Important Australian + International Fine Art
29 November 2007

Gordon Bennett

born 1955

synthetic polymer paint on linen

152.0 x 182.5 cm

signed, dated and inscribed with title verso: G Bennett 15-03-2001/ "NOTES TO BASQUIAT: MYTH OF THE WESTERN MAN"

$35,000 - $45,000
Sold for $44,400 (inc. BP) in Auction 3 - 29 November 2007, Melbourne

Sherman Galleries, Sydney
Private collection, Sydney


Gordon Bennett, Notes to Basquiat: Modern Art, Sherman Galleries, Sydney, 17 May – 19 June 2001 (illus. exhibition catalogue)


Kidd, C., 'Dance club for everyone and no-one', Sydney Morning Herald (Metropolitan), 23 May 2001

Catalogue text

Since his first major solo exhibition in 1989, Gordon Bennett has achieved international acclaim for his compelling, highly idiosyncratic vision which, drawing inspiration from Australia's colonial past and postcolonial present, interrogates the power of language to structure the ideologies that so determine our cultural and personal identities. Indeed, perhaps more directly and explicitly than any other Australian artist, he has engaged in the debate on republicanism, sovereignty (land rights) and citizenship in an effort to highlight the plight of indigenous people - not just locally, but internationally - who have become estranged as a result of colonialism. Arguing that the codes of Western art, literature, law and science introduced with European settlement have become a prison from which Indigenous people cannot escape - but rather, only appropriate - thus Bennett employs the deconstructivist aesthetic of postmodernism to re-present the histories and politics underlying the Australian social landscape.

In 1998, seeking to communicate his concerns to an American audience, Bennett embarked upon his celebrated 'Notes to Basquiat' series inspired by the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the African-American artist based in New York who shared a similar preoccupation with semiotics and visual language as instruments of marginalisation. Conceived as an 'open letter' to Basquiat who died in 1988, the series appropriates the raw street style for which the American artist became renowned, thus emphasising 'our shared experience as human beings in separate worlds that each seek[s] to exclude, objectify and dehumanise the black body and person.'1 Yet if Bennett borrows 'signature' motifs from Basquiat's oeuvre such as the childlike evocation of the crown and the artist's use of lists and language, he nevertheless imbues them with his own uniquely Australian symbolism. As Jill Bennett elucidates, Bennett is in effect '...entering the interstitial meeting place that Basquiat opens up. In doing so, he does not simply imitate or act as Basquiat, nor does he insert himself into a frame or picture of Basquiat's making... [Rather] he is interested in how Basquiat's work might be encountered from a different place, and what happens when different accounts of history and experience are registered simultaneously within a given frame...'2

Notes to Basquiat: Myth of the Western Man, 2001, belongs to the group of paintings within this series which juxtapose Basquiat's rap style with the characteristic interlaced lines of Jackson Pollock, a mythic figure in modernism and thus, according to Bennett, an important player in the conspiracies of colonial cultures. Depicted in every composition as the black and pink iconic figure, Pollock is not, however, simply a convenient image-maker that suits Bennett's argument. More significantly, he is a way of bringing Basquiat home to Australia - 'for Pollock has a place within Australia's psyche because of the Blue Poles fiasco. Prime Minister Whitlam's purchase of the painting made it emblematic of his Government's radicalism and determination to move on rather than remain in the past... Bennett's return to Pollock is like a calling card reminding the Howard government that the ghost is still out there.'3

1. Bennett quoted in Gordon Bennett, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2007, p.21
2. ibid.
3. McLean, I., 'Conspiracy Theory: Pollock, Basquiat, Bennett' in Gordon Bennett, Notes to Basquiat: Modern Art, Sherman Galleries, Melbourne, n.p.