A resource site for visual art teachers and secondary students completing their HSC in the Visual Arts
Adam Cullen, born Sydney, 1965-2012.
Adam Cullen’s paintings pushed the boundaries of what painting could be, even within the contemporary art movement. Graffiti style caricatures outlined in bold black lines along with neon paint that dribbled down the canvas, promoting a punk style aesthetic, made him one of Australia’s most collectible artists of his generation. Having won the Archibald in 2000, Adam Cullen was also given a major retrospective solo show at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2008.
Cullen painted in oils, enamel, acrylic and house paints, working fast with quick applications of paint that allows for the run offs that slide down the canvas to become part of his aesthetic. His Archibald winning painting took just a mere three hours to complete. Cullen was inspired by artists such Sidney Nolan, Mike Parr, Martin Kippenberger and most resonantly with Goya. Having seen Goya’s artworks whilst overseas on a family trip as a child, Cullen was deeply affected by the up front and confrontational techniques used by Goya to represent concerns about social changes, politics and war.
Cullen’s paintings explored the seedier undertones of everyday life, often expressed in dark, confrontational and sometimes shocking imagery. Concentrating on themes surrounding the human condition, Cullen’s paintings represented issues and concerns within national identity, sexism, racism, the marginalised, often depicted along with decapitated animals and various bits of hand painted text, portraits often included infamous and famous iconic figures of Australian history such as Chopper Reid and Ned Kelly. Cullen was interested in causing a reaction from the viewer in response to chosen his imagery, which often played humorously toyed with such terms as the Aussie battler, Loserville and the outback bogan in narrative and comically styled depictions. Cullen’s paintings explore concerns within social roles and hierarchy, often employing a graffiti style abstraction that plays against the notion of traditional painting techniques.
Cullen painted what he saw as the inescapable materiality of being human – sex, death and the messy body. He sought to elicit strong emotional and physical responses from his viewers – to bypass the rational in search of an affective and visceral response.
– Catharine Lumby
Adam’s most distinctive quality as an artist was the way in which he openly and joyously indulged in “borderlining” – seeing how far he could get away with irritating the hierarchy.
– Joanna Mendelssohn
He courted ugliness: an art that was an assault on the eye in both its subject matter and the way it was painted. His subjects include bleeding animals, drooling dogs, prostitutes and boxers. Most of his art was about violent or depraved subjects. It’s not so much about their poignancy or vulnerability; it’s just their sheer horror and grunge value.
– Vivien Gaston
THE CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK: