With less than three weeks to go til the Bon Scott Project Exhibition, the artists in the show are applying the finishing touches to their artworks. On Friday, Jasmin and I jumped in the car and headed out to the suburbs to meet Eli Smith. Eli is working on an oil painting of Bon. In the picture above, you can see Eli testing out an ornate gold frame for the piece.
Eli describes himself as “a bogan from way back”. He’s no ivory-tower dilletante – in his spare time he constructs ramps and tracks for unauthorised downhill mountain bike trails. Here’s one gracing the front yard of Eli’s house:
But besides “x-treme sports”, Eli’s also a deep thinker. So when he saw what was going on with the commission of the bronze statue of Bon, it troubled him. Something about the idea of an “uncritical homage” made him uncomfortable, so he decided, as his contribution to the exhibition, to make a more complex tribute to the great rocker:
“I guess the bronze statue immortalises him as a heroic performer. It confirms a myth about Bon Scott which is really only one fragment of the whole story,” said Eli.
What Eli’s painting does, then, is to provide a sort of “behind the scenes”, an insight into the construction of the mythology of Bon:
“I started with this idea,” said Eli. “Imagine Bon’s just finished posing for a portrait of himself as the King of Rock. For the portrait, he got all decked out in the regalia of a king. But now the modelling session is over, and he’s taken off the plastic crown. He’s just farting around in the bar, crooning into a bottle of whiskey to impress the girls. The waitress behind the bar is bored, her shift is over and she just wants to go home. It’s a little tragic…”
To subtly reinforce his allegory of the legend of Bon Scott, Eli has carefully altered the beer tap handles behind the bar. It’s a bit hard to make out in the fuzzy shot above, but in the pub in the painting there are three ales available on tap: The King, The Joker and The Bloke…
Eli hasn’t finished the painting yet. He’s still got several sections which need reworking and refining. He showed us some of the photos he’s been using as the basis of his piece:
On the left, the original photo, kindly lent to Eli by rock photographer Philip Morris (see the image on Philip’s website here). In the middle, a new version of the image, cleverly photoshopped by Eli: the hand holding the mike has been raised, his headphones removed and replaced with hair. And on the right, the manipulated Bon has been given a regal cloak, and his figure is superimposed on a photo Eli took at the Fremantle Buffalo Club. Katie, the Fremantle Arts Centre’s young marketing whiz, volunteered to model as the bored bargirl.
(If you want more insight into Eli’s work-in-progress, have a look at these sequential shots on his website.)