Attended the very crowded opening of this, Guy's first exhibition since winning the Archibald Prize with a painting of blind Indigenous singer Geoffrey Garrumul Yunipingu. I must concur with the oft repeated comment of the night, "this guy's got balls!" Maestri has done a total about face from his commercially successful, colourist, lyrical gestural landscapes, reminiscent of Cy Twombly, to monotone, realist, photography-based art which almost belies the “touch of the hand”. What continues is the concern with ecology and the landscape, enhanced in this show by a theme of human folly.
The unkind (and probably jealous) have speculated that Guy won the Archibald by changing his style, then thought he would/should capitalise on that in his next show. Do the maths! The number of paintings and cohesive quality and theme suggests he was painting in this style well before he entered the Archibald. Even if they’re right, he’s still a prodigiously talented, thoughtful artist because he could whip up such a show in a painfully short seven months since the prize announcement.
It doesn’t matter. What matters is on the wall – and that an artist made a choice to risk his “Brand” and his sales from followers, and go where he needed/wanted to go, to keep his practice alive and mentally energizing. What authentic artist really wants to keep painting the same thing? And isn’t a refusal to “play it safe” one of the characteristics that History has taught us is essential for creativity and great art practice itself?
Musings aside, the exhibition has a powerful, yet dream-like quality that sees a 60’s Astronaut standing on a crashing wave; a deep sea diver floating in a human chest; and boxing kangaroos obliterated by a slash of muddy, angry paint. My favourite was “Untitled, 2009”, a beautifully rendered though flattened (tenderized??) calf floating in infinity, with the bright yellow meat tag attached to its ear optically jumping from the painting. This was closely rivaled, in my estimation, by Trophy I, the head of an antelope(?) mounted in space in a frontal view that evokes it’s death by hunter and starkly contrasts in its beauty with the ridiculousness of placing animal heads in loungerooms as a measure of gamesmanship, skill or machismo.
The work still shows elements of Guy’s previous exhibitions’ risky execution – much of the paint surface is attacked by solvent or mediums to blister the otherwise smooth, varnished finish. But somehow, corrupted surfaces and slashing paint included, the images display a cold, removed beauty that nevertheless enigmatically draws the viewer in, leaving an image to be ruminated upon, in its quiet acceptance of death and new worlds past, present and future.
Tim Olsen Gallery 63 Jersey Rd Woollahra 13th October - to November 1st
Images: Guy Maestri, Untitled, 2009 183 x 152cm