Doug Bartlett has never been seen in the flesh, although a new show of his work has opened at the Gold Coast’s newest gallery, reports Sharne Wolff…
The art and cultural scene on Queensland’s famous Gold Coast is on the move – up. You may not believe me but it’s true. And there’s plenty of evidence to support me. Apart from producing many of it’s own now well-known artists such as Michael Zavros, Victoria Reichelt, Abbey McCulloch and Scott Redford – to name a just a few – there’s bucket loads of creativity bubbling away under it’s shiny surface like a volcano waiting to erupt. You won’t have to wait long to see more if some of the fresh young crop of curators and arts workers like Mariam Arcilla and Bree Delian have opportunities to provide outlets for their driving enthusiasm. These girls and others like them have energy to burn. They are also proud of their City and think it deserves better than its reputation as the cultural wasteland of the 90’s.
The closing of Art Gallery Schubert a few years ago paved the way for Anthea Polson, Lorraine Pilgrim + Nyst and Terri Lew & crew at 19Karen to forge a new era of commercial galleries on the Coast. The latest of this new crop is Retrospect Galleries Queensland – a second arm of the original Retrospect Galleries in Byron Bay. Run by the dynamic Bree Delian and her artist/photographer husband, Alberto Sanchez, side by side with the assistance and wisdom of irrepressible Gold Coast art consultant Lorraine Pilgrim. The plan is for the Gallery to show a range of local and interstate artists from the established to the emerging -at the same time setting the traditional style of commercial gallery on its head.
Retrospect only opened its doors on Christmas Eve last year but already it’s a place where you don’t just come to browse the art on the walls – you might just end up staying the whole morning. Don’t be mistaken by appearances – this is not a cafe with some pictures on the walls, it’s a serious art gallery with a café serving espresso and tapas all day and evening. It’s a wine bar, an art library and a place where you might meet friends to have a chat about art. It’s also a place where you are made to feel comfortable, where you’re allowed to browse and spend time with the art and where you won’t embarrassed to ask questions. Retrospect is about accessible art.
Doug Bartlett, Snapper.
Acrylic, screenprint & oilstick on canvas, 40cm x 60cm.
The new Gallery is so close to the beach that you can feel the sea breeze and hear the surf. It’s also not uncommon to see someone in a bikini stroll past the tall glass windows. Fittingly, the first solo show entitled Double Extra Super by the elusive artist Doug Bartlett was opened last week on a balmy evening and accompanied by a relaxed artist’s talk with dinner and a glass of wine, the main course of which was a simple but delicious Spanish potato tortilla with salad. (The amiable Sanchez spent the night moving furniture, sorting out the Powerpoint for the artists, chatting with guests and later correcting me after I’d labeled the night’s feast a ‘frittata’. Turns out he also baked it so I guess that means he had the right to call it whatever he liked.)
Melbourne ‘emerging’ artist Doug Bartlett (who only exists through the creation of his art) has been around only a few years but has managed to make a few waves in recent times, culminating in reaching the finals of the 2010 Doug Moran Portrait Prize with a self-portrait, apparently the only time someone has ever seen his face. ‘Doug Bartlett’ is the creation of long time friends Nick Morris and Dave Bowers and it’s through the tale of this enduring friendship that the real story of their art is told. Bowers and Morris were affable and engaging during their chat with the audience – which began with a picture of them together as children, blond haired beach goers who have grown up with a hedonistic approach to life. They both studied graphic design at Monash University in Melbourne during the early 80’s and began their careers as graphic artists, eventually starting a clothing label, ‘Umgawa’, together. After the ‘successful failure’ of that company they took on solo careers designing for surf and street clothing labels including Mambo, Quiksilver and Mossimo. The pair showed copies of several full-page Umgawa advertisements from Tracks magazine (the surfers bible of the 70’s and 80’s) – some of which were very funny and others quietly political. Although they insisted that that neither of them had ever had a full time job – they clearly had plenty of energy for other things – running their burgeoning clothing label, organising the apparently infamous Melbourne ‘Grooveathon’ discos (during which they performed on stage in crazy vintage outfits). They also spent their time hunting down and driving to collect clothes and other collectible items which would could form the basis for ideas they hadn’t yet given birth to – all done in the days before Google made the search for vintage treasure and images available to everyone with a personal computer.
Most of the works in this exhibition are by Doug Bartlett – although each of the two has exhibited some solo pieces as well. Dave Bowers’ works hark back to his childhood to produce paintings of his favourite things – bulls, giant trucks, tractors and other reminders of rural life. The strong confident lines and colours in these acrylic and enamel paintings including ‘Black Pearl’ and ‘Brockway’ are surprising until you remember that Bowers has been using strong lines in his graphic design for years. A self-confessed hoarder of all things, he admits it saddens him to see materials that he considers beautiful, simply thrown away. Brockway is painted over a support made from salvaged boxes covered in Chinese text – which Bowers says he couldn’t bear to see end up as rubbish.
Dave Bowers, Black Pearl.
Acrylic and Enamel on canvas, 100cm x 200cm.
Nick Morris also illustrates the stories of his youth. He creates screen prints of girls like those in ‘For Love’ and ‘Beautiful Lovely’ from the images in old Playboy magazines to illustrate what he considers a lost innocence. Images of Cindy Brady, Rolf Harris and a young Paul Hogan and old Holdens feature in some of his screen works that, like those of Bowers, often use salvaged materials.
The Doug Bartlett works use a combination of both these screen print and line techniques with added over painting in numerous layers – perhaps somewhat reminiscent of the methods employed by Andy Warhol & Jean-Michel Basquiat in their collaborative works of the 1980’s. All the combined works are made with agreement between the two artists that neither of them will ever become precious about having their work painted over or manipulated. Apparently this happens frequently with Morris giving the example of the adding of a ‘mother’ tattoo to Bowers’ otherwise tough subject in Fantastic For New. The Bartlett works are different to the solo works – they are more irreverent, crowded and fast paced and some shout at you – reflecting the society the artists see around them and the name of the exhibition itself. Many works are based on meaningless quotes from the age of celebrity.
Until you hear Bowers and Morris speak fondly about their shared histories it seems the chances that their agreement of ‘absolute faith’ could work would be unlikely. These two, however, left you with no doubt of their trust in each other and I got the feeling that a cross word may never have passed between them. Such a relationship is rare in life, but maybe not so in art. According to the artists they begin each work with no plan, no colours, no theme and no rules. They liken this artistic anarchy to a musical jam session where musicians combine performances with different instruments – leading to a whole that hopefully produces something greater than the sum of its parts. Apparently they have no problem agreeing on when a work is finished. Lucky them. So far as their future work is concerned, they say they’ll leave that to their audience. On the Gold Coast on a relaxed summer’s night last week at least, the audience was keen for more.
Doug Bartlett, Dave Bowers and Nick Morris.
‘Double Extra Super’
Until 10 March.
Retrospect Galleries Queensland