Growing up around the foreshore of Sydney Harbour, an area comprising some of our country’s most significant historical and cultural sites, has made Julian Meagher something of a spirit wrangler. An artist whose deep sense of history informs his perception of the world, his work explores notions of legacy and inheritance, and how the ghosts of our past shape our present day.
In Alone In The Sun, Julian expands on his previous examinations of ritualised masculinity and Australia’s drinking culture, looking to our white colonial past for answers to some of our most challenging contemporary problems. Continuing to question how much of his own identity has been shaped by our collective history, Meagher began dissecting the most pervasive and revered myths upon which our national pride was founded – myths of bushmen, booze and the birth of a nation. Looking to what we know of the early colony, where drunkenness and violence impacted heavily on social and familial relationships, and comparing it to today’s continual cycle of drinking away problems only to create even larger ones, his delicate compositions of empty bottles become symbolic of broken lives and bad decisions. Though repurposed now as vases and objects d’art, they remain stamped with the markings of their origins, the addition of single stems of native bush flowers situating them squarely in the Australian landscape.
The wounds of British invasion and convict settlement and the uneasy relationship with guilt and culpability that has passed down the generations have become increasingly important in Meagher’s exploration of contemporary Australian culture. Rather than shying away from his own links to white settlement, Meagher turned to the stories of his pioneering ancestors, particularly those of his great-grandmothers and the sense of isolation and foreignness he inferred from their experiences of colonial life. Their portraits, rendered ghostlike and ethereal in Meagher’s signature style, are in stark contrast to the bottles and flora surrounding them. Set against the still life compositions, the portraits evoke the loneliness and displacement the women surely felt as they created a life for themselves in a new land.
As we continue to seek ways to reconcile Australia’s tumultuous past, Alone In The Sun is a reminder that we remain unable to resolve our collective history until we shine a light on the restless ghosts who dwell there. Carrie McCarthy
In 2009 and 2012, Julian was the recipient of the New Work Grant from the Australia Council of the Arts. He has been finalist multiple times in the Archibald Prize, Eutick Memorial Still Life Award, Doug Moran Portrait Prize, Mosman Art Prize, Salon des Refuses, Metro Art Prize, Blake Prize for Religious Art and the RBS Emerging Artist Prize. He has exhibited at the Melbourne International Art Fair in 2010 and 2012, the Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair in 2010 and Scope Miami in 2011 and 2012.