The 50-year career of one of Australia’s most important conceptual artists was celebrated with the major survey ‘Robert MacPherson: The Painter’s Reach’, at GOMA from 25 July to 18 October 2015.
Deceptively simple black and white paintings defined by the limits of the artist’s outstretched arm and paintings based on the language of roadside signs are just some of the key works assembled for the exhibition. The exhibition, curated by New York-based author and curator Ingrid Periz, included over 65 works in a much-deserved celebration of the artist and his career.
As one of Australia’s most important and resilient artists, MacPherson’s practice expands on the conceptual possibilities of the act of painting and revels in the multitude of languages, systems and processes that art can make visible.
MacPherson’s work is fuelled by a series of questions around the artist’s role, as well as the function and effect of naming. These questions, combined with an innate sense of material that is to hand – a paintbrush, a printed packet, a painted roadside sign – ensures a reach that begins with the particular and extends far beyond.
‘The Painter’s Reach’ included works from the 1970s including SCALE FROM THE TOOL 1976, MacPherson’s elegant series of black and white paintings of simple wide paint strokes made by the artist standing at arm’s length from the canvas. Using industrial house painting brushes, MacPherson examines his literal and figurative reach as a painter. The result is a bold and dramatic installation of 19 panels that acts as the introduction to the themes of the exhibition.
Presented alongside the survey is the recently-acquired work 1000 FROG POEMS: 1000 BOSS DROVERS (“YELLOW LEAF FALLING”) FOR H.S. 1996–2014. The 2400 individually numbered drawings of this project, each including a portrait and a name, were created over a 20 year period in the guise of the artist’s alter ego ‘Robert Pene’, a ten-year-old primary school student from St Joseph’s Convent, Nambour. The Boss Drovers stands among the most significant contemporary Australian artworks acquired by the Gallery.
MacPherson first showed his work in 1974 in Brisbane. A long-time resident of Brisbane, his presence was instrumental in the establishment of the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) in 1975.
In the 1970s MacPherson was awarded several Visual Arts Board (VAB) grants enabling him to further his artistic education by travelling to Europe and working in the Greene Street studio in New York City. MacPherson was awarded a Visual Arts/Crafts Board Artist’s Fellowship in 1991 and in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the artistic culture and ecology of Australia was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Griffith University the following year.
MacPherson was named a Queensland Great by the Premier of Queensland, recognising his remarkable talent and career over five decades, his significant contribution to Australian art, and his role as benefactor to Australian art museums.
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‘The Painter’s Reach‘ at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) explored the work of Robert MacPherson and included paintings, installations, ephemera and works on paper, showing how the artist’s reach begins with the particular and extends far beyond.