About the Artwork

Aleks Danko describes the face in this painting as that of an idiot. This brainless, disembodied head is a recurring motif in his work, first appearing in TASTE in 1988 and again in the installation Taste: the DUH-HEADS in 2013. With its staring eyes and foolish grin it could register any emotion from surprise to terror to embarrassment. Danko uses it to signify a kind of mindlessness, clustering a number of the vacantly staring faces in his installations to create a sense of a mob mentality; the unthinking and unblinking conformity of the crowd.

The face itself has an important historical precursor: it is based on a child-like drawing from the book The Analysis of Beauty (1753) by the English artist William Hogarth. Hogarth’s analysis centred on what he called ‘the line of beauty’ – a serpentine S-shaped curve that created elegance, grace and variety in composition. That line is entirely absent from Hogath/Danko’s simple red face, originally used by Hogarth to demonstrate the artistic simplicity of a naive style, the simpleton (sic!): ‘composed merely of such plain lines as children make’ and displaying ‘the most contemptible meanness that lines can be formed into’.[1]

These kinds of aesthetic judgements and pronunciations on beauty made by satirists like Hogarth are precisely what Danko embraces and employs in his art practice. Danko reprises the simple line drawing as a wood and steel sculpture that refers to the history of his own use of the motif, and also to its longer history as an example of the ‘unartistic’, and a legitimate form of expression to continually critique any imposed idea of ‘good’, ‘bad’, or constructed taste. The recurrence of this face in Danko’s work is a reminder of the importance of ‘independent thought’, outside the bounds of convention, conformity or any rules of the new ‘Academy of the Atomised’.

Artist Statement

The original TASTE installation consists of thirty-four cousins that form rows of diminishing, stick like figures looking at a fluorescent red, topiary-like sculpture. The work is a form of theatre where-upon the viewer is being watched by a sculptural audience. This tableau is soon to arrive with its collective stare at the MCA for my survey exhibition, MY FELLOW AUS-TRA-ALIENS. This head was initially employed as a critique of Postmodernism – albeit with humour as indicated by the titles of other works that incorporate this motif – The Serpent of Taste, 1986, In Matters of Taste it is Folly to be Wise, 1990, Stupid as a Painter Thick as a Sculptor, 1990, and to the full lobotimised Australian ‘barbecue stopper’ Ambivalence – I love a sunburnt country, 1991. It is also incorporated in my letterhead and business card, thus sealing my own fate!

References

[1] William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty. Written with a view of fixing the fluctuating ideas of taste, J. Reeves, London, 1753, p.124.

Aleks Danko

– About the artist

b.1950

The son of Ukrainian migrants, Aleks Danko was born in Adelaide in 1950 and lives and works in Daylesford, Victoria. His career spans over four decades and encompasses diverse media – from sculpture, performance, installation, to text and language-based works.

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Related Exhibitions

Volume One: MCA Collection

– Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) 2012

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