Interview | Philippe Le Miere
Artist, Philippe Le Miere discusses his current exhibition ‘Symbols of Transformation’ with Nicola Coady.
1.‘Symbols of Transformation’ is essentially a show about appropriation. Couldn’t you have produced these works digitally? What is the significance of the paint?
It’s funny, you know, if I was an artist working in the Middle Ages or Renaissance chances are they'd have to paint at least one depiction of the popular culture of the time - namely Jesus Christ. Under modernity however, proprietorship and authorship see one as ‘appropriating’ culture even when it functions as ubiquitously as religion once did. I see the show less about appropriation and all about transformation. Could I have just produced these works digitally? Maybe. What I love most about these images as paintings is their contrast to the digital. Unlike Lichtenstein, who sought to rebel against the Abstract Expressionist movement of his time by painting smooth machine like surfaces, today we see smooth machine like surfaces everywhere. The act of painting reduces image making down to a series of marks enabling the viewer to contemplate the image. Digital images are fleeting and frequently replaced. Painting stops us to think a moment about what we are looking at.
2. For your recent exhibition, you talk about the concept of ‘double coding’. Can you explain what that means and how it is relevant today?
Double coding is essentially a post-modern phrase. Its first use was in architecture to describe a late 20th century change toward designing buildings both publicly and critically engaging. The ‘double’ refers to academia’s high intellectual demands, in contrast to general mainstream knowledge. Instead of furthering this gulf between high and low art, as the Avant-garde does, Postmodernism seeks to unite it. It’s relevance in the 21st century continues as audiences for fine art decline. A majority of people today believe art is non-utilitarian, inaccessible, and exclusionary. I don’t believe Art has to be this way.
3. There are many hidden references and layers of meaning within your paintings. How is this being received, are people picking up on the clues?
You could be referring to the double coding here. Are people reading both codes? Well, it’s hard to say. I worked for many years under the artist Patricia Piccinini. A key influence she had on me was her open attitude to peoples response to works of art. You see art functions best as a conversation. You put it out there and if it resonates with people the art starts a conversation. This is what’s important, and Piccinini’s work is testament to that. Art can sit on the wall and gradually reveal itself, layer of meaning by layer of meaning. That’s what I’ve always enjoyed most in art.
4. You have mentioned your ongoing interest in dreams and the unconscious. What do you find fascinating about these areas? Are there any theorists you particularly love?
Gosh, big question, I could answer at length. The main theorists is of course Carl Jung. At art school I first read Freud’s ‘Interpretation of Dreams’, as Freudian theories on psychoanalysis continue to influence the arts since Surrealism. Much later, after reading Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero of a Thousand Faces’, I discovered Jung and his key contribution to mythological studies. From there I read Jung’s collected works (no small task) and started the journey of learning about dreams and their relationship to early cultures. Aboriginal Dreamtime would be the most famous example, where unlike Western culture, dreams play a significant role in shaping cultural imagery. Jung’s ideas inspired my regular recording of a dream diary. Each morning I sketch the most vivid moment of my dream. Over time I’ve found this dream ‘training’ to sharpen my skills in imagination, and enhance a play with imagery from popular culture in unique and dream like ways.
5. Experimentation and research have always been important parts of your process. What areas or techniques are you planning to explore next?
Good question, and while I have heaps of ideas, too many ideas really, I don’t know what the next painting will be. I started this exhibition with the Cezanne landscape painting, with the intention of analyzing and simplifying his compositional structure. This then grew much later into the painting ‘Oh the places you could go’. I had no idea I’d end up there, and perhaps the title reflects this. A benefit of exhibiting is feedback and the collective response will affect future direction. Art is a process of both social and psychological forces. I enjoy its uncertainty.