signed, dated and inscribed verso: john doherty '83 "US + THEM". (CANBERRA, TELECOM TOWER)
Private collection, Melbourne
Irish born artist, John Doherty, is regarded internationally as one of the foremost realist artists. Early praise of his draftsmanship was closely followed by commercial success from the early age of twenty eight, from which time until now he has held a solo exhibition practically every year across Australia, America, Ireland and Papua New Guinea. His works are now fetching prices upwards of AU$100,000 on the international market.
Early training in architecture introduced Doherty to methodical ways of working and to styles of modernist composition as is adeptly exemplified by the astuteness of accuracy and precision in the present work, Us and Them 1983. Beyond the exquisite craftsmanship is a work of psychological intensity and intellectual rigour. Mere precision and excellent craftsmanship do not justify such artworks by the artist fetching such skyrocketing prices, (one painting half the size of the present work hammered for an impressive AU$131,000 in the artists homeland of Ireland). There is a wry humour and astute observation within Doherty’s work that people sense and appreciate.
A significant aspect of the finely detailed paintings made while Doherty was working in Australia is the marriage between the imagery, together with the sardonic wit of the title that points towards the narratives taking place behind the exterior. Us and Them speaks to the conglomerate telecommunications world standing physically (and metaphorically) so high above the viewer, looking down, that it creates a sort of upside down vertigo.
Rendered in his hyper-realistic style the structure, Telstra Tower, is an iconic piece of architecture that every Canberrian and tourist who has visited Canberra is familiar with. The tower was built in 1980 and its highest point rises to an impressive 195 metres above Black Mountain’s summit.
One striking element of this painting, not normally evident in Doherty’s work, is the inventive construction of the composition within the physical structure of the canvas. He has created an inverted trapezoid and the overwhelming size of this work forces the viewer’s gaze upward. This creates a similar sensation one experiences when viewing the tower in person. Already erected at the top of a mountain, gazing upwards at what seems to the heavens, the tower utterly dwarfs you. It seems the tower sways in the winds, your feet feel unsteady, and if you were prone to motion sickness, you may have to fix your gaze to the horizon. The shape of this painting accentuates this feeling and the vast almost three metre high canvas certainly instils on the viewer a similar sensation.
John Doherty’s artwork is represented in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Institute of Modern Art, Chicago; Irish National Stud, Kildare; AIB Art Collection, Dublin and London; and Artbank, Sydney.
Tessa Dorman BFA, MA (Art History and Theory)
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