19 December 2015

Julian Meagher 'Alone in the Sun' at Edwina Corlette Gallery

Words: Saskia Edwards
Images: Jonathan Rae

I think everyone has had a moment where they become conscious, and feel very acutely, that they are a product of their parents. Maybe it’s your same fear of cats as your mother, or that you like your toast slightly burnt like your father, or that you’ll always vote Labor because they told you that’s what’s right. 

But more than these obvious, more tangible things, your parents can deeply and permanently instil in you your values, opinions and beliefs. And it’s only when you're spraying your neighbour’s Tabby with your garden hose do you realise it.

But what about their parents? And your parents’ parents’ parents? How has that influenced you?

Well, that’s what painter Julian Meagher is looking at. 

“I think we can all see traits of ourselves in our mum and dad and, then I’m looking at further, well they’ve obviously got their parents in them as well,” he told me.

“We all must inherit something and as a nation, we have these shared traits as well - our love of drinking, our love of the beach, our identity, what makes us who we are?

“And I think as you get older, you start to look back and ask, ‘Why am I, who I am? Why do I have these values? And why do I react in these ways?’”

The hero piece of this series, ‘Alone In The Sun’, is a shadowy image of a group of turn-of-the-century women. They pose for a photo in an austere style with seemingly transparent faces. It has the same feeling as Jane Campion’s ‘The Piano’. It’s eerie and also distant. These women are Julian’s ancestors. 

“I was at christmas dinner and I looked at the wall and there was the really powerful ghost-like image of these women from the early 1900s and I said, ‘who’s this?’, and she [Julian’s mother] said, ‘It’s your great-great grandma who lived out in the bush’.

“I’d never seen this image and they were so ghostly, it was such a powerful image.”

Julian also looks specifically at the relationship between drinking in Australia and our ancestry. 

“I started looking at broader things around masculinity and Australian identity years ago with drinking culture and things because I like painting bottles.”

In this series there are paintings of bottles, some fallen, others acting as vases for native Australian flowers. They are symbols for our uniquely Australian relationship with alcohol.

“In other countries, for example in Italy, if you get too drunk, you dishonour the family, in Australia the more drunk you get, the more honour you bring.

“Our Prime Minister holds the record for sculling a beer, our famous cricketer David Boon holds the record for drinking 52 tinnies on a flight to London. They’re our heroes.

“It’s very engrained in our culture because Australia’s very isolated, it’s all about how tough you are, how stoic you are.”

It’s worth noting here, that Julian hasn’t always been an artist. In fact, he’s still a registered doctor. 

“The switch is easy, having a career as an artist is the hard part.

“I think it’s way harder to be an artist than to be a doctor to be honest.

“To keep creating the works, it’s such an unstable career. Art is very difficult financially, particularly in early years and it’s a very, very tough road and it’s quite a solitary thing.”

His works are influenced by his medical career. His painting is very clinical. He’s “no wild, crazy artist”. And it is evident in his clean, precise works, that really do examine history, drinking and identity.

So, are we ‘Alone in the Sun’? Really, we’re not alone. We’re the combination of thousands of ancestors, people we’ll never know, but who have shaped us.

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