Richard Bell | Dredging up the Past

Richard Bell’s most recent body of paintings, 'Dredging up the Past', continues the artist’s ongoing campaign spotlighting the disempowerment of Indigenous Australians and the politics of Aboriginal emancipation.

Staged at Gertrude Contemporary, the show features works that pose provocative questions about unceded Aboriginal sovereignty. Characteristically, Bell appropriates and subverts visual tropes inherent to the Western canon. In the painting One more hour of daylight, a Madonna and Child motif is transplanted atop a traditional indigenous painting, the ominous title suggesting a metaphorical tussle between daylight ad darkness; white and black. By subverting familiar twentieth century visual vernacular, Bell symbolically offers a new history, and a new canon, to be contemplated.

Many of the works in ‘Dredging up the Past’ are imbued with Bell’s characteristic irreverent humour, such as the painting Great Scott where the artist parodies Roy Lichtenstein’s pop comic-book aesthetic to render a generic satisfied blonde pondering ‘thank Christ I’m not a refugee.’ Here, Bell pitches the persecuted ‘other’ against the egocentrism of Western collective consciousness with a kind of dark humour that makes us both cringe and chuckle.

Yet there is also arguably a more serious sense of political urgency in this show than previous bodies of work, unhinged from satire and subversive wit yet still imbued with the same pervasive anger that drives Bell’s narrative as both activist and artist. In one work, the disposable platitude ‘WE HAVE TO SHARE’ is emblazoned in white words across a layered background of faux-Aboriginal painting and Jackson Pollock-esque dribbles, shining a critical light on the ambiguity of ‘we’. Ultimately, Bell’s large-scale paintings in ‘Dredging up the Past’ demand attention, tacitly delivering strategies toward a more equitable cultural realignment.

Richard Bell | Dredging up the Past
2 February – 10 March 2018
Gertrude Contemporary, Vic

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