Born in Akaroa in 1952, Richard McWhannell now lives in Auckland. He completed his art education at the University of Canterbury, at the School of Fine arts, where his early artistic influences emerged from. His works contains elements of reality and imagination. As he states himself: “There’s an argument that goes on in my painting—it’s circular and involves degree. To what extent should one be literal and how far painterly—how much observed and how much imagined? Observation is in a sense easier and more satisfying in its process, at least I’ve found it so…Yet to work from behind the eye, from the back of the brain—to conjure an image out of feeling seems somehow a more noble aspiration. To pull a character out of thin air is especially sweet.”
McWhannel was part of the Nomadic Art Gallery's digital exhibition "Alienation". Contextualisation of his work within the exhibition theme:
"Throughout his illustrious career, McWhannell has always been fascinated to dig up our art historical past. In doing so the artist idiosyncratically brings to life forgotten visual worlds and reframes them in his own conceptual idiom relevant for our times. McWhannel’s paintings subjects range from portraits of reclusive individuals, Boschian landscapes of chaos and Breughelian villages. Therefore, McWhannel's extensive body of work could be considered as an example of expressionism but there are also some interfaces with surrealism and symbolism.
When viewing the artwork chosen for the exhibition "Alienation", art lovers cannot look beyond the influence of the horrifying images immortalized on our retina by Irish painter Francis Bacon. In these times of chaos, uncertainty and loneliness, it is easy for the viewer to empathize with the person portrayed because it could be every one of us. The exaggerated, contorted and distorted facial traits, skillfully painted in contrasting hues of skin tone and framed in gold to emphasize the fortune of living life, are allegorical personifications of melancholy and despondency.His painting forces us to see beyond the separate shapes and stresses often deeply hidden within the human figure, thereby showing the truthfullness of ugliness. The visual and conceptual horror is sublimated through formal perfection in which the accentuated parts are rendered into the most satisfying of pictorial harmonies.
Contextualised within our exhibition, this painting could be treated as a cultural symptom, like a mirror full of generalized moral lessons rather than as individual expressions. Although only a glance, from below, is cast on the face, you feel the familiar emptiness in the eyes of the human condition. Through the comprehension of McWhannel’s blurred vision, we can see ourselves with greater clarity; we can come to terms with the brutality of existence. His artwork does what great art does: it leaves us fragmented in the face of nothing, leading us to rethink our placement as individuals in the world of our limited understanding."
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