at home among the gumleaves

Brisbane News – Phil Brown

Art director Adam Cusack branches out as art creator in his Latest show

Depicting yourself as a gumleaf might seem like a quaint idea, even for an artist. The gumleaf in question in Brisbane painter Adam Cusack’s Self Portrait looks ordinary enough, though larger than life, but he assures me there’s more to it than meets the eye. So we discuss the metaphorical possibilities of gumleaves and he explains that the piece derives from a decade in Melbourne — quite a stretch down south for a boy from Cairns.

The portrait evolved from a throwaway line by a Melburnian casting aspersions on Cusack’s Queensland origins.

“This bloke said to me that he could smell gumleaves on me,” Adam laughs as he walks me through his enigmatically titled exhibition Thought Paroxysms, now on at Doggett Street Studio, Newstead.

“I think it was the Tommy Hilfiger scent that I was wearing at the time.”

Actually, the gumleaf line puts him in good company. Back in the Eighties the renowned Australian painter Sam Fullbrook, an occasionally ornery character renowned for his subtle, colourful work, described another artist as having a “gumleaf exterior”. He was talking about a wild Queensland expressionist, the late Gil Jamieson, a bushman and a very underrated painter. Jamieson hailed from Monto, west of Bundaberg, and while Adam is from way north of there, he proudly wears the same gumleaf tag.

One wall at Doggett Street Studio is dedicated to a series of smaller, but no less charming, leaf paintings that form an impressive suite. Gallery-goers have enthused about the paintings, says Adam, who seems frustrated, however, that no- one has put their hand in their pocket.

I hope someone buys them because I haven’t got room for them at home,” he laments.

Mind you, as nice as a sell-out show would be, Adam, who works as an art director with advertising company Publicis Mojo in Brisbane, hasn’t shown his work for years, so he’ll have to settle for a smattering of sales thus far. A word to the wise for collectors looking for reasonably priced paintings, though: most of his are under $1,000.

They are paintings of real leaves too, he says, as if to justify his botanical dalliance.

“Four of them were collected on my honeymoon in Cairns a few years ago,” he says. (It seemed only fair that he introduce wife Donna to the joys of leafy Cairns early in the piece.)

But let’s not get too hung up on leaves — there is other subject matter at hand in this interesting re-emergence of Adam Cusack, former Queensland College of Art student and artist, as distinct from Adam Cusack, art director, Another interesting preoccupation is his landscapes featuring a sculpted metal figure reminiscent of Sidney Nolan’s iconic Ned Kelly series.

His central image is not a bushranger motif but, rather, a “tin man” of scrap metal made by a mate of Adam’s who had no artistic intentions. He banged together the “little bloke” with the leftovers from a car trailer. The spontaneous sculpted metal art icon features in Adam’s own answer to Nolan. He has created a narrative for the little figure, too, as Nolan did.

In Tin Man Portrait, the figure strikes a supercilious pose, while in The Hunted he becomes a warrior, and so it goes. In Crows at his Back the lone figure is taunted by a murder of crows, ominous black splotches of paint against a gorgeous blue sky, tinged with clouds.

These works hint at Adam’s future potential as a landscape painter. He demonstrates a feeling for the emotional possibilities of the genre in Lead a Horse to Water, a mystical piece featuring a perfectly round waterhole in an eerily empty, arid landscape. The painter isn’t surprised when I mention the painting makes me think of Mars. On the other hand, there isn’t water on Mars, is there? We’ll have to wait for the boffins’ final decision on that. Meantime, Adam Cusack’s paintings are in the here and now and well worth a look.

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