Art & Australia Review by Vikki Riley, March 2006
meat > potato Darwin September 2005
Gallery Philip Neville lies in the epicentre of Darwin's rapid urban development. Across the road aboriginal families sit under ancient tamarind trees, while new skyscrapers appear on the horizon and American troops drive by in camouflage trucks in transit to Iraq. It was a fitting venue in which to show the work of Brisbane artist Anthony Bennett.Bennett's paintings are an estranged but incisive take on pop art, American consumerism, junk food and television. As Bennett says he 'maintains a strict regime of only working during the ad-breaks'. His paintings refigure and disfigure the classic symbols of consumerism, depicting melting Coke bottles, Campbell's soup cans and Marlboro cigarettes alongside portraits of the superheroes Batman, Wonder Woman, Mickey Mouse and even Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly. These well-known icons enter into unsettling juxtapositions in Bennett's painting: once bright and garish colours now run together in smears, and startling semiotic musings and equations litter the canvas.
Bennett's titles say much about his art practice: 'art kills', 'brad loves jen' and 'tom cruise is a dick' read like slogans from an era in which graffiti ruled. However, in the portrait of the 'Star Wars' anti-hero Darth Vader, 'In the Name of the Father', the force of Bennett's potent anti-corporate brush draws us galaxies away from the niceties of much recent contemporary art.
And while it is tempting to join the dots and connect Bennett's sensibility to previous attempts at the genre- Tony Woods, Juan Davila and Maria Kozic come to mind- there is just too much irreverence and visible destruction present in Bennett's work to reduce it to those terms. Bennett destructs and transforms not only the conspicuously appropriated images themselves, but also the well-worn theoretical canons which validate their appropriation by western artists in the first place. 'Name of the Father' can be read as demolishing both Joseph Campbell and patriarchal Christianity, or something along those lines.
If art and culture is to have any voice left in reassessing itself - amid the cauterising effects of mass-media overload - surely it must eventually implode and enter a period of detoxification or spin-dry. This is why Bennett's humble resin canvases float above the dead sea of apolitical conceptual art which floods most Australian galleries; it shouts out boldly that we've all had too much to think.
'tom cruise is a dick',
acrylic resin on canvas,
120cm x 120cm