Award Winners: Laith McGregor - Art Collector

Issue 47, January - March 2009

The profile appeared in the "Award Winners" feature, part of the annual special issue "50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2009"

There has been enormous buzz around the winner of the 2008 Robert Jacks Drawing Prize and almost unanimous praise for the choice. As critic Ashley Crawford told Australian Art Collector: “There was nary a soul in the crowd who was inclined to refute the selection of Laith McGregor’s work Balloon Beard as the righteous winner of the $5000 2008 Robert Jacks Drawing Prize at the Bendigo Art Gallery last year.” This may seem strange when you consider the drawing is of a man with a surreal, balloon-like beard, executed in biro. “It is a strange work, to be sure,” agrees Crawford. “A Rasputin-like portrait of a balding man with a flourishing, robust – indeed absurdly massive – growth of facial hair, it is surreal in the extreme. It is also intense, the man’s eyes glaring from the surface of the picture. It is also odd in that it is rendered purely in blue biro, a common Bic to be precise.” Despite, or perhaps because of the choice of medium, Crawford believes McGregor has created a “wee masterpiece”.

Lending weight to the significance of the picture was the fact that it was Dr Chris McAuliffe, Director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art in Melbourne, who judged the award. As he said at the time: “It shifts from a delicate portrait into a weird obsessive, repetitive activity with a mutant growth.” McAuliffe also pointed to the difficulty of the medium: “It is deceptively tricky to use – it blots, it smudges, it bubbles the paper.”

Laith McGregor has emerged as one of our most promising artists of 2008. Together with shows at Helen Gory Galerie in Melbourne and Sullivan+Strumpf Fine Art in Sydney, which both represent McGregor, he has also recently held a solo show at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane.

But while McGregor works across a range of media and subject matter, the surge of attention he has received over the past 12 months has centred around his biro drawings. When asked recently about the elusive nature of his superbly executed work of men with facial hair, he said of his fixation: “The work around the idea of hair as a metaphor has been a preoccupation of mine for a little while now. Initially I was interested in the dandy and the absurdity of masculinity. I was using the hair as a projection of a possible prosthesis to bolster a male authenticity. After working with this idea, I have come to realise the other significances hair can possibly hold and the connotations it can project. I mean, facial hair was, is and always will be an important periodic motif of the human persona. Funny thing is I can’t stand hair, I really can’t!”

He may not be able to stand hair but as subject matter for his work it’s nothing short of mesmerising.

Carrie Miller

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