Merchants of War

Exhibition dates: Tue 13 November to Sat 1 December 2012
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Print Artist CV

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Damien Minton Gallery is honoured to present a new body of work by Michael Callaghan – his first solo commercial show in 30 years. Callaghan’s posters, prints and paintings have documented and altered the Australian cultural and political landscape for over 40 years with characteristic biting humour and strong imagery.

A survey exhibition celebrating his contribution to Australian art has been touring regional capitals for four years. It showcased works from his earliest posters made with the Earthworks Poster Collective, through Redback Graphix the poster workshop he established in 1979 to major paintings and sculptures of the last 10 years.

A deft visual communicator with a penchant for satire, Callaghan’s new work is a culmination of his artistic and political concerns for the past forty years, crystallising its themes and demonstrating his continued relevance to the Australian cultural landscape.

This new body of work, THE TORTURE MEMO – RECENT WORKS, comprises of work undertaken as the recipient of the H. C. Coombs Creative Arts Fellowship at the Australian National University, Canberra.

Callaghan’s new body of work demonstrates the capacity for the combination of image and text to inform and elucidate, and to provide provocative contrast.

These works focus on the military strategies and methods engaged in the Iraq war – from suicide bombing to waterboarding, and the grave issues – from civilian casualties to the notion of Western moral intervention that are this war’s result.

Deeply aware of the power of the repetitious slogan and doublespeak, Callaghan uses the language of the Iraq War against itself, revealing its futility and grim irony. These disingenuous catchphrases of war, – ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’, ‘Shock and Awe’, ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ ‘Regime Change’- form a pattern in the backdrop to war’s true brutality – the fighter bomber, the bullet, the cruise missile, the poison gas cloud which dominate these large prints.

The pattern of slogans, written in both English and Arabic, is interwoven with phrases which describe the mundane activities Iraqi civilians must conduct in a warzone – ‘going shopping’, ‘going to work’, ‘meeting with friends’, ‘going to school’ – a stark contrast between everyday humanity and remotely-detonated militarism.

Michael Callaghan was raised in Wollongong, graduated from National Art School, Sydney in 1974.

He became involved in printmaking through Earthworks Poster Collective, during his time as a tutor of Post Object Art at Tin Sheds at University of Sydney. Compelled by a spirit of collectivism, Earthworks produced some of the most iconic images of political activism in the 1970s, including ‘Give Frazer the Razor’.

In 1979 he set up Redback Graphix during a residency at Griffith University in Brisbane, creating an ‘alternative design agency’, turning collective political activism into an enterprise that enabled artists to earn a living while using their skills and political edge.

The first artwork Callaghan made at Redback is possibly the most recognisable poster image in contemporary Australia – If the Unemployed Are Dole Bludgers, What the Fuck are the Idle Rich?

Using the same signature bold florescent graphics and punchy humour, the Redback workshop created campaigns throughout the 80s and 90s that tackled issues ranging from unemployment, trade union issues, AIDS awareness to indigenous health and for clients that included Amnesty International and CAAMA and the ACTU.

His work is held in numerous public and private collections in Australia and overseas including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of South Australia, Art Gallery of NSW, Queensland Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Wollongong Collection, Mitchell Library Collection, and the Powerhouse Museum.

Read the Gallery’s reflections on Michael Callaghan
“a searing intelligence who applied his life to the creative arts in Australia, pushing the cultural envelope into political action.”