Sunday, November 21, 2010

A personal vision of Paul Lennon

Our Premier, acrylic on paper, 50 x 70 cm

I was browsing Google images today after a prominent Tasmanian  was once again in the news making his personal views public, when among the photos of the man I saw the image of a painting of I did back in 2007 - Last night I dreamt of Paul Lennon (see below). This is an obscure, early experimental, almost throw-away learning piece so i was initially stunned to see it out in public without an escort. And since Google has seen fit to project it into the public domain i thought the least i can do now is to formally publish and give some background. (Skip to the final two paragraphs if you are not interest in Tasmanian environment politics, civic issues, matters of social justice and good governance).

At the time of painting, the subject of the portrait Paul Lennon, was Premier of Tasmania (equivalent to a State Governor in the US) and presided over a deeply divided community in this small island State. A former trade union official, Mr Lennon, holding the highest political office in Tasmania, pursued a personal set of values and beliefs with ruthless inefficiency.

I never doubted that he loved Tasmania, had its best interests at heart according to his lights, but as a working man he was blinkered by a limited eduaction combined with invincible convictions. Like many petty despots he was flawed by the erroneous belief that might made right, a bulling temperament, and limited capability for high office. For a handful of jobs he was willing to push through the construction of chlorine-compound based paper mill that would spew toxins into Bass Strait where traditionally our fishermen have harvested some of the world's finest prisitne seafood. The beautiful, idyllic Tamar Valley hosts many vineyards, olive groves, strawberry farms, organic food producers, oyser farms, waterfront homes and marinas. It is into this bucolic valley that the largest mill in the Southern hemisphere is to go. With his credo of jobs for forest workers he was dismissive of the dismay and growing resistance of the already existing businesses of the valley and their already many many employees.

Mr Lennon had a close personal connection to the board of the company that  intends to construct the mill. As Premier he pushed fast-track legislation through our State legislature which by-passed normal planning approval processes to grant approval to the mill just as the Planning Board was on the brink of rejecting the proposal. He threw millions of dollars in subsidies and in kind (cheap timber and water) at the project which he lauded as "world's best practice" though it patently wasn't (not chlorine free, not closed-loop).

But worst of all he enshrined in legislation the inability of citizens to so much as question in the coursts the basis of the government's legislated approval of the mill. Mr Lennon created a law that made recourse to law illegal. This deeply offended a great many in the population who saw their democratic rights abnegated out of perceived cronyism. Not a unique story. It plays repeatedly in third world countries. We never thought to see the like here. Paul Lennon, elected to represent the whole State, not just sectional interests, was the prime mover at the time and is unrepentant still today in retirement.

Is it karma or irony, but the forest industry he battled so hard to favour is now on its knees. The world's first Green Party was born in Tasmania and it has resisted old growth logging tooth and nail. The mill proponent's shares are now worth a fraction of their value just a year ago. Yes, the bottom has fallen out of wood-chip prices but i suspect the main reason, the one they can't admit to themselves, is their own mis-management of our forest resources and of the mill project.

The company has over the years bought out small saw mills that harvest timber for furniture and housing construction. Once bought out they were promptly closed down. The result was a monolithic near-monopoly that plundered the forests unhindered by competitors, abetted by government, and opposed only by peacefully protesting citizens. Even these they promptly sued for damages in order to silence their opposition. But the company, like their mono-culture plantations, is precariously positioned despite its size. Mono-cultures are not resilient. They are one trick ponies. The raze-old-growth-for-chips-and-chlorine-bleached-pulp trick had run its course. Repeated prognostications and warnings fell on deaf ears. Mr Lennon thought he knew better than to listen to a bunch university educated effetes who could never understand the working man the way he could. So now the forest contractors and timber workers are facing the heart-ache of financial ruin and unemployment - the complete reverse of what Paul Lennon had intended.

OK, back to the painting - Last night I dreamt of Paul Lennon - my personal artistic reponse the circumstances decribed above. This was a follow-on painting from the one shown at the top, Our Premier, my first departure from realism into something of a caricature and an excuse for me explore expressive use of color in portrait painting (though PL's nick-name was 'Big Red'). I wondered how I could make the polemic image above more emotive and thought i would trial some action painting as a means to an end. And so while the paint was still wet i attacked Last Night to vent my frustration over what had become of orderly governance and due process in my beautiful State. I wanted to create an image that would reflect the disorder and disharmony i felt this individual had visited onto our community.

Last night I dreamt of Paul Lennon, acrylic on paper, 50 x 70 cm

So there we have it. A retrospective of two of my earliest attempts at non-realist portrait painting, from 2007. Just for the historical record.


  1. Both paintings say a lot about the man in very different ways. By looking at both I don't feel he is a person I would want to get to know. Obviously the second portrait is a much more dramatic and intense interpretation; very expressive in it's mark making. I enjoyed the back story and it confirmed that Paul Lennon is indeed not a man I would like to know.

  2. Bravo Harry,
    Or, should I call you, "Give 'em Hell, Harry!"? I like what you've done to the scofflaw, Harry. And we're all grateful for the explanation. I seriously doubt that any of your followers will skip this part.
    I'm guessing that sticking a knife in the canvas would have been too obvious. Your "subtle" approach is much more effective.
    Bravo on a dynamic and powerful protest.

  3. To me, this is a great reason to paint.

  4. Very interesting and sad story , remind me of the Queensland premier , at the time I was in Australia , the King of Peanuts :Jo B. Peterson ( if I remember the name well).
    In the land of democracy , too many Little Dictators ...Your portraits give the exact idea of That one was.

  5. Thanks for taking the trouble to read the backstory, Nicki. I've never met Paul Lennon and for all i know he might we a very warm and caring sort of guy.

    Guess these images are my take on the public role and persona of the man, Lennon as a functionary of government and wielder of power. That's why i entitled the first painting Our Premier.

    Though at the end of the day, i suppose at a personal level he also has to take responsibility for his choices and actions while in public office.

  6. Gary, you'll have me believing i'm a teenage rabble-rouser next, lol. No, no knife, just violent with the paint. Maybe that's where my interest started in expressive mark making? Cheers.

  7. Thanks, Hallie. At least it enabled me to get some stuff off my chest.

  8. I remember Joh Bjelke-Petersen well, Marialuisa, "don't you worry". At the time Tasmanians used to call Qld 'The Deep North'. Maybe the story just repeats itself around the world. The struggle for justice, fairness and a caring community is never simply won. Each generation and place is called to fight the struggle anew.

  9. So sad and even more sad is the fact that politicians are the same all over the world, destroying beauty and replace it with emptiness.

    Tnx for this post and the story behind the paintings Harry.