Rob McHaffie

This is liv­ing

Art Almanac - - Art In Australia - Chloe Mandryk

‘Laugh­ter and cry­ing are most likely the two best ther­a­pies I’ve found,’ says Rob McHaffie, whose ebul­lient paint­ings per­son­ify splen­dour in the or­di­nary. The artist’s sur­vey show is on view now at The Gallery at Bay­side Arts & Cul­tural Cen­tre and com­prises paint­ings, water­colours and ce­ramic sculp­tures from the past five years.

What’s so in­ter­est­ing about ‘ev­ery­day life’? For me I guess my mind gets oc­cu­pied with what’s go­ing on be­neath the sur­face of sim­ple ges­tures and chance en­coun­ters. ‘Ev­ery­day life’ of­fers a struc­ture to per­haps pa­rade in uni­son as an in­di­vid­ual within a com­mu­nity. I’m fas­ci­nated by the roles we all play in or­der to per­haps avoid real con­fronta­tion of very cen­tral hu­man ques­tions. Why are we here? The an­swer can’t re­ally be to ‘Net­flix and chill’ or serve cus­tomers 50 hours a week in the print sec­tion of Of­fice­works.

Is art a form of an­thro­pol­ogy? Over the years what have you learnt from look­ing and then re­pro­duc­ing el­e­ments of Thai and now Vic­to­rian beach­side subur­ban cul­ture?

Art for me is my quiet time. Art I think is com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It’s strange that these are per­haps some of my most lit­eral works but I feel they are so strange.

I don’t think sur­re­al­ism re­ally touches upon the weird­ness of ev­ery­day life. What we’ve con­structed as hu­mans is worth look­ing at and re­flect­ing upon. It can point us in a good di­rec­tion, for ex­am­ple we can learn from the hor­rors of war in Picasso’s Guer­nica (1937) or the sim­ple peace avail­able in Matisse’s im­age of the Moroc­can blokes ly­ing on the ground star­ing at goldfish. Head away from this and to­wards that.

Thai cul­ture is chang­ing rapidly, Vic­to­rian beach­side subur­ban cul­ture is a lit­tle more stub­born but we’re all head­ing to­gether to­wards this global cul­ture, which is bub­bling wildly with many dif­fer­ent flavours all mix­ing with the help of the In­ter­net and cheap flights.

Uniquely your paint­ings of­fer the viewer a flash of ec­cen­tric­ity, ten­der­ness and so­cial com­ment all at once, what mo­ti­vates you to cre­ate?

Plop­ping paint on a brush and tick­ling the can­vas with it is my prime mo­ti­va­tion. The sub­jects in the paint­ings re­ally of­fer the frame­work for how I’ll paint. I’ve found paint­ing brick walls re­ally med­i­ta­tive. I’ve found paint­ing jog­ger’s leg­gings also quite sat­is­fy­ing as your eyes shift from flo­ral pat­tern to line to the curve of the hu­man body. As the eyes fol­low the folds in a night­gown closely they get lost in the rip­ples of colour or rhythms of na­ture as you paint na­ture. It slows me down to a point I no longer ex­ist or I ex­ist just as aware­ness. The by-prod­uct I hope is worth shar­ing as it sus­tains what is es­sen­tially a pro­fes­sional hobby.

Can you tell us about your re­cent in­flu­ences or new in­spi­ra­tions?

Kerry James Mar­shall hit me with a big whack this last year. I saw a huge sur­vey of his work in Chicago in 2001 maybe and it’s only just crept up on me what an im­por­tant artist he is. There’s a lot of trendy fig­u­ra­tive art but not much with real po­tency that can ac­tu­ally lift those who have been re­pressed in the world. Dana Schutz does amaz­ing things with paint. Nicole Eisen­man is in­spir­ing for the lack of ad­her­ing to any one style of paint­ing. She finds a new form to fit each unique mod­ern sce­nario she has. I went back to that MOMA show at the NGV twice and felt the power of art early last cen­tury to be a lit­tle more pow­er­ful than re­cent times. There seemed to be a close­ness I could feel through the artists and their sub­jects. Even that tiny lit­tle one of Frida Kahlo af­ter she’d cut off all her hair re­ally touched me for its in­ti­macy. She couldn’t have fore­seen that her strug­gle and de­fi­ance would rip­ple on through­out the world un­til now.

How has your process, pre paint­ing col­lage or draw­ing, as well as work­ing with oils changed or evolved in the last few years?

I was al­ways so nervy paint­ing peo­ple from life, I guess I needed to con­struct por­traits out of sculp­tural ma­te­rial or col­lage be­fore paint­ing them. The works have been be­com­ing a lit­tle more di­rectly about what’s around me due to a lack of time fac­tor. I’m busy with two kids, ses­sional teach­ing and work­ing three days a week at Arts Project Aus­tralia. This has meant I’ve been grab­bing im­agery from very close to home as the back­drop and us­ing ac­tors from the In­ter­net to play the parts of var­i­ous neigh­bours, friends and fam­ily. They’re far away enough from the ori­gins that I can then rep­re­sent them and say ‘I feel what you’re feel­ing’ or ‘I love the fact that you have pur­sued life as a full-time dou­ble bass player while ev­ery­body else has just given up on their dream.’

The Gallery at Bay­side Arts & Cul­tural Cen­tre Mel­bourne Un­til 11 Novem­ber, 2018

Beach­comber, 2014, oil on linen, 84 x 56cm

Mother and Daugh­ter combo, 2018, oil on linen, 138 x 92cm

Cour­tesy the artist and The Gallery at Bay­side Arts & Cul­tural Cen­tre, Mel­bourne

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