Julian Meagher Interview
My work still has a slightly clinical edge, or at least it is quite observational, considered and clean.
Last night, Julian Meagher's latest show 'Blue Ribbon' opened at Sydney's Chalk Horse gallery. This new body of work – which appears to be rendered in watercolour, but is actually painted using oils – sees an exploration into masculinity. This is most obvious through Meagher's focus on portraiture (which takes his friends as subjects), and also through the motif of empty beer bottles and boxes which comment on the role of alcohol in male coming-of-age rituals. The flowers seem to add a sense of femininity, but, as Meagher tells us, the word orchid is derived from the Greek word for testical (you learn something new everyday), and the birds are thrown in because of their overt mating rituals. Oyster caught up with the artist.
Sophie Bosch: What made you change your career from doctor to artist?
Julian Meagher: I always wanted to be an artist, even as a young kid. As I've gotten older, I've become more aware of what I really want to achieve before my number comes up.
Has working as a doctor influenced the way you paint and represent bodies?
I'm sure it has. My work still has a slightly clinical edge, or at least it is quite observational, considered and clean.
You've painted a lot of bodies with tattoos. Have you got any?
I have one, which covers an old one. It's of a fighting rooster. It means nothing, which is what I wanted it to mean. I like how dodgy homemade tats that look like whimsical thoughts are actually permanent.
Would you ever be a tattoo artist as a side project?
No, it's a bit too permanent an art form for me. I like being able to scrub off paintings and repaint areas as they build and as my ideas change. I love what you can do with oil paint too much to change mediums.
Your work often address masculinity, what made you so interested in this concept?
My work shifted gradually towards the notion of masculinity. It's an interesting subject to explore; there is a lot of scope within it to look at male rites of passage, symbolic branding, humour and all its rituals.
You take your friends as representations of Australian masculinity in your work, what do they think about being in your shows?
I paint my friends a lot simply because it's convenient and they allow me to paint them in any way that suits the show. There is also the history of growing up together, and that notion of the portrait documenting a stage or feeling on the sitter's life at that point in time.
Do you drink a lot of beer or is that exactly the kind of thing you're against, the male drinking culture and beer as a masculine ritual and symbol?
I don't drink much actually, especially now that I paint every day, I find even one or two drinks will derail a work. But yeah, like most Australian males, I drank quite a bit when I was growing up. Even now if a friend is going through a hard time, things are usually discussed over a 'few' beers.
What do you think masculinity means now? Do you think men are so certain of their role and position in society these days?
I think things are pretty blurred at the moment. Everyone is a bit confused with their role which is both good and bad. 'Real' men can wear pink. Can 'real' men use beauty products? I wish things were modeled off the philosophy of tango, where men can be masculine and women can be as equally strong but both are in a complementary and poetic symbiosis.
Do you think guys partake in a performance of masculinity and masculine ritual for other guys, to impress girls or both?
Both. Without a doubt.
What inspired your new show?
Each show I do is mainly informed by the previous one, although, I saw an amazing show at the Museum of Sydney on Birds of Paradise this year, which inspired me to paint a series based on them. The little men go to such extreme lengths to get a female's attention, I just really felt for them and obviously saw a lot of parallels with our own culture. With all their ornamental plumage and crazy mating dances, it's very hard not to be fans of these birds.
What's your favourite painting in the new show?
My favourite painting would be 'Blue Ribbon' after which the show is named.
What does messy neat realism mean?
Messy neat realism is a term I used to describe my loose application of multiple layers of paint within quite a considered composition. I don't have the patience to be a hyper-realist.
Could you tell us about your use of the orchid in many of your works?
I paint them mainly because they are a beautiful pink and don't have a lot of leaves, which I find annoying to paint. They are all petal and stem. Plus 'orchida' is the Greek word for testicle and the flower was named that because to the ancients, the roots resembled balls and they were ground down into goats milk as an aphrodisiac drink. Now the 'balls' sit in empty beer bottles, once full of the promise of a good time.
Blue Ribbon by Julian Meagher will run at Chalk Horse until December 23.
Introduction: Ingrid Kesa