Jordan Marani: Shit Happens

Jordan Marani is no stranger to the four-letter word. Since the late 1980s, he has produced semi-abstract paintings, in which large blocks of colour spell out profanities. More recent works come together, jigsaw-like, to form lurid phrases: ‘dumb fuck’ and ‘shit happens’. Language is hurled with equal conviction to his palette; thrown, but evaporative. Abstraction in painting is aligned with the abstraction of language, and in this case the unsubtle idiom of the Australian pub.

From 2008-2011, Marani was the co-founder of Hell Gallery in Melbourne, with artist Jess Johnson, known for its raucous exhibition openings and events. With his focus now on solo practice, Hell Gallery’s famous irreverence remains present. Marani’s show, ‘Shit Happens’, at Ararat Regional Gallery presents a new body of paintings alongside older pieces. A dark personal symbolism, sensitivity to the past, as well as a fascination with the dumb and the mundane continues to inform the artist’s approach.

The new paintings are characteristic of Marani’s high-key abstraction, with large capital letters spelling out ‘SHIT’ in vibrant colour. However, these are more domestic in scale and in content. One work is made from painted handkerchief squares, stitched roughly together to form a (literal) ‘shit quilt’. Other large pieces are painted on bed sheets, bringing everyday materials into play. Marani is interested in revealing the act of painting. He plans to exhibit the boards on which each hanky was painted. These surfaces bear the ghostly, blotched stains that have seeped through the cloth. For the artist, these accidental traces are an important part of the total work.

The Ararat exhibition will also be an opportunity to make connections between past series and disrupt expectations. A group of intimate watercolours from 2011 are portraits of Marani’s brothers, chimeras made up of old Warner Brothers characters. In Chow Hound, the artist’s deceased brother appears as the Looney Tunes character Chow Hound, belly distended, and a river of brown gravy being poured menacingly into his mouth by vengeful mice. In another work, his other brother, who grew up in an adoptive family, and recently made contact with the artist and his family, appears as a mash-up of Lancelot Link and Donald Duck. The characters assume the form of the ‘lost brother’, at once familiar and unknown.

Marani constantly makes allusions, almost superstitiously finding snatches of symbolic and linguistic meaning, then discounting it all again. He is currently making a large abstract landscape for the Ararat show, depicting Mt Langi Ghiran, near Mt Buangor. Known to locals as ‘The Pregnant Lady’, Marani’s landscape swells in the middle like a belly, rising slightly at each end; the head and feet. The form is reminiscent of the earlier Chow Hound watercolour, but also references Hans Holbein’s The Body of the Dead Christ in a Tomb, which shows the dead Christ boxed inside a rectangular coffin.

The pathos of the symbolic Christ, which links to the form of the dead sibling, is only briefly redemptive. As Marani pointed out to me, closely inspecting the Holbein image, ‘he’s giving the finger’. Sure enough, Christ’s middle finger is extended in a clear ‘F-you’. Well, shit happens.

Ararat Regional Gallery
3 November, 2016 to 15 January, 2017