Godwin Bradbeer: Stigma and Enigma
Godwin Bradbeer: Stigma and Enigma
Deakin University Art Gallery 8 March to 13 April 2017
Stigma – a mark made by a pointed stick Enigma – speaking allusively – a dark riddle
How does one go about beginning a drawing? A line is drawn, a stick of charcoal – the compressed burnt wood of carbon, hits the paper, as it travels over the fibres, it crumbles and disintegrates, leaving a residue of ash and char. It marks and scores filling the empty bare surface. A mark is made – an inscription. Lines begin to form contours, shapes, limbs, hands, feet, chest, neck and head emerge – a body. An unknown figure floating in space, context and time. The desire to use drawing to depict the figure is both archaic and contemporary. Like having to use words to speak or drawing with chalk on blackboard, depicting the body is a primary way of understanding ourselves and an entry point into something greater. For Melbourne based artist Godwin Bradbeer drawing the figure has been the single pre-occupation of his artistic practice since the early 1970s. Bradbeer began his career at a time when the figure and representation were out of step with the predominance of the International Style of hard-edged and lyrical abstraction and minimalism. He formed his artistic objectives in this era, when Australian culture was still clearly divided between camps of high and low, abstract and figuration. Bradbeer recalls fondly how an exhibition of photographs with his friend and fellow artist Warren Breninger was cancelled at the NGV as the work was perhaps too subjective and intense for the time.1
Life drawing is still a fundamental part of any visual art education. Perceiving and comprehending the way the naked body is composed, how light hits the surface of objects, giving weight and volume, the way gravity takes hold, how muscles and bones work together, provides a framework for understanding and a pathway for creating something anew. As Bradbeer explains ‘Our anatomies reveal tensions, knots, densities, energies, anxieties and failures’2. The time spent looking and making mistakes, revisions and re-adjustments trains the student to think about their own perspective: observing, depicting, erasure and listening creates an inner dialogue through which the ‘subject’ emerges. The idea of drawing as a sequence of errors is captured in the Apologia and Imago series by Bradbeer. Somewhat disillusioned with representing the figure, over a ten year period he depicted large oversized faces in both front-on and in profile positions. The familiar shapes and features of the face give way to an abstracted void of space and mark making. Apologia series loosens the modernist myth of expression as an act of the subject’s inner self. The notion that one must repeat an act until you get it right or for that matter, get it more true? Hundreds of life-drawings, completed over a lifetime are channelled into the monumental works of Bradbeer. He begins depicting the human figure, not people we know or portraits but abstracted generalized models, familiar
either from art history or from long before. Through the use of these totemic figures, the act of drawing itself becomes the subject of his work. As artist and writer Peter Westwood has remarked, for Bradbeer “Representations of the human body act in much the same way as the reduced forms within abstraction have been used to signify the universal, the essential and the sublime.”3 After completing an initial drawing in graphite and white chinagraph, the entire surface is covered in a field of thick dust of charcoal and pastel. For Bradbeer drawing then becomes an unveiling process. Accumulations of charcoal, pastel and pencil are excavated over time revealing the muscles and bone. The inner structures of the body which give us shape and form. Areas are rubbed back with methylated spirits and rag, unearthing previously hidden layers and details. Further areas of blackness are sanded back, harshly. Some drawings sit in an unfinished state covered in the studio, stored away in the darkness until the artist rediscovers them, sometimes years later. Even further still, Bradbeer takes to the drawings with the serrated rusted blade of his father’s handsaw. Violently scraping the fragile fibres of the paper. Revealing long and elegant curling groups of lines that look as though they have been made by a draftsman’s French curves or through a software package like Illustrator or an industrial machine. As Dr Neil Overton observes Bradbeer’s drawing processes are similar to an architectural dig, his fossilized forms emerge from the scraped rock of the earth, “forms left imbedded in the nocturnal ambiguity of darkness”4. Deeper realities are uncovered – drawing becomes like working with sculptural forms, carving into marble or stone. Hidden masses are revealed like lost artefacts in clay that are polished and cleaned, the residual scores and pot marks made apparent through time. Bradbeer’s drawings connect the way our experience of antiquity is encountered as fragments. Whether a desecrated head or the pharaoh’s nose, once dislocated from their original context the innate qualities of these objects seem amplified and our experience of them heightened: ruins become relics. In a modern trans-human world Bradbeer alludes that our bodies are like historical artefacts: broken, failing and put back together in pieces. As Walter Benjamin writes, “They are a last vestige of antiquity still visible in the everyday”.5 In a YouTube clip floating about the web you can see grainy, black and white, Super8 footage of
Bradbeer in his studio. Tight flares, long legs, skinny body and a mop of blonde fuzzy hair. He is moving about the studio, he pulls out a drawing and then proceeds to frenetically rub the back of a sterling silver teaspoon onto the surface. The heat and energy burnishes the charred charcoal, transforming it into silver oxide in an alchemical interaction creating an effect similar to photographic solarisation, where dark is switched to light. The drawing process undergoes further transformations. The material of the paper itself is often torn, ripped, cut, punctured or embellished. Man of a 1000 cuts 2009 for example is a key work in the thinking of this exhibition. A grid of a thousand small incisions are cut into the paper piercing the thin membrane of material, suggesting an interior that is soft and corporeal. The incisions both resemble the wounds of the body yet also adorn the surface like a tattoo. They surround the forlorn head and shoulders of a young man seemingly failing under the weight of something not seen. Apologia with 1000 tears 2000-2016 is also adorned, this time with a thousand transparent droplets covering the foreshortened brow of a male head as seen from above. His face and profile obscured and decorated with droplets of transparent acrylic, glistening with oil like a weeping statue. The gigantic Atlantic Fracture Version 2 19862016 greets audiences in the gallery with an image of God-like proportions. Completed over two decades, the image consists of two separate panels of paper that are joined along the seam like a fault line in the earth’s crust. This work depicts a key moment in the artist’s life. As a 21 year old Bradbeer fell from a hanging bar placed in a tree, severing his top Atlas vertebrae. At the time Bradbeer was living and teaching in the remote Victorian town of Wedderburn. Not wanting to draw attention and without a car he waited three days before taking the bus to the hospital. Upon learning of the severity of the injury the doctor pointed out that the slightest bump in the road or even a simple sneeze could have ended in fatal tragedy. This traumatic moment where life and death were precariously balanced triggered a revaluation of meaning for Bradbeer and set the artist’s creative life into motion. A few years later in 1977 during a performance of “Aint it Strange” singer Patti Smith tripped over a cable and fell 15 feet into the orchestra pit also breaking her neck. After three months of pain and recovery she returned to stage in a brace, singing (Smith, 1967).6
I spin, I spiral, and I splatter Hand of God, I feel the finger, Hand of God, and I start to whirl And I whirl, and I whirl, Don’t get dizzy, do not fall now, Turn, God, God (strange) Go, go on, go like a dervish, Turn, God, (strange) make a move Turn, Lord, (strange) I don’t get nervous Oh I just move in another dimension Come move in another dimension A classical interpretation of history leaves out the true meaning of trauma, people’s struggles and suffering, their messy lives and breakthroughs become mere footnotes in a larger narrative. Growing up in the outer northern suburb of Melbourne, Bradbeer was a gifted draftsman from an early age and has a collection of anatomy studies preciously kept by his mother as evidence. Sitting in his Footscray studio in 2016 he shared stories with me of Sunday school, of psalms, readers, prayers and receiving the strap. Bradbeer has surrounded himself in a rich tapestry of tales from Christian mythology, corporal punishment and others collected through time. Stories abound connecting his work in relationship to other artists and authors from David Bowie to Donatello. Biblical stories connect to growing up in the 60s and 70s: the hot scorching bright summers of suburban Broadmeadows; the isolated fibro cement shacks of post war homes; cars; church, and of course rock music. An important inclusion in this exhibition is a series of works on found blackboards. Tabula Rasa 2014 was in-part discovered while Bradbeer was walking with his brother through the abandoned buildings of the Campmeadows Primary School before they were due to be demolished.7 These works are part of a larger group now in the collection of the city of Hume. They show students own markings and graffiti including scribbles, swear words and poetry. Some of the panels are left untouched, on others Bradbeer has added layers of texts and symbols. Each panel becomes a palimpest, a surface etched by real lives lived and the artist’s memory. Bradbeer highlights in these works how drawing is underpinned by the desire for learning, developing language and the act of speaking itself. The iconic American artist Dan Graham eulogizes on the beginnings of rock music in his 1984 video essay Rock my Religion. In the documentary (which was later published as a
collection of writings) he locates the origins with the Puritanical belief of original sin, the honour of hard work and the formation of the Shaker movement in America. By the 1780’s the Shakers had a significant following, their utopia was based on abstinence, equality of the sexes and common property ownership. The Shakers met on Sundays to worship and after sombre theological discussions they danced. ‘In the circle dance, lines of men and women formed concentric moving circles. “Stomp out the devil!” they shouted “Shake! Shake! Shake! Christ is with you!” the respondents yelled. Fits of shaking and ecstasy possessed the group. Reeling, turning, twisting, some rocked on their feet, others rolled on the floor and through the ritual, the devil was snared from his hiding place and cast out by the group.’8 The post war generation of the 50s and 60s now liberated from their parent’s values, had to find a new purpose. They did so by adopting a new philosophy of fun and by becoming a generation of big consumers. Rock ‘n’ roll became the new religion: ‘Great balls of fire’ sang Jerry Lewis, mocking the idea of hell and damnation. And when he sang “Shake it, baby, shake it!” or “Let’s rock ‘n’ roll” he also meant to have unadulterated sex.9 Rock ‘n’ roll sexualized the shaker dance, rock was based on sex but was no longer connected to reproduction. The idea of salvation via repression, marriage and work was succeeded by a new adolescent power: an eternal state of rebellious becoming, a teenage heaven and the anti-oedipal forces of youth. Bradbeer’s drawings channel the enigmatic relationships between sex, rock ‘n’ roll and a higher purpose. In The Lodger Revisited 2015, Profile into white light 2013 and The Episode Version I and II 2013 the bodies of his characters are not fully male, they are on the cusp of becoming adult men. His bare chested boys stand like ancient Kouroi posing on a pedestal, they float effortlessly through the air or they bath in sacred waters. If rock became the new religion then the rock stars were the new Gods and the rock concert the new church. As Graham elaborates (1993 p.90): ‘The rock singer stands in sacrificial position against the regime of work: his sacrifice is his body and life. By living life and performing to the edge, he transcends the values of the everyday. But this transcendence is achieved by sacrificing his ability to become an adult. He must die, or fall from fame.’ The meaning of innocence and versions there-of is another ongoing subject for Bradbeer. Images of birds, dragonflies, ravens and swans reoccur.
As symbols they capture the fleeting visit of angelic messengers to us mortal earth-bound beings. In the Victorian era, angels were the faces of the innocent. ‘Angels in the house’ confined women in the home to better protect them from the immoral realities of the world.10 The angelic faces of rock on the other hand represents the ecstasy of pure feeling. A flush moment of pleasure that transcends both history, mortality and time. Innocent Version VI 2010 is a gothic ballerina hovering en pointe against a darkened black backdrop. The ballerina seems to tremble with anxiety, an allegorical image of both monster and victim. Other images of women in Bradbeer’s world appear as Mary Magdalene, hidden behind Victorian veils forever mourning. Our primal behaviours are further represented throughout this exhibition. In Human Shield 1995 – 2001 the intimate skin to skin bond between mother and child is expressed though their exposed bodies and a shared vulnerability. More directly, Sexual Intercourse 1979 provides that moment of double take when we witness the primal scene for the first time.11 An act we know we really shouldn’t be looking at, yet it’s difficult to look away. Freud described the desire to know where we come from as the first riddle of our lives.12 A couple is intertwined in a sexual embrace. The violence and intimacy of the moment is captured together in sinuous muscle and jerky bodies overcome by a frenzied energy.
1 G odwin Bradbeer in conversation with the author December 2016 2 Godwin Bradbeer in conversation with the author July 2016. 3 P eter Westwood “Man in the Cold reproduced in Portraits in Exile” catalogue essay, Ardel Gallery of Modern Art, Thailand, 2009, p. 3. 4 N eil Overton “From the Shadows” catalogue essay, June, 2006. http://www.godwinbradbeer.com/articles/print/from_ the_shadows essay 5 W alter Benjamin “The Ruin, The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media”, Harvard University Press, USA, 2008, p.180. 6 W allis, Brian (ed.), ‘Dan Graham: Rock my Religion (Writings and Art Projects 1965-1990)’, (text by Dan Graham), Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993, p. 95. 7 Godwin Bradbeer in conversation with the author July 2016. 8 Graham, ibid, p. 83. 9 Ibid, p. 85. 10 N atasha Moore, The realism of ‘The Angel in the House: Coventry Patmore’s poem reconsidered, Victorian Literature and Culture, March, 2015. 11 S igmund Freud, Case Studies II, Penguin Freud Library, v. 9, 1988, p. 270. 12 Sigmund Freud, An Autobiographical Study, W. W. Norton & Company, 1963, p. 39. 13 Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, (1912, English translation by Joseph Swain: 1915) The Free Press, 1965, p. 47. 14 J ulien D’Huy, Aquitaine on the road to Oedipus. The Sphinx as a prehistoric motif, SERPE Bulletin, 2012,pp.15-21.
Artists are permitted to occupy a unique role in society, by stepping outside the usual boundaries they renegotiate meaning. French sociologist Émile Durkheim considered religion to be “a system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things that are set apart and forbidden.”13 In Durkheim’s theory, the sacred represents the interests of the group while the profane involves mundane individual concerns. Bradbeer’s drawing project moves us from the profane to the sacred, our necessities for pleasure, preservation and death are forever entwined in a circular transforming dance. By some accounts it is reported the Sphinx, who stood guard at the entrance to the temple, was said to have a second riddle: ‘There are two sisters: one gives birth to the other and she, in turn, gives birth to the first. Who are the two sisters?’ The answer of course is night and day. The figures in Bradbeer’s drawings take our hand and guide us through the dark of the night. They take us to the edge of the known and lead us safely back again into the clear light of day. James Lynch
Fall 1981 chinagraph, silver oxide and pastel dust on paper 310 x 115 cm
Godwin Bradbeer: The Martyr’s Swoon. (martyr: one who suffers through an excess of feeling or belief)
Bradbeer’s drawings are not about painting. They are neither sketches nor preparatory works and they are never mere illustrations. They exist as stand-alone, brazenly self-sufficient, standapart artistic entities that owe their visual power to the driving force of what can only be called magisterial draughtsmanship. It’s drawing as an art in itself – Bradbeer falls into it; he is embraced by it and so often it’s just the beauty of the line and the movement of the pencil that propels the imagination. A line here, a line there; a smudge, an erasing, a softening, a polishing – a change, a turn, a move back, a moving forward. Those few who see him at work witness a self-conducted, spun-out choreography of line and tone, light and shade; a linear dance that pauses, halts and returns – a movement that encompasses the whole body and all the while embraces the four pivotal modes of drawing – from the shoulder, the elbow, the wrist and the finger. Each pivot point leaves its own signature mark – the sweep, the curve, the slash and the stroke – and, in Bradbeer, each movement is caught in translucent wafers of ever deepening seductively layered tones. Clearly, his is an art of the sonata rather than the concerto. Such is the enticing power of Bradbeer’s wafered tones that immediately upon seeing them the viewer becomes drawn to the meshed surfaces of his drawings and then, almost instinctively, moves away from them in order to encompass their larger gestaltist complexities. This zoom-in and zoom-out movement – this relational ecology of
viewing – is a consistent hallmark of the artist’s ability to fuse varied modes of working together with varied modes of seeing. This is also why Bradbeer’s smaller drawings seem big and, correspondingly, why his larger drawings seem small – the stand-back in one lends it largeness, while the close-up in another gives it intimacy; it’s always a case of take it up and then take it in. Remarkably, this micromacro, push and pull aesthetic interaction also gives Bradbeer’s drawings a uniquely intensified “double-punch” sense of emotional engagement – they are at once optically insistent and physically gravitating. Needless to say, they are not bland, uninvolved transfers of the visible world. To put it baldly, Bradbeer’s world is a kingdom of emotional affect. His large and airy studio is brimful of feelings skimmed from images caught on the lam. It is as though visual snippets, snatched sensations and imagistic impressions, caught during turned-up coat collar strolls, have been shanghaied into his studio to play new parts in the dense interplay of vignetted associations that beam out from his drawings – there’s “bigness” through and through. “All of life is in art”, he says; of course, it’s not necessarily all in his art – this would be vain, he insists – but in art nonetheless. Since we all inhabit a body, Bradbeer’s bodily images act as self-activated sensory triggers that, through their postures, enervated appearances
and downcast demeanours, unplug streams of associative thoughts in the sensitive viewer. Aside from technical skill, they may have little appeal to the insensitive. That gleaming skin, the shadowed flesh, that caught moment, those plays of light on soft flesh over hard bone, the glimpse in a mirror, the fluid gesture of a hand and all those balletic poses and wondrously limp limbs – all seem softly-spoken and all seem like powder floated upon patinated parchment. All is steeped in detumescence and caught in a tonal embrace. Yet, it’s always a kindly lovingness that beams out and shines through; his drawings are never cruel or callous and though he mildly regrets not drawing his mother on her deathbed it’s telling that he could not bring himself to depict her at her most vulnerable – “perhaps best left to a Lucian Freud” he said wistfully. Deep down it’s an unbuttoned paradise of shyly tender emotions where the private self eases into a laid back land of mental let-go – where the whole is greater than its parts and where that whole is tinted with late-Symbolist inflections. Many artists assume, take on or adopt; that is, they are “influenced” by others. By contrast, Bradbeer subsumes; that is, he absorbs from below. In other words, Bradbeer’s ideational processes always rest upon inclusion and the incorporation of previously absorbed material. His wonderfully insightful conversations (he never yarn-bombs) are peppered with allusions to literature, poetry, film, photography (always photography), music (always music), gestures, poses, facial features, a turn of foot, a tilt of the head, posture (a good friend calls him “The Count of Contrapposto”), shadows and, in fact, almost anything that is an incursion upon the ordinary. There always exists in him a sense of “data collection” and it is clear that his is an incubatory imagination – it’s sparked by a turbo-charged observation and it’s always “switched-on”. It’s all done with the instinctive urge of a spawning salmon and when it comes to the drawing it’s all up to a process of nucleation; and, of course, to his marvellous technical finesse. This operation of this clustering process – this nucleation – may be instructively sensed in a number of his drawings. Perhaps three examples may suffice. Bradbeer’s work Fall, a very large (3.1 x 1.15 metres) drawing of 1981, found its original source in the last of five photographs of the British diver Christine Bond in mid-dive breaking the surface of a still pool – it formed part of an illustration
in a now lost instruction book. Bradbeer was struck by the linear grace of the falling body and admired how smoothly it sliced through the air into the water – from one medium into another. To him it begged to be drawn – he called the image “potent”. Later, he came back to the idea after watching a televised report of the tragic death of the twenty-one year old Sergei Chalibashvili, the Soviet diver who hit his head on a diving board during competitions at the World University Games in Edmonton in 1983 – the first such death in international sport. The original diving image prompted a number of things and thoughts that seemed to coalesce in Bradbeer’s mind: the thought of his own fall and serious injury (he broke his neck) at almost the same age in 1972; the idea of a fall from the state of Actual Grace; the viewing of a photograph of The Shroud of Turin during a reverent display (he was very taken by the proportions of the frame); a photograph of a tall vitrine with precious objects displayed behind glass and a large empty picture frame with an elongated space, that he had ordered to be made and then stored away until its stretched elegance could be matched with an apposite image. There was also the refined example of Alberto Giacometti’s drawings and how in his works gravity acts to “stretch” the human body and lengthen its internal organs in an almost imperceptible yet elegant partnership – the body seems to “sink” and internally deform in accord with an external force. All in all, all of this was caught rather than sought – it was a type of understanding by non-elective seizing. Somehow, somewhere in these “resident ideas” (Bradbeer’s phrase) and jumbled instances, something gathered, something crystalized – something was literally incorporated; he calls it a “convergence”. All these oddly gathered flip cards – these mental notes and eidetic images – each of a different context and circumstance, were riffled into imaginative life to play a hand in the concertinaed conception and making of the composite image in this large head-turning drawing – the first of his “tall” works; a work so broodingly refined in its flickering associative power and imagist compression that it suggests a human gash in the dark – almost like a solemn wound in life itself. Bradbeer’s Human Shield of 1995 to 2001 is a multimedia drawing born of a sevenyear gestation. It is one of the few Bradbeer works that depicts more than one figure. The original drawing was contained within a larger rectangular format – its subject was a female figure in a long skirt, perhaps even a motherfigure. Bradbeer laboured over this drawing for a long time and, after many attempts to finish it,
eventually became totally disheartened with its prospects and with himself for being unable to match its artistic challenge – it looked too “cute”; too “charming”; it lacked “bite” and “a point” (Bradbeer’s words). He decided (most unusually) to destroy it and in frustration stabbed it with the point of a screwdriver about a dozen times (the puncture marks are still visible in its lower section). Soon after, his young daughter came into the studio and said that she liked it: “Daddy, that’s a good drawing”, she insisted. Bradbeer relented – if a young child can recognise something, then perhaps that “something” is worth preserving. He put the work aside and much later returned to face its challenges. Despite redoubled efforts, he remained undecided and tore off what he thought were the disappointing sections until he was left with an elliptical shape. Upon standing back, it came as a shock to fortuitously find that the remaining shape, together with its punctured lower section, took on the form of a decorated shield.
Bradbeer had learnt, like the renowned Francis Bacon before him, that figures over-complicate the aesthetic power of a composition – even one additional figure introduces the distractive idea of a narrative, literary element or social subtext. Consequently, Bradbeer’s drawings are almost invariably single-figure compositions – anything that detracts is diminished. One might justifiably take this further and consider even the subject matter as a type of distraction. Viewed in this way, Bradbeer’s drawings are not primarily based upon a subject – the long-term re-workings of his Human Shield of 1995 to 2001 clearly establish just how his subject matter may alter. It is as though a subject serves only as a context, an arena, for the event and actual art of drawing. In this sense, Bradbeer’s drawings are not of something but about something – their most gravitating artistic attributes are not governed by their subject matter. In other words, following the tenor of our earlier observations, they are drawings about drawing.
At about the same time Bradbeer turned his mind back to a very large (7.5 x 1.5 metres) polyptych drawing that he completed some eleven years earlier entitled Immaculate Conception. Its central panel shows a female pelvis drawn in almost sfumato tones with the swirling form of a foetus vaguely visible in the region of the womb – like a tenderly drawn impression of an ultrasound image. He had thought of returning to a similar theme and, perhaps with Michelangelo’s marble Madonna of the Stairs (1491, Casa Buonarroti, Florence) in mind, he settled upon a mother and child composition. He reworked the drawing by including a young child in rear view as though resting or sleeping on its mother’s torso. The result, he thought, was mawkish. Subsequently, he erased the figure of the mother and with additional overdrawing he developed, over time, the lusciously multi-toned and almost bas-relief image into its final state and, thinking of its shape, images of fleeing refugees and terrorist tactics, he gave it its present title. There is a revealing observation to be made at this juncture. Bradbeer erased the background figure to highlight the form of the child; to make it “pop” into attention in ways that place additional focus upon its subtle upward progression of spreading tones, so that the soft gradations seem to “hang” in the implied depth of pictorial space and do not so much describe a human form as suggest a passage of almost deliquescent visual “notes”. Furthermore, in a related sense, Bradbeer’s almost complete erasure of the background figure does, in effect, put it “out of the picture”. In other words, after the erasure, the composition in essence became a single-figure work.
Bradbeer’s drawing The Lodger Revisited of 2015 is taken up with the image of a recumbent male figure, with facial features not unlike those of the artist. The seemingly semi-conscious figure wears jeans and an opened jacket and has its arms and legs outstretched in awkward ways that suggest it has fallen and has suffered an injury. This impression is bolstered by the hands of unseen figures that seem to be aiding at the scene of an accident (a device that he very much admired in the work of his friend Warren Breninger when he first saw it in 1974). Certainly, the odd composition of the drawing is based upon the cover photograph of David Bowie’s music album The Lodger of 1979. Bradbeer “read” and readinto that cover’s forlorn and broken image. Upon coming across its striking features Bradbeer recalled his own serious accident and was once again drawn to the image of a male figure during or after plummeting to the ground. No doubt, there was an autobiographical connection and in a very physical sense it became, by happenstance, almost a re-enactment of his accident when the drawing and its large and heavy backing fell back on him, pinning him to the ground. He extricated himself without harm, but his fingernail scratches remain on the drawing as an unexpected memento of the fall and its original link to his accident in 1972 when he was a lodger in the Victorian rural town of Wedderburn, some 200 kilometres North of Melbourne. The most extraordinary thing about the drawing’s anecdotal content is its chronological “stretch” – the drawing’s reason for being reaches back a remarkable forty-three years. Bradbeer calls it
a “revisiting”; yet when he saw the Bowie album cover it must have felt more like an echo that reverberated with his own tragic experience. To have the drawing fall on him as he worked on it adds what can only be called a multifaceted uncanniness to the circumstances of the drawing. Bradbeer almost admitted as much when he almost furtively revealed that the drawing “means a lot to me”, without taking the matter further; significantly, he has not worked on the drawing since it toppled on him. Bradbeer’s The Lodger Revisited is poignant – its perplexing theme is unsettling. Disconcerting uncanniness pervades the composition like heady incense. For example: the drawing’s pictorial space is illogical and ambiguous; its figure has fallen but seems to be ascending like a saint and yet, at another glimpse, appears to be held down by an invisible force; one looks both down upon and up at a martyr broken on a torture rack or ascending to Heaven – it is a death with attendants or a re-birth with midwives; the figure is alone save for isolated features that recall some of the works of Caravaggio and others during the Italian Baroque and Mannerist periods; the pose is very awkward and slightly alarming when considered as a bizarre radiography position (as in Francis Bacon) and the figure’s chest seems lit up, glowing like a cathode tube or an x-ray image. The most extraordinary thing about the drawing’s artistic content is its finely worked and focussed attention upon the exposed chest of the figure – made all the more obvious by its dramatically charged contrast with its surrounding pictorial space. What Bradbeer had in mind was the chest of the dead Christ in Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in tandem with the chest of his Dying Slave in The Louvre in Paris. In both sculptures the human chest seems to be the last repository of life – it seems still able to sustain life while all around it all is listless. To Bradbeer, the chests’ limpid and achingly touching qualities seem floodlit with an ineluctable and bittersweet significance. In his drawing nothing is permitted to distract the viewer’s attention from this central flare of flesh. Its surrounds are dark; no other portion of the body is made prominent; legs and arms are covered and the genital area of the sprawled figure, though central in the composition, is hidden by clothing. “Intelligence is invisible, but sexuality is visible – it is centrally placed and obvious” he said; in fact, so obvious that he always hides it to avoid a “misreading” of his drawings as a form of lasciviousness. Consequently, one looks at and beyond this odd swoon of a scene – both as spectator and participant. What was furrowed into this evocative drawing was a pictorial fusion of luscious tones held in check by sonorous depths; ultimately, what Bradbeer wanted was a type of “collapsed beauty” – as he elegantly called it; only
an epicene body, clustered with associations and shrouded in mystery could contain it. All of Bradbeer’s drawings pulse with positive valence – they exude energy rather than drain it from the viewer. Bradbeer’s definitive aim is to harness the power of the known to light the path to the unknown – this is why his drawings move from the subject to the content. The viewers of Bradbeer’s seductively complex drawings undergo a three-part in turn uplift: they respond to obvious and commanding skill; recognise subject matter and are led into the inner reaches of their own inchoate worlds. This places Bradbeer directly in line with a refined contemporary school of artistic thought that uses the human body as a matrix that binds visible form (body) with invisible non-form (mind) to reveal the uncovered continuity and emotional contours of the self – the world one sees but does not notice. For Bradbeer, what moves him, what motivates him, is the intriguing way the outer serves as a repository for the inner. Ken Wach Associate Professor Ken Wach Former Principal Research Fellow and Head of the School of Creative Arts The University of Melbourne.
Mortal Trash and Juvenile Sublime 1968-1980 (printed 2015 - 2016) limited edition artist books 65 x 40 cm (each)
LEFT Profile with Atlantic Fracture Version 2 1984 -2016 (detail) chinagraph, pastel and graphite on paper 325 x 254 cm (overall) RIGHT Human Shield 1995 â€“ 2001 (detail) chinagraph, pastel, graphite and synthetic polymer on paper 136 Ă— 62 cm The Archive of Humanist Art, Victoria
ABOVE Drawing O 1999 chinagraph, pastel dust and silver oxide on paper 114 x 114cm Private Collection, Melbourne RIGHT Apologia with 1000 tears 2000-2016 (detail) chinagraph, silver oxide, pastel and synthetic polymer on paper 157 x 125 cm
ABOVE Profile in Exile Version 3 2009 chinagraph, silver oxide and pastel dust on paper 118 x 125 cm LEFT Man of 1000 cuts 2009 (detail) chinagraph, pastel dust, silver oxide and graphite on paper, incised 141 x 141 cm Private Collection, Melbourne
ABOVE Imago Codex V 2010 chinagraph, pastel dust and silver oxide on paper 162 x 131 cm RIGHT Innocent Version VI 2010 Chinagraph, pastel dust and silver oxide on paper 222 x 131 cm Private Collection, Melbourne
Profile in White Light 2013 chinagraph, silver oxide and pastel dust on paper 118 x 125 cm
The Episode Version I 2013 chinagraph, silver oxide and pastel dust on paper 112 x 195 cm Private Collection, Melbourne
The Episode Version II 2013 chinagraph, silver oxide and pastel dust on paper 112 x 195 cm Private Collection, Melbourne
ABOVE Woman Ascending Version 2 2013 Chinagraph, silver oxide and pastel on paper 229 x 145 cm
RIGHT The Lodger Revisited 2015 chinagraph, silveroxide and pastel on paper 197 x 126.5 cm
pg. 2-3 Godwin Bradbeer’s studio 2016 photo Tim Gresham. pg. 4-5 Fragment of a Queen’s Face ca. 1353–1336 B.C Middle Egypt, Amarna (Akhetaten) yellow jasper marble The Metropolitan Museum Collection, New York Purchased, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926 photo Godwin Bradbeer circa 1984. pg. 6 Page from found magazine, circa 1980, displaying the Holy Shroud of Turin in enshrined context. Image supplied by the artist. pg. 7 Electroplated, nickel silver teaspoons worn through, in the studio. photo Godwin Bradbeer.
pg. 8-9 Godwin Bradbeer in conversation with Jan Nelson circa 1979 Sexual Intercourse 1979 (background) chinagraph, pastel and graphite on paper 107 x 228 cm (overall) photo Nicky Capriolo. pg. 14 Page from found magazine, circa 1980, a contributing inspiration to the ‘Fall’ drawing. Image supplied by the artist. pg. 42-43 Godwin Bradbeer’s studio 2016 LEFT: Terribilitta (Horseman diptych) 1990 (detail) chinagraph, pastel and graphite on paper RIGHT: Terribilitta cartoon 1990-2016 charcoal dust transferred to plaster wall 278 x 245 cm photo Tim Gresham.
List of works
Sexual Intercourse 1979 chinagraph, pastel and graphite on paper 107 x 228 cm (overall) Mortal Trash 1968-1980 (printed 2015) limited edition artist book 65 x 40 cm Juvenile Sublime 1968-1980 (printed 2016) limited edition artist book 65 x 40 cm Fall 1981 chinagraph, silver oxide and pastel dust on paper 310 x 115 cm Profile with Atlantic Fracture Version 2 1984 -2016 chinagraph, pastel and graphite on paper 325 x 254 cm (overall) Human Shield 1995 â€“ 2001 chinagraph, pastel, graphite and synthetic polymer on paper 136 Ă— 62 cm The Archive of Humanist Art, Victoria Drawing O 1999 chinagraph, pastel dust and silver oxide on paper 114 x 114cm Private Collection, Melbourne
Apologia with 1000 tears 2000-2016 chinagraph, silver oxide, pastel and synthetic polymer on paper 157 x 125 cm Man of 1000 cuts 2009 chinagraph, pastel dust, silver oxide and graphite on paper, incised 141 x 141 cm Private Collection, Melbourne Profile in Exile Version 3 2009 chinagraph, silver oxide and pastel dust on paper 118 x 125 cm Imago Codex V 2010 chinagraph, pastel dust and silver oxide on paper 162 x 131 cm Innocent Version VI 2010 Chinagraph, pastel dust and silver oxide on paper 222 x 131 cm Private Collection, Melbourne Tabula Rasa series 2010-2016 chalk and pencil on found blackboards, incised 35 x 24 cm each
Profile in White Light 2013 chinagraph, silver oxide and pastel dust on paper 118 x 125 cm The Episode Version I 2013 chinagraph, silver oxide and pastel dust on paper 112 x 195 cm Private Collection, Melbourne The Episode Version II 2013 chinagraph, silver oxide and pastel dust on paper 112 x 195 cm Private Collection, Melbourne Woman Ascending Version 2 2013 Chinagraph, silver oxide and pastel on paper 229 x 145 cm The Lodger Revisited 2015 chinagraph, silveroxide and pastel on paper 197 x 126.5 cm All works are courtesy of the artist; James Makin Gallery, Melbourne; unless otherwise stated.
Terribilata Cartoon 1990-2016 series of charcoal and pastel dust transferred to plaster wall dimensions variable
Tabula Rasa series 2010â€“2016 chalk and pencil on found blackboards, incised 35 x 24 cm each
Godwin Bradbeer was born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1950. After briefly living in Scotland, his family arrived in Melbourne in 1955, where he currently lives and works. Bradbeer completed a Higher Diploma of Secondary Teaching (Art & Craft) at Melbourne State College 1971 and subsequently taught at various high schools throughout regional Victoria. He began his early career working with photography and held many exhibitions with his friend and colleague, artist Warren Breninger. Bradbeer completed a Bachelor of Education at the University of Melbourne 1984 and his Masters of Art at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology 1994. Over his career he has held over 44 solo exhibitions in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Cologne, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Korea and over 90 two person and group exhibitions. Bradbeer has held recurring exhibitions in Melbourne for over four decades at the Stuart Gerstman (Melbourne) 1977- 87 and GertsmanAbdallah Fine Art Galleries, (Cologne) 1986, David Ellis Fine Art, 1990 and 1992 and Lyall Burton Galleries, 1993 and 1998, Holdsworth Galleries (Syd), Annandale Gallery (Syd), BMG Galleries (Adelaide) and Adelaide Central School of Art. Early group exhibition inclusions were at the highly influential Argus gallery, 1968 and Strines gallery, 1969 in Melbourne. The major survey exhibition Godwin Bradbeer – The Metaphysical Body – curated by Kirsten Lacey was held at the Shepparton Regional Gallery in 2006 and toured extensively throughout regional Victoria and New South Wales. Bradbeer has also been the winner of numerous prizes including winner of The Dobell Prize for Drawing, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1998 and a finalist twelve times. Other important group exhibitions include: Drawn and Quartered, Art Gallery of South
Australia, Adelaide and the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, 1980; ‘Art 15’84’ International Art Fair Cologne, 1984, The Figure, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1986; Selected Contemporary Drawings, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 1986; Metamorphosis, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Mornington, 1998; Works on Paper: Contemporary Artists from Australia, College of Fine Arts at the Seoul National University, Korea, 1999; The Fifth Australian Drawing Biennale, Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, Canberra, 2004; Male Order, Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, Wagga Wagga, 2004; 19 Australian Artists Elizabeth Holden Gallery, Warren Wilson College, Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A., 2006; 24 Hours, Human Centre, Sangmyung University, Je Ju Island, Korea, 2006; Bodies and Minds, Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne, 2007 and Brummels: Australia’s first gallery of photography, Monash Gallery of Art, Victoria, 2011. Bradbeer has held significant teaching positions including Senior Lecturer and Head of Drawing at R.M.I.T. 2005 – 2010; Lecturer in Painting and Drawing at Monash University, 1993-1998; Melbourne University, 1993-1998; the Victorian College of the Arts, 1987-1989 and Senior Lecturer and Head of Painting, Phillip Institute, 1990-1992. Bradbeer’s work is represented in major public collections including the National Gallery of Australia; National Gallery of Victoria; Art Gallery of New South Wales; Art Gallery of South Australia; Parliament House Art Collection; Artbank; Deutche Bank; University of Melbourne; Monash University Collection; Deakin University Art Collection; Latrobe University; Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Shepparton Art Gallery; The Archive of Humanist Art; the City of Hume Collection and private collections in Australia and internationally. Godwin Bradbeer is represented by James Makin Gallery, Melbourne. 41
John Williams, Photography, Melbourne Times, 1971. Beatrice Faust, Photogarbology the Now Mythology, Nation Review, 1975. Craig McGregor, Australian Photography, Australian Photo â€“Special Edition, 1976. Carol Parker, Eye view, Vogue Australia, April 1976. Deborah Marlowe, At the Centre, Camera and Cine, March 1978. Paul Taylor (ed.), Anything Goes: Art in Australia 19701980, Art & Text, 1984. Janet McKenzie, Drawing in Australia: Contemporary Images and Ideas, Macmillan Art Publishing, 1986. Arthur McIntyre, Australian Contemporary Drawing, Boolarong, 1988. Robert Rooney, Naked Truth, The Australian, 12 December 1992. Alec McHoul and Wendy Grace (eds.) A Foucault Primer: Discourse Power and the Subject, Melbourne University Press, 1993.
Allan McCulloch Revised and Updated by Susan McCulloch McCullochâ€™s The New Encyclopedia of Australian Art., Third ed., Aus Art Editions in association with Miegunyuh Press and Melbourne University Publishing, 1994. Peter Timms, Taking Erotic Art Back to the Temple, The Age, August 1998. Sheridan Palmer, Australian Paper Awards, Imprint magazine, Vol.34. No.3., 1999. Hendrik Kollenberg, The Dobell Prize for Drawing, Art Gallery of New South Wales, first edition 2002/second edition 2012. William Kelly, Art and Humanist Ideals Contemporary Perspectives, Macmillan Art Publishing, 2003. Ken Scarlett, Limited Recall, Macmillan Art Publishing, 2005. Peter Westwood, Portraits in Exile, Ardell Gallery of Modern Art (Bangkok) 2009. Steve Lopes, Profile Godwin Bradbeer, Artist Profile magazine, Issue 12, 2010. Jeff Makin, Critical Moments, Macmillan, 2011.
Janet McKenzie, Contemporary Australian Drawing #1, Macmillan Art Publishing, 2012. Janet McKenzie, Pentimenti, Studio International, 2013. Stephen Farthing and Janet McKenzie, The Drawn Word, Studio International and Studio Trust, 2014. For a complete bibliography and outline of exhibitions by the artist visit www.jamesmakingallery.com www.godwinbradbeer.com
The Deakin University Art Collection and Gallery extends its sincere appreciation to Godwin Bradbeer for his collaboration in the realisation of this exhibition. It has been a privilege to work closely with Godwin, his flare, enthusiasm and generosity of spirit has been integral to the project. The development of the exhibition has benefitted greatly from the involvement of James Makin from James Makin Gallery. Many thanks to your support, advice and hard work. This exhibition has brought together a significant number of works from Godwinâ€™s prolific oeuvre and I thank the artist and the private and public lenders who have entrusted works from their collections. My profound thanks also to Dr. Ken Wach for his thoughtful and considered catalogue essay, his generous support of this project and his mentorship. Finally, grateful acknowledgement to my colleagues in the Art Collection and Galleries Unit for their counsel and assistance in myriad ways: Leanne Willis, Claire Muir, Julie Nolan, Vanja Radisic and Brad Rusbridge for his expert installation of the exhibition. James Lynch Ken Wach was grateful to James Lynch, the exhibitionâ€™s curator, and to Godwin Bradbeer especially for his wonderfully open conversations and generous help on 7 October, 28 November and 1 December 2016.
I wish to thank Deakin University Art Collection and Gallery and Leanne Willis in particular for this opportunity to provide a survey of my work to the academic and general public. James Lynch has been a most comprehending and sympathetic curator to work with and I have appreciated his mutual trust in all aspects of preparation of this exhibition and catalogue. I wish to sincerely thank Associate Professor Ken Wach for his insightful writing about my work and for the constancy of his endorsement of my art and its peculiarities. I would like to thank Gabrielle Perversi for her decades of support to myself and the management of my work and my children I thank for their life long patience and encouragement. I have been fortunate to have had parents who gave me fine art books from an early age and who encouraged me in an expressive life despite frequently constrained circumstances. Further to this I have had the ongoing good fortune of exactingly articulate dialogue with my three brothers throughout a lifetime of artistic practice. I do not take these things for granted. By his extraordinary independence of vision and his expressive energy and I am grateful to my longstanding friend and fellow artist Warren Breninger who forged a pathway of unique vision that benefited me immeasurably in my early years as an artist. Finally I wish to gratefully acknowledge the encouraging and accommodating support of James Makin of the James Makin Gallery. Godwin Bradbeer
Godwin Bradbeer: Stigma and Enigma Exhibition dates 8 March to 13 April 2017 Deakin University Art Gallery © 2017 the artist, the authors and publisher. Copyright to the works is retained by the artist and his/her descendants. No part of this publication may be copied, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted or reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher and the individual copyright holder(s). The views expressed within are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views held by Deakin University. Unless otherwise indicated all images are reproduced courtesy the artist and James Makin Gallery Melbourne. Photography is by Godwin Bradbeer, Nicky Capriolo, Tim Gresham, William Kelly, Vicky Petherbridge and Gary Sommerfeld unless otherwise indicated. Image measurements are height x width x depth. Exhibition curator: James Lynch Deakin University Published by Deakin University 978-0-9944025-4-7 Edition 500 copies Catalogue design: Jasmin Tulk Deakin University Art Gallery Deakin University Melbourne Campus at Burwood 221 Burwood Highway Burwood 3125 T +61 3 9244 5344 E firstname.lastname@example.org www.deakin.edu.au/art-collection Gallery hours Tuesday – Friday 10 am – 4 pm Free Entry Deakin University CRICOS Provider Code: 00113B
Facebook.com/ArtDeakin Twitter.com/ArtDeakin Instagram.com/deakinartgallery izi.travel - sculpture walk at Burwood Cover and reverse image: Godwin Bradbeer The Episode Version I and II 2013 chinagraph, silver oxide and pastel dust on paper 112 x 195 cm (each) Private Collection, Melbourne