ARTISTS • Greg Cliffe
As a primary schooler I was saturated with American and British television comedy sitcoms which stimulated a life-time interest in the absurd, satire and whimsy. I grew up in a beach-side suburb of inner Sydney in the 1960s which became fractured by demographic expansion over three decades. The city became more gentrified after the l960’s, forcing children of residents to move out of Sydney for housing. With my exhibition entitled Fragmented Values: Compulsive Lives at the Tin Sheds in 2001 I sought to reflect the change and fragmentation of inner city culture and value systems in the affected generations.
My initial art training occurred in TAFE and Colleges of Advanced Educations in the 1970s where I was strongly influenced by Abstract Expressionism, sculptural formalism and performance-installation art. I practiced as a sculptor and performance artist until the late 80s. This was punctuated by two performances at the Cite Internationale Des Artes, Paris in 1984 courtesy of a AGNSW Moya Dyring Studio residency and an Australia Council travel grant. In the 1990s I began to paint and studied a Master of Arts at The University of Western Sydney from 99-2001.
This Masters research later led me to become fascinated with the mode of thinking that people employ when they are involved with *cohesive in-groups where their need for security and unanimity overrides any ideas that may challenge group consensus. The enmeshed relationships within such groups isolates them from outside sources of information and analysis. [*Irving Janis]
In the exhibition “Groupthink” at Lost Bear Gallery in September, 2016 I have sought to examine the nature of group behaviour across a range of sub-cultures and social environments. The paintings on canvas and paper focus on sporting, business, recreational and leisure milieus which appear mundane and benign, but reveal recent change in cultural and social values, family behaviour and human relationships.
Over 20 years my studio research evolved to embrace the concept of *totalized time and the stratification of memory in my work lends itself to the historical references I use in my paintings, creating a mixture of philosophical and ideological threads through time. [*Marcel Proust]
I have always been interested in how social values and cultural history can be transmitted by folk narrative, fables and absurd yarns and what these say about group cohesion, conformity and shared presumptions. I like to collect a range of humorous stories, anecdotes on which to base subjects for my current narrative paintings. My early career performance/installation art experience and recent amateur stage design has also helped me to develop theatrical painting interpretations of social events through fictional characters and narratives. They form contemporary fables much as the “interesting eccentrics” that populated my father’s “yarns” in my childhood. In one way I have continued the “yarn-spinning” through fictional narratives based on family research.
Through fictitious and purposely ambiguous subjects I hope to stimulate the audience’s curiosity to question what is actually occurring in my paintings. These should elicit a large variety of interpretations and judgements from the viewers. The viewers are led to analyze the motives of the characters in these faux narratives and often suspect their behavior. I have intended these works to be publicly accessible by referring to scenarios that are familiar to people in general and don’t need a specialised knowledge of art through which to engage with the scenarios. These fictional narratives are composites of experiences, events and characters which may resonate with the audience’s memories.
My recent work has been focused on the significance of location, my family history and social history through traditional genres and techniques. It is extending the work I have done with group figurative compositions over the last 20 years into the places associated with the stories I have explored.
I would like to thank the following artists who have been mentors at different times during the development of my 43 year career:
Arthur McIntyre, John Vonwiller, Brian O’Dwyer, Ian Howard, Graham Marchant and Christopher Vidal.