(Canberra, August 2017)
Having breasted the paint-stripping wind blowing down the mountain and off Lake Burley Griffin, we wondered if this monument would rise to emblematise a great reference of images, or just amount to a pantheon of nonentities crowding Our Island Story?
Actually, the galleries are small, but occasionally choice, and sometimes a laugh riot. Little hordes of schoolchildren swept through on the hour (Canberra’s array of free stuff means almost every week there’s opportunity for a teaching free day or two) and little lessons were delivered by earnest folks who knew not what they were saying. Fortunately, P was there to loudly declaim in an effort to wash free, perhaps one or more brains of the relentless shower of decadent shite crammed therein by the bien pensants.
So, let us begin, if you are sitting comfortably.
We’ll start with conventional portraiture. It is conventional in the sense that it depicts an objective image of the sitter, and depends for artistic success on technical skill and for depth of feeling, on talent. Some of our favourites below:
In the less conventional but nonetheless talented and true category, we offer:
And we have to cater for all tastes, even the tasteless, so…
The Varnished Culture loudly insisted to a flummoxed group of schoolchildren that their teacher was wrong and that this collage/mirage/barrage was in fact, an atrocity.
There’s a half-decent portrait by Boyd in the National Portrait Gallery. Unfortunately, this isn’t it. Clark should have checked-out Boyd’s appalling Judges series before agreeing to sit: on the other hand, this throwaway shocker sums up Clark’s historical fiction as much as Boyd’s oeuvre: cheap, quick yet prolix, tendentious, contemptible, and revealing a preparedness to jettison the hard work artistic or literary reportage entails in favour of pandering to the soft-left cabal of talentless, life-hating pygmies. (Sorry).
Rubbish flourished in days of yore, too. We don’t know if Webber is to blame for this rendering of the famous Sea Captain and Governor as a dwarf, but there you go. Still, they say our current Prime Minister has genealogical ties to Bligh, so maybe the small-minded querulous born-to-rule-but-do-nothing mentality is correctly encapsulated here.
The Golden Girl really deserved better than this poor cartoon (and alien cat). Apparently the ‘work’ was commissioned with funds from the Basil Bressler Bequest: The Varnished Culture hopes that the Trustees demanded the money back.
On the plus side, whilst photography is NOT one of the muses, for so much more than technical reasons, this photo of artist Wendy Sharpe by Greg Weight (2000) is beautiful, up there in a way with the famous post-Oscar photo of Faye Dunaway.
While on photos, this is a striking (pardon the pun) one of Jack Mundey by Terry Milligan (1985), showing the cunning old Commo doing what he did best…making trouble. Mundey was the first to see that conservatism could be turned inward against itself, like a dagger, by burglarising the environment with green bans in order to frustrate, delay, defeat and destroy human progress.
We conclude the photographic tour with this nice one by Peter Brew-Bevan (2013) of Prime Minister Gillard, the dangling light-bulb suggesting she may, in this unique moment, have developed an original thought.
This one of writer Helen Garner (by Jenny Sages, 2003) greets the eye more as a preliminary sketch than a finished work, yet it does capture the impression that as far as Helen is concerned, “it’s all about me.”
So, anyway, we saved the worst for last:
This thing is entitled “Dr Brown and Green Old Time Waltz” (1983) and it was perpetrated by Harold ‘The Kangaroo’ Thornton. It is an oil supposed to synthesise the events of the Franklin Dam protests and campaign. As a cartoon or agitprop, fine, but what is it doing in the National Portrait Gallery? As P loudly declaimed to astonished students and teacher, assembled before the work in a manner akin to genuflection, this work is an abomination, and ‘The Kangaroo’ should be extradited from Holland to face questioning.
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