James Mulholland’s pencil and charcoal on paper drawings at Jugglers Art Space Level 1 gallery are captivatingly haunting works, an unpacking of his own experience as a young male attempting to make sense of maleness incorporated as it so often is in young adult male violence, threat and fear. Self identity and a sense of self comes out in this body of work as a pathway still clouded with uncertainty.
Even the clenched hands have an element of nervousness and the shadowy self-portraits carry a feeling of lostness or shrouded desire, a common feeling in young white males in Australia. There have been excellent programs and money spent on key issues such as once punch can kill, drug fuelled violence, depression and suicide, but reaching male maturity in Australia in both indigenous and the white community seems to have become stuck. Perhaps not everywhere but from my observation certainly in the general population.
Some schools, men’s groups and churches have developed programs and support networks and books such as Biddulph’s “Manhood” are making a significant impact. My view is, however, that we need a spiritual, legitimate and honoured process of leaving boyhood and entering adulthood that is celebrated by all families,and mothers in particular.
James’ works are confronting and arresting with a powerful ability to hold the gaze. They are aesthetically appealing and his drafting skill second to none, but as one couple confessed to me at the opening, they didn’t want such confronting work on their wall. Perhaps their, or rather her feelings evoked by these drawings, are part of the confrontation that needs to happen. Art is the nerve end of the culture.
Over the weekend after this show opening I watched “Kes” a 1970 movie made about Billy [David Bradley] whose desire to not follow his father into the coal pits of northern England is an impossible dream until he finds, trains and becomes enamoured with an injured Kestrel [hawk]. The bullying, belittling and victimisation of Billy reflected cultural norms of the late 60’s in the UK but the view of James Mulholland would be that in 2016 in Australia, the same kind of attitude is rife. Young males are trapped by a system unable to see itself or find a way to wholeness or full humanness.
As a stark contrast I also watched a short video of Our Lady of Gethsemane, a Trappist Monk monastery in Kentucky,USA where the reclusive anti nuclear activist Thomas Merton lived before his untimely accidental death in 1968.
Merton had lived a wild “normal” life as a young male until his epiphany and conversion and “call” to his reclusive life as both a theologian, poet, activist and spiritual biographer. The stark contrast to Billy’s journey and James’ drawings is profound but I am not sure that Merton or any of his brothers were any more sure of their own maleness than the rest of us. The stark contrast, however, is that there is no violence in such a place, nor in the careful loving training of Kes by Billy. Gentleness is a path less travelled by men but it is in stillness, silence and reflection – along with courage, ritual and hard physical work – that men find missing parts of their maleness lying dormant under layers of bravado, fear and ego.
James Mulholland’s “Decoy” is an important addition to the conversation and action so urgently needed if young men from twelve to twenty are to find a new way of being that is free of violence, force and ego. A helpful follow on to this exhibition would be an artist’s talk with small group discussion to follow.
Peter Breen 2016