Rod Moss - Mirror

There is little in Australian art that might stand as precursor to Rod Moss’s disturbing Central Australian paintings. Arthur Boyd’s ‘Bride’ series, which was inspired by a trip to the Centre and takes as its subject the marriage of a half-caste Aboriginal bride, might certainly by one contender. Boyd however had a painter’s penchant for harmony that nowadays eclipses their tragic conten

Art Exhibition previously on at Anna Pappas Gallery in Melbourne precinct, Victoria, Australia.
From Thursday 21 July 2011 to Wednesday 24 August 2011
Launch Wednesday 20 July 2011, 6pm - 8pm

Bowerbird Lane, 2010 image

Published by anonymous on Wednesday 13 July 2011.
Contact the publisher.

Moss’ paintings in comparison are unlikely to be seen in such a light. Here in these large-scale compositions is the collision of settler and Indigenous society writ large. The tragic scenes that we wish to avoid, the arbitrary violence, the deficit in our understanding, all are highlighted in emphatic and challenging terms; equally our discomfiture in the face of this apparently intractable malaise is a subtext over time. Moss, who lives in Alice Springs and has spent much time in the Aboriginal camps surrounding this tourist hotspot, presents us with vignettes of a quasi ‘social realist’ bent. I say ‘quasi’ because despite being modelled on people who he knows and on events seen firsthand, all with a view to articulating social realities, the artist presents these interactions within the template of iconic Renaissance compositions. Quite intentionally this has an unsettling and disturbing effect. In doing so Moss highlights the colonial imprint underling our national discourse and more particularly the impact such values have had on the wider Indigenous community. In Moss’s paintings the European standard is inescapable, its presence all pervasive. All are ensnared by it, fated to play on its terms alone, or so we are led to believe. The other artsy allusion is Moss’s passion for Pointillism. A reasonable thing for a plein-air painter, a lovely approach to his craft, but a dot in the desert has other meanings as well. Typically Indigenous art is associated with that explosive Central Desert movement that started in the 1970s in Utopia when Geoffrey Barden brought acrylic paint to the Arrente and Warlpiri people there. In Moss’s work the dot/point/daub seems redolent of some kind of yearning, for a primal, universal language that precedes so much of the shit.

In his recent series of paintings allusions to the Western cannon are wide. The Madonna del Parto by Pierro appears miraculously in the desert. Naked whitefellas wrestle like Gaugin’s Joseph and the Angel, or perhaps what we are seeing is a scene from ‘Wake in Fright’. Amidst these works is Mirror, a plein-air evocation of Velazquez’s Las Meninas. Like the template upon which it is based, the painting presents us with a mirror. In it we see the artist and if we could just control the space, we would see ourselves as well. Though the reflective pane is proffered by a sinewy elder (a stand in for Philip IV of Spain) it is Moss who fashions the conceit. Less a manifest statement the painting is layered and loose, responsive one feels to the projections compounding this field.

There is much in Moss’s work that visitors to Central Australia will identify with; not only the ruckus on the streets, but the landscape there as well. Driving the Namatjira Highway for instance, one sees that the artist whose name is immortalized by this lonely stretch of bitumen was at no time fanciful in his use of colour. The surprising reality of the Centre is not some imagined desolation, but its riot of pastel hues, bleached moreover by the harsh Australian light. Moss plays to this in a way that few before him have done. A tendency to highlight the beauty is apparent in artists both white and black. It is a splendid place but it can also be jarring and discordant. In his memoir The Hard Light of Day, the artist contrasts his own displacement with the connectedness of his Aboriginal subjects. The thorn bushes sting him, the light burns his eyes, but being the artist that he is, he does not shy from the challenge. His palette is salmon and lime, his whites are fleshy and blue; the Aboriginals stand out because they are rendered in shimmering graphite and the pitch overall is a notch above the real. But this indeed is fitting as life out here could scarcely be called low key.

The paintings of Rod Moss are, I feel, unique in the Australian cannon. Though many have bemoaned it, few in the non-indigenous populous have delineated the scars so clearly, so viscerally, and from a place of intimate contact. In the 1940s émigré Yosl Bergner responded to the plight of urban Aborigines with paintings that recalled the Warsaw ghetto. Rod Moss, for all his European allusions, needs no such frame of reference; it is all laid out before him.
Damian Smith, 2011

About Rod Moss

Rod Moss was born in 1948 in Victoria. He currently lives and works in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. On completing a Diploma of Art and Design (Painting) in 1978 at the Chisholm Institute, Moss moved onto studying a Graduate Diploma and then a Masters of Visual Art at Monash University, finalising his qualifications in 1995.

Whilst completing his studies in 1992, Moss received a Professional Development Grant from the Australia Council for the Arts and in 1999 he completed a residency at Columbia University, Georgia, USA . Moss participated in Survey 2004 (Contemporary Australian Art) at the National Gallery of Victoria, and recently his book The Hard Light of Day was published by Queensland University Press and won the 2011 NT Book of the Year. Moss has also been awarded several Arts prizes from Northern Australia including the Outback Award, Broken Hill, 1998, The Tammy Kingsley Award, & Highly Commended, Alice Prize in 2001 and most recently The Tennant Creek Art Award, 2002. His works have been collected extensively, both nationally and internationally, and are in various private collections including Artbank. Rod Moss is represented by Anna Pappas Gallery in Victoria and Fireworks Gallery in Queensland