24 August 2009

Rone Waugh Paints Lionel Britton

The Australian artist Rone Waugh is an admirer and a relative of the working-class writer Lionel Britton, and, inspired by Fredda Brilliant's bust of the wild man, has painted this tribute, which is 'a diptych, acrylic and beeswax on canvas 1.5m x 2m over the 2 panels':

Rone asked me to comment on this work, and my reply (after deleting a few spelling errors on my part), was:

'Hi Rone

'Many thanks for sending me this brilliant diptych. I was too tired, after a long drive yesterday, to make a coherent reply to your question, but have probably woken up and recovered sufficiently to make an acceptable response. I love the brown study of Britton's face, which is tremendously evocative of the suffering he went through, and his preoccupations etched out subtly in the background are very effective. The hunger and love dichotomy/marriage is of course more pronounced because hunger and love – the experiences and the book itself – were his central preoccupations. (It's significant that, some years after the publication of Hunger and Love, Britton told a journalist that he regularly returned to the novel and learned more things from it.) The Picassoeque blue girl aptly occupies the 'love' side.

'And then we come to the 'socialist realism' banner, running amost parallel to the preoccupations, which intrigues me. This was of course the prevailing Soviet aesthetic, and although not all Stalinist critics wholly identified with it in private, the majority of them toed the line in public, such as when Radek repeatedly denounced modernism, and Joyce in particular, as 'bourgeois'. So 'socialist realism' is at odds with the Cubist-inspired blue girl, and (in spite of the heavily realistic elements in Britton's work) at odds with Britton's politics (especially after his visit to Russia), and at odds with his aesthetic – he was very much in favour of avant-garde cinema, for instance, and tried to introduce strongly impressionistic elements into his writing. So I assume that 'socialist realism' is a piece of graffiti written on the painting by the upholders of the Stalinist aesthetic.

'But, of course, there seems to be a major contradiction: the graffiti is blue rather than red. Is this because red would have clashed too strongly with the other colours, and/or made the painting too simplistic? Is the blue the Stalinist graffitist's own contradictions – his or her rebellious thoughts – coming to the fore? Or is the Stalinist graffitist saying that Britton's work (associating the blue, perhaps, with Picasso) is a modernist bastardization of socialist realism? Or am I way off the mark? Not that it matters, of course, because any kind of artistic work should provoke ideas, and you've certainly done that.

'I'd welcome your comments on my comments, though.

'Cheers and well done!


Rone's response:

'Hi Tony.

'Many thanks for your positive response to my painting and your comments are right on the money.

'The rationale behind the graffiti is that it represents the misunderstanding by the Russians of Lionel's politics and also his book.

'Having said that I should explain I am very much an intuitive painter and don't try to over-analyse what I do either before or after. In fact paintings that rely on explanation have failed IMHO.

'In hindsight the reason for the use of blue graffiti is that red would have given undue emphasis and, as you suggest, been less thought provoking. The fact that I only have one can of spray paint probably has nothing to do with it :)

'The attached pic is a painting (also a diptych about the same size as the Britton work) I made recently of the prime minister of Australia Kevin Rudd. His uninformed comment on photographer Bill Henson's work is depicted with the same spray can.

'Cheers and thanks again for your comments.


'PS: The photos are not the best and don't show the texture which is an important element of my work. I hope to make a better effort soon.'

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