Review: Geoff Newton - Paintings

Neon Parc 4 April to 28 April

Geoff Newton's show at Neon Parc is good. A collection of smallish paintings, ranging from well painted to poorly painted, gestural to quite tight, conceptual to figurative they hang together beautifully in the space with authority and confidence as well as a willingness to experiment and fail.
Armando Ianucci recently commented on the conflict he felt as a comedian. Is he contributing to political debate and awareness through his topical comedic observations, or is he bolstering what he terms the tyranny of lightness. This is often characterised as a symptom of our times -  the normal comment runs along the lines of "these days news is increasing watered down and the media seems more obsessed with celebrity and novelty than in-depth analysis." This is a myth, of course, Western culture has struggled with 'seriousness' for centuries and while the balance between 'heavy' analysis and 'light' comedy or entertainment has shifted at different times, it is a tension that has produced rich and fascinating work.  Unfortunately, this tension between seriousness and comedic  has also yielded some incredibly dull work, especially when it comes to trying to analyse the humour itself.
 
Laugh at yourself
Here is an example of just how awful this sort of approach can be. From CIO Magazine
Managers need to set the tone for humour. The first place to start is by looking in the mirror.
For example, a manager might begin a review of a failed project they approved with a self-inflicted jab like, ‘The manager who signed off on this project might just be looking for a new job next week.’ It’s permission to look objectively at the facts and a license to offer criticism.
Or if your team fails to meet the expected quota of work, you might say something like, ‘We fell a bit short this month. If we fall any shorter, we won’t have anywhere to look but up.’ Quips like this don’t dismiss the issue but they help soothe bruised egos. (Note: keep all humour clean and positive.)
 
Best
The best work achieves a balance and a tension between light and heavy in itself. The consumer can enjoy the humour or delve more deeply into the truth behind it. This is where Newton's work lies.
But Newton's show poses a problem for critical analysis. These paintings are funny and they are serious. The seriousness is part of the humour and vice versa. We may describe a joke by saying that it consists of a play with the dual meaning of the term 'long face' in which the literal sense that a horse may be said to have a long face is deliberately confused with the metaphorical meaning that a person with a long face is someone with a dolorous expression. But what would the point of that be?
 
Death Joke
Self portrait with fried calamari rings - a blank head reminiscent of a wig-maker model head, or the stylized mannequins of Leger fronted by overlapping brown rings. You are what you eat, this picture seems to imply. Or perhaps more broadly, we become what we consume. Or even more broadly, we reflect what we see.  "I want my death to be a funny one" proclaims a painting written in bones font on a rainbow background. The painting wittily refers to contemporary attitudes to death (it happens to people somewhere else), the tradition of the vanitas, the Darwin awards (death can be funny) and the vision of the artist as a rock-star. See how I'm killing this show by writing about it?
 
Beware
Newton is a man acquainted with the art scene in a way that metal fans are across the metal scene. "Curators Beware, artists are all around you" proclaims a poster style work. The sense of in-jokes and references beyond my grasp is both unsettling and pleasing. The work stretches me - it is not obvious, nor is it arcane. This is tapping into another myth - this feels like work by a player in his world. Who wouldn't want to buy into that? Collectors beware - the artworld is here in these paintings, get some.

Discuss this review in the forum

By Sam Leach

Sam Leach

Leach is an artist living and working in Melbourne. He was born in Adelaide in 1973 and moved to Melbourne in the early 90s. Leach completed his honours degree in painting at RMIT in 2004 and is currently doing his masters. In 2006 Leach won the Metro5 prize and the Geelong contemporary art prize. This year he was a finalist in the Archibald. Leach shows at Nellie Castan gallery in Melbourne (show coming up in June) and Sullivan and Strumpf gallery in Sydney