Review :: Art Month :: Mike Parr

March 7th 2012

Mike Parr, still from 100 Breaths, 2003

As a young lad growing up in rural Queensland “surrounded by rednecks”, Mike Parr recalls, he first learnt the power of performance. When gawkers and ill wishers would invariably ask what happened to his arm, straight faced he would make up gruesome stories of farming machinery accidents, describing how his arm was minced up in front of his own eyes. His harassers would be on the back foot, while Parr learned an early lesson in efficacy.

In 1968 Parr escaped the “life sentence” he felt was inherent in completing his law studies, moved to Sydney and began studying at the National Art School. His interviewer for the evening’s conversation, Susan Gibb, asks what Sydney was like at the time. Parr rattles off a proverbial mind map of 70s avant-garde Australian artists and spaces that slips from my head as I search for a pen. “We were highly politicised”, he says, citing the Vietnam War and anti-American sentiment as their driving forces at the time.

One of the earliest works in Parr’s new exhibition, Brain Coral at NAS, is the text piece “Lafart” manifesto, 1975, through which Parr calls for a socialist art, the end to art-critic bullshit, and a celebration of good conversation at the bar. The text pieces in Brain Coral are poor art – using blocky typeface and severe economy of words, yet clearly exemplifying Parr’s blurring of the personal and political.

In conversation, Parr talks extensively on inadvertency – the accidents that make art-making interesting for him. When he was learning to draw, copying photos of himself performing, it was the smudgy stump mark on his paper that he found to be exactly the ‘body’ that was missing from his work. In the prints that make up the large part of the exhibition this is echoed in inky fingerprints, the spontaneity in his process of printmaking that makes it for him like drawing, as well as the input of collaborator with printer John Loane (director of Viridian Press).

Mike Parr, Interjection of a Horse, woodblock print, 2002

The videos in Brain Coral remain most explicit in communicating Mike Parr’s intensity as an artist – for all you hardcore performance-art junkies, there is Parr sewing up his face and hurling and an abstract text of abusive ‘Australianisms’, standing with extreme vulnerability in the twenty-hour performance Cartesian Corpse, and asphyxiating in 100 Breaths. Yet the prints, predominantly from his ongoing self-portrait project, offer a depth in their self-revelation, the capturing of the process of mark making, and maintaining a political stance.

Meanwhile back at the talk, Parr can’t help but offer much advice to aspiring artists, my personal favourite being: “Fuck the Australia Council”. “If you make any money, spend it on making the most extreme artwork possible.” “There’s no reason to be an artist. It’s a foolish activity. You can give no one any real hope.” “You’re not here to placate anyone. Art is about difference and difference is uncomfortable”.

What: exhibition: Brain Coral, Mike Parr in Conversation with Susan Gibb

Who: Mike Parr, presented by Art Month and National Art School

Where: National Art School Gallery, Forbes Street, Darlinghurst, NSW

When: exhibition – 24 February – 14 April 2012, talk – 2nd March.

How much: Free


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