Australian Fine Artist

Ivan Durrant

Visiting Artist Talk at Chisholm Frankston


Ivan Durrant is an Australian painter, performance artist and writer. Much of his art has had “great shock value”, therefore Durrant is often described as L’enfant terrible of Australian art and is known by many as a controversial and provocative artist. Although known widely for his 1975 “Slaughtered Cow Happening”, the larger proportion of Durrant’s work consists of paintings using a self-developed style of “Super-Realism”.

His painting technique began in a childlike, folksy style, evolving into paintings of extreme photo realism and sculptures of illusionistic still-lives of butchered meats, pigs’ heads (MPRG). Ivan spent a short time working in a prosthetics laboratory at Royal Melbourne Hospital and was able to create lifelike body parts. This skill was carried over into an ability to create convincingly accurate sculptures of ears, hands, pig heads and various cuts of meat. His most recent works explore the colours and action of Australian Rules football and horse racing and work has ranged from paintings to photography, public performance and installations, short films and sculpture.

The name Ivan Durant may mean something to artists of my generation and possibly not much to younger artists and art students. For those of us who were around in the 1970s, it is impossible to separate the name from the act in front of the NGV in 1975.

As an art student at the time, I never “got it”. For those who don’t know the story, Ivan purchased a cow intended for the knackery – also known as the slighter yards, in Huntingdale Victoria. That’s where my six degrees of separation comes in as I grew up just up the road from there so I know the place he referred to and what happened there.

His intention as he tells it, was to bring to light the hypocrisy of eating meat and not knowing what goes on beforehand to get it to the butcher’s window and to our plate. He therefor shot the cow and transported it to the front of the NGV and laid it out in public. This was followed by public outrage, newspaper and news headlines and a lot of notoriety for him. What didn’t happen was an explanation of why he did it, so for those of us scratching our heads and upset at the whole thing – it all looked pointless and cruel.

As an exercise in manipulating the press, self promotion and gaining attention to his art, Ivan used the media for this like a professional. Just going ahead with such an act wouldn’t have had the impact, I feel, if he hadn’t set the stage for it ahead of time. Just as he did again for a manufactured severed hand in Sydney years later.

This is all going back over thirty years, so apart from wanting to know what his reasoning was for one of the upsetting events during my art studies as a teenager, I was hoping to see what he had done since. I feel it a shame if you are only ever known for one public act of sensationalism in your entire career.

It was disappointing to discover that Ivan had brought no images of his recent works with him at all. This is a bit ironic as he spoke about the written and spoken word never being able to convey what can be achieved in art as a visual medium for telling stories.

This is not to say that he isn’t an interesting and entertaining speaker, because he is (just don’t be offended when he swears). We were given a brief overview of his childhood as an orphan, education – gaining a bachelor of economics and working his way into the arts.

Ivan has strong opinions about issues, and suggested that we get out of art school as soon as possible to prevent being diverted from our true direction and styles being redirected by the “establishment” or people with alternate agendas. I had to disagree with him here as for one thing I feel that our tutors actively encourage us to find our own directions in our art and another thing, which I probably pointed out a bit too actively, is that no-one is going to push me in a direction that I don’t want to go in with my art career.

I don’t remember what he said I was after that, but it was probably along the line of “stubborn” which I can handle. My personal opinion and decisions with my education are to get the qualifications, learn the practical methods and application from other respected sources along with it and create my own style using any information and resources that will help me achieve what I want.

Getting back to Ivan and his art. He referred to three artists as influences in his career.

  • Roger Kemp
    Francis Roderick Kemp OBE (July 1908 – September 1987), known as Roger, was one of Australia’s foremost practitioners of transcendental abstraction. Working in the tradition of Kandinsky, Malevich Mondrian and Kupka, he developed a system of symbols and motifs which were deployed in his non-figurative paintings so as to reveal cosmic mysteries, striving in particular to explain man’s place in a universal order.
    Source Wikipedia.
  • John Peter Russell
    J. P. Russell enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art University College of London in 1881, he then went to Paris to study painting under Fernando Cormon. (His fellow students there included Touloyse-Lautrec and Bernard. Russell was a man of means and having married a beautiful Italian, Mariana Antoinetta Matiocco, he settled off the coast of Brittany where he established an artist’s colony. He associated with impressionists such as Van Gogh, Monet and Matisse.
    Source Wikipedia.
  • Charles Blackman
    Charles Blackman, born 1928 in Sydney, left school at 13 and worked as an illustrator with the Sydney Sun newspaper while attending night classes at East Sydney Technical College (1943–46) though was principally self-taught. He was later awarded an honorary doctorate. He came to notice following his move to Melbourne in the mid-1940s, where he became friends with Joy Hester, John Perceval and Laurence Hope as well as gaining the support of critic and art patron John Reed. His work met critical acclaim through his early Schoolgirl and Alice series, the latter Blackman’s conception of Lewis Carroll’s most famous character. In 1959 he was a signatory to the Antipodean Manifesto, a statement protesting the dominance of abstract expressionism. The manifesto’s adherents have been dubbed the Antipodeans Group. His work is associated with dreamlike images tinged with mystery and foreboding. In 1960 he lived in London after winning the Helena Rubenstein Scholarship, settling in Sydney upon his return six years later. In 1970 he briefly moved to Paris, when awarded the atelier studio in the Cité des Artes.
    Source Wikipedia.

To actually see any of Ivan’s work, I had to wait to get on to the web in my studio. There is quite a bit of further information available if you want to research Ivan’s path as an artist. There are also quite a few places to see his wide variety of work.

His paintings vary from the naive to the blurred photo realism of a pop art like technique that reminded me of the works of Andy Warhol. Ivan seems to want to explore as many avenues as he can with his work, from sculptures to impressionist looking paintings of interiors of shearing sheds, to action photo like paintings of race horses and jockeys. His palette goes from subtle to nearly fluorescent high key colour.

I suggest going to the following sites to see for yourself:

Final Thoughts

Ivan is a difficult artist to describe. When I asked a tutor, they described him as a “Rough Diamond”. Seeing him give a talk in person, I would say that he comes across as unpretentious and genuinely passionate about his art. He has had a steady career with regular exhibitions and is represented by several galleries. He has also been able to promote himself to further his career and to attempt to bring attention to issues he feels strongly about.

I can’t say that his methods are ones that I would agree with or use myself. I don’t really like his realist sculptures of severed human body parts and animal parts. Not that it would worry him, as he said “Blood on the Canvas” – artists must learn to overcome negative responses to their work. In that I can agree. We are never going to make everyone happy with what we do, the best we can try for is to achieve something we can be proud of and that someone somewhere may like (and hopefully buy) – but not to make that a priority.

I do like his work based around his impressions of the interiors of old wool sheds and some of his realist paintings as they are related to subjects that I have an interest in painting.

Overall, a more interesting talk than I anticipated. I tried to go in with an open mind, given “the cow incident” in 1975, and looked for what has gone on since then. It just would have been good to see some of his work projected in the background as he spoke – but then, that is what homework is for.

My thanks to the teachers at Chisholm for yet another stimulating and thought provoking talk.

Comments on: "Ivan Durrant" (1)

  1. Thanks Janice! You summed it up well, I’m now going to do MY homework! Thanks for the links.

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