Arts Writing Hot House

15. 08. 2019

…beautiful boy

By Gina Raisin

The telex came to life at an unscheduled time…its loud clattering beckoning me to look. The innocuous sheet of paper with perforated edges spewing out with just four words ‘JOHN LENNON SHOT DEAD’.

This moment in time was revisited on my first viewing of Ann Newmarch’s work For John Lennon and my two sons, 1981, it was planted into my psyche in 1983 at its first showing at the Riddoch Art Gallery in Mount Gambier. In 2018 it was released from the archives and returned to the walls of the Riddoch in an exhibition curated by Serena Wong, Discovering the Portrait – from the Riddoch Collection.

Newmarch’s vivid colours and collection of imagery delivered the same punch in the guts as it had almost three decades before. Staring into the eyes of her young son I could hear the telex machine beckoning once more, and once more I felt the pain and dismay of hearing of John Lennon’s death. A senseless, stupid death that left his ‘beautiful, beautiful boy’ fatherless and adrift.

Newmarch’s work has a strong narrative traversing decades. It’s a map to feminism, a directory for those who have inherited this new world now so influenced by the Me Too Movement. From 1977 after the birth of her second son, Newmarch commenced a series of screen prints which documented her sons’ lives. ‘These prints were an essential aspect of the rational/emotional tension of her life as an artist and the whole work life balance of her role as a mother.’[1]

Ann Newmarch, For John Lennon and my two sons, 1981, colour screenprint on paper, 91 x 65 cm (diptyph, each). Courtesy of the artist.

The blood red of the background telegraphs the horror of the many mass shootings to come. In particular the Port Arthur mass murder springs to mind. A touch point in Australian history when gun control hit the headlines, and it became less and less palatable to present children with plastic weapons in their Christmas stockings, let alone toothbrushes sprouting from the barrel of a gun. Viewers are called to take stock and consider the changes to gun laws: there may be less guns in Australia but is there less violence? Are beautiful boys still altered in their teens and finally in their adulthood emerge as violent perpetrators?

The poignancy of For John Lennon and my two sons, 1981, cuts deeper than ever. On December 8, 1980 we wept for John Lennon who wanted to give peace a chance. The horror of his assassination was hard to grasp and even more difficult to understand. Now as a grandmother of a beautiful boy I wonder what lies ahead for him. Will he understand that feminism is for him as much as it is for his two sisters? Will he be kind, loving and gentle as a teen and then a man?

Newmarch was not afraid to be accused of sentimentalism, an accusation which again was used to reinforce the gendered nature of the artworld but she acknowledged the vulnerability she felt in putting these kind of private images in public.[2]

Like Newmarch I am not afraid to be accused of sentimentalism, exposing wistful thoughts, or am I just cognitive of and loaded down by the complexity of the human condition.

[1] Maughan. J, ‘Ann Newmarch opening pandora’s box’, Artlink – vol. 29, no. 3, 2009, page 65

[2] ibid, p. 65

This piece of writing was commissioned by Country Arts SA as part of the inaugural Arts Writing Hot House – a program supporting emerging regional South Australian writers. You can read more about the Hot House here.

Lauren Mustillo

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November 2018 - July 2019


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