The Rake’s Progress: Luping in Australia
My research is based on the depiction of myself as an immigrant. Relating to my new surroundings, from an immigrant’s perspective, these paintings interrogate my relationship to the Australian environment and culture. They also reflect the unavoidable clash of cultural values intrinsic to immigration.
The title I have chosen for the individual project is “The Rake’s Progress: Luping in Australia”. I have developed my ideas through a series of 8 paintings that explore my experiences in immigrating to Australia. The medium is oil on canvas, Size: 750 x 600 mm.
My research desires to explore the differences between cultural and social perspectives between China and Australia. I have attempted to create works that allow the Chinese techniques of painting (learnt in China) to become transformed and altered through my exposure to western techniques and culture. Central to my research is to explore whether figurative painting can provide an appropriate contemporary means of investigating immigration and cultural frisson. It also brings into question my relationship with my new surroundings establishing a visual dialogue between notions of isolation versus participation within Australian culture. Formally, my compositions encourage the viewer to consider the relation between myself (isolated as an immigrant), and my relation to Australian society.
As a structural model for my enquiry I have appropriated some aspects of “The Rake’s Progress” series by the 18th Century artist William Hogarth and the 20th Century artist David Hockney. These narrative works depict the experiences of a person in new geographical and social circumstances. I have exploited Hogarth’s eight panel format to develop my studio project. I use a first-person perspective to situate myself in the context of Queensland (both city and country).
My working methodology combines diverse resource material, from landscape studies, popular imagery to biographical information. I am also interested in the idea of conflicting moralities in our modern world. In China there is much attention paid to aspects of public morality, and large paintings are often commissioned to illustrate these points to people in society. If a person is too focused on his or her own self experience, then this is considered improper and self-indulgent. Hockney, however was concerned with his own personal evolution as an individual and this is for me a refreshing aspect of his Rake’s Progress. I have sought to replicate this in my own series of paintings.
In my first rack’s progress painting I show myself at Tian An Men square. The context of Tian An Men square represents the Chinese governments political desire to play a dominant role in the contemporary world, a symbol of power and supposed ‘revolution’. However, my concept of ‘revolution’ here is at odds with the Chinese ideology. For myself revolution is a personal process of inward evolution, a renewal like the sun rising.
In my second Rake’s Progress painting I show myself gaining my visa in Shanghai. In the painting other people are not so lucky (maybe someone from Tibet in background). In Australia there is much debate about why this person to get a visa and not this other person. Should I feel sorry for others? These are some moral questions I ask.
In my third Rake’s progress painting I depict myself at SeaWorld. There is a small boat from which a girl feeds seals. This image of the boat is for me suggestive of boat people and ironically contrast with the way that some people live out tragedies while others watch the story from places of comfort and safety. The location in SeaWorld gives me the chance to infer a sense of farce and popular entertainment.
In my fourth rake’s Progress painting I show myself at the beach. In China the people are very modest about nudity in public but in Australia this is not the same. For example, if I see a woman, maybe a Chinese woman, with bare breasts, I will be shocked. By using comedy here, I try to address the subject of different cultural standards.
In my fifth Rake’s Progress painting I show myself in Musgrave Park participating in the Greek Paniyiri Festival. In China holidays mostly have a family focus and take place indoors. In this painting I will try to give a sense of the many cultural layers in such a festival. Musgrave Park is an important setting for this work, as it is a special place for indigenous people, whilst being the location for Greek (immigrants) festival and populated by the diverse background of the Australian population.
In my sixth Rake’s Progress painting I show myself in the centre of in Brisbane City, stressed by the many people, the great activity and being challenged by a new urban environment. Where do all these people come from? All were once immigrants? Is it the same as China where the matter of people immigrating to cities is hotly discussed? Am I acting like an Australian?
In my seventh Rake’s Progress painting I show myself studying at QCA. In the scene a girl is grimacing and joking with other students in a carefree situation. Students and lecturers are equal in Australia unlike China. In China scenes of education are very serious – no fun, just learning. Here, I depict my participation within this culture as one of the class. Unlike the Chinese academy, here I am able to pursue a self directed evolution with greater freedom.
In the last progress painting I have showed myself painting a self-portrait at QCA. Through the research and study at QCA I have gained new knowledge and philosophies that have changed the way I paint. Here I depict two contrasting versions of myself, one in physical reality, the other (that I am painting on the canvas) that shows the transformation of my painting practice – a visual manifestation of my ‘revolution’ since immigrating to Australia.
I hope that these paintings succeed in conveying some of the personal and social aspects of immigration. I desire to contribute to a greater understanding of immigration and in this way to participate in the broader social and artistic concerns of Australian culture.