About the Artwork
Born in Brisbane in 1937, Robert MacPherson first exhibited his work in 1973. Since then he has become one of the most influential artists working in Australia. His practice operates in the spaces between language and image, high and low art, the sacred and profane. It has been described as a form of ‘democratic literature’ (1) and utilises the language of, amongst other things, roadside signs, conversation and the everyday Australian vernacular, both spoken and written.
Robert MacPherson’s White/black (Arago) is not about the why of painting but the how. It strips the act of painting down to its fundamentals – paint and canvas – applied in a systematic way. There is no attempt to capture a pictorial space, or for it to be ‘a window on the world’. Rather, it focuses on the act of making, and being an object in the world, a ‘thing’ existing in three dimensions with its own ingrained spatial logic, denying all forms of illusionism. As the artist has stated, ‘the making is the content.’
The spaces between the panels play an integral part to the work’s meaning. The distance between each work is calibrated so that it is neither merely the wall, nor part of the painting’s ‘plane’. These small distances unite the whole of the composition and are as important as where the painting sits on the wall, and its distance from the floor and ceiling.
Moving from left to right, the first panel is a blank beige canvas, being the start and end point. The following panel is painted in an indeterminate off-white primer. The next has black paint on a white background and finally the last panel has white paint on a black background. There is no excessive mark-making, every step is considered, rationalised and then completed.
Although their creation is systematic, there is a quality to these paintings that makes them very human. The work relates directly to the artist’s own body, the span from top to bottom and side to side is the distance that the artist could reach with a domestic painter’s brush in his hand. He thus creates his own scale which is very personal and relates to pre-industrial measurement units such as the so-called ‘foot’ which related very specifically to a trade- or craft-person’s own physical attributes.
An awareness of modern art
History, a belief that all good art
Comes from previous art, my rules
Are formed within this context.
An awareness of the means. I have
No wish to subvert the means, the
Rectangle or negate the object.
Juxtapositioning of means (surface,
Handling and ground) is content
My work makes no assumptions
Beyond itself – then you have
Response, and that’s another story.
An awareness of formal principles
Remains. Things happen in process
And are left; i am surprised
Trevor Smith (curator), Robert MacPherson (exhibition brochure), Museum of Contemporary Art, 2001
Glenn Barkley (curator), Avoiding Myth and Message (wall label), Museum of Contemporary Art, 2009
Conversation with Robert MacPherson, 11/2/2012
Quotation: IMA Bulletin, volume 1 number 1, 1975
There is no attempt to capture a pictorial space, or for it to be ‘a window on the world’. Rather, it focuses on the act of making, and being an object in the world, a ‘thing’ existing in three dimensions with its own ingrained spatial logic, denying all forms of illusionism
Glenn Barkley, 2009