The title of Gordon Bennett’s latest exhibition: “(Abstraction) Citizen” is just waiting to be deconstructed. They are tempting text to use as a springboard for an examination of Australia’s race relationship and representation.
The paintings themselves, Bennett’s series of double portraits invites more critical discourse about the dichotomy between words and identity, abstraction and representation, citizens and non-citizens. In Bennett’s painting the pink lines that make one face are on top of the black/brown X-ray, geometric figures that are reminiscent of figures by Jean-Michel Basquiat. In 1998 Bennett started to channel Basquiat in his paintings. Bennett saw similarities his Anglo-Celtic and Aboriginal ancestry and Basquiat’s Haitian/Puerto Rican, as well as, that Basquiat’s art that was an amalgam of visual images and ideas.
Underneath the double portraits of imaginary people Gordon Bennett has written words on the canvas, titling the portraits with text: “suburbanite”, “burgher”, “indigene”, “citizenry”, “colonist” and “population”.
The philosopher Max Stirner wrote: “…in order to be a real I, a ‘free burgher’, a ‘citizen’, a ‘free and true man’, they too see the truth and reality of me in the reception of an alien I and devotion to it. And what sort of I? An I that is neither an I nor a you, a fancied I, a spook.” (The Ego and Its Own p.225)
Max Stirner argues that identities like ‘citizen’ are alien abstractions; that I am not a citizen, a suburbanite, a burgher, an indigene, citizenry, colonist, or even population. The words that Bennett has written on his paintings are abstractions; they are not representational or representative of an individual. The words suggest a membership of an abstract group. It is also a reference to Bennett’s alternate identity as “John Citizen”.
Gordon Bennett keeps on changing his style of painting. I remember seeing his retrospective of twenty years of art at the NGV in 2007 and being struck by the variety of media, besides painting, that Bennett has used including videos and self-portraits in the form of installations with dressing tables. Bennett’s ‘cut & paste’ aesthetic appropriates everyone; he mixes Pollock with Pop Art, Phillip Guston with De Stijl, going from one extreme to another. He could, at this stage of his career be resting on his achievements and like many other established artists continuing to turn out trademark style paintings but instead he keeps on changing.
Gordon Bennett is a post-modern stylistic master of appropriation mixing Western and Australian aboriginal art with a post-colonial agenda. This sounds very serious but Bennett makes post-modernism visual delight. Gordon Bennett’s art will remain a critical favourite with his references and thought provoking work but his art remains fun and visually appealing.