Review: My Plastic Everything-Jackson Slattery

Jackson Slattery

My Plastic Everything
Sutton Project Space
230 Young St Fitzroy
May 14 to June 13
1pm to 5pm Friday and Saturday
Slattery is certainly one of the most interesting painters working in Melbourne. This show is a rare opportunity to see a major body of his work in a solo show. I urge anyone able to make the trip to Fitzroy to go and see this work.
Slattery's watercolour paintings are detailed, clear and articulate. His works are based on photographs - usually quite bad photography. Which is not to say that Slattery is a photo-realist - he does not slavishly copy the photographs on which his work is based. The paintings have areas of painterly wash, loose strokes and even the occasional gesture. Slattery's paintings typically have the cold light of flash photography. A flattening effect that washes out atmosphere and shadow and leaves the world exposed in something like hyper-objectivity. Hardly anything is flattered by the flash, and Slattery's paintings seem to emphasise this unblinking view of reality. There is a sensuality in Slattery's handling of the watercolour which is at odds with the harshness of the photographic source.
In this show images of Rodman recur juxtaposed with menacing forest scenes, teenage girls naked or in states of distress, dented cars and the blurry abstraction of accidental photographs. At the age of 32 Dennis Rodman committed suicide. He attempted it, anyway. Symbolically, though, he claims the "shy Dennis Rodman" died and was replaced by a man of self confidence. His life since then has been large and colourful - full of sex, violence and drugs. Rodman's version of a reborn man is poignant, the glamour and the ruin are inseparable.
Most of the works in this show feature multiple images grouped on a large sheet of paper, mounted with common or garden bulldog clips on a piece of untreated MDF. The images vary in size and some are upside down. But they operate as formal composition - the line of a trunk suggestively leading the eye to the leg of a girl. Or a predominantly dark image seemingly mirroring a predominantly light image. These large works lean against the wall rather than being hung on it. This technique seems to connect the viewer with the work in a way which hanging them on a wall does not. The paintings are right there in the space with us, not behind glass or even enjoying the relative safety of a vertical realm inaccessible to floor-bound viewers. The work breaks further out of the world of representation with the inclusion of a Rodman cape - real (in the sense of actually being a cape rather than a photo or painting) but presumably a replica. The cape turns up later seen in a painting draped over the naked form of what seems to be quite a young girl.
There are countless hours of intense work in these paintings - watercolour is not a medium which is forgiving of error. Yet Slattery seems to take pains to minimise any sense of the preciousness of the object. This is emblematic of the tension in this show between beauty and squalor - though those terms seem too loaded. Maybe it is better to describe it as a tension between the raw stuff of the world and the cultured constructions made from it.
It is great work, I can't recommend it enough.

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