‘Robert MacPherson: The Painter’s Reach’ opens at GOMA

Robert MacPherson Australia b.1937 / MAYFAIR: LAMINGTON DRIVE, FOR IGOR MULLER-GRABINSKY 1995–2005 / Dulux Weathershield Acrylic on Masonite / Four panels / Collection: Private / © The artist

The 50-year career of one of Australia’s most important conceptual artists will be celebrated with the major survey ‘Robert MacPherson: The Painter’s Reach’, opening 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.

Director Chris Saines CNZM said the exhibition, curated by New York-based author and curator Ingrid Periz, includes 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.’

Exhibition curator Ingrid Periz said MacPherson’s work is concerned with the practice of art making.

‘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’ includes 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.

MacPherson’s interest in language and the Australian vernacular is illustrated in a series of paintings including MAYFAIR: LAMINGTON DRIVE, FOR IGOR MULLER-GRABINSKY 1995–2005 a large four-panel painting incorporating MacPherson’s idiosyncratic truncation of everyday language.

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, its purchase made possible through the QAGOMA Foundation and the particular generosity of members Paul and Susan Taylor, Donald and Christine McDonald, and other generous donors.’

digital-blog-MAYFAIR DONUTS
Robert MacPherson / MAYFAIR: DONUTS 4 “DONUTS.” 1992–2006 / Dulux Weathershield Acrylic on Masonite / Collection: The artist / Courtesy: Yuill | Crowley, Sydney / © The artist

‘Robert MacPherson: The Painter’s Reach’ Opening Weekend

To celebrate the opening of ‘The Painter’s Reach’, QAGOMA will host a program of lectures and discussions on Saturday 25 July including a keynote curator’s talk by Ingrid Periz at 11.30am.

Angela Goddard, Director, Griffith Artworks will be joined by Daniel Thomas AM, Emeritus Director, Art Gallery of South Australia for an in-conversation at 1.30pm and Jason Smith, Curatorial Manager, Australian Art, will lead a tour of the exhibition with artists Peter Cripps and Peter Tyndall at 3.30pm.

Angela Goddard will also host a writer’s discussion at 2.30pm with ‘The Painter’s Reach’ publication contributors Ingrid Periz, Ewen McDonald, curator and writer, and Trevor Smith, Curator of Contemporary Art at Peabody Essex Museum, Massachusetts, offering insights into the artist’s work and his processes.

Young gallery visitors interact with the Learn the Lingo activity / Robert MacPherson often includes words in his artworks and is especially fond of words and phrases that are now considered old fashioned. Many of these words were used by Robert’s childhood heroes the drovers. Children are invited to use a selection of words from the artist, printed on blocks, to build a sentence, story or poem. Some of the blocks included in the activity are double sided with the old-fashioned term in red and the contemporary equivalent on the back.

‘Robert MacPherson: Swags and Swamp Rats’

Coinciding with ‘The Painter’s Reach’, QAGOMA has worked closely with the artist to develop a new interactive project for children. ‘Swags and Swamp Rats’ is showing at the Children’s Art Centre, GOMA until early October and is a chance to introduce younger audiences to the artist’s work.

Robert MacPherson’s immense body of work is often informed by history, language and rural Australia, and ‘Swags and Swamp Rats’ introduces young visitors to the ideas, places and people who have inspired MacPherson in an environment evocative of the Australian outback.

Visitors are guided through the exhibition by MacPherson’s ten-year-old alter ego ‘Robert Pene’ as they learn about drovers, the Southern Cross constellation and the sounds of outback Australia as heard along the Birdsville stock route.

digital-blog-SCALE FROM THE TOOL
Robert MacPherson / SCALE FROM THE TOOL 1976 / Acrylic on canvass / 19 panels / Private collection, Sydney / © The artist

About the artist

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.

Earlier this 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.

Publication: Robert MacPherson: The Painter’s Reach

Publication: Robert MacPherson: The Painter’s Reach

Robert MacPherson: The Painter’s Reach accompanies the artist’s first major exhibition at QAGOMA and the first major exhibition of his work since 2001. This publication explores MacPherson’s distinct and multifaceted career, and conceptualises his recent practice in broader philosophical, political and art historical terms. Contributors include the exhibition’s curator, US-based writer and curator, Ingrid Periz, Angela Goddard and Trevor Smith as well as an interview with the artist and Ewen McDonald. An illustrated chronology, selected bibliography and exhibition history also feature.

Visit the QAGOMA Research Library on Level 3 of GOMA or its online catalogue to learn more about Robert MacPherson.