Vol 40(4) - Putting Out the Fire (with Gasoline)
While the title of Neil Haddon’s artwork featured on this cover of the Alternative Law Journal may echo David Bowie’s song (from the 1982 movie Cat People), the images were perhaps inspired more by that archetypal Australian summer activity: firemen back-burning.
Haddon reuses imagery derived from local print media to produce paintings that convey the emotional complexities and difficulties of migrants as they search for meaningful narratives in a new place. By collaging pictures together, he locates underlying visual structures and, using these cues, empties the images of plausible content. This process presents melodramatic departures, the ensuing shapes and figures divorced from the original narratives.
The British-born artist moved to Tasmania in 1996. His work contains traces of multiple landscapes, of merged images and histories, and reflects his experience as a migrant — one of dislocation, dissonance and a lack of deep connection with endemic stories. His paintings explore both the emotional complexities and difficulties of depicting meaningful narratives connected to place.
Using tactics of infiltration and re-deployment, Haddon applies them to the dominant narratives of the mass media via the ‘minor language’ of painting, redistributing images taken from small stories in local newspapers within the ambiguity of painting Haddon’s work avoids detail that would inhibit the process of imaginative engagement with the story and consequently perpetuates a state of continual re-reading.
As he explains, ‘That stems from a childhood experience of reading stories and poetry, and more often than not, getting it completely wrong. I’d read the words and have my own meaning for those words but inevitably the teacher would say, “no, I’m sorry, that’s not how we interpret that poem”. And I thought, well, why not? I’ve made sense of it, albeit my own sense. So this is me making sense of existing media narratives.’
‘Now we live in a world of multiple truths all equally accessible, from Google through to hard print literature. There are so many different truths out there that it’s no longer possible to say that this is a fact, or at least you can always question what those facts might be, so in many ways these works make that claim: question this, question this fact.’