“[Photography plays a] very important part in my painting. It has every since I have been in Bali, but now much more. Big digital images. It’s got more and more sophisticated as it’s gone along, obviously, as things do. I photograph the hands, everything, in close up and stitch together a sort of Frankenstein thing in the studio with this painted girl. Then I print it out as large as I can on canvas and then I painting it again.
It is a chain, and why it happens is because I love the veracity, the actual document of a photograph. But I don’t really like photography. I love painting; Painting is kind of muddy and childish and photography is a truthful document and it’s got real news but it’s kind of cold. So it’s a weird combination.”
(b. 1959, BARBADOS)
WORKS BY THIS ARTIST
SANUR BEACH AFTER LE MAYEUR AND NI POLLOK
2014, Mixed Media on Jute, 284 x 176 x 10cm
In his work Sanur Beach after Le Mayeur & Ni Pollok, Bickerton starkly references someone who can arguably be seen as a link to both Gauguin and Bickerton: Begian artist Adrien Jean Le Mayeur. Having once travelled to Tahiti in hopes of following the footsteps of Gauguin, Le Mayeur later settled as an Impressionist artist in Bali, enamored by the island’s unspoiled landscapes, religious rituals and traditional dances. Certain details in Le Mayeur’s life also hauntingly mirror Bickerton’s: apart from settling in Bali, Le Mayeur, like Bickerton, married a Balinese, who similarly became his main model and muse. While working in Bali, both artists also eventually displayed their works in Singapore, earning them exposure and artistic acclaim beyond Indonesia.
Drawing from a black and white photograph of Le Mayeur painting his bare breasted wife Ni Pollok on a beach, living the very kind of white man’s tropical fantasy Bickerton sharply critiques, Bickerton preempts these particular reductive comparisons between him and Le Mayeur—asserting, through this self-awareness, his distance from the stereotype. He depicts himself covered in all trite Western artist tropes—French sailor shirt akin to Picasso, painter’s palette in hand—leisurely painting his wife Cherry, who, adorned in tropical flowers, is similarly reduced to these cultural tropes.
Yet, as much as Bickerton parodies such connections to both Gauguin and Le Mayeur, his continual assertion of himself as subject of his work subtly communicates a serious, deep-seated vigilance against this exploitative exoticism steeped in western art history. Through his ironic hyperawareness, it is as if Bickerton implicitly says: I, too, am responsible.