In modern society, very few physical avenues exist for interaction between the materially wealthy and the poor. The inequitable distributions of consumerist capitalism and the powerful lobbying of special interest groups have largely made such interactions redundant and irrelevant.
Nevertheless, there is nothing quite like art to disturb this artificial bubble of class divisions.
For me, the opening night of the melbourne art fair 2014 brought this into sharp focus.
Held in the decadently ornate royal exhibition building, the event drew an eclectic diaspora of the social strata. There, amongst the burgeoning crowds, established and emerging talents rubbed shoulders with hipsters, art enthusiasts, socialites and collectors, their art a collective statement of self-expression, temporarily elevating their value in society’s consumerist pedigree.
Readily distinguished were these clans. The urgency of the gait; the stitching of attire; the tilt of the chin; the tone and control of the laugh; the absorption in the moment all betrayed their level of affluence. For some, the event appeared to be merely a place to see and be seen, with many rarely venturing far from the bar and the kitchen areas.
sell, but don’t sell out.
As I waded through the various gallery exhibitions, I often found the relationship between art and wealth the repeat subject of the artists’ gaze.
Many pieces reflected the uneasy tension between the need to express the artistic soul with the usurpation of that soul for the more material and immediate comforts.
I felt this juxtaposition most acutely in the captivating work of Joel Rea.
His paintings paid reverence to the relentless forces of Nature. The savage, majestic tiger and the deafening roars of crashing waves were powerful reminders of the illusory grip we had on the world around us.
Where once content on being the skateboarder at the park or the vagabond hippie, Joel now had a wife and a toddler, and the world of responsibility that comes with them.
Painting now became a living, a way to amass some of those very things he had never contemplated wanting. He laughed as he described his carefree attitude towards his paintings slowly being taken over by anxiety. How people would glance for 3 seconds at a painting that had taken him more than ten hours to complete.
In his own words, while he could easily earn money painting ‘chicks in water’, it was that tightrope he walked between ideals and desires that informed and encapsulated his art; reverence to nature was our only sure way to heaven:
‘The narratives in my paintings reflect the journey of my life. I portray unreal places, in awe of witnessing an incredible world so cruel and kind. We are nature fraught with duality, savage and beautiful’. Joel Rea
As the night drew to a close, I found myself mulling over those words. The savage and the beautiful.
In some ways, those words did indeed reflect the mood of the night, though at times the lines blurred between reality and art.