(Australia 1937 – )
273.0 x 244.0 cm overall:
a-f - 6 panels; 91 x 122 cm; each panel
This painting is from the 'Mayfair' series, which encompasses a large body of work made by MacPherson from the early 1990s onwards. The title refers to the Mayfair sandwich bar in Brisbane, where MacPherson had lunch everyday for many years. The people's names he uses in the titles are people he has met, often in places like the sandwich bar. The reference to a sandwich bar, even one that sounds like posh real estate though it is just a shop, and the word 'Smoko', point to Macpherson's interest in the idiosyncratic use of language, names and signs in Australia.
Along with other works in the series it is painted with Dulux commercial paint rather than specialist artists paints and is also painted on masonite, an everyday material. The lower four panels of the painting are a large black monochrome, above which is a two panel image of standard sandwich bar fare, a hotdog. The text MacPherson has used in many works in the 'Mayfair' series, taken from 'home-made' signs, is not present in this work. It is one of a group which pairs a symmetrical or mirrored image of a food or fruit on two panels above monochrome black panels. The image of the hotdog is only loosely symmetrical, however, just as it is loosely painted. And yet it is an immediately recognisable image of a hotdog, an image that seems iconic just as soon as MacPherson has painted it - a sign that stands in for the thing it represents. In seeing the image we immediately say to ourselves 'hotdog'. Even though it is visual it also acts as a linguistic sign despite not having any text.
Set against this sign or icon for the vernacular hotdog is the sign or icon for the endgame of abstraction, the black monochrome. Inevitably this recalls the history of monochrome abstraction, from Kasimer Malevich 'Black Square' 1915, through Ad Reinhardt's black paintings from the 1950s and 60s to more recent works that acknowledge these antecedents. It is the ant-sign that sets the sign off so well.
MacPherson's interest in modernist abstraction has been present in his work from the beginning when he took a literal approach to some of famous critic Clement Greenberg's injunctions on art. Through taking a literal view of modernist arts self-referentiality he painted a series of abstract paintings based on the colours the handles of his commercial paint brushes were painted, and exhibited these paintings alongside the brushes. The black monochrome in 'Mayfair: smoko for Tommy Lamare' is a sign for international modernism just as the hotdog is a sign for vernacular local Australia, and yet it is also persuasively international and instantly recognisable.
Natasha Bullock, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Landscape, mapping, nature', pg.290-331, Sydney, 2006, 320 (colour illus.).
(Robert MacPherson), Yuill/Crowley Gallery, Surry Hills, Unknown–Unknown