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 Semaphore is a newsletter and publishing project about art fromWestern Australia | Semaphore is a collaborative project and practice | Semphore enters into a dialogue with art from its rooted location of Boorloo on Noongar Country |


All Mixed Up

18 February 2020
A response to John Prince Siddon‘s exhibition All Mixed Up by Darren Jorgensen
Fremantle Arts Centre 

I usually see Florian at school picking up his kids, and sometimes at art openings and events. He’s a German guy, who moved to Australia after falling in love with Rachel. He’s always a bit of an outsider among the Dads, being more interested in meditation than drinking beer. I ran into him at John Prince Siddon’s All Mixed Up, amongst the hyper-colourful paintings of koalas and goannas, sharks and snakes, redback spiders and crocodiles. The animals inside and piled upon other animals, and canoes and fire hoses, rain from the wall like an overstimulated God was making things up off the top of his head. We know we are in Australia because of the creatures and flags. Sometimes Aboriginal people are in canoes and coming back from a hunt. The country looks like the fantasy world we see in nature documentaries and kitsch porcelain, but everything is overlaid and coming out of other things. There is beauty here but it is ready to bite you with its eyes, teeth and tongues.

Florian says it best, “It’s like Australia, you know, it’s just madness, completely crazy, it’s actually really horrible, but there’s a beauty to it, it’s just amazing and beautiful and wonderful at the same time!” The Prime Minister is here too, and a Cardinal, being mobbed by animals intent on taking their revenge. Australia is a place where you get buried, eaten and hosed. And that’s why at the artist’s talk people were stuck for something to say. What could you ask an artist who has everything in his paintings, who says it all about Australia, everything you’ve ever seen on the internet, and all those frightening stories you’ve heard from remote places. As the curator of the show, Emilia Galatis writes, “as I unravel these works, I feel more twisted.” Prince says, “we mixed up, tru, let’s keep it that way!”

Prince lives in Fitzroy Crossing, on the edge of the luminescent mediascape that makes up the daily horror show. His most recent painting is about the fires, because while the grass in the Kimberley is always burning, turning it from bright green to black and back to green again, the fires in the south and the east were a different kind of colour. The brilliant orange looked more Biblical than natural, the people looking like they’d stepped out of a painting rather than an Australian holiday house. We were glued to our screens, trying to make sense of it, and Prince turned this sense of everything coming into focus all at once into a painting about everything, from climate change to Elton John giving his money to the koalas. Florian can see it more clearly because he didn’t grow up here, and he can be just as amazed as he is horrified at the madness of it all. He is as confused as the rest of us, but this confusion comes from a sense that Australia is a phenomenon all to itself, somehow different from other madnesses.

Ahren is Florian’s son, and he does amazing drawings. When he came to Jasper’s birthday party, Ahren lost interest in the computer game championships taking place in the other room and gathered some other kids around to draw. At school lunch times, the other boys play handball and wander around chatting to their friends, but Ahren goes to Comic Book Club with Jasper and Locklen. Comic Book Club is not for everyone. My own son Jasper was only recently made an official member, after being an unofficial body in the room. Ahren is the driving force behind it, coordinating individual drawings into collaborative comic books. Like Prince, he churns pictures over each other, stories within stories, in comics that process the world around him into something tangible, although the world remains incomprehensible. And this is the quality that Prince’s paintings bring to Australia, as they show us what it is to live here, reassembling the noise, channeling it like someone’s left the tap on to rush and spill out of the kitchen sink, and Prince comes over and stops the flow at a certain moment, before starting it again with a grin. They bring something of the panic that comes with seeing those blazing firestorms, albeit at a distance, before running on to the next thing, to talk to someone, to drive our cars, to check our emails or Instagrams, to rejoin the chatter that constitutes our lives.

All Mixed Up — John Prince Siddon
Fremantle Arts Centre
8 February - 22 March 2020

All Mixed Up is curated by Emilia Galatis and presented in association with Perth Festival and Mangkaja Arts.

Installation images courtesy Fremantle Art Centre. Photography by Pixel Poetry. Copyright courtesy John Prince Siddon.

Also see a conversation about audio description and John Prince Siddon‘s exhibition All Mixed Up by Mayma Awaida and Tony Sarre on Semaphore here.

Kaya. We acknowledge the Whadjuk People of Boorloo boodja who are the traditional owners of the land where Semaphore is made. We respect their culture, their custodianship, and their continuing contribution to the life of this city and this region. That includes recognising and respecting sovereignty while working in solidarity towards a treaty and supporting ongoing connection to country. That means linguistic rights, economic opportunity, and artistic endeavour. To their Elders, past, present and emerging, we say thanks.