paul wrigley: monster

Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane
30 November 2002- 25 January 2003

There always appears to be something irredeemably butch about very large painting. Perhaps it's a dim societal memory of a time when men tackled Salon history paintings while women painters were generally limited to the more modest still-life or parlour portrait, but when we visualise the painter tackling a wall sized canvas or board-Pollock's grandiose action paintings, Kiefer's angst ridden reminders of historical record, Richter's huge nee-expressionistic explosions of colour- it's hard not to link the very large with the very male.

So it is intriguing to see this scale of work approached with self-reflexive humour and a lightness of touch, as it is in the latest body of work by Brisbane painter, Paul Wrigley.  Wrigley has long established himself as an artist of remarkably diverse output. Each new phase in his development as a painter has ushered in an almost complete stylistic change. Wrigley's recent work exhibited at Brisbane's Institute of Modern Art, at first seems to mirror this process and appears irredeemably diverse in style and content. This show, Monster, features a wall size colour chart grid on two board panels, an aerosol piece that sees the truck tag 'Gravedigger' sprayed directly on to the gallery wall, a digital video projection and a seductively photorealist canvas of a cheerleader based on a JPEG Wrigley found on the interne!.

Wrigley has stated that he seeks to represent the libidinal energy of a masculine code but, looking a little closer, one sees that it is the artist's own desires in regard to painting and the continual conflict between form and content which are on display. This realization makes sense of both the works themselves and the choice to exhibit them together. This is work which functions on two levels: on one hand it is concerned with the history and language of painting itself and on the other it grapples with concepts of identity, both that of the artist and within society as a whole.

Stadium, a grid array of skilfully spray-painted rectangles where the edges blur to such an extent as to virtualise the work's surface, can also be read as a pixelated crowd scene. This heterogenous mass meets at the sharp border between two panels and yet avoids a sense of conflict. Although it may seem contradictory, Stadium is evocative of the kind of buoyant optimism discernible in the hard edge abstraction of Ellsworth Kelly.

Logo, the enormous spraypainted Monster truck decoration applied directly on to the gallery wall, de-contextualises the inherent violence of the name 'Gravedigger' and reduces the threat to mere ornament, the kind of empty swagger sprayed on walls in public places or the type of 'dangerous' masculinity featured in women's pulp romances. Monster, the video projection of a computer generated truck and its inverse reflection in a perpetual loop is the least successful element of the exhibition. While it reiterates the self-generating nature of the masculine code by portraying the computer game image as a kind of moving Rorschach blot, as a relatively unmediated visual quotation it adds nothing new to the show as a whole. A large photorealist painting of a cheerleader represented in the disintegrated state of a low resolution electronic image, however, is a fitting counterpoint to Stadium. Her anonymous enthusiasm congratulates the crowd inferred in the opposite work, the audience and the artist himself. She is our guilty pleasure drive.

Interestingly, the impulse behind these works, regardless of scale, appears completely opposed to the phallic or epic. While exploring the resolutely masculine territories of monster trucks and down loaded girlie pics, Wrigley seems able to imbue the subject matter with what could be described best as an effeminate softfocus sensuality. This tension, created between the scale and subject matter and their treatment, takes the work beyond contemporary neo-laddism. Seen in tandem with his other recent works such as the smaller, more intimate portraits of an impossibly pretty Eminem shown recently at Soapbox Gallery, Wrigley seems deeply into a critique of masculinity that avoids proselytising polemics.

We can be initially beguiled by the aesthetics of Wrigley's work but he is determined in this case to make obvious the deeply conflicted nature of his own practice and the position of painting itself at the beginning of the twenty-first century.