Gordon Bennet was born in Monto, Queensland, near Bundaberg in 1955. Gordon is of some Welsh decent and was brought up believing he was white. He later found out in his career that he had some aboriginality. Bennet grew up ashamed of his aboriginality and recalls frequent situations when Aborigines were brought up in conversation. Gordon remembered at school sitting around listening to ‘boong’ jokes and he thought there was no way he could identify himself to be the butt of those jokes. Gordon remembers certain prominent derogatory opinions made about indigenous people at social gatherings.
Gordon states ”I was socialised into an essentially Anglo-Saxon Eurocentric society where attitudes to indigenous people still seem entrenched at a Social-Darwinist level”. Gordon was trained in art school in the Western tradition, It is therefore not surprising that he quotes from Western art in his own work. Gordon painted the ”outsider” in 1988 with many references to Van Gogh’s work. The artwork placates his own feelings of loneliness and confusion about his aboriginality. This painting is about many issues from aboriginal deaths in custody to Gordon’s feelings of isolation and frustration.
The Aboriginal figure in the painting of rich symbolism, complete with ceremonial paint is standing in van Gogh’s bedroom. The man is so frustrated and confused, that his head explodes with blood whirling into Van Gogh’s turbulent sky. The classical heads with eyes closed may relate to Europe, blind to the consequences of its actions and unwilling to acknowledge the blood on its hands. Gordon uses what he calls quoting in his artwork. He uses other artist’s images and gives them an entirely different meaning. The art world would call this appropriation.
The outsider was painted in 1988, with the dimensions of 290 by 180cm, and was painted on canvas using oil and acrylic paints. My interpretation of the artwork is that its showing conflict between his duel heritages. An example of this is shown where there is a mix of European art strokes and Aboriginal dot painting. His aboriginal self has no head which suggests he’s lost his aboriginal identity. The two white heads lying on a bed in front of the figure, suggest he has lost his connection to his white heritage to some extent.
His hands are also white even though the rest of him is depicted as being Aboriginal. This means he has been at the mercy of white hands. Overall it implies he is alienated and unconnected to both sides of his heritage. Gordon’s work is political it’s about both Aboriginal and European-Australian history. It helps him and his people to redress the disparity between the two cultures. Gordon claims that growing up not really knowing he was Aboriginal in a ‘Eurocentric’ society placed him in a unique position.
He was able to see both sides of the fence. His art is about that strange sense of alienation, (the alienation from himself) and the viewing of himself as an outsider. Many of his views about Aboriginal culture have been understandably formulated from a European perspective. Around the time Gordon created the painting there was quite a lot going on with Aboriginal issues in Australia. In 1988, the same year Gordon painted the ‘Outsider’ there was a bicentennial anniversary of white settlement in Australia.
Aboriginals had an invasion day to express how they felt about white settlement. The stories of the stolen generation were in the news, and as a person who didn’t know his own heritage growing up it probably brought up his own anger and emotions. He painted the ‘outsider’ while he was studying at art school and he was majorly influenced by Van Gogh’s work. He studied Van Gogh to a large extent and was influenced by his search for meaning and identity. He even quoted or appropriated from two of Van Gogh’s works in his own painting.
This impacted his art making. The audience had a big influence and continues to do so with the artwork ‘the outsider’. Art critics, historians, gallery owners and the general public all continued to its success. Even teachers have added value to the artwork as it has continued to be studied until present day and will likely be studied well into the future. This success brings yet more success with more people around the world being exposed to it and reflecting on the issues it explores. this contributes to the paintings importance.
Courtney from Study Moose
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