Sydney painter Guy Maestri won the Archibald Prize in 2009, and has now been announced a 2017 Wynne Prize Finalist. He chats to BAM about his nomination, and his residency at the Margaret Olley Centre earlier this year.
BAM. Congratulations on being a Wynne Prize Finalist. Please tell us about Self Portrait for Posterity.
Maestri. With these works, I am playing with the idea of the heroic classical bust and questioning what use there is in leaving a lasting reproduction of my own image for future generations. These sculptures are originally made in clay and then cast in bronze and painted. So they are very permanent, but appear malleable and ephemeral.
BAM. What were highlights of your residency at the Margaret Olley Centre?
Maestri. It was a privilege to be there, looking over that magnificent valley to Wollumbin in the distance, and to have such access to the gallery and a great studio to live and work in. I live in the heart of Sydney, so that in itself was a highlight. But I originally went there to investigate the surrounding area and make landscape work about it, however, I was inevitably drawn to the incredible recreation of Margaret Olley's home and studio. And with access to that space and permission to borrow objects to paint from, my focus shifted to these precious things, and to making intimate works about them.
BAM. Your exhibition Echo recently closed at the Tweed Regional Gallery. What was the process of developing the concept, and choosing the pieces for the show?
Maestri. The show became all about objects and their meaning, and also intimate space. I knew the exhibiting space that I would be using and it is this beautifully dark, quiet gallery space with dark grey walls and museum quality lighting. This had a great influence on the work I made, and on the pieces I chose to exhibit. I wanted it to feel like a museum, with relics and documents. I became interested in the flowers in Margaret's house, and of course the only ones remaining are her plastic ones, but what does it matter when you're making paintings of them? They become another form of reproduction anyway, but also an extension. I also thought a lot about my own grandmother's house, and what remained after she was gone, and the things I now have and cherish from that home. Everyday things with huge personal value to me. And so the show became about preservation too. And reflection. And of course, about painting. The joy of painting. Reinvigorated in me from being in Olley's world.