JOHN ANDERSON - Paintings
Australian Galleries - 8th - 26th Feb 2022
The artist has been a quiet fixture on the Melbourne art scene for around fifty years, can boast of regular reviews dating back to 1971, a solid following among major private and corporate collections, yet is curiously absent from public collections, national prizes and the elaborate apparatus of grants, scholarships, residencies and broad surveys that generally propel a career today. In standard accounts the work is seen as Romantic for the lush handling of darkened, turbulent scenes of leisure, prestige and seduction, these in distinctive loose but compelling arrangements. In his seventy-fifth year, the artist is perhaps due a more nuanced reading and the current show at Australian Galleries provides a perfect platform.
Highway (1997-9) 200 X 280 cm oil on canvas [NOT IN SHOW]
Note also the procession of bathers that no more than ‘wade’ a little wearily at this point.
Blueprint (2020) 122 X 1252 cm oil on canvas
In Blueprint, we have an older man intent upon plans, a 'blueprint' of a female nude, to judge from the upper portion visible, his old Jaguar (an XK 120) missing headlights and with a rear wheel discarded far left of frame, brought to an abrupt dead end, indifferent to the fleeting attractions of place, the attentions of others. The precariousness of the situation is further emphasised by the mysteriously toppling tableware in the foreground, the result of a drastically rising tide perhaps. Here again, the picture displays a deliberately cryptic structure in order to capture something about sexual opportunity at its loosest. The characteristic dappled passageway beneath local Teatree on the left delivers the figures to a situation that has no real future or plan, that now remains merely a distraction.
There is a subtly melancholic undertone to much of the recent work.
Time (2021) 122 X 152 cm oil on canvas
Catch (2021) 51 X 51 cm oil on canvas
The show also contains the small work Catch – a dramatic study that draws upon the artist’s experience working on a local crayfish trawler. Such works have been occasional departures to his oeuvre for some time, are usually a variation on a trophy or ‘the one that got away’. In the context of the rest of his work, they offer a heavy metaphor for more romantic activities. Again, Anderson is less concerned with workplace routine than the excitement of high seas, unpredictable catches and the whims of weather - implicitly with a symbolic value.
Dazzle (2021) 152 X 122 cm oil on canvas
As a genre, such figure compositions most directly derive from advertising and movies, something Anderson’s looser drawing and brushwork are understandably at pains to distance, just as actual locations proceed under heavy disguise. Then again, Anderson is not particularly drawn to the cinema, has difficulty sitting for long periods and would much rather remain active. But, as with his use of signs and logos (not in evidence in the present show) there nevertheless remains a distant affiliation to Pop Art, indeed to Post Modernism. However it is one curators evidently feel is not sufficiently compelling. Regrettably, wider recognition for the artist still awaits.
In his favour, one might cite the work of American painter Eric Fischl (b.1948) initially keen to exploit similar sexual mores of the leisure class, in his case, mostly located in comfortable suburbia. Then there is the precedent of British painter Michael Andrews (1928-95) whose triptych All Night Long (1963-4) is in the collection of The National Gallery of Victoria and uses the title of a contemporary British movie and figures derived from Federico Fellini’s celebrated feature, La Dolce Vita. Both examples reinforce the central theme to Anderson’s work. While the artist was not particularly aware of the work, he does recall an art school enthusiasm for the approach, and interestingly, other local artists of roughly the same generation, such as Peter Neilson (b.1944) and Gareth Sansom (b.1939) also attest to the influence of All Night Long. All of this is only to argue for a wider significance to Anderson’s work, a broader, richer context. For many though, it will hardly matter, the romance to the work is both abundantly evident and enduring.