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#1 2020-08-21 07:27:12

Richardsam
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David Griggs: BETWEEN NATURE AND SIN

Sydney painter David Griggs on his intuitive approach to painting and the deeply embedded influence of living more than a decade in Manila.
TEXT: Denise Tsui IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery As I meandered through the quiet back streets of Marrickville, in Sydney’s inner west, the sky was sun-drenched and gloriously blue, the air deathly quiet.
Then I saw it, a building unlike any other on the street with its colourfully painted brick façade—I thought to myself this must be Shirlow Street Studios.
Indeed, standing out front with a cigarette, .

Was Australian painter and eight-time Archibald finalist David Griggs

After a not-so-awkward introduction, he led me around the upper floor studios, which he was co-habiting with seven other artists as part of the Studio’s first residency.
Portrait of David Griggs.
Photo by Alexander Cooke.
Image courtesy of the artist.
Settling into his beautiful sunlit studio, .

Griggs scrambled around to find me a chair that—we hoped—was spared of wet oil paint

To one side, paintings and blank canvases were stacked against a corner; next to a pair of shoes sitting atop a pillar of milk crates and countless paint tubes, rags and whatnot perched atop a folding table.
To the other side, on two walls hung large paintings, one of which read the words “Fireman and Cats” and the other, a large landscape.
This was early March, before Australia experienced its first COVID-19 outbreak, but after months of scorching bushfires that had ravaged the landscape, cost the lives of fire fighters and over a million animals, and broke our hearts.
These paintings, Griggs tells me, were created over the Christmas break in response to the tragedy.
The supporting canvases heavily laden with paint, ‘raw’, ‘gritty’ and ‘unflinching’ would just be some of the words that come to mind standing in front of the works.
“Sometimes I’m very intuitive, .

I don’t map things out,” says Griggs of his painting approach

More often recognized for portraiture than landscape painting but never quite strictly confined to any genre.

Griggs credits his artistic cultivation to his high school art teacher

and to his grandmother, whom the artist shares, taught him, not only how to paint a landscape, but to follow his intuition because a painting can always be painted over.
This golden piece of advice is perhaps what has given Griggs the boldness to be steadfast in his painting practice.
Of the prestigious—and arguably problematic—Archibald Prize, he reveals his early reluctance with entering it, but his mindset changed after a conversation with a friend helped him perceive it in a different light.
“I see it now, it’s not so much about the importance of the prize, but the importance of owning it, owning your practice within such a public realm that perceptions would change.”   Installation view, David Griggs: BETWEEN NATURE AND SIN, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney (8 August – 8 October 2017).

Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Sydney.
Installation view, David Griggs: BETWEEN NATURE AND SIN, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney (8 August – 8 October 2017).
Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
In 2006.

Griggs was granted a three-month residency through Asialink

which brought him to Manila, Philippines, and became a turning point for the artist.
Falling in love with the energy and vibrancy of the art scene, he subsequently spent 12 years living across the two cities—both of which are vastly different in every possible way.
“I love it there, but I also can’t be there for very long in one stretch because I get so tired,” says Griggs of life in Manila.
While artistically he thrived, as a foreigner, day-to-day living always presented its challenges; many of which resonate with echoes of familiarity to my own experiences in Indonesia.
“I can only really talk about the Philippines but it’s like the information was so sparse that it was like they saw a painting, it triggered something, but then they ran with it and created their own thing out of that, rather than mimicking.
And that’s pretty fascinating,” he says, describing the artistic process of local artists he met.
Listening to Griggs, I notice his face lights up, and in that moment, I became certain Manila had cast the same kind of spell on him that I once felt—and still feel—about Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
It’s a kind of indescribable magnetism that is charged with infectious artistic energy.
A residency with 1335Mabini, a gallery in Ermita—a district that is both a civic centre of the city and a notable red light district—resulted in a series of psychedelic paintings laden with sexual symbolism, evoking Griggs’ imagination of life in the 1970s and 80s when the area was once a bohemian artistic hub.
The paintings portrayed the contrast of past and present, of inside and outside the studio.
The studio, he tells me, was in an old Spanish colonial-era building that was spared by the bombs of World War II.
“It’s one of the only things that stood the test of time and it was the most beautiful studio.
When you’re in the studio.

You could be anywhere in the world.”   David Griggs

Magic is Mentally Ill #21, 2014, digital colour photograph, 80 x 107 cm.
Image courtesy of the artist.
David Griggs, Magic is Mentally Ill #17, 2014, digital colour photograph, 107 x 80 cm.
Image courtesy of the artist.

Manila’s backstreets and the frenetic energy of the city inevitably captured his heart

A lover of tattoos—his first was made by his best friend with an ingenious homemade device at the age of 13—Griggs took to the streets of Manila photographing people and their gang tattoos.
Griggs, who once dreamt of being a war photographer, tells me it all started rather innocently and instinctually.
“I was a bit of a novice, I was new there,” says the artist.
Naturally, people began to wonder what he was doing.
“I’d always talk to people so there’d always be interaction.
And then when I started to realize sort of what I was photographing, decoding the iconography, it was so fascinating because a lot of the gang iconography is very Americana.” The project lasted three years and culminated in the series “Kalabet Peynge” (2005-2007).
Another series of photos, titled “NEW YORK LONDON PARIS ROME MANILA CITY JAIL” (2009).

Took him inside the Manila City Jail in Recto

Manila.
He tells me the difficulties of gaining access in the beginning; resolved only after Jesuits who were leading art therapy sessions inside invited him along with them.

Griggs subsequently visited the jail every Wednesday over the course of four months

waking up at 4:30am to arrive at 6:00am to wait his turn to be permitted inside the grounds with his camera.
The collaborative project with inmates of Manila City Jail was exhibited at MOP Projects and Kaliman Gallery in Sydney, and Green Papaya Art Projects in Manila.
Although Griggs has since relocated back to Sydney and hasn’t returned to Manila for two years, the influence of his time there remains evident.
A major survey exhibition—the artist’s first—titled “BETWEEN NATURE AND SIN,” toured to 10 venues across four states in Australia between 2017 and 2019.
The exhibition presented significant bodies of work produced during this time; a carnival of vernacular motifs and intrepid imagery bearing witness to the darker underbelly of Manila’s streets and the impact the city’s people and culture had on the artist.
David Griggs, Arrojadoa theinisseniana (Mankini Island), 2020, oil on canvas, diptych: 221.5 x 272 cm overall.
Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
Installation view, David Griggs: Mankini Island, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney (7 February – 29 February 2020).
Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
In stark contrast, his recent solo exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, titled “Mankini Island” appears sprightly, with its popping bright colours and humorous tone.

But closer inspection reveals the works are sprinkled with hints of his time in Manila

which Griggs tells me, was something that inadvertently cropped up.
Talking about one particular painting—Arrojadoa theinisseniana (Mankini Island) (2020)—which, by his intuitive approach, ended up as a landscape, he tells me how he came to realise he was painting remnants of his memories.
“I noticed that subconsciously, I created this weird horizon.
I travel a lot and I used to go to this little resort three hours from Manila just to take a moment out.
I would rent what they called an attic room; it had bamboo flooring and a beautiful teak balcony with wooden railing.
There were palm trees like 20 meters behind, and bit further down was the beach” he says.
“So it was this weird horizon line that you only get when you’re up high on that balcony.” The title, with reference to the absurdity of Borat.

Opened a line of enquiry into the representation of sexual politics for Griggs

who began to think about it after a conversation with his gallerist.
“I felt, how can I, as a sort of middle aged heterosexual Caucasian male in Australia; how do I deal with sexuality but not deal with sexuality at the same time?” he asks.
“And I thought that was sort of interesting, the idea of masculinity always being like this most macho thing, and because I’m doing big paintings and in this realm, it’s almost like, I’m a macho painter.” But examining “Mankini Island” against current bodies of work, including those on his studio walls at the time of my visit, it was also clear this was an exhibition that was ceremonious in a way, a mark of his departure from Manila.
“It’s like my coming back as being someone that lives and works here.
So it’s my version of being an Australian artist.”     The post “It’s my version of being an Australian artist”: In the Studio with David Griggs appeared first on COBO Social.
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