Artist at Stockroom
Working across a variety of media including sculpture, printmaking and video, Robert Hague brings an impeccable skill set to a contemporary sensibility. His work revels in ambiguity, conveying simultaneously elements of the heavy and light, the fixed and fluid, the brutal and gentle, the abstract and figurative and the stern and amusing.
Hague works across numerous media, and from the very large to the delicate. In this most recent body of prints, he takes on a succession of iconic Australian artworks. Each reconfigured, transported into a contemporary reading and rendered in exquisite detail using an old world stone lithographic process. Drawn decorative porcelain plates, broken, sometimes repaired using kintsugi (a gold highlighting of the trauma), depict cultural time-travelers (Ned Kelly shoots Captain Cook), modernist sculptures (Vault/Yellow Peril) and displaced gold miners (Down on His Luck), each re-contextualised into an often biting critique on contemporary society.
His recent Trojan series, in which hammers are recast as bombers, balloons, birds and other unexpected objects, shows his deftness with material and subject matter - the hammer, a sculptor's tool, pushes forwarded into new territories, much like the artist himself.
From his studio in Melbourne, Robert Hague has exhibited widely and is represented in major public collections such as the National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria. In 2010 his work was the subject of a ten year retrospective at Deakin University (Burwood). Recent exhibitions include the 2016 Blake Prize (awarded the Blake Residency and Exhibition Prize), CRUSH, Fehily Contemporary (Melbourne), The Wynne Prize (AGNSW), Erasure, The Art Vault (Mildura) and Inaugural, Nicholas Projects (Melbourne).
The Plate Series
Robert Hague’s imagery plays on the (im)permanence of historical objects, the ambiguities of their meanings, and the cultural associations of their forms. His prints, sculpture and video are immediately attractive but harbour contradicting layers that deepen the longer one considers them. Five works within this Plate series is in the NGA collection.
"I dreamt that Tank Man survived, that he lived a good and happy life and that he stands in the Chinese mountains watching over us.
Tank Man (Associated Press, Tiananmen Sq. 1989) overlooks a bleeding landscape (The Meat Land of a Country 山河, Guo Jian 郭健, 2017) captured within a wreath of poppy flowers. This porcelain plate, a souvenir, is an object that marks a time, a place and a set of values. And it is broken.
In 2017 I travelled to Beijing for the first time. I went wit¬¬¬h the intention of getting lost, of meeting artists and of making real the images of a place that I had lived through the television screen almost 30 years earlier. Guo Jian is a dear friend and we talked at length about this piece. It is his small painting that speaks so powerfully of a wounded place that formed the starting point for the composition.
The title refers to the ‘Century of Humiliation’ (百年国耻) China suffered at the hands of colonial forces and in particular the British Opium Wars. For better or worse, this period founded modern communist China and gave rise to an exodus of Chinese artists.
In 1989, the grainy images of a lone and unidentified man challenging a column of tanks had had a profound impact on the world, although practically unknown in China. They were images of hope at a time when the walls that separated ideologies appeared fragile and they were images that changed me.
The fate of Tank Man remains unknown."
Robert Hague. Aug 2018
Cook sits fiercely stabbing at a map (Nathaniel Dance 1775). His look is commanding yet the otherworldly landscape suggests that he is anything but at home. He is a refugee in a foreign and fearful place. An 18th century icon cast adrift, foolishly dividing the spoils.
Goya’s Giant (1818) turns his head as if disturbed from thought. He sits naked within a distant landscape since lost to catastrophic environmental change (The White Terraces, Blomfield 1884, NZ). The things that shape us, our childhood and the world in which we are born, they are fragile things that so often we fail to value until they are lost to us. This is a deeply personal work (I am Goya’s giant) about loss and the world that I left behind.
McCubbin’s failed gold prospector (Down on his Luck, 1889) sits mournfully in a Wedgwood paradise (after Claude Lorraine, 1650’s), its broken porcelain traced with veins of gold (kintsugi).
Lorraine here depicts an idealised urban landscape, a pre-Romantic image of utopia and one senses that McCubbin’s miner has realised that his dream of creating Australia in this image is not only futile but was perhaps the wrong dream all along.
Tom Robert’s shearer (The Golden Fleece, 1894) plunders the treasure from under an Albert Namatjira’s ghost gum (1945).
Many, many Australians have grown wealthy from the outback’s seemingly boundless resources, almost none of them Indigenous. Namatjira was Australia’s first Aboriginal art star and at one point was estimated to have supported over 600 people with his painting, yet he died broken after being jailed and was largely unloved by the art establishment.
In 2013, two majestic ghost gums that were iconic images in Namatjira’s paintings, were burnt to the ground in suspicious circumstances, just weeks before they were due to be placed on the heritage register.
Ned Kelly’s helmeted figure replaces the Aboriginal warriors in this reworking of an iconic 19th century etching. Captain Cook’s boat-people arriving at Kernel in 1770 are met with resistance by the divisive bushranger from the 1880’s. Kelly, who is often associated with xenophobia, is caught repelling the English arrival, in what amounts to a diabolical contradiction. These two powerful figures of Australian colonial history are forever in conflict over the rich prize of terra nullius (nobody’s land).
Queen Elizabeth poses atop the throne (Cecil Beaton, 1953) surveying the nation from beneath the Don Dale spitmask. Beyond her in the grand romantic vista sits the solitary Modernist sculpture ‘Black Sun’ by Inga King (1975).
Inga King was a refugee of Nazi Europe who found a home in the other-worldly landscape of Australia and was until her death aged 100 (2016) a subject, like all of us, of an often blind and indifferent Crown.
This plate has been shot.
“Natives on the Ouse River (John Glover, 1838) stands in marked contrast to the actual situation of the traditional owners of Ouse River country - the Braylwunyer people of the Big River nation - which was one of dispossession and violence at the hands of the colonists.” - AGNSW Archive
Yellow Peril (aka Vault, Ron Robertson-Swann, 1978) stands foreign and timeless in a Glover landscape (John Glover, 1838). In the foreground a dying Burke and Wills (John Longstaff, 1907) stare helplessly out. Glover’s imagined noble paradise torn apart by ambition.
“I believe it is my best work so far and part of my ambition to be one of the best artists of my generation.” - Ron Robertson- Swann (The Sun, 1981). Vault was unceremoniously removed from City Square after 6 months, in July 1981.
In 1860 Burke and Wills led a failed expedition to cross Australia. Arriving at the ‘DIG’ tree just hours after their support team had unexpectedly departed; they died alone at Cooper Creek. The third figure, King, was saved by the Yandruwandha people.