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Gordon Bennett

BennettThe play between the figurative and the abstract in these works is important. The “figures” are in fact flat two-dimensional abstract shapes and should not be confused with actual people, rather they are quite grotesque representations—isolated details from early Australian modernist works functioning as signs of Aboriginality. Similar to Rorschach blots these shapes are recognized by viewers’ consciousness as black figures. Their meaning depends largely on the sense of place in Australia’s racial politics of that consciousness. This placement is extremely relevant to our times in Australia and our much-touted national identity.


Gordon Bennett was born in Monto, Queensland in 1955. He came to art as a mature adult, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art), at the Queensland College of Art, Brisbane, in 1988. He quickly established himself as an artist equipped both intellectually and aesthetically to address issues relating to the role of language and systems of thought in forging identity.

Much of Bennett’s work is concerned with mapping alternative histories and ideas in post-colonial Australia. He rejects racial labels and stereotypes. In 1995, as an act of personal liberation from preconceptions about his Indigenous heritage, Bennett created an ongoing, pop-art inspired alter ego, John Citizen, whom he says is ‘an abstraction of the Australian Mr. Average, the Australian Everyman.'

In the late 1990s, Bennett began a ‘dialogue’ with the work of the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, a New York artist seen by Bennett as someone outside Australia who shared both a similar western cultural tradition and an obsession with drawing, semiotics and visual language. Bennett’s ‘Notes to Basquiat’ culminated in a series of works produced in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York in 2001. Bennett’s subsequent ‘Camouflage’ series (2003) references the war in Iraq and issues of secrecy. Bennett abandoned his post-colonial project in 2003 and began abstract painting which focused on overt visual phenomena. The ‘stripe’ series of abstract paintings represents a kind of freedom for Bennett as an artist.

Since 1989, Bennett has held 60 solo exhibitions and achieved national and international recognition for his work, with representation in biennales in Sydney, Venice, Kwangju, Shanghai and Cuba, and in major exhibitions of contemporary art in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Prague (Czech Republic), Italy, Denmark, Canada, South Africa and Japan.

The Art of Gordon Bennett by Ian McLean (including an essay by Gordon Bennett), was published by Craftsman House in 1996. Bennett has received several major awards, including the Moët & Chandon Australian Art Fellowship (1991) and the John McCaughey Memorial Art Prize, National Gallery of Victoria (1997). His work is held in all major public art collections in Australia.

—Laura Murray-Cree

Further Information

McLEAN, Ian, “Gordon Bennett’s Home Décor: the joker in the pack,” Law/Text/Culture: In the wake of Terra Nullius, Sydney, School of Law, Macquarie University, Australia, vol. 4, 1998.*

*Digitally reprinted with permission from Dr. Ian McLean




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