The shore, the race, the other place

Neil Haddon

“How come I end up where I started?

How come I end up where I went wrong?”

This is what Thom York asks on Radiohead’s 2007 album ‘In Rainbows’, an album where York comments on not only feelings of alienation and displacement, but puts into question ideas ascertaining to the nature of ones home.

This seems appropriate here in the works The shore, the race, the other place, Neil Haddon’s most recent biographical odyssey on display at Bett gallery. Born from context and motivated from a dislocated state of being, the series searches for an individual’s sense of belonging, both mentally and physically, through personalised narratives and non-linear realities. This comes to fruition in the form of visually exotic, aggrandised stories. A body of work that pushes you to look deeper.

Each image in The shore is made up of high gloss enamel surfaces, full of slick geometric planes and highly saturated meta mash-ups. The pictures are constructed with multiple media, primarily, digital printing on spray painted aluminium grounds, with moments of expressive oil painted gestures when required. The process mirrors the intended outcomes- pictorial references are cut and pasted from an assortment of media sources, such as newspaper, archival photographs, colonists paintings and motifs previously used by Haddon. Layers are built then successively removed, through erasure and reiteration. A collage of imagery is then recoloured, resized, and repeated. The works become reinstated, reauthorised then reimagined.

Details: No Prospect, No Refuge 1 & 2. Unsteady footing

The transformation takes place when references from incongruent sources divorce from their original context, then combine to form all new compositions; freed from their original meaning. These references include illustrations taken from Gustave Doré’s Paradise Lost (1898), Paul Gauguin’s Mata Mua (1892) and John Glover’s various plantae. Each meticulously considered piece of iconography carries with it significant meaning, personally relevant to Haddon and his experience. It links to the past then becomes modernised with a set of all new intentions. Muta Mua for example, represents Haddon’s migratory journey towards an idyllic place. While Glover’s trees are manipulated to mirror both Australiana and European land; two places at once.

Left: Paul Guaguin Mata Mua 1892 Right: Haddon In Olden Times 2019 (detail)

Combining culturally significant references withe deadly shapes and exuberant imagery within the one plane creates an amalgamation of fractured meanings, which oscillate between the abstract and figuration visually. This process of collage combination facilitates a state of re-reading, the narrative is constantly in flux. Ambiguity ensures that the compositions become perpetually renegotiated depending on who views them.

This redistribution of imagery, perhaps represents a disconnect, or even speaks of the adaptation to a new land; pulling references from a range of historical periods that differ in geographical origin reinforces Haddon’s primary narrative of duel physical/ mental displacement. The artist creates a mirage of what he wants (or hopes) to see opposed to what he has already found. 

Depicting an idealised, yet recognisable land speaks of an internal confliction, the idea of living in two places at once becomes an impossible dilemma; posing existential questions. This confliction is apparent with the inclusion of Doré’s Paradise Lost imagery and the allegory of Adam and Eve, who teach that “the greatest answer to loneliness is connection, to place, to people, to society. We are called to try and connect with one another”. Also, the depiction of fruit in several of Haddon’s paintings could symbolise temptation, or perhaps the allure of moving on to greener pastures- the need for more. What is now and what could have been. Paradise Lost.

Left: Gustave Doré illustrations Paradise Lost Right: Haddon details

In the apocalyptic literature and in understanding the Book of Revelations, the apocalypse is described as “ an unveiling or unfolding of things not known, and which could not be previously known apart from the unveiling.” Haddon’s The Land Will Heal Itself suggests a rebirth of nature after a cosmic cataclysm.

The Land Will Heal Itself 2018/2019

Foreboding skies menace above burnt wastelands, crimson rubble is contrasted with brightly mirrored and alien-like trees. This hints towards an insurrection of change, of human annihilation leading towards the uprising of a new era. Where destruction results in an inevitable rebuild. Is this reading too far into Haddon’s intentions? Perhaps. But this is the effect good art has- it lets your imagination run wild with the possibilities.

Our Rocky Shore 2019

In the work Our Thoughts Fly Above, a painterly Rorschach technique again results in diffused meanings, ultimately revealing the darker introspective aspects of the artist. The mirroring technique is present throughout the series and again speaks of duality, this time in direct reference to the migrant plight of ‘home’. In this painting, ephemeral clouds represent psychology, ideas and mental manifestations, while stones inversely represent physical stability and homeland.

Ambiguity and interpretation is especially apparent in pictures such as Keep Your Eyes On The Money, with cryptic iconography ranging from colonial sketches, to Andy Warhol’s famous banana. The connections are cryptic, the options are unlimited. Perhaps the key here is in the rabbit/ duck illusion- a philosophical conundrum for which proposes two ways of seeing, depending on perception and an individual’s interpretation. This question links back to the central narrative of duality. Two ways of seeing, or living in two places at once. An interplay between freedom (choice) and facticity (forced reality). 

Our Thoughts Fly Above 2019 (detail above)

While all these ideas are being pondered, the twin circle eyes of Keep Your Eyes on the Money are watching you as you in turn watch it watch you. Like some sort of subterranean homesick alien, displaced, yet optimistic. The alien dares you to step up to the centrally placed plexi plastic looking glass and analyse the outrageously placed shag carpet climbing the crisp Bett gallery walls and adorning the floor.

Keep Your Eyes on the Money 2018/19

While at first, the glass seems displaced, it is built for the purpose of engagement. Connection. A link between motifs, between themes. A conduit between art and viewer. A tool for interpretation and introspection. “I’ll be your mirror; I’ll be your mirror”, Nico warbles with her icy warm vocals in the Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut record. The shore, the race, the other place dares you to look into the mirror; to look into yourself. 

Review by PHANTASM