The painting exemplifies the strength of Brown/Green and Cattapan’s collaborative partnership, and the confidence each of them has in their own work. It takes self assurance to allow others to access your creative processes. The artists’ rapport is evident in the unity of their composition. This coherency has a basis in their shared experiences. Although their terms as Official War Artists were not concurrent, these commissions have clearly given them a mutual sense of purpose.
– Samantha Littley, Acting Senior Curator, UQ Art Museum
About the artists
Lyndell Brown/Charles Green and Jon Cattapan are senior Australian artists who have established international profiles. Each has served as an Official War Artist with the Australian War Memorial – Brown/Green in Iraq and Afghanistan (2007), and Cattapan in Timor-Leste (2008). These experiences have led them to collaborate on a number of subsequent research projects culminating in the exhibitions Spook country, ARC One and Station, Melbourne (2014) and Lesson plan: A collaboration, Heiser Gallery, Brisbane (2015). Their co-authored monograph Framing conflict: Contemporary war + aftermath (Melbourne: Macmillan Art Publishing, 2014) analyses the body of work that has resulted from their artistic partnership.
Since 1989, Lyndell Brown and Charles Green have worked as one artist at the convergence of painting, photography and digital reproduction. Their art explores ideas around visual and cultural archives, and the links between memory and representation.1 Brown/Green’s work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), Canberra; many state, tertiary and regional collections; and in corporate and private collections in Australia and overseas.
Jon Cattapan began his formal art studies at RMIT, Melbourne, in 1975 and has been exhibiting since 1979. Concerned primarily with the ‘the way human beings negotiate territories’, he inscribes his paintings with complex visual grids that map ‘urban topographies and narratives.’2 Cattapan’s work is held by the NGA; most state galleries; the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney; in numerous tertiary and regional collections; major private and corporate collections; and in the British Museum.
About the work acquired
Lyndell Brown/Charles Green and Jon Cattapan’s Scatter (Dusk, Santa Cruz) 2014 is a haunting painting that speaks of personal loss, of broader issues relating to contemporary experiences of war, and of the artists’ distinctive working methods. As Cattapan has explained, they have ‘collectively revisited their experiences as war artists and have drawn out of that experience collaborative artworks that focus on the theme of conflict and its aftermath.’3 Layering and fragmentation are devices that Brown/Green and Cattapan have used extensively in their individual practices, and occurs here in an image that is built from their accumulated marks. The approach allows the artists to introduce individual accents, while contributing to the overall scheme.
Photography and documentation have informed each of the artist’s work, recently manifesting as a technique through which they transformed photographs into paintings, then back into transparencies with painted elements. This dialogue between painting and photography is illustrated in Scatter (Dusk, Santa Cruz) through the shadow of the photographer (Charles Green) that appears in the lower third of the canvas. In a sense, then, the painting represents a kind of self portrait, one that comments on the role of the artists in both documenting and representing their respective experiences. The shadowy figure leads us in to the painting and acts as a silent witness, prompting us to contemplate both the artists’ responses and our own. In Brown/Green’s words, ‘In these small theatres of suspended reality, hallucinations and dreams are not conditions of escape but urgent performative undertakings through which history, society and the self fleetingly come into focus’.4 In this painting, the subject of their gaze is the cemetery at Santa Cruz in the East Timorese capital of Dili. In 1991, during Indonesian occupation, the cemetery was the site of a massacre by Indonesian troops of at least 250 East Timorese demonstrators who, with thousands of others, were marching in support of independence. The vantage point that the artists shared when the photograph was taken is that of the student protestors moments before gunfire broke out, and ‘is more or less exactly what they would have seen’.5
Brown/Green and Cattapan have chosen to depict the cemetery as part of their larger project to engage with sites where Australians have served, either as soldiers or peacekeepers. As they have described it, ‘In a sense we have turned the painting of contemporary events into a wreckage, drowning and desolation, both from the memorialisation of an historical event (during the Iraq war, during the Dili unrest) and equally from the recollection of a personal event.’6 In this context, the red pigment that Cattapan has draped like a cobweb over the surface of the painting can be read either as a graphic device designed to complicate and intensify the viewer’s experience or, more obviously, as spilt blood.
Adapted from text by Samantha Littley, Acting Senior Curator, September 2015
1. “Lyndell Brown Charles Green: Profile,” ARC One Gallery, http://www.arcone.com.au/index.php?navi=Artists&navj=Biography&aid=1&navk=LYNDELL%20BROWN%20CHARLES%20GREEN.
2. “Jon Cattapan: About,” Jon Cattpan, http://www.joncattapan.com.au/about/.
3. “Jon Cattapan: Biography,” http://www.joncattapan.com.au/wp-content/uploads/jc_bio.pdf.
4. “Lyndell Brown Charles Green: Profile,” ARC One Gallery, http://www.arcone.com.au/index.php?navi=Artists&navj=Biography&aid=1&navk=LYNDELL%20BROWN%20CHARLES%20GREEN.
5. Charles Green, email to the author, 18 September 2015.
6. Lyndell Brown/Charles Green and Jon Cattapan, “Aftermath: Spook country: Lyndell Brown/Charles Green + Jon Cattapan – A three artist collaboration,” Framing Conflict: Contemporary war + aftermath (South Yarra, Vic: Macmillan Art Publishing, 2014), 116.