anne wallace: the go-betweens paintings

Pestorius Sweeney House
1-22 December, 2001

The 'The Go-Betweens paintings', a recent series by Anne Wallace, resonate with themes that confound the separation of the personal and the 'persona'. These portraits of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, founding members of the Brisbane band, may appear as painted tributes by a devoted fan-and undoubtedly they are. Even so, the significance of 'names' in these paintings essentially becomes absorbed by Wallace's distinctive style. As a consequence, that strange 'connection' or 'familiarity' which we identify with in Wallace's work, and which acts like a thread through her entire oeuvre, is amplified and even localised by these new paintings.

The largest image of this series, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan: The GoBetweens 2001, captures a slumbering domesticity, and in turn proposes a connection between these two local 'identities' and ourselves. Pictured is Grant McLennan reclining on a sofa with poetry book in hand. Robert Forster, who is sitting on the floor below, stares at the viewer, his sober expression doubled by a mirror. During his lecture at the exhibition's opening, Chris McAuliffe suggested that in general, the encounter between artist and musician usually assists in 'eliminating prop and strut'; moreover, that it 'humanises and equalises' the sitter.1 In Wallace's case, the 'everyday' air to this portrait draws a tangible relationship closer to our own experiences.

Forster sits in Showpeople wearing a robe and gesturing in a flamboyant pose typical of his musical 'persona'. Flanked by small souvenir photographs of actress Lee Remick and poet Anne Sexton, he is perhaps mimicking their own poses—magnetised by the allure of these 'stars' as he airs his own taste. Bringing the sitter closer to home, such images are signifiers that give perspective to our own fanatical appropriations. The pictorial symbols in 'The Go-Betweens paintings' seem to absorb some of the ambience generated by their domestic setting—the living room exhibition space at Pestorius Sweeney House. In a similar vein to 'Q Space Annex', a venue of the early 1980s established by John Nixon and Robert MacPherson in Brisbane's Spring Hill, this architectural context resonates much of the 'do-it-yourself' aesthetic associated with experimental art in Australia since the late 1970s. Here Wallace presents The Fan, an image of the record collection belonging to the occupant of this house. Spread out on the living room floor as an open book of his favourites, we see Go-Betweens albums, in pristine condition, piled beside the record player. As a portrait of the individual dweller, the image offers an insight to his feelings of kinship with the musical identities, but more importantly with other devotees. And although no figures are legible, it is also a portrait of the band members themselves, turning over their musical sanctuary to the private space of the listener. Up close in This is how I think about you, McLennan's face dominates the canvas as if he has frozen while quickly turning to tell us something. A woman's figure leaving the scene, with suitcase in hand, urges us to consider her motive for doing so. This painting, like its title, is a lyric—a split-second that seems to linger, just as a portrait exists in a similar eternity. In front of this image we might also recall the earliest band portraits painted by Jenny Watson, with a grainy monochromatic palette, to cover the Go-Betweens' first album, 'Send Me a Lullaby' (1982).

While Wallace's work has become increasingly concerned with the painted manifestation of commonalities and universalities, her new images also open another, more local, identification. Most strikingly, something of the strong connection between art, music, and locality—themes that give many of us 'definition'—are paramount in these works, and in Watson's earlier figurations. As McAuliffe states, 'Forster is very insistent on locality and mood, defining the members of the band in terms of which Brisbane suburb they grew up in. I think this emphasis on place, interior and mood is what drew both Jenny Watson and Anne Wallace to the band.'2 So too, a particular feminine quality to the band may account for such close portrayals of issues relating to identity in Go-Betweens' portraiture. Looking back through Wallace's oeuvre, a certain sentiment can be seen to emanate from the void of non-identity in the majority of her figurative paintings. Although her models are often close friends, they are always blanketed by an air of anonymity, or 'absent presence', having the effect of a ubiquitous belonging.3 Bodies—cropped, staged or recently absented—redirect the artist's familiarity with her sitters away from naming or designations, and towards opening the hidden encounter between the paintings' inhabitants and the world at large.

Similarly, if there is something connecting art and music, as signified through Anne Wallace's 'The Go-Betweens paintings', it is a feeling of attachment to an inspirational source. While this act can be neither completely deliberate nor accidental, such influences are always caught up in the complex oscillation between discovering one's 'self and the continuing desire to 'belong''.

Anne Wallace, The Go-Betweens Paintings, 2001. Installation view, Pestorius Sweeney House, Brisbane, December 2001. Courtesy the artist and David Pestorius. 

notes: 

1. Chris McAuliffe, Pestorius Sweeney House, 1/12/2001.

2. Chris McAuliffe, in conversation, January 2002.

3. Edward Colless, 'Double Jeopardy', Anne Wallace: Recent Paintings, Arts Queensland, Brisbane, 1999, p. 16.

Lecture by Chris McAuliffe, 1 December 2001.