In one of life’s more curious turns, I ended up owning a cocktail bar about six years ago. Me, the chick with no hospitality experience, who’d never waited tables, never pulled a beer and didn’t know the difference between an ale and a lager, was suddenly having to work out how to change a beer keg and what the hell people meant when they asked for a “CC and dry.” To say it was a steep learning curve is an understatement. It was a world away from my previous life in writing and interior design. But the patrons and I survived the rocky start and now its almost second nature to me. I’ve even won awards for my espresso martinis – go figure!
However owning a bar, even now that I’m rarely actually the one serving drinks, is something that has never sat easily with me. On a daily basis I rely on the culture of drinking to pay my bills, but as the veteran of one long-term relationship with an alcoholic, and as a witness to many more lives lived similarly, I know how unhealthy and destructive alcohol can be. It’s a conundrum, one we all face as we indulge in our favourite wine or beer or vodka martini (or all three, as was the case with me last night). It’s the most social of anti-social pastimes, a dilemma I confront on a daily basis. For every person who can handle a couple of drinks, I see several more who can’t. I see good people become complete arseholes, and arseholes become complete monsters. I see partners treated badly and unborn babies subjected to god knows what damage by their silly pregnant mothers. I see people at their absolute worst. And it remains that way because no one wants to start a dialogue about it, lest it be revealed that they too have a problem with alcohol. I’m including myself in this.
For Sydney-based artist Julian Meagher, it is an aspect of Australian life that he too feels the need to reconcile. How does a male, in one of the highest alcohol-consuming countries in the world, find a way to assert his masculinity away from the beer-swilling pub culture that exists in Australia? What do we do about that guy at every party who continues to buy people drinks, refusing to take no for an answer? How do we find the confidence to say that enough is enough? And when do we start that conversation about what we’re denying ourselves by living this way?
Meagher’s painting style, an ethereal form of oil painting that layers multiple thin glazes to create an effect more akin to watercolour, is perfectly suited to explorations of strength and weakness, as is his subject matter. Empty bottles and beer cartons, offset by flowers and birds, are arranged according to the principles of contemporary still life, but contain much more than a snapshot of daily routine. Perhaps it’s the years of medical training Meagher completed before turning to art, but there is a precise ritual evident in his painting that speaks volumes about the level of concentration, patience and scientific control he has over his art practice. The time required to complete his works must allow Meagher more contemplation of his subject matter, as each canvas seems to gather more weight as he goes along. Though beautiful and light in appearance, they contain dark themes and serious questions.
Julian Meagher is no prude, and his artworks make no ultimate judgment on the society he is analyzing. He is a funny, relaxed and mischievous presence in a room, and bloody great fun to have a drink with. But he is also sensitive and generous with his time, taking obvious delight in being able to make a living from his art. He hugs people readily. He’s a big kid who makes you immediately feel like his protective big sis. He’s humble despite his achievements, and refreshingly honest about how hard it still is to feel confident about his career, regardless of the nods he’s received from the Archibald, the Wynne, the Doug Moran, the Blake Prize…(are you bored with his resume yet?). He is, I suppose, very like his painting. A contradiction in terms, in the best possible way.
And this series of works, his booze-related ones, help me to hate a little less what I have to do to make a living. Though they provide no answers, they do in some way provide catharsis, and even a little hope. That conversation we so desperately need to have has already been started, by a guy in a studio in Marrickville. Perhaps now it’s time the rest of us stepped up to the podium.
To see more of Julian’s work, including his lovely portraits, check out his website Julian Meagher or contact one of his representing galleries:
Olsen Irwin Gallery
63 Jersey Road
Woollahra 2025 Sydney NSW
P: +61 2 9327 3922
Edwina Corlette Gallery
2/555 Brunswick Street
New Farm QLD 4005
P: +61 7 3358 6555
Exeter Road, Exeter NSW 2579
P 02 48834466
Merry Karnowsky Gallery
170 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036, United States
P +1 323-933-4408
Cat Street Gallery
222 Hollywood Road
Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
P: +852 2291 0006
26 Mount Pleasant Drive, Singapore 298352
P +65 97364666