Michael Zavros

A Million Dollars at Philip Bacon Gallery

November 11, 2016. Filed: Exhibitions

A million dollars will be Michael Zavros’s first exhibition in three years in Queensland. Born in 1974, the artist is a graduate of Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, working across painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and film. 


He has exhibited widely within Australia and internationally and his work is held in the National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Queensland Art Gallery, Australian National Portrait Gallery and Tasmanian Museum and Gallery. Zavros has been the recipient of several international residencies, grants and numerous prestigious prizes including the 2002 Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award, the 2005 Robert Jacks Drawing Prize, the 2007 Kedumba Drawing Award and the 2004 MCA Primavera Collex Art Award. 


In 2010 he won the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize for his portrait of his eldest daughter, then 5, Phoebe is dead/ Alexander McQueen. In 2012 he was the recipient of the inaugural Bulgari Art Award, awarded through the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the beneficiaries of his painting entitled The Round Room.


Earlier this year Zavros held his first solo exhibition in the United States at Art Los Angeles Contemporary with Starkwhite, Auckland, which was followed by his inclusion in the Adelaide Biennial entitled Magic Objectat Art Gallery of South Australia. Last month QAGOMA chose his self portrait Bad dadfor their 2016 Foundation acquisition. Modelled from carefully constructed photo shoots staged in the family swimming pool, Bad daddepicts Zavros draped across pool toys.  A contemporary appropriation of a Carravaggio painting of Narcisssus, Bad dadis the first work by a contemporary Queensland artist to be the sole focus of a Foundation Appeal. QAGOMA Director Chris Saines said, ‘The acquisition of Michael Zavros’s intriguing and technically faultless painting strengthens our holding of 11 works by this outstanding artist and our collection of contemporary Australian art.’


A million dollarsdraws together current threads in the artist’s practice and illuminates some key ideas around the premise that art should project a moral truth. Zavros has commented, “Art holds fast to the idea that it is relevant, important and enduring. I find this lofty self-importance tedious, and yet I am complicit with it”. Within Zavros’ intricately painted still life works of flowers arranged to suggest the shape of their titles, there is a dialogue with the art historical tradition of memento moriand vanitaspainting. The works function as elaborate follies; bunches of luxurious blooms that whither before the artist can paint them; the passing of time and the fading of youth. In fashioning them into some semblance of a form Zavros imbues these blooms with wit and humour, and an enduring gravitas. 


The exhibition catalogue cover features a curious still life painting entitled Great white. White roses, tulips, November lilies, orchids and gladioli are assembled in a precarious baroque triangle, painted with the artist’s signature precision. The title alludes to a shark, sluicing through an ocean of dark commodification, doubled with a sinister shadow.Striking in its simplicity, Toucanemploys a single palm frond and a ranunculus to suggest the exotic bird; Jellyfish depicts a gigantic Waterford ruby crystal bowl filled with hyacinth and inverted to suggest a ponderous jelly. The new paintings all exhibit the artist’s characteristic attention to detail, while the title offers a double entendre with its platitudinous reference to the works looking ‘a million dollars’ at the same time that it slyly suggests the sum commercial value of the works on exhibit. Zavros has long made work about art as a consumer trophy, the bounty of the 1%, and here he confounds the viewer with his intentions. 


Art critic John McDonald observed “Michael Zavros is one of the great boom artists in Australia today. He knows that technical skills are not enough. His intellectually challenging work has a twist that holds the viewer.” Nick Mitzevich, Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, which recently acquired Zavros’s The Phoenix, a key work in the 2016 Adelaide Biennial, said, ”Even the title (of The Phoenix) could be read as a reference to the rebirth of painting from the ashes of the digital world.” The Phoenix, on exhibition as part of A million dollars, depicts the mythic bird assembled from flowers and silver pieces from AGSA’s extensive decorative arts collection.


A million dollarsalso includes a series of works, drawings and paintings, from Zavros’s ongoing project about his daughter Phoebe, whom he has been drawing, painting, photographing and filming almost since she was born. In August Zavros won the Mosman Art Prize with a new painting of Phoebe entitled Flora. He reflects “She (Phoebe) is my muse, but also a surrogate me. In some ways, my portraits of her function as self-portraits: me outside of myself.”


In November a portrait of Dame Quentin Bryce, commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery will be unveiled. In March 2017 a major solo exhibition survey calledMagic Mikewill open at Newcastle Art Gallery.

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Michael Zavros