The Star, 4 October 2006
Simply fascinated by women
by Lim Chia Ying
CELEBRATED Australian artist Stewart MacFarlane’s fascination with and love for women are apparent in his latest exhibition entitled Private Life.
“You know, just simply what makes a woman beautiful inspires my thoughts,” said MacFarlane, gesturing towards his female forms intensely painted against contemporary urban settings.
At 53, MacFarlane is regarded as one of Australia’s most prominent figurative painters. His signature use of bold colours and dramatic lighting offers a surreal look at the convoluted intricacies of human relationships, set against the backdrop of familiar Australian cityscapes and landscapes.
MacFarlane, who is in Malaysia and Asia for the first time, is showcasing some 30 art works featuring intimate portraits of women.
Here, garish and lurid colours feature prominently on the confrontational poses of his models.
“These days, I paint using real-live models, and from what I see. It’s been a lost tradition for the past 40 years as many paint from photos nowadays.
“Painting the human figure is the hardest. You can make up how a beautiful landscape looks like, but not a human figurine!
“So it makes me work very hard when I’m painting a real person,” quipped MacFarlane.
He started out painting from photos, too, but gradually discovered the joy of capturing the reality of life.
The pieces reveal the spontaneity and intensity of this process, while creating an involvement between the artist, model, and viewer. The viewer is very much engaged because of the animation and eye contact with the model as opposed to the past practice of passive voyeurism.
MacFarlane’s acidic lighting effect complementing the raw colour is said to be uncommon in contemporary painting. Rather, it is more characteristic of stage sets or film experience, and MacFarlane’s works appear as if they are freeze-frames from a movie that leave one wanting to know more.
For the purpose of his paintings, MacFarlane engaged five women to pose. His pieces are much simplified now, he said, as he preferred to focus on the glamour of the women’s body with an unnerving vulnerability.
“I go into this meditation state of mind whenever I paint. It enables me to narrate the subject at its best,” added MacFarlane.
The exhibition was opened by Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia James Wise, and attended by some 200 guests.
To date, MacFarlane has held 49 solo exhibitions in Australia, the United States, and Germany. He has also been honoured with numerous international awards and residencies, including a fellowship from MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, US, and residencies in Besozzo Studio, Italy, the Bernis Centre for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska, US, as well as at Roswell in New Mexico, US.
His works can be seen at all major state and university galleries throughout Australia, the most notable being the Australian National Gallery, the Gallery of Victoria, Queensland Art Gallery, and Monash University.
At international level, his works are permanent collections of Shell and the Provincetown Museum and Art Centre of Massachusetts, US.
Private Life is currently exhibited at Wei-Ling Gallery at Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, and is supported by the Australian High Commission and Arts Tasmania.
It runs until Oct 13.