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Gordon Bennett Essay

The following contemporary artists both represent their works in a post-modern frame. Post-modern can include irony and paradox, appropriation and pastiche and intersexuality. Gordon Bennett and Fiona Hall fit into one of these categories. Bennett’s painting Outsider, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 1988 is a violent painting using appropriation of Vincent Van Gogh’s artwork, and the treatment of aboriginals in today’s society. Fiona Hall’s sculpture of the Nelumbo nucisera, lotus, elum, thamarei, aluminium and steel, 1999 is made up of a sardine tin rolled down revealing a bare stomach, and plant leaves.

Bennett’s work can be seen as post-modern as Bennett takes Van Gogh’s famous images and recreates them in his own manner. Bennett’s painting Outsider, is a violent painting using appropriation of Vincent Van Gogh’s artwork Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles, 1888 and Starry Night, 1889, and the treatment of aboriginals in today’s society. He fits into the category of appropriation where he uses another’s work in a new context, with the intention of altering its meaning. He seizes copies and replaces the original imagery of Gough, by interpreting it in his own way. He uses cultural aspects of aboriginal art and is in search for meaning and identity.

Bennett identifies with the world through people, events and issues involving the aboriginal people. His work is political about both Aboriginal and European-Australian history. It helps him and his people to redress the disparity between the two cultures. Many of his views about Aboriginal culture have been understandably formulated from a European perspective. His shocking, violent and traumatic work was painted while Bennett was still at art school. The painting raises many issues from Aboriginal deaths in custody to Bennett’s feeling of isolation. Frustration is also evident with the suggestion that it can lead people to suicide or self-mutilation, as in the case of both Van Gogh and the figure in the picture.

The Aboriginal figure complete with ceremonial paint is 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, or the famous Greek marbled heads, blind to the consequences of its actions and unwilling to acknowledge the blood on its hands. They are humming or dreaming to block out the exploding head. Bennett figuratively displays his own dilemma of violently contested genealogies. The hands on the figure reach towards or draw away from the closed eyed heads on the bed. The red hands on the wall represent the hands of the ‘white’ people. It may suggest that the ‘white’ people are caught red handed by the way they react to the mutilated figure.

The red in the painting is strong and contrasting with the other natural tones; the same red is taken from the bed cover, and used in the handprints on the wall and the blood on the wrists and neck of the figure. The window seems to be a window to the dark swirls of the night, which may represent death. The figure’s head is almost exploding into the dark metaphysical zone, here drawn from Starry Night. For Van Gogh the starry night was a forbidding of death and return to an ultimate peace for which he longed. Bennet seems to deliberately take on this same theme. The dots, dashes and roundels in Bennett’s starry night may suggest Western Desert Aboriginal paintings.

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