Stephen Bush 'I Am Still What I Meant To Be'

On a recent trip to the Art Gallery of New South Wales I was reminded of the poetic magnetism of one of my most favourate pieces in the whole of the galleries collection, that work being Stephen Bush’s ‘I Am Still What I Meant To Be’, from 2009.

Firstly, I have to just admit that the work I will be talking about actually isn’t currently on display, but hiding away – gathering dust – in that galleries storage. When I went to the gallery to see the recent Bacon exhibition I went looking for Bush’s ‘I Am Still What I Meant To Be’ afterwards because I felt the two artists had a similar sensibility. But when I failed to find Bush’s work I seemed to have spent more time thinking about it than any of Bacon’s.

Anyway, I regress….

When first encountering this work, what one would most immediately notice are the artworks high-key, almost neon, or acidic colour palette. This married with the image of a beheaded animal, a melting bridge, a welder and a distorted landscape it appears that Bush is using his work to act as in investigation into our interaction and participation with notions of landscape, nature and place.

Given the dominance of reds, black and ochre, along with the nightmarish figurative characters, it’s easy to see this work as some kind of apocalyptic vision. Bush appears to be embracing motifs of death and construction, which are emphasised through the use of colour, scale and placement.

Bush has employed images of construction in his work to express man’s impact and ignorance towards the natural environment, with the work detailing an idea of an outcomes of this kind abuse, most evident in the depiction of the yellow bridge. Generally speaking a bridge is an image of strength, industrialisation and power of the machine, symbolising everything that is not a part of the natural world. Partnered this with the welder in the centre of the work, further reiterates the idea that the advancement of technology deteriorates the natural elements and our connection to landscape, nature and place.

Death is another recurring motif in this work. Bush displays all the element of industrialisation onto a barren landscape where dead trees and mountains are erected from smears of colour alluding to a chemical spill, all suggestive of the effect of man’s abuse of the natural elements, as all natural elements in the landscape are dead.   Bush presents an apocalyptic world where the natural life is absent, emphasising the outcome of our current habits to exploit our natural world.

With ‘I Am Still What I Meant To Be’ (2009), Stephen Bush employs interlocking themes of death and construction amongst a mass of high-key pop colours to create an apocalyptic vision of the world. In this vision the landscape, nature and place have all been mutilated through the industrialisation of all that encompasses the natural world.

It is a startling image, an in-your-face critique, and yet a visual breath-taker and totally captivating.

Stephen Bush

‘I am still what I meant to be’, 2009

200.0 x 310.0cm

Oil on linen

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Words by Luke Letourneau