25 March 2017
I had heard whispers. I had seen pictures on Facebook, but not in its entirety. It was a painting, a very large one. It was controversial, in your face, offensive to many people. It looked great though. I wanted to see it. So I arranged with the artists Richard Darbyshire and Rosie Parsonson for a private viewing.
In the hills over the Otaika Valley there it was, hanging on the back wall of a normal Kiwi garage, partly concealed by a stack of cardboard boxes. Like any painting this size you can’t take it in all at once, it just flows over you at first, overwhelming. But then, as if your eyes are becoming accustomed to the light, you begin to make out the details. And what details they are! Amidst the seductive and tempestuous swirl of colour and line there are swans and skulls, dinosaurs and toy soldiers, bunnies and naked women, fighter bombers and butterflies. My Little Pony smokes a pipe. The Pope clutches a throbbing, bloody heart. Two skeletons copulate. It’s a nightmare of kitsch. It’s an inventory of vices. It’s fun and it’s terrible. It’s the modern world. It’s titled For Baby’s Room.
Which parent would dare put this on the wall next to the cot? None I’m sure, but it’s a wonderful thought. I still have dreams about the safari animals on the curtains of my room when I was a kid. What nightmares might this painting induce? What creativities and ways of knowing might it encourage?
Viewing this work I’m not shocked. How could I be in the Internet Age? There’s nothing here that compares with what we can see every day online if we choose (and even if we don’t). This is cartoon titillation. The war games, the cuddly toys, the bimbos and big guns, the religious icons and uniforms, the glint in the eye of cartoon animals ― aren’t we too easily seduced by idolatry in its various forms?
This might not be the artists’ exact intentions but this painting, for me, is a very moral work. I view it and feel somewhat cleansed. It’s a visual reminder of the superficiality we consume and which consumes us. But you can turn away, you can look within to the person you would at least like to be. It’s your life to live.
In the top right hand corner of the painting the hand of God appears through the cloud holding a golden staff, which he appears to be using to stir a circular medieval town. In the bottom left hand corner, a figure with a yellow Pac-Man head, mouth agape, sits at a keyboard with joystick in hand. It’s like he’s manipulating the chaos of the entire painting. Between these two manipulators, God and the gamer, we are still free to consider what is good and what is evil, virtue or vice. This painting says to the viewer: “On your conscience be it.”
I have no problem saying that this painting is a local masterpiece. It deserves to be seen by more people, which is why I suggest the Whangarei Art Museum gets on to buying it straight away.