Cameron Hayes

At once densely descriptive and metaphorical, Cameron Hayes's narrative paintings work as both diagnoses of contemporary society and foreboding predictions for the future.

The scholar Thomas Jessen Adams, in an article for Overland, draws an apt line of connection between Cameron Hayes’s paintings and the open-ended dystopias of Breughel. Take the polyptych In the South Pole the explorers were so afraid of not having enough food for winter that they starved to death in summer, 2001-2, for example. Across the work’s four frames, dimensions collide into each other, and the horizon constantly slips out from underneath the viewer’s eye. The picture is luscious with detail, painstakingly rendered – and Hayes’s works often take months, or even years, to complete.

This detail, however, is not so didactic as the work’s declarative title might lead us to believe. While many figures are recognisably human, disembodied heads and limbs also float through the space. The scale of the various figures also troubles an understanding of them as situated along the same plane, either of space or of reality. That is, there is a symbolic, metaphorical dimension at work in these works – and, yet, one in which meaning is never entirely resolved, or pinned down.

Many of the works take for the literal aspect of their subject matter the conditions of contemporary social and political life. Before there were laws for corporate paedophilia, 2003, for example, gives us a bacchanal of flesh – that is, both living bodies and meat – that is at once terrifying and recognisable, in the wake of current discussions about sexual harassment in the corporate and public sectors. The fight between Moomba and Lent, 2019, shows shipping containers stacked to build an artificial, counter-intuitive horizon line in the back of the picture. They crowd the space just as the abstract capital upon which our economic lives are built crowds the seas (or indeed, in recent weeks, the canals).

Yet, through their open-ended symbolic dimensions, these images aim at something more universal than news-y. Hayes himself has commented on his desire to capture the past, present, and future all within the still frame of the picture. The worlds referred to, or conjured up, in these images, are both immediate to and far from the packed surface of the paintings themselves.

EXHIBTION
She died in a child welfare tribunal, he died in an adult bookshop
13 April – 2 May 2021
Australian Galleries, Melbourne

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