Over the past 5 years I have been clearing away clutter in the studio, perhaps a tonne per year of material has been burned to make way for a fresher outlook and smarter work place.

Here are some of my sentimental favourites from the clean up.


3rd of May Project 2004













Richard Read 1997

'Hail the ambiguous Fathers, and look closely
at them, they are the unadmitted, the club of Themselves,
weary riders, but who sit upon the landscape as the Great
Stønes. And only have fun among themselves. They are
the lonely ones
Hail them and watch out.'

- Charles Olson, 'The Lordly and Isolate Satyrs', 1956

'. . . and on the Eighth Day He sold it for something cheaper and faster'

- Perth T-shirt motorbike logo



A well-worn thread in thinking about art has puzzled over how an ugly, mundane or horrific subject gives pleasure and meaning once transformed into art. Rembrandt's carcasses of oxen, Van Gogh's boots, Goya's scenes of execution and all those Crucifixions exalt subjects that would repel us in life. What if this hoary assumption was false? What if art was like a session of therapy that made things worse in making us aware of them, served to shatter a self that was seeking stability, blighted a conscience was seeking appeasement, or deepened the perplexity of a problem rather than clarifying it for catharsis and solution? It would have to be a highly incompetent therapy to fit an analogy of this kind, but then we might use art to escape from our worst feelings instead of exploring them, to armour ourselves against raw sensitivity and to promote wishful-thinking, however untrue. Much to the dismay of many critics and artists, Freud's famous dictum was to distinguish art from therapy in this way. What we lack in reality - power, money and the love of women (the list needs updating, perhaps) - the artist grasps in fantasy: hence the neurotic escapism of the artist. Freud went on to say, however, that the way in which the artist articulates fantasy may answer to the unconscious needs of the spectator, bringing desire back into accord with reality, and rewarding it with the acclaim of those who seek it also.

Trinidad's apparently innocuous landscape strips seem remote from these heady concerns. They are remote from them, in fact. Yet they lend vivid expression to a bleak tendency symptomatic of much culture of our time: emotional detachment, numbness and the evasion of problems that grow more, not less, intractable with the limited success of trying to find publicly communicable forms for them in a world saturated with passive entertainment. Whether previous phases of his work were successful as art or not, no one seemed to be asking the right questions of it, the political and personal dimensions of it drew little satisfying recognition. Either these dimensions seemed insufficiently attended to or they remained insufficiently expressed - which for the artist can amount to the same thing. The attempt to hammer out and generalize personal crises into a popular and public iconography of primitivistic icons, circus and angelic imagery, Sulo bins, roller-coasters, utes, anvils and surfie logos gave way through sheer pain of the expression (and the popular ascendancy of lighter-hearted Mabo imagery) into an extended portrait series of lumpenly distorted features courageously exploring attitudes of gormless stupefaction, anger, dim recognition, ambivalent humour and tongue-tied awkwardness which deliberately avoided reference to the sitters' personal identity - a sort of parody for adults, in other words, of the children's 'How Do We Feel Today?' chart. These and other phases of his art were made under the aegis of the visual diary, a familiar schema for artists of the 'seventies. The schema continues in the present landscape series, propelled, however, by the desire to get away from the self into the expression of inanimate subjects, though it is often the case that personal expression is richer and freer for not being so as such, for being displaced into regions of the Not-Self. That's why Rorschach ink-blot tests work so well.

Looked at with a jaundiced eye, ignorant of their strength as drawings, the repetitive formalism of these panoramas might seem rural equivalents on a sideways plane of the blandly idealistic cubism vertically expressed in views of the R&I tower sometimes to be found on accountants' walls. This is because Trinidad's landscapes do not (despite echos of his work) line up in the tradition of Fred Williams in which characteristic notations signify Australian identity for specific landscapes so that, according to the cliché associated with the works of Cézanne at Aix or Van Gogh at Arles, in retrospect the features of these places take on the style of the artists who painted them there. The circumstances which led to Trinidad's drawings sever him from this tradition. They are worked up from experience of motorbike rides across the Nullarbor in which observation, memory, fantasy, hallucination and subsequent invention take no special precedence over each other. Hence their relative interchangeability and sameness, in which the more monotonous and uniform compositions - weaker, perhaps, when isolated from the series - play a vitally inert role akin to the apostles identical upon a Byzantine frieze or the mechanistic repetitions of a Leger. Minor variations within mesmerizing sameness, not gasping declarations of unique identity, are the go. The contradictory elements prompting such a phrase as 'vitally inert' are not a matter of stark oppositions in this work. Though some strips of the drawing serve as 'foils' to others in the manner of an art school training - a post-line pushing back a middle distance, a horizon eating blackly into sky - the tensions are fluidly reversible so that distant background can push closer to us than foreground where, in one case, a distant aeriel view of trees dictates a separate perspective.

Equally on the transverse plane, we are not simply in the realm of Bergsonian blur as Futurist speed dissolves the organic features of the scene. Wind generated by the movement of the vehicle or rhythm imposed by a reverberating engine (or successive road marking or music from the rider's head-set) is objectified in one case by a fantasy of wrecked and etiolated foliage pulled backwards above the horizon by some 'real' storm of nature or the mind. It is as if the full dimensions of this storm are suddenly revealed in a drawing whose rectangularity breaks the horizontal sequence. An aggressive deluge of scrubbed black marks descends from the sky like a tidal wave across a cross-current of white ones from another source. White panels and their AWOL shadows punctuate the torrents at regular intervals to take the outbursts back into artistic control. Likewise, the horizontal works are not 'views' seen literally from the pillion. They are worked up frontally to static effect as works of art. Clear and angled fenceposts in the foreground plane are one sign of this. Unwired, warped and set askew, they belong to the pastoral iconography of the traditional Australian painting and register the slower time of communities abandoned rather than the transience of mechanized speed. In one case a fire has spread and calcified the foliage behind them, in another they appear to have eroded and split into uprooted pods, ready to take off in the wind, but are actually a sign of greater ageing and stasis than the rock horizon that slips more smoothly into these cardiograms of recollected travel. Sharp planes of vertical fronds sometimes loom above the horizon like the view of a skull through a crew cut. The strangest of these have oval caps at their summits that transform them into extraterrestrial plants whose daunting effect is as much due to the angle we look up at and through them as their exotic shapes. To the fantasy of the artist these are not plants at all, but forests of mining picks or maddocks. The stratifications at all levels and distances across and into the drawings answer, likewise, to the acquisitive, geological x-ray vision of the prospector's imagination, seeing through the landscape to its inner bounty. Coming from a line of Kalgoorlie prospectors, Trinidad projects such elements of filial awe in an essentially anti-biographical frame of mind. 'Always leave space for irony in your work', is a dictum he remembers from his teacher, Arthur Russell. Here, together with the truncated caterpillar shape (solid, flat or hollow) that undulates through many drawings (gorgeously in a double herring-bone of dark greens that is my favourite, comically [perhaps!] in a clumsy, booted centipedal form) to constitute their least figurative and most idiosyncratic element, is the phantasm of a family heritage of mining that went nowhere for the artist, a triumphant patriotism of potential opportunity, warranted by service in the war, that has lost its innocence of meaning and veered off into a dimension of morality alien, now, to the aspirations of the son. (There may be slow-release mourning here: Paul's father was killed on the road.) Conversely, how idle it would be to fantasize that, like wine behind the label of a bottle, a 1000 cc Moto Guzzi is a metallic essence of the earth it travels past, its single carborundum leg in organic connection with the land, unmediated by the channels of technology and market niche that brings the hand in reach both of the charcoal and the throttle with equally indifferent vigour.

Nothing in the works draws overt attention to the motorized experience that lies behind them. They don't have to be read in the arbitrary light of this anecdotal knowledge. But in keeping with his earlier use of popular iconography for personal motifs, is it possible that in front of these locationless vistas the allegedly universal audience for art and the more specialist consumer group of solitary bike-riders serve tacitly to ironize each other? I suppose I would like to think that to stand before these works would make the well-barbered art afficionado and the hirsute bikie exchange their hairstyles and identity for a moment, were it not that the experience evoked is equally amenable to the almost universal class of motorists. I do suggest, however, that these works promote a dissonant flickering between different kinds of visual pleasure to be had from roads and art galleries. Paul is in flight from self-conscious art meanings of this kind, but is adamant about at least one thing: the way these drawings were made avoids all compunction or capacity to 'possess' the hyperreal land they image. Satisfying though the formalization of such experience may be, it is confrontations in which material presence and self-consciousness unpeal, slide away from, and potentially reduce each other - like the iron in irony or the withdrawal of a traveller from any particular place - that appeals to him. Whatever the intentions, the results are surprisingly intense.

Richard Read