Artist Garrie Maguire explores the idea of man, and what we want men around us to be, in a new installation at Federation Square. Paul Andrew spoke to the artist.
American Portrait Photographer Annie Leibovitz sums up the sentiment best: “I didn't want to let women down. One of the stereotypes I see breaking is the idea of aging and older women not being beautiful.”
Stereotypes have been used by portrait artists since photography first began; for dramatic effect, to portray class, status, fashion sense or any number of “singular” traits or qualities. Portait artists like Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Leibovitz, William Yang and Midsumma featured artist Garrie Maguire produce works that break down stereotypes , open them up to the realm of possibility or meddle with them for the sake of irony or poetry.
Maguire’s latest body of work is a series of large-scale portraits depicting male beauty; the photographer sharing Leibovitz’s attitude towards stereotypes are concerned, except it is men that the Melbourne-based artist doesn’t want to let down; Chinese-Australian men in particular. Maguire considers male beauty an inner quality rather than a surface quality best represented by “stillness”, a quality that is present regardless of age, race, colour, desire or any other sociological category you care to name.
“Stereotypes are used differently depending on the area of study,” he explains.” In cinema a stereotype is a small stock character that is instantly recognisable, complete with assumptions about morals, socio-economic[status] and motivations. The types I have explored in this exhibition are based on film stereotypes. My work has always been about not denying stereotypes but adding to them, expanding them. “
Maguire speaks about major influences throughout his career as an artist such as Henri Cartier Besson and Arnold Newman, however the Portrait Photographer he admires more than any other is Robert Mapplethorpe, the godfather of contemporary homoerotic art.
“I've spent the last five years doing a Master of Arts, which, in part, was about examining the work I did in the 1990s and 2000s; putting it into an historic and theoretical context. I realised that Mapplethorpe is the one photographer who has influenced my mindset right from the beginning.”
Maguire travelled to New York in 1991 in search of works by Mapplethorpe. It was only two years after this New York-based artist died from HIV-/-AIDS- related illnesses. He was fascinated by Mapplethorpe’s Black male nudes, by his still life photographs; exotic orchids and exquisite flowers shaped like phalluses.
“ I was really attracted to the beauty of his prints - they seemed precious, sacred even. I was also attracted to the subject matter. Mapplethorpe presented images that were unlike most of what I had seen before; the men in his photos were not always handsome - they were distinctive. Mapplethorpe didn't photograph personalities he was more sculptural in his approach, particularly in his later work. It was his photograph of Ken Moody, a well-known Mapplethorpe model, composed like a passport photograph with his eyes closed, an image that made me stop and reconsider everything I was doing with photography.”
Mapplethorpe’s most important contribution was not the blurring of the line between art and porn, but that he made images of Black Americans that entered the public consciousness, that were different. The men in his photographs were still, sexy, yet contemplative, thoughtful, teasing; it cut across the narratives of Black Americans of the time."
Garrie Maguire- Portraits- Installation
Federation Square Atrium until 17 February