Michael Zavros | The Silver Fox
17 November –16 December, 2017
Increasingly Michael Zavros is turning his gaze inward, to home and self, depicting and documenting the Zavros lifestyle in his work. He paints what he appears to have become – a poster boy for a life perfected. He lives an outwardly perfect life, perfectly groomed for lifestyle magazines and shared through social media (he has 99,500 followers on Instagram).
Zavros’s artworks present at first glance as perfectly rendered photo-realist painting, but they generate readings and responses beyond the surface affect. They underscore contemporary society’s obsession with beauty and vanity. As writer Laurence Simmons says: “Like advertising, what is being created in a Zavros painting is not so much an object, a type of physical thing, but rather an artificial need or desire.”
Viewed collectively The Silver Fox offers something of a family portrait, albeit a non-conventional one. The exhibition hinges on the tension between truths and fictions. In his essay in the book Michael Zavros (published by Manuscript, 2017), Simmons makes an analogy with the great Renaissance chronicler Giorgio Vasari whose famous tome The Lives of Artists melded fact and fiction. Whether by design or fate Zavros’s own (brief) history has become the stuff of fictionalised legend – that he paints only in suits, that he lives a life of unrestrained glamour, that his Instagram depicts his best life. The Silver Fox plays with the veracity of the image and the life, his life, that it depicts.
In the exhibition we see the artist’s son Leo posing in a rainbow wig. In another work he is lip-synching in film as a film clip for Ariana Grande. A film clip in his head.
We see his middle child Olympia contorting herself in a gymnastic pose on a zebra skin. Like Leo, she is acting – or as Zavros would have it, this is role-play in Dad’s curious fiction.
The kitten is a depiction of a pre teen model and her kitten. This is the artist’s eldest daughter Phoebe, the subject of many earlier Zavros ‘self portraits’. This painting sits alongside a self-portrait of the artist (complete with artist’s moniker) as played by supermodel Sean O’Pry; Zavros as his best imagined self.
In Walters/Zavros we see a stylish arrangement of two beautiful things – an ionic column juxtaposed with a famous koru painting by Gordon Walters. Zavros evokes the cultural politics of New Zealand in the 90s (the controversial appropriation debates), but having prompted them, he moves on leaving us with a beautifully rendered fictional interior located within his wider project, highlighting the way his paintings operate as objects of desire for collectors.
The Happy Couple depicts the late JFK junior and his wife Carolyn Bessette as avatars for the artist and his wife. The tragedy of their untimely end is forgotten in the media glare of this perfect moment, where briefly they seem the very definition of happiness. The painting expunges the truths we know about the famous coupling and asks us to re-imagine them as them.
And what of The Silver Fox, a collection of lavender and grey blooms in a silver vase with a fox tail? Is it a creature of mythical elusiveness or the artist himself? Older and wiser. Unseen and unknowable.
These images of self as mediated through his family (and others) offer a glimpse of the artist and his preoccupations through an inward looking lens. They also present as a continuation of his exploration of beauty as a power, a contemporary currency revered above all else.
Born in Brisbane in 1974, Michael Zavros is a leading Australian artist. His work has been exhibited in major museums and galleries throughout Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Asia and Europe. He graduated from Queensland College of Art, Griffith University with a Bachelor of Visual Arts in 1996.
In 2012 Zavros was awarded the inaugural Bulgari Art Award through the Art Gallery of New South Wales. In 2016 he won the Mosman Art Prize and in 2010 he was awarded the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, the world’s richest prize for portraiture. He has won three major Australian drawing prizes: the 2002 Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award, the 2005 Robert Jacks Drawing Prize and the 2007 Kedumba Drawing Award. He has been a multiple Archibald Prize finalist and was the recipient of the 2004 MCA Primavera Collex Art Award.
Major exhibitions include Surface Affect at Govett Brewster Gallery, New Zealand, 2017, Selectively Revealed, an Asialink and Experimenta Media Arts touring exhibition 2012, and Uncanny (the unnaturally strange), Artspace, Auckland, New Zealand 2007, the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art 2016, Art Gallery of South Australia, GOMA Q at Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2015, Wilderness at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2010, Scott Redford Vs Michael Zavros at the Institute of Modern Art, 2010, Contemporary Australia: Optimism at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2008, and Primavera at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney 2000.
Zavros was the subject of a major survey exhibition, Magic Mike in 2017 at Newcastle Art Gallery. Other solo exhibitions include Bad Dad at Starkwhite, Auckland, 2014, A Private Collection: Artist Choice, Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art, The Prince, Rockhampton Art Gallery and Griffith University Art Gallery, The Good Son: Works on Paper, a survey exhibition at Gold Coast City Art Gallery, 2009, Everything I wanted at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane 2003, and solo exhibitions at Art Los Angeles Contemporary 2016 and Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 with Starkwhite, New Zealand.
Zavros has been the recipient of several international residencies including a 2017 residency at PACC in Shanghai, the Australia Council Greene Street Studio, New York in 2015, and the Australia Council Barcelona studio in both 2005 and 2010, and the Australia Council Milan studio residency in 2001. In 2003 he was awarded a Cite International des Arts Residency in Paris through the Power Institute, University of Sydney. In 2004 he was awarded a studio residency at the Gunnery Studios, Sydney, from the NSW Ministry for the Arts.
In 2016 he was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery of Australia to paint Dame Quentin Bryce, and in 2013 by the Australian War Memorial to paint a portrait of Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith.
Michael Zavros served on the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts between 2007 and 2011 and currently serves on the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) board, and the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University Advisory Committee.
His work is held in numerous private and public collections, including The National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of South Australia, Queensland Art Gallery, University of Queensland Art Museum, Artbank, National Portrait Gallery, Griffith University Art Collection, Newcastle Region Art Gallery and Tasmanian Museum and Gallery.