Robert MacPherson

Oldfield, 1977
acrylic on canvas - 8 panels
31.0 x 31.0 cm
each panel signed with initials, dated 'June 77' and numbered (on the reverse)

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Ray Hughes Gallery, Brisbane
Private collection, Brisbane

'Robert Macpherson', Ray Hughes Gallery, Brisbane, 1977

‘Things happen in process and are left. I am surprised.’
(Robert MacPherson, ‘IMA Bulletin’, Vol. 1 No. 1, 1975)

In the 1970s Robert MacPherson was interested in pure process. Many of his images featured titles like ‘Rituals of the hand’ or ‘Enclosed gestures’, which were openly descriptive of his practice and the art work it produced.

MacPherson’s drawings and paintings of the early-mid 1970s, were the result of a particular nomination of labour and an exploration into the inherent qualities of his tools – which could be anything from his paintbrush to the scale of his body. These two conditions would control variables like size, colour and type of mark. At this time MacPherson was using only black and white paint, feeling that colour was a cheap trick used too often to seduce an audience. If painting or drawing was both an act and an object, MacPherson was testing the absolute limits of how and why this was so.

Conceptually he was responding to the New York theorist Clement Greenberg’s ideas about medium-specificity (that the artist should critically engage with his medium of choice) and the legacy of the iconic Dadaist Marcel Duchamp, who proposed that a painter could be ‘making a Readymade when he paints with a manufactured object that is called paints.’

This work is named for the Oldfield paintbrush that made it. It is comprised of eight panels, each 31cm squared, with black or white acrylic paint applied from the top down. As Trevor Smith wrote (in his essay ‘The World in My Paintbrush’ for the 2001 Art Gallery of Western Australia monograph and exhibition ‘Robert MacPherson’), exploring different systems of mark making in this manner introduced an ‘element of aesthetic surprise’ to the end result of an act of painting. In this series of images ‘incident’ has become a factor with the bleeding and soaking of wet paint forming indelible patterns in unprimed canvas.

MacPherson would later take this serial arrangement of canvases to magnificent proportions in whole room installations.

  • Oldfield

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Born in Queensland in 1937, Robert MacPherson is one of Australia's most important living conceptual artists. MacPherson's paintings, sculptures and installations can be seen as lively investigations into the language of Modernism.

Incorporating the styles and motifs of roadsign signage, slang expressions and hand painted shop placards, MacPherson's work is often created using the humblest of materials, such as paint-brushes, pots, socks, shovels and blankets. Through these modest domestic materials, MacPherson creates works that are strikingly beautiful, humorous and decisively Australian: works that highlight the poetry of the everyday. Represented by Yuill Crowley, Sydney, MacPherson's work has been the subject of two survey exhibitions - the first in 1995 at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and the second held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth in 2001. He has been regularly included in museum exhibitions, including the Biennale of Sydney in 1990, 1998, 2000 and 2002.