George Raftopoulos

If you have ever met or talked to George Raftopoulos, you will know he has been fighting notions of conformity his entire life.

Being from the only Greek family in a rural NSW town, George learnt from an early age the virtues of resilience, the value of humour, the resistance to conformity and to never take yourself too seriously.

These ideas carry through into the artist’s latest exhibition, ‘The IKONA’, presented at Broken Hill Regional Gallery. In the display of works, Raftopoulos’ clever use of trickery, irony and humour continues to dispel and resist notions of conformity and false assumptions enforced upon us by society through Australian colloquialisms.

‘It’s trickery; I play with the notions of people making assumptions when they shouldn’t,’ he comments.

Gallery Manager and Curator Tara Callaghan says, ‘George delves into the existential. Distorted figures making mysterious gestures, the work raises more questions than answers, and I love that. I see the work directly poking fun at the colonisers and at our modern world’s obsession with defining history by conquests. Broken Hill is an area, as with most of Australia, that battles with the impacts and tensions of colonisation.’

Many paintings in the show utilise the silhouette to create ambiguous and assumptive dialogues within a colonial context. Raftopoulos explains, ‘by repeating the silhouette over and over, I’m trying to strip it back. I want people to almost define themselves within their own silhouette, and to asks themselves where am I from; what went before me for me to be here today?’

Such is the case with Persona Non Grata (2019), a term that literally means ‘an unwelcome person’, denoting people who enter or remain in a country prohibited by that country’s government. By stripping away the whole silhouette of Captain Phillip and besmirching his body with expressive swathes of paint, the artist precipitates universal and ongoing notions of trespass.

Another work, Thievery Corporation (2017), references Woollarawarre Bennelong, a senior man of the Eora who was enlisted as an Aboriginal go-between for Captain Phillip to achieve what he wanted. Adorned in a bright jacket, resembling hi vis safety attire and acting as a warning sign, the question of Bennelong’s relationship to the captain remains. Who was fooling who? The hooks hanging off the captain’s silhouette are a metaphor of dangling carrots besieged upon Bennelong in his time with the captain.

Raftopoulos’ colonial critique reaches its apogee in the ironically titled work The Protector (2016–18), where the traditionally poised bust of a First Fleet captain doubles as a kind of grotesque warning. The silhouette’s blue, ghoulish face evinces the dehumanisation of colonisation whilst also hinting at the ways this historical act haunts current consciousness and culture.

Throughout the exhibition, George pulls you into his semi-figurative paintings with gestural brushstrokes that pelt over the canvas, their raw energy seducing the viewer into the snare of his subject matter. Indeed, not all is as it seems with these aesthetically charming, conceptually confronting works.

The artist abstracts his silhouettes to the point of almost reducing them to nothingness. As a result, people don’t really know what his views on Australian colloquialisms are. ‘I hope there are discussions’, he reflects, ‘I want to make people think.’

28 Feb – 3 May 2020
Broken Hill Regional Gallery, NSW


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