Anthony Bennett is an Australian artist born in Mackay Queensland in 1966. He has lived and worked in Tokyo, Rome and London and has exhibited nationally in Australia and internationally, sometimes controversially, with accusations from family groups in Brisbane in 2003 that his exhibition 'the dirty sanchez manifesto' was pornographic. He is a finalist in the Archibald Prize in 2009 for the second year running and is also a finalist in both the Wynne and Sulman Prizes for 2009. In 2007 he was featured as one of the 'hot young queensland painters' interviewed on ABC TV's Sunday Arts programme and that year also won the renault new generation art award at Art Sydney. He has also been a finalist in the prestigious Conrad Jupiters Art Prize, Sculpture by the Sea, The Schubert Ulrick Photographic Awards and the Cromwell's Art Prize. In 2004 he was awarded a Bundanon residency. Graduating from Griffith University Queensland College of Art with a Bachelor of Visual Art and majors in painting and sculpture in 1999.
Described in Art & Australia in 2006 as, a "potent anti-corporate poet" by reviewer Vikki Riley, his work uses the language and imagery of the everyday, appropriating pop culture with grabs from advertising, cartoons, music and movie stars and references respectful and otherwise to art history. He refers as much to Kierkegaard and Camus as Kath and Kim. His imagery is smeared and distorted in an extreme form of expressionism that quotes from Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol, Brett Whiteley, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Cy Twombly. His titles are integral components and often mash words into the perceptive equation to play off the imagery, adding to the semantic game and augmenting the mood of dissent, while also revealing much about his practice. His work is contained in many private collections in Australia, New Zealand, Austria, China, Japan, Italy and England.Artist's folio site
Bennett paints every day and links every section of his life to his art. It has become second nature and is incorporated through the use imagery and text that is absorbed so fully from television and other mass media, and even conversations with friends, that it is as integral to the work as the paint or the canvas. Pop culture becomes the words that he uses to construct his artistic sentences. These make the conversation as relevant or useless as the experience of the viewer of the works will allow. "If the viewer is aware of Freud or Jung then a discussion of the ideas those heavyweight thinkers have provided us is in play. If the viewer is only aware of the last Hollywood version of 'Superman', but not Nietzsche's version then that might be just as relevant to them, but not necessarily the end of the story...." says Bennett
"I don't really like conversations about art," he continues "because I think art is a visual language in and of itself and when you learn that language properly, why talk over the top of it. To do that is like the annoying git at the movies who explains what's happening to the person beside them throughout the whole movie and ultimately ruins the experience for everyone else around them."
"I used to think that conversations should be reserved purely for philosophical debate" he states, "...but now realise that they can also be useful as a way of finding out what's on television in the evenings....unfortunately though most humans talk simply because it's the only way they are able, in their own minds, to distinguish themselves from the other primates."
"I think the influences in my work are obvious but prefer the viewer to discover them for themselves ...after all why should everything be spoon-fed to you. The people that appreciate and collect my work are generally well educated, well rounded and like to draw their own conclusions anyway....you either get it or you don't...I am not here to preach and I also think it is a mistake to underestimate your audience"
"Pop Cannibal is the term I use for it. The Tarantino or Simpsons style mix and match of genres in equal parts homage and/or critique. Not always equal parts either, as nothing should be written in stone. It depends on mood, day of the week, the quality of the wine consumed etc."
The death of Bennett's mother and brother in a car accident when he was still a teenager was naturally the cause of profound changes in his life. Already an introspective individual this caused a shift further in that particular direction. He sought answers to the big questions and an explanation for the pain and he explored the philosophers of the past for some kind of guidance in that area. He contemplated suicide on more than one occasion. "I have many friends that have thought about it...we discuss it often and openly..." he said " I think it's a completely sane and normal reaction to life, given the difficulty and pain often present, go read Camus, it is the only question!!!...but I found a point just before you kick the stool away when time has slowed, where I realised it could also be used as a very powerful tool to help you to regain that sense of control that might seem to have been lost and this can then be used as a massive force for forward momentum...you have no choice in your birth but you do with your death....and when it comes down to it, it's a simple choice but it is also a one way street. There are things much worse than death of course.The lives wasted by those promised something better after their death for example." His attempt to escape the pain was ultimately less final and he began to travel, heading to England for the first time."Someone once said that all travel is a form of running away from something and for me that was absolutely true."
Much of the work produced in that period he destroyed because he felt it was made more as a cathartic experience rather than something to be shown or used to derive income from. "It was raw in the sense of an open wound, and I didn't really want it to be seen...it was just for me..." he said. "The raw application of paint to canvas by hand is still present...and some have also made comment on the sadness that they find in the drips which is of course their interpretation....the word psychopath has been used on more than one occasion particularly in reference to the self portraits....and that amuses me no end...generally the comments made by a person regarding a painting can be said to reveal much more about them than the artist..."
In 1999, while living in Rome, Bennett carried out his first commando card installation. He placed over 120 postcards of nudes that he had produced in Australia, into the postcard racks of the Vatican Gift Shop. Aware of the strict security and the ever present Swiss Guard he pretended to be perusing the stacks and would take out one of the pope postcards for sale, look at it and then when he returned it to the stack, he would palm one of his own cards in behind it. One at a time until all were in place. He reasoned that once the outer cards were purchased by those on pilgrimage, his cards would be revealed in each slot, but not be purchased given the subject matter, and the postcard racks would slowly bloom into a postcard rack sculpture of his work, aided unwittingly by the compliance of the faithful Catholics.
In 2000 Bennett spent time in Tokyo, 2 years in fact, wandering the streets and absorbing the culture. He started photographing the people in the streets and the fashions and styles of youth culture that he saw there. Kogeru and Yamamba fashions in Shibuya and surrounding suburbs are hard to miss. The presence of the U.S. military that persists in that country was a surprise to him. He describes the culture as like looking at western culture, which is to say U.S. culture, in a sideshow mirror. "You see something you recognise but it's been twisted or 'pimped' to incorporate something new and odd. The simplest illustration of this would be the emergency services number which in the US is 911 and in Japan is 119. I realised also how much of the culture we think of as Australian belongs to, or derives from, the United States.We all live in America now...your children are being raised by paris and nicole....we were raised by axyl and madonna...." The photographic exhibition 'tokyo lipstick' was the result, shown in Brisbane in 2002.
super thanks for asking is the title of an exhibition in 2007 that continues with the use of portraits and in particular "celebrity" that started some years ago, in which Bennett emphasizes the iconic nature of each face, adopting a close up frontal viewpoint centred against a single colour backdrop. Vivid garish hues and flamboyant brushwork act to subvert all previous notions of the subject. Despite the painterly attack each individual remains instantly recognizable and yet an unsettling sense of dislocation may persist - generated it seems from the fluctuating depth and unique figure-ground dynamics. Sardonic commentary scrawled in tiny text prompts closer scrutiny. A notion builds that the works themselves might be some sort of anarchic, aesthetic declaration. Transcending all questions of originality, Bennett has created a cryptic visual vocabulary where the personal and public collide in enormously powerful statements. The highly reflective finish of the work also means the viewer often becomes incorporated into the image they are viewing. Subjects deemed paint-worthy include Andy Warhol, Brett Whiteley, Vincent Van Gogh, Queen Elizabeth II, Salvador Dalí, Henri Matisse, Reg Mombassa and Peter Garrett.
Anderson, Judy; The Gold Coast Bulletin, Art Review, April 2006
Houghton, J.; Art Review, Clay, April 2006
Miliner, K.; Gucci Geisha, The Courier-Mail, 2002
Riley, Vikki; Art & Australia, Issue 43 No.3, March 2006