“if it doesn’t work …(I) take it off the table and stand it against the wall, hovering in front, rather like a slow motion film of an Australian rules football match with a player looking for an opening . . . or deciding how to pass the ball for the best tactical advantage – how to continue with the painting” ~ ^Sidney Nolan on dealing with creative blocks.
A lot of my art acquaintances, painters mostly, take umbrage at a perceived predominance of sport in our culture, our media, our funding priorities and our attention. Rock musicians seem the exception in my experience. Pub rockers and footy go hand in hand like the melted camembert that floats off your dry bikkie onto your new boots while you quaff to cough the near to metho Bowler’s run on opening night. Flick on the replay in stunning HD to realise that our guernseys are sun drenched pantone swatches dipped in adrenaline then transcoded to your pleasure centre for viewing through one eyed polarising shades.
How can we reconcile these two worlds whose mutual characteristics include silos of genre, varying degrees of public interest and community management; without the need to pull the pin on a yarn bomb? At the local level, sport has probably been slightly more successful in involving people in roles apart from merely “playing” a broader church to being simply a ‘patron’ or ‘punter’. Both are united in the struggle for a place in the vision, the chase for that immortal image whether on medium or memory of that one special capture of a moment euphoric in depiction and celebration, or critique, of contemplation, victory and defeat.
For a time art lovers in the pre VFL era some 140 years ago feared the Heidelberg school was to become the Heidelberg club when it’s captain Arthur Streeton daubed the “National Game” in 1889. Dada, surrealism and cubism intervene as artists move their interests away from the pigskin to intersections of politics, art and the absurdity of urban industrialisation. These are lofty objectives for a back pocket player just trying to get a kick after work in the mid winter mud baths that passed for grounds until well into the modern age.
Of course Footy is not all a high culture desert. There’s the Carlton theme song for instance. As you journey the AFL retrospective the odd tumble weed floats across the road, the biggest probably Sidney Nolan’s “The Footballer”. Depicted on our side of the fence, the footballer preens with us on the field before an anonymous mass behind the pickets and out of our shared “action”. Nolan was another Sainter tragic who grew up in the shadow of the junction oval and only went off the boil briefly on the “fortius quo fidelius”* creed when he got hooked riding the Ned Kelly ferris wheel. You can see the beginnings of that journey in this painting.
Years later in the 1970’s he’s spotted rightly back in the outer, smearing his facial palette with a sublime neo classical four and twenty smack bang out of the art deco pie warmer hopefully critiquing the brush strokes and movements that inform the central umpire’s point of view.
Football cards begin life tucked inside cigarette packets and pre war were artist impressions and not the later photography bathed in Indesign epicism.
Here’s a fine example that goes beyond that fashion from Len Reynolds and his “The Coventrys of Collingwood” from around 1930.
Ethel Spowers, superb Football, a magnificent lino cut from 1936 depicts the twisted anonymous mass of the pack mark superbly through the subtle use of gauche autumnal colours. No record of whom Ethel would die for on a saturday afternoon survives her alas. A PhD there again for someone.
Even our goal umpires parallel the lost world of inner urban world vaudeville and early television variety with their pork pie topped nascent incessant posing giving way to economic rationalist displays of pure adjudication and american style baseball caps.
Noel Counihan’s “High Mark” supposedly depicts Swan Roy “up there” Cazaly against the Pies on a gloomy saturday afternoon wrapped in that glorious late afternoon Melbourne winter light.
The symmetry of the players in the air echoes those true fans who marvel in the feats of players of all clubs.
The ball sits at the uppermost of the painting like a god to which players and fans alike fixate upon. The white picket fence pickets shine as harbingers of well-kept homes and grounds alike demarcating the division between partisan components of the game unified by the search for possession, for victory beyond the reach of the domestic realm.
Even John Brack that delectable chronicler of urban Melbourne despair in the 1950s, of “Collins Street” fame (and one of Madame Yum‘s favourite artists) came up with this pearler celebrating Collingwood’s 1953 with his “Three of the Players”
Treasure Michael Leunig painted the idiosyncratic watercolour “Kick to Kick” in 1996, the 100th anniversary of the VFL/AFL.Honouring the time-honoured practice between children of all ages, Leunig celebrates the freedom of only needing some space and a ball. The game is now yours, anywhere, anytime; and particularly if you’re wearing your guernsey. Even prolific artiste Mick Malthouse recently dispatched another thought-provoking piece from his Princess park studio emotionally evoking Carlton’s chances in 2015 titled simply “It’s very difficult to see where we are going to lose a game”. Pure Cocco Rococo Lossal as the Coco pops monkey used to proclaim before actors equity pulled the plug on the part time cocoa addicted baboon.
The Art Of The Game was only one of two official AFL art producers that produced limited edition AFL, inspired artworks. Here is their take on last years flag.
Click on each image for a larger display.
Enjoy this delectable roman trio from Ross Watson holding Collingwood’s Brodie Holland in a direct reference to the grand final defeats suffered at the hands of Brisbane earlier this century and french eighteenth century master Jacques-Louis David.
Finally footy punched in 2014 through after many attempts to snag an Archibald when portrait of Swan legend Adam Goode held aloft the sacred cup in the same year he occupied the Australian of the year. Sort of a two fer portraiture which the civic and sporting Goodes depicted, the later enshrined within the footy badge iconography.
Sadly Goode’s team was spanked into submission in the grand final of that year in a performance akin to puncturing the canvas of your own game plan with the remnants of your once potent brush.
- Psychotropic shoe gaze style mural abstractions painted up the length of the goal posts.
- Murals reflecting each theme round painted onto the grass inside the 50 metre arc at both ends. Players become living art works by quarter time smeared with bone crunching brushstrokes of colour and abstraction.
- Club cheer squad members wearing the Papua new Guinean mud men masks tinted in club mud colours.
- Engineered slats built into stadium walls so that as the sun sets through them during the game casting giant charcoal etchings of past heroes shadows that eclipsing the ground in the style of Martin Lewis.
- Turn back on those amazing industrial strength projectors that turned Etithad Stadium into a Big W version of Sydney’s Vivid festival on match eve.
- A special AFL section of the Archibald prize that accepts player portraiture only if it doesnt approximate a footy card profile.
- Reinstate the stalinist gothic mural that adorned the members stand (right) at Waverley Park back at the G for new generations to learn about the major schools that permeate VFL art history.
- Use disgraced businessman Alan Bond’s 1998 eclectic prison time portrait of then great Eagle Peter Materia as a crowd covering banner when the skies open at Subiaco.
- A giant wicker man style bonfire conducted pre game on the ground on the last match of the home and away season accompanied by those tiger fan club zealots who bang on their jungle drums.
This painting hangs at AFL House
^ quoted in the The Games people play
* translates as “Strength Through Loyalty”
Further reading on the footy/art dichotomy:
- Creative codes by Corrie Perkin
- The games people display by Dr Chris McAuliffe
- Footy stars as works of art by Warwick Greene
- The Lie of the Ground: Aesthetics and Australian Football by Stephen Alomes