The Dub 1997 by Garry Shead is a painting from the Royal Suite, a series inspired by the Royal Visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Australia in 1954. Painted in the 1990s, at a time when interest in the Monarchy was heightened in Australia, Shead combines memory and imagination, creating images that are both playful and political. The series repeatedly featured the Queen in the bush, referencing her physical tour through rural regions. However, it also points to her supreme dominion over the land, an outpost of the British Empire that she rules from far away.
The subject of The Dub is striking: a young Queen Elizabeth II is knighting a dingo, watched by a group of three Indigenous men from behind a gumtree. Shead paints his subject at odds with the surrounding Australian bush; without her retinue in sight, wholly incongruous within this location. Her white dress glows against the dry burnt-orange grass, so obviously ill-suited to the dusty environment. Her elbow-length gloves and sparkling jewellery are clearly amiss, as are her ceremonial regalia, with her crown hovering in front of her head and her thick red velvet cloak, trimmed with ermine, dragging along the ground. As the Queen, she is beyond the practicalities of daily life; in Shead’s own words, there was ‘something unearthly and untouchable in her beauty’.1
The title, The Dub, refers to the ceremonial act of knighting, which Queen Elizabeth II can perform as a reigning Monarch. In the present work, the artist wryly depicts this solemn honour being bestowed on an animal. Two earlier paintings, Knighthoods 1995 and The Royal Touch 1996, similarly portray kangaroos being knighted – here, the artist is demonstrating the reach of her rule. The image also calls into question the relevance of knighthoods in the modern world, and hints at the problem of paternalism.
Elissa Baxter posits that this series of paintings is deliberately subversive, including in its subtle commentary the treatment of Aboriginal people.2 This is implied in The Dub, with the inclusion of the group of indigenous men who bear witness to this strange and inappropriate ceremony. Shead’s series coalesces with the socio-political discourse surrounding the republic referendum on 6 November 1999. However, Sasha Grishin insists that, while Shead could be described as a Republican, this was not his intended meaning.3
The Dub is inspired by Shead’s personal experience of seeing Queen Elizabeth II as a young boy. As the first reigning monarch to visit Australia, the royal tour was a huge public event. Along with 120,000 other children, twelve-year-old Shead went to the Sydney Showground to welcome her. He recalls ‘I remember seeing her and feeling the eye contact as she passed…like an incarnate spirit’.4 Grishin explores the multiplicity of meanings in these paintings: as distorted memories, shaped by Shead’s youthful sexual desires; as an allegory of a naive belief in the Queen as a ‘white goddess’; as a sign of the impotence of imperial power; and as a search for innocence.5
Born in Sydney in 1942, Shead is an artist known for working in many mediums, including experimental cinema. He has a persistent interest in how the Australian landscape is bound with national identity and this is reflected in the Outback, Bundeena and D.H. Lawrence series. Shead has participated in over seventy group exhibitions and fifty solo exhibitions, and was awarded the Archibald Prize in 1993 and the Dobell Prize in 2004. His art is widely represented, including in the National Gallery of Australia, state and regional galleries as well as national and international private collections.
1. Grishin, S., Garry Shead: Encounters with Royalty, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1998, p.12
2. Baxter, E., ‘Garry Shead’, Design and Art Australia Online, 2011, https://www.daao.org.au/bio/garry-shead/biography/
3. Grishin, S., ‘Garry Shead: Amazed and Amused’, Australian Art Collector, Issue 14, October-December, 2000, p.81
4. Grishin, Garry Shead, p.28
5. Grishin, Garry Shead, p.27
Dr Kate Robertson PhD