The Tactics of Wayne Elliott
Wayne Elliott’s work explores elements of play, pleasure and joy in sport. His paintings are bright and colourful. The figures are drawn with fine lines. The colours are cartoonish. His works don’t engage with contemporary (visual) arts theory. And this is one element which I immediately enjoyed about his works. The works may be visually complex: but they are aesthetically easy to consume. Moreover, Elliott’s paintings tune into the broad and common knowledge many of his viewers have of Australian sporting culture. Elliott’s painting of sporting imagery is a part of his exploration of his own family’s history, contemporary Australian social and political context and the landscape.
Elliott, who now lives outside of Geelong, grew up in Derrinallum: a town that is half-way point between Geelong and Warrnambool and lies at the foot of Mt.Elephant. This is Watha Wurrung country. As a boy in Derrinallum he remembers Aboriginal footballers playing with Derrinallum. Derrinallum is a soldier settlement. Many of the farms that were set up post-WW1 and WW2 were unsuccessful, as the farms were too small to be viable . Wayne says, “I hardly know anything about what life was like there before European settlement. This is a pity.”
Wayne and I speak about the debated origins of Australian Rules and how local, traditional games influenced its development. His is a more open perspective than that of the Australian Football League which regards the Game as an invention of Thomas Wentworth Wills. Hybridity is doubted; because something pure and black and white is easier to understand.
Elliott has a small studio. There is a desk, a guitar, a stereo and a pile of records. On top of which is Steeley Dan’s record, Aja. The walls contain a mixture of Elliott’s own paintings, photographs of horses he has owned, and related artefacts from horse-racing life. There is a pile of sketchbooks with notes and drawings. Painting, drawing, gets done around the normal business of having a job and family life. ‘I’m not a prolific painter. It might take me decades to finally come up with what I want to paint. And then, it will happen in a very short time. That painting, “Uncle’s Farm, Ouyen”, I’d been trying to paint it for 20 years. But I know, every time painting becomes a labour, I’m heading down the wrong track. I have to paint when the time is right.’
The “Before the Game” sounds like yet another footy panel TV show. Elliott’s painting shows, however, the scene of a pre-game address. The captain-coach, bedecked in a No.1 guernsey, is haranguing his players; gee-ing them up. The players, thickly painted, are wearing a Richmond-like jumper, black with yellow sash, and yellow shorts. As with the Tigers of Richmond, the walls of the tin-shed, which functions as their changing-rooms, are adorned with slogans and a sponsor: “Eat ‘Em Alive” (slogans travel easily) and “Kill Em, No knives”, adjacent to one of their sponsors, H.B.A.. The players’ clothes hang from nails. But, the Richmond connection goes beyond the uniforms: John Northey, two time premiership player and Richmond coach is from Derrinallum, his parents owned the local news agency. Elliott sees Northey occasionally at footy club reunions.
“The man giving the speech is my father. We played in the same premiership team that year. That was really something quite special.” And now, unsurprisingly, footy rationalisation has seen the Derrinallum Tigers join with Lismore Football Club in 1999. The Club merged, but doing sport with his father has remained a constant. “Last month I did a triathlon with my father and my son. We did a leg each: doing what we are best at. I did the swim, my father did the bike leg and my son did the run. Every Sunday morning, I go for a bicycle ride with my father – about 35km in total. He’s doing very well for someone who is 83.” Family life blends into sport which blends into the landscape.
Elliott started painting only as an adult. “I grew up in a house without art on the walls.” Elliott was working as the CEO of a training organization at the time when his practice as a painter started to emerge. I was playing indoor cricket in Warnambool with a mate who is an artist – Glenn Morgan – and after a while, I told him I had never painted, he invited me to his ‘Introduction to Art’ painting class. Some four years later I took twelve paintings to show him my work. I was convinced I needed to have lessons. I laid my paintings out on the front yard of his house. He stood back and wandered around; not saying anything. Then, rather abruptly he said, “don’t change anything that you’re doing. Don’t listen to anything anyone says. You’re on the right path. You’ve got your own style. Stick with it. Go and ask a gallery for an exhibition.” And, “I appreciated his honesty and clarity. Soon I found myself at a gallery to exhibit my work, In a sense, things moved quickly.”
Richmond, Private Collection
I’m not sure about this term: ‘naïve’ artist. ‘Outsider’ artist is also quite loaded. Wayne also accepts the designation ‘naïve’ reluctantly. He found that people who enjoyed and bought his work were using this as a search term. Wayne’s paintings are naïve in the sense that they don’t openly engage in visual arts theories or critical discourse. They’re aesthetically pleasing on their own terms. The works don’t require theoretical knowledge to be consumed. The works are less a case of, ‘my five year old could do that’, but more, ‘my five year old can enjoy that’. But, Wayne, of course, is not naïve and he is not so much of an outsider. Doing a Masters in Education [2012-2015] was an impetus for becoming more rigorous in documenting the processes of painting. That his recent education was in education, rather than the Fine Arts, makes him an outsider to the contemporary fine arts world which is overburdened with theory.
Elliott uses his reading of Michel de Certeau and his ideas about ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’. Strategies are those plans which are formal and fixed, the tactics are the way that plans and pathways are created by the user. ‘My works are quite tactical’, Elliott says, without the slightest hint of a reference to the game of footy. His works document moments in time which, like Warne over-taking Muralitharan’s record for most-wickets-taken at the Cairns test in 2004. The much-aggrandised figure of SK Warne is presented as but-a-player within a broader environment of a cricket game taking place amongst a tropical setting. Elliott’s plane journeys to-and-from Darwin where he worked for a number of years are used as a moment to document the landscape; small sketches made as a part of a process. In other contexts, Elliott paints the country-side of his childhood, and then takes his paintings into the landscape and takes a film of them and thus creating a dialogue between his representation and what he has sought to express (see: Copy of Art Process).
The high-perspectives from which Elliott’s paintings depict sporting scenes diminish the individuality and identities of the players and instead emphasise geography: whether it be the country football, country races, a game at the MCG, or Fenech’s fight against Azumah Nelson taking place in Las Vegas (1991) or the Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park. The works are consistent for their emphasis upon the carnivalesque qualities of sporting occasions. Elliott is not naïve to the complicated corruptions of corporate sport in extremis: yet these conclusions are left to the viewer to reflect upon. Or ignore.
It sort of happened. Fenech vs Nelson at Madison Square Garden.