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Kim Mackell (1952 – 2016)

The Tigers of Kitsch are Wiser than the Horses of Instruction.

Friday: Breakfast over, looking forward to lunch - with morning tea and a Log Cabin in between. (Undated notebook entry)

In between meals and with tobacco as a constant companion, Kim Mackell made a lot of art in a relatively short time. He completed most of the works in this exhibition over a period of about 15 years from around the mid 1970s to the end of the 1980s.

Over this time, a clear progression in thinking and style is evident in his work: moving from the familiar subject matter, quirkiness and naïve style of the early pen and ink drawings and watercolours to the power, ferocity and incisiveness of the later acrylic portraits and woodcuts.  Brought together for the first time, it is an astonishing collection. And it seems right to show it in the Blue Mountains, where Kim spent the last twenty-five years of his life.

As his early works show, Kim drew and painted the world around him, beginning to play with the themes and subject matter that crop up time and again in his work – the thylacine in sunglasses, quolls eating king parrot wallpaper, smoking goannas and vampire koalas.

In the early 80s, buoyed by a friend’s description of his style as Ocker Funk, Kim decided to improve and strengthen his drawing skills, spending several years studying and working at the Canberra School of Art.  Whether Ocker Funk or not, the paintings got bigger, more confident, less conventional and overtly satirical. The subject matter and themes were frequently political. After all, it was the 1980s, greed was good and, as his work shows, there was no shortage of inspiration.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. Kim disliked pretension, which may be why he was so attracted to kitsch. And he liked playing with words, so the tigers of wrath from Blake’s Heaven and Hell became the tigers of kitsch - Tasmanian tigers in sunglasses. The horses of instruction are no match at all. 

When you look closely, Kim’s ongoing obsessions and sense of humour are littered through his work – tobacco and smoking, Australian flora and fauna, Australiana in general but Chad Morgan in particular, and anything related to intimate bodily functions. He saw ‘the incredible beauty of the absurd’, collecting and incorporating images and information often so weird and obscure that you can never be quite sure whether to believe it or not.

And so thirty years on, though most of the faces have changed, the world its stupidities have not. One of Kim’s early paintings depicts a pair of Prince Albert Rifle-birds in conversation - one is saying to the other ‘It’s going to be a very strange sort of world with only a fifth or an eighth of us left’. Through this exhibition we invite you to remember a truly subversive artist and a wonderful, thoroughly decent human being, and to reflect on the strange sort of world we live in, as seen through his eyes.

Please click on the image for a full view

The Estate of Kim Mackell, (1952 -2016)