Exhibition Review: Australia's Worst Artist
If you play in a band in this fair city of ours, chances are you’ve already had the pleasure of encountering Ben Butcher. Over the years his trusty Minolta lens has peered into the souls of Melbourne’s musical gentry, from Rowland S. Howard to Eddy Current Suppression Ring – not to mention just about every two-bit Fitzroy-dweller who ever walked out of their front gate festooned with a flannel shirt and a guitar held together with duct tape.
Evidently bored of the critical acclaim that comes with photographic genius, Butcher has decided to take to the canvas and dispense with his natural talents in composition, form and subtext.
Ben is a recent winner of the Itchiball Prize, awarded by the charitable folks at the Museum of Particularly Bad Art, which bestowed upon him the dubious title of Australia’s Worst Artist. And my, did he deserve it. His winning entry, Why Do We Need a Porpoise in Life, depicts a flying unicorn goring a dolphin with its horn, a rainbow rendered in glitter gushing out of the wound. In the background, incongruously, a man on a football field kicks a goal while blood drips from the dolphin’s mouth into the lake below. It’s possibly the most garish, visually repulsive piece of quasi-Australiana you’re likely to see outside of flipping through a Ken Done book on a bad acid trip. And my, is it wonderful.
Butcher’s first solo exhibition opened to much fanfare at the Old Bar last Tuesday. A weird mélange of suburban life, homage to other Australian artists and more than a few unicorn cameos, Butcher’s latest works are hilarious, once the initial shock has subsided.
Best of all, he is utterly remorseless in highlighting the absurdities of Australia’s deference to odious public figures. Carl Williams’ gold glitter coffin is carried out of a church and into the back of Roberta’s stretch Hummer, a TV crew and an angry penguin balefully observing from the distance. Gina Rinehart, the Perth mining billionaire, sheds a river of tears and shrieks into a megaphone from atop a bulldozer, while rich spiv protestors in three-piece suits kneel on the ground with arms prostrate, à la Willem Dafoe in Platoon.
When not turning his oil paints and glitter tubes to such blistering social commentary, Butcher’s paintings are touchingly personal. The exhibition highlight, The Sad Tale of Tim and His Puppy, shows a man in cricket whites, mourning his loss of his canine visitation rights. A menacing female figure – Tim’s ex? – lurks in the background, while both Tim and pup daydream of a happy reunion.
Bringing home the private tragedy a relationship’s end, and the petty squabbling that results when disentangling one’s life from another, Butcher presumably didn’t want the viewer to be too anguished by one of his creations. So he painted a giant glitter rainbow through the middle of it, just for good measure.
Ben Butcher’s exhibition, Australia’s Worst Artist will run upstairs at the Old Bar until September 30.