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ANTHONY BENNETT

‘a guide to cheering’

Official Opening Friday October 17th  2008

Text Box: An ambivalent response to Anthony Bennett’s huge, shiny portraits is impossible. One is enthused by the sheer audacity of his rampant, almost libelous expressionism or utterly appalled by it. Either is fine by him, for he has achieved that which all artists crave - a reaction!
Brisbane based, Anthony Bennett has been creating quite a few waves since his first solo show,  ‘post-minogue-ist’, with Schubert Contemporary in 2006. It generated enormous interest and his subsequent, ‘super thanks for asking’ the following year, was ‘sold out’ before the opening. Critical acclaim in the wider art community followed quickly. He won the New Generation, People’s Choice Award at Art Sydney and was profiled in Sunday Arts, ABC television. This year his work hung in the Art Gallery of NSW as a finalist in the Archibald Portrait Prize. His current offering promises to be yet another major success. Characteristically absurd, the title for this exhibition - ‘a guide to cheering’ -  is a wry, totally irrelevant reference to the recent Olympic Game fervour that dominated mass-media outlets: none of the works have anything to do with ‘sport’.
Warhol-like, Bennett appropriates and revitalizes imagery that is “so well known that it is not well seen”. Classic ‘pop art’ iconography and famous faces, especially those of visual and performing artists, undergo a kind of incisive disfigurement. John Olsen, Sidney Nolan, Bill Henson, Bert Newton, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts are included - but so are a few self-portraits. Bennett’s paintings aim to confront our entrenched, relentlessly conditioned ways of seeing and behaving. These images present an aesthetic turbulence where chaos and unpredictability seem the order of the day. The sense of a willful abandonment - so startling in its immediacy - disarms and distracts, and belies the fact that Bennett can spend quite some time researching his subjects. Scanning archival films, biographies and memoirs, he immerses himself in the life and ‘art’ of his chosen character. It may be because of this that his portraits are so readily recognizable, despite the brevity of his  technique and sometimes confusing titles. 
The work - a portrait of ned kelly - is pertinent. Bespectacled and helmet-less, the man depicted bears no overt resemblance to the designated bushranger. Rather, it very cleverly references the way in which an artist is consumed by his subject - how it becomes him and he becomes it for the duration of the creative process. This was certainly the case with Nolan and is evidenced in the many self-personified renditions he made of Ned Kelly. Bennett’s picture reverses the identity cross-play . Inspired by one of the last photographs of the late Sir Sidney Nolan in his studio, Bennett portrays the artist as a simulacra of his best known subject. The picture surges and streams with soft-hued primary colours. Ravaged by age and endeavour, the de-structured figure might indeed be the ‘disintegrating’ Kelly of Nolan’s final series. The fluid, formless, downward plunge of paint forms thin rivulets over Nolan’s painting apron - its blue square resonating like some mute, ‘super-hero’ insignia. Now more victim than perpetrator, the once brash, young hero-artist squints into an unknowable distance: the moment frozen forever beneath a mirror-like surface. 

Jacqueline Houghton
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography: Based in Brisbane, Anthony Bennett gained a Bachelor of Visual Arts from Queensland College of Art, Griffith University Brisbane, 1998. Widely travelled, with time spent living and working in London, Rome and Tokyo, Bennett is the veteran of fourteen solo and numerous group shows in Australia and overseas. Awards: Finalist Archibald Portrait Prize, AGNSW 2008; Winner Renault New Generation Art Award, Art Sydney, 2007; Finalist Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photographic Award, GCCAG 2004; Finalist Conrad Jupiters Art Award GCCAG, 2003; Winner Pine Rivers Art Award Drawing Prize, 2003: Finalist Churchie Emerging Art Awards, 2003; Finalist Artist Care Drawing Prize, 1998. Grants: Arts Queensland, Pine Rivers Shire RADF, 2005; Arts Queensland,  Bundanon Residency, Shoalhaven River NSW, 2004. 

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