Above: Rodeo Role Play 2, Mixed Media on Polly-Cotton (2017) by Bryce Anderson
Bryce Anderson was that kid in school who could draw every cartoon character from memory. These days, he uses his skills to make art. Anderson describes his work as “painting about collages or, alternatively, collages about painting”. Like onions (and ogres) Anderson’s multi-media works have layers; Pages of books are collaged on top of his paintings, obstructing the action and inviting the viewer to spend some time investigating each element of the work.
His latest series ‘Rodeo Role Play’ is based on real life rodeo shows that he attended in outback Australia. Watching men perform in the rodeo ring, Anderson was struck by the American-ness of the proceedings. He set out to document these events and wound up exploring the complex tensions between the heteronormative male mythologies of the Australian stockman and the American cowboy, as you do.
When we speak, Anderson is in the studio preparing for a series he’ll be showing at Sydney’s China Heights gallery in early 2019. Here he is, in his own words.
“I am an artist, primarily a painter. I grew up in a small coastal town north of Brisbane called Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast.
“The earliest memory I have of being exposed to art was through the drawings and little zines I would construct around the age of five. I think I must have been exposed to comic books and started making my own little narratives. In primary school I was the kid who could draw your favourite cartoon character from memory. I used to sign all my work. I think that awareness of creating a work of ‘Art’ was embedded in me by my Grandpa who was a landscape painter. The attraction to paint came through the challenge of understanding colour; it was one step further then constructing a monochrome drawing.
“The work from the ‘Rodeo Role Play’ series came about through the area I was living in. I was based in rural NSW where all of this activity was happening. On a surface level, it began with making work that explored a sense of place and space in a non-autobiographical way. Though the work shifted quickly with the weight and history of the idea.
“’Rodeo Role Play’ consists of Australian Stockmen and American cowboys. Though all of the images are of Australian content this “American-ness” has been inherited culturally. The work explores these shifts from the working class to the performer. The paintings speak to the idea of gender as a performance: males within these environments act out their overt masculinity. For me, the rodeo brought up a lot of conflict between the mythology stockmen and cowboys and what the event actually embodies.
“I think a series like ‘Rodeo Role Play’ would fit perfectly around something like “Toxic Masculinity” if the viewer wanted to project those conversations onto the work, but those are not my intentions. My viewpoint comes from a curiosity, an attempt to understand and reconcile with an Australian archetype, there is a beauty to this mythology as well as conflict.
“To talk about masculinity and gender performance from the perspective of a white straight Australian male is problematic. Theses histories of the working class aren’t so different to the histories of painting, for better or worse they are both male dominated. I think by acknowledging objectively my own existence and the problems I inherit as a white male creates a series of interesting opportunities. Though I don’t think my identity plays a specific role in the process of creating work, rather the choices I make in the imagery I deal with.
“There is a tension in the work, the cowboys are often suspended for what would presumably be a 6-second ride at best. There is stillness in the work that is created in the suspension of an animated subject but also in the application of the paint. The hard-edged, opaque quality of the application really plays with this tension between the centre figure and the imagery that sits and obstructs the space. The stillness also represents the objectivity of the pages I have cut up — they have confined parameters that jut against each other, competing for space within the narrative.
“The way I construct images isn’t based on the possibilities of logical scale and depth, its more concerned with colour, form and materiality. I am interested in an ambiguity, an ambiguity through the relationship of images. Narratives shift depending on what lies adjacent in each pictorial plane. There are concurrent themes running through the work, but I want the work to be open to interpretation. It’s through theses visual cues that I hope viewers find something interesting, something to spend time with.
“I’m looking forward to just being in the studio. There are some shifts in my practice at the moment that are keeping me busy. I really designated this year to make some developments in my work, to give myself time to experiment and to let work fail.”
Above: Rodeo Role Play 4, Mixed Media on Polly-Cotton (2017) by Bryce Anderson
Above: Rodeo Role Play 5, Mixed Media on Polly-Cotton (2017) by Bryce Anderson
Above: Rodeo Role Play 6, Mixed Media on Polly-Cotton (2017) by Bryce Anderson
Above: Rodeo Role Play 7, Mixed Media on Polly-Cotton (2017) by Bryce Anderson