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The conflation of functional consumer object with artwork may be nothing new, but Scott Redford’s surf paintings—rendered by a professional board-maker from fibreglass and resin on painted foam—are a well-handled variation on a theme. The objects themselves, in particular the more minimal ones, are beautiful. Glossy and perfectly smooth, bright red and yellow and blue, sporting the odd G-stripe, they exude all the shiny promise of a freshly minted commodity, together with the surfboard’s redolence of youth, speed and freedom. But at the same time, they take the viewer into the spiritual realm of modernist abstraction. This is more than a knowing wink at art history. It also appears to be a gesture that seeks to reconcile the disparate spheres which the artist straddles: surf culture and the art world.
Redford’s surf culture is not one of wild natural landscapes and extreme risk. Rather it is a culture of sleek surfaces and state of the art design, set against a backdrop of commercial promotion and branding: how (not) unlike the art world! The works appear to embrace the coincidence of these values. As readymade commodities, all that matters is their sign value. They remind me of Patricia Piccinini’s car nuggets, which like chicken nuggets, represent the ‘essence’ of what they are without actually embodying its substance and functionality (Piccinini’s works were also crafted by trade professionals, in this instance custom car detailers). And yet, unlike Piccinini’s works that wear their cute pop aesthetics as a badge of honour, Redford’s ‘essence of surfboard’ aspires to more exalted terrain: the history of art.
In Surf Painting # 6: Blue reflection (after Ian Burn) (2007) Redford invokes Australia’s most significant conceptual artist, in particular Burn’s mirror pieces that sought to challenge the conventions of viewing an artwork. Redford would also invite his audience to register themselves reflected in the act of looking while also acknowledging the material nature of the work (rather than its symbolic status as an art object). However, this reference to conceptual art is curiously trumped by the strong resemblance of many of Redford’ works to Barnett Newman’s zip paintings, which with their transcendental trappings represented the very approach to art that Burn and his conceptualist fellow travellers set out to debunk.
Redford has contextualised this series of works in terms of his admiration for the can-do, creative eclecticism of the Gold Coast’s cityscape.1 In a tribute to Robert Venturi and his rejection of modernist architecture’s international style in favour of pop vernacular, Redford wrote ‘Learning from Surfers’ Paradise’.2 Yet Redford also cites as an inspiration the modernist critic Robin Boyd, author of The Australian Ugliness, a treatise that roundly condemned ‘featurism’, the drive for kitsch distinctiveness in Australian architecture and design.
The surface of Redford’s surf paintings serve as a meeting point for these contradictory impulses: the self-reflexive conceptual project and the spiritual aspirations of abstraction; the clean lines of modernist design and the revelry of kitsch; the loftier aspirations of both surfing and art, and their crass commercialism. Nothing may be resolved—things rarely are in Redford’s work—but these luscious works keep us looking.
1. Scott Redford, ‘Scott Redford’, Linda Michael (ed.), 21st century Modern: 2006 Adelaide Festival of Australian Art, AGSA, Adelaide, 2006, p.56.
2. Broadsheet, vol.23 no.1 Autumn 1994.