You wouldn’t think a stroll past a footy oval would lead to surfing Google Earth, scouting controversial mines, detention centres, and affluent neighbourhoods. But then again, artist Fred Fowler is really in a league of his own.
The hugely popular painter has turned online for inspiration for his latest exhibition of paintings – works exploring ideas of place and belonging, with reference to sites such as Roy Hill Mine and Manus Island, as well as seemingly innocuous suburban neighbourhoods like Peppermint Grove in WA, and Sydney’s Vaucluse.
We recently caught up with Fred to find out more!
What have you been focusing on since our last feature, back in September 2017?
Just after that feature, I had a nasty fall from a ladder which put me on the bench for a while. (Hot tip – don’t use cheap ladders!) I spent a month at the beach over Christmas and since then I’ve been in the studio working full-time on this upcoming show.
Was there a particular moment that inspired you to begin this body of work?
I was walking my dog past a local sports oval a while ago and I noticed a scoreboard that had the words ‘Home/Visitors’ painted on it. Out of the context of sport those two words really captured my imagination – what is home? And who are the visitors? So I used that thematically, as a jumping off point, to explore ideas of place and belonging.
You’ve mentioned ‘Home/Visitors’ explores themes of migration, colonisation, urbanisation and also the environment?
Migration, colonisation and our relationship with the environment are all key themes within these paintings. When I think about the contemporary Australian landscape these are all themes that I keep coming back to. I wouldn’t say these paintings are definitively about these issues, but they are referenced and alluded to in much of the work.
Using Google Earth, you’ve honed in on a controversial, environmentally damaging site (Roy Hill Mine), a highly-publicised site of human rights abuses (Manus Island Detention Centre), and then some contrastingly posh suburbs for these paintings. In what ways are you referencing these locations?
I’ve been using Google Maps to study suburbs such as Peppermint Grove and Vaucluse, and also places that are harder to access in person, such as mines, detention centres and remote communities.
I’m looking for sites of significance in relation to the idea of the Australian landscape, both physically and culturally. These sites are symbolic in different ways – detention centres are divisive symbols of our immigration policies; the richest suburbs in our country symbolise wealth and its distribution and mines represent where some of our wealth as a country comes from. There’s a tension in these contrasting places that I’m interested in capturing.
While there aren’t necessarily direct symbolic inclusions in all the paintings, there are recognisable elements that have made their way into the work such as mining pits, buildings, fires and burned out cars. Other symbols are more conceptual like the disembodied multicoloured snake featured in one of the paintings.
Quite a few of the works feature several references, which create certain interactions or narratives. Others are more based on specific colour palettes or trying to capture certain moods so they might only have one or two recognisable features.
How does this body of work compare to your past art?
Conceptually the work is a continuation of themes touched on in previous exhibitions, but with this show, I’m particularly focusing on the idea of place and belonging in contemporary Australia.
Technically I wanted to push myself and keep evolving, so there was a lot of experimentation with new colours, materials and techniques. For example, several of the paintings have gradients rather than solid colours in the background which is a departure for me, and I also introduced materials such as gold leaf and micaceous iron oxide.
Thanks for giving us a peek into your studio… what’s one thing that’s surprising about your workspace?
People who visit the studio are often surprised that I’m quite organised and disciplined. I think there’s a perception that artists can lead very haphazard lives and thrive in the chaos. In the past, I’ve worked like that: a filthy studio, lots of partying, visitors at all hours. But making art for me is about walking a line between chaos and order. So if everything in my life is chaotic, it’s difficult to have a consistent creative output.
What are you looking forward to about exhibiting in Brisbane for the first time?
This will be my first solo exhibition in the city and I’m super excited about it – presenting work to a new audience interstate is something I’ve been wanting to do for some time.
I’m also really looking forward to seeing the Tony Albert and Patricia Piccinini exhibitions at QAGOMA.
What’s Fred Fowler up to over the winter?
I’m hoping to go somewhere warm for a little holiday. Winter is not my favourite season, so this year I’m really making an effort to combat that by keeping active – swimming everyday and hiking on weekends. And it’s always a good time to add more soup recipes to the repertoire.
Home/Visitors by Fred Fowler
June 26th to July 21st
Jan Murphy Gallery
486 Brunswick Street
Fortitude Valley, Queensland