTNGS4 are devoted to suburbia, both the reality –its “surprise, banality, comfort” as he puts it when writing of his current life in Edithvale--and the image. De Jong is known for his use of pre-existing imagery and the way he can take something overly familiar from what he calls the media-sphere and make it strange. Princess Leia from Star Wars, Rupert Murdoch, a student rally, an astronaut: we know these images, or we think we do. Here, McMansions, a car wreckers, smiling cops, a Bunnings warehouse: all generic images made slightly odd, discomforting. De Jong doesn’t disguise the fact that these images come from other sources; he highlights it by painting each work with a screened or dotted surface to suggest either a pixilated grid or the old fashioned dot-screen of photo-mechanical reproduction.
This screened surface has long been a feature of his painting where, in his words, “it fragments the image up close, and pulls it together from a distance.” Over the past year however his working method has changed. Half the paintings are based on his own photographs, for which he uses borrowed digital cameras. De Jong does not photograph to get source material so much as make a photo which corresponds to his idea. (This is very much how he works with found images.) He says both methods “have the element of anonymity and process,” and while taking his own photographs is rewarding, “the image really decides.” This doesn’t mean any lessening of his interest in already existing images. As he puts it, “It’s difficult to separate what is "real" from what is conditioned [by media representation]. My intention is to paint this media-ocratic blur simply as I see it, both reality and illusion.”
What results are de-realised suburban landscapes, paintings of images as much as things of bricks and mortar that go beyond the particularities of life in Edithvale. The suburbs are where most people live and one of the tasks of suburban architecture is to present a comforting front, literally a façade, to the idea of home. Howard Arkley understood this and delighted in it; Robin Boyd called most forms of it the Australian ugliness. With McMansions and House 2 de Jong becomes part of that Melbourne tradition at the same time that paintings like Hold Up 2 and Bunnings suggest the flattening out and lack of particularity that characterizes contemporary life generally, in the suburbs and elsewhere.
In Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso, St John and Duke Astolfo travel to the moon in search of Orlando’s wits, which he had lost in madness due to excessive love. Ariosto’s moon is where such mislaid or squandered things end up, the Bermuda Triangle of the passions: there you will find “A might mass of things strangely confused,/Things that on Earth were lost or were abused.” Laith McGregor’s Moon Town is also such a penitential lost and found department, a shanty town of lunatic ghosts. Sadly anachronistic hippies with moon-shaped afro hairdos playing mandolins and monstrously overextending their arm in a gesture of offering a joint. A forlorn, masked harlequin in a shapeless but diamond facetted clown suit and Goofy-sized sneakers, and with obscurely derogatory notes pinned to him like tails on a donkey at a kids’ party. A naked seemingly castrated man reclining on a real but oversized deck chair, tanning himself by moonlight. Above each of them the moon hovers as an orb or crescent etherealised and written in Braille. This is the way the inhabitants will go too: McGregor’s delicate Biro line turns figures into attenuated webs and microfine hatchwork, with half their bodies vanished into white paper. The man on the deck chair seems to have evaporated into nothing more than a miraculous imprint, like Veronica’s veil or the shadow of the man left on a pavement in Hiroshima. If the flesh disperses in Moon Town the longer you stay there, it turns into spiralling filaments of hair that both glow around the face like a halo and that become as entangled as pubic hair. The complex and subtle lines of these hairlike fibres are in fact the only substance in Moon Town: emblematized in McGregor’s caricature of Vitruvian Man, that model of classical civic proportion and male beauty, as an incandescent extraterrestrial alien. This fantastically evolved and dissolved body is made up of nothing but interlaced vascular ducting that serves to connect its two, only, sets of organs in a type of auto-erotic exchange: a pair of eyes and its ambiguous sexuality—testes, ovaries—that are themselves another pair of eyes. One envies this creature’s lunatic voyeurism. Lunacy is being struck by the moon, in particular by moonshine, that caricature of sunshine that induces somnambulism and lycanthropy. Moonshine is an illicit bootleg brew—unregulated and hence dangerously potent; it’s also an intoxicating nonsense-talk. We see it in the radiance of the deceptive face in the moon as the detached luminosity of a grinning ghost that gazes on the earth. And, we could say, it is the benediction of a nonsense version of God. McGregor’s Moon Town is a type of Luna Park, the carnivalesque moon-struck world that is the devil’s playground.