For some time now, I have been drawn to thinking about my life as a migrant to Tasmania. It’s odd; how long it can take to realise that the subtle undercurrent of difference that has pervaded my life here could be used more purposefully as a tool for critical thinking.
The physical displacement of migration is often accompanied by a mental one when the thoughts, feelings and associations attached to one place are removed to another, new place. The artist and theorist Mieke Bal describes this dual physical and mental displacement as a heterochronic experience of time or, a disruption in the regular flow of time. My interpretation of this is that, as a migrant, I am perpetually aware of two (or more) time zones; the time of the old place and the time of the new place.
How can the time of the migrant be made in a painting?
The paintings in this exhibition are made using a form of collage; the cutting of a pictorial element from a source and pasting it into a new composition, often with other collaged elements. The paintings present a seemingly haphazard array of pictorial references derived from multiple historic periods, all of which have a biographical connection to me.
There is an image of a placard holding bible salesman and racegoers enjoying a boozy lunch at the Epsom Derby (the ‘race’ of the exhibition title). I was born and raised in Epsom on the outskirts of South West London. There is a recumbent Eve in the Garden of Eden and the imaginary future ruins of London. These images have been copied from Gustave Doré’s illustrations in the books London: A Pilgrimage (1872) and Paradise Lost (1898). I have used them as pictures of the old place; a place that is both geographically and temporally distant to me now.
The paintings also include elements derived from Paul Gauguín’s Mata Mua (1892), a partially fictionalised account of Gaugín’s new home in Tahiti. For me, the painting is an important marker of my own migratory journey having first seen it when I lived in Spain, then again, decades later when temporarily living in New York and, more recently on a trip to Madrid. These fragments find themselves amongst strangely symmetrical trees taken from a painting by John Glover (1832). Glover’s tree has been copied and flipped to produce an exotic new species that looks as European as it does Antipodean.
This assortment of subjects is complimented by different painting techniques including digital printing on spray-painted grounds, refined hand-painted detail and loosely expressive gesture. The collision of images and techniques creates a turbulent, non-linear temporal dimension that is nonetheless held together in a field of highly saturated, unworldly colour.
The ‘shore’ of the exhibition title refers to a rocky shore, painted as if standing with one’s back to the ocean looking inland to a challenging topography. This is an apt location to consider the experience of migration. It is intertidal; neither fully land nor fully ocean, characterised by diversity and adaptability. It is two places at once and can be difficult terrain to traverse.
Neil Haddon, 2019