soft ground etching, hand watercoloured
image 19.5 × 14.5cm; sheet 60.5 × 40cm
Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by the artist, 2013
Gordon Bennett’s art tackles and confronts the complex histories of European colonisation and the narratives of Western art history. His suite of soft ground etchings directly reference the early twentieth-century Russian artist Kasimir Malevich’s painting Black Square of 1915; and the French artist Yves Klein’s passion for the colour ultramarine blue. Historically, Malevich’s painting is considered ground zero; the complete erasure of representation to create a space of feeling and perception. In a related way, Klein’s obsession with ultramarine was an attempt to capture the boundless transcendence of the void, the skies and infinity. Depicting diving boards, angels and black squares Bennett’s etchings reference these utopian ideals, questioning whether it is possible to leap into these so-called essences of Western art history after more than 200 years of dispossession.
If I were to choose a single word to describe my art practice it would be the word – question. If I were to choose a single word to describe my underlying drive it would be freedom. This should not be regarded as an heroic proclamation. Freedom is a practice. It is a way of thinking in other ways to those we have become accustomed to. Freedom is never assured by the laws and institutions that are intended to guarantee it. To be free is to be able to question the way power is exercised, disputing claims to domination. Such questioning involves our ethos, our ways of being, or becoming who we are. To be free we must be able to question the ways our own history defines us.
Gordon Bennett, 1996
Born 1955, Monto, Queensland. Lived and worked Brisbane. Died 2014, Brisbane.
Born in 1955 in Monto, Queensland, Gordon Bennett lived and worked in Brisbane before his unexpected death in 2014. His bold and humane art challenged racial stereotypes and provoked critical reflection on Australia’s official history and national identity. Bennett was one of Australia’s most significant and critically engaged contemporary artists, addressing issues relating to the role of language and systems of thought in forging identity. He rejected racial stereotypes and freed himself from being categorised as an Indigenous artist by creating an ongoing pop art inspired alter ego, John Citizen, who he considered to be ‘an abstraction of the Australian Mr Average, the Australian Everyman’. In the late 1990s Bennett began a dialogue with the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a New York artist who shared with Bennett a similar western cultural tradition and an obsession with drawing, semiotics and visual language.
Throughout his career, Gordon Bennett achieved national and international recognition, with representation in biennales in Sydney (1992, 2000, 2008), Venice (1995), Kwangju (2000), Shanghai (2000), Prague (2005) and Berlin (2014), as well as the prestigious Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany (2012). His work has been included in major exhibitions in the Netherlands, USA, UK, Germany, Austria, Prague, Italy, Denmark, Canada, South Africa and Japan. His work is collected widely and is represented in major public art collections in Australia. The first monograph on his work, The Art of Gordon Bennett by Ian McLean, was published in 1997. A major survey of his practice toured Australian state galleries in 2007–09.Learn more