At some point during our interview I was trying (and failing) to get Tully Moore to explain exactly what captures his attention about the cultural remnants and graphic scraps that feature in his art. (Yes, yes. I should know better by now. Trying to get artists to talk in specifics is like trying to pin mercury to a board). Eventually Moore came up with the following anecdote.
Moore is a soccer fan, he explains, and several years ago he went to see his team Celtic play against another local Scottish team, Dunfermline. The Dunfermline mascot is a furry brown trouble maker called Sammy the Tammy. “In this particular game, this Celtic vs Dunfermline game, Sammy the Tammy was playing the stereotype of what people would think a Scotsman was." Moore goes on, "So he had a giant inflatable bottle, almost the size of him, and for the half hour before the game he walked around and just slowly necked this giant bottle. And he got progressively more and more drunk until they were almost about to kick off and he passed out drunk in the middle of the field hugging this giant bottle. And just before the teams ran out he popped back up on his feet and ran along the sidelines giving the kids hi-fives."
Sammy the Tammy is a mascot made from a hodgepodge pastiche of iconography. His outfit combines the team colours (black and white stripes) with Scottish attire (a woolen 'tammy' cap). And in this particular match, says Moore, Sammy the Tammy played the part of the stereotypical Scotsman swilling from a bottle whiskey, a stereotype that is so out-dated it's nostalgic. All the while a crowd of football fans dressed in the team colours cheered Sammy on.
These are the moments that Moore is drawn to: perverse collisions of fashion, fanaticism and anachronism. Like Sammy the Tammy, Moore’s work combines fragments of everyday emblems, creating patchwork paintings or textiles out of the remnants of popular culture. He seems finely attuned to the most decorative aspects of mass culture and social movements – uniforms, flags, logos, mascots, branding and various subcultural calling cards. He is especially interested in the physical expressions and stylistic dimensions of zealotry. “Whether it’s through clothing or brands or protest," says Moore, "once you align yourself, you become a greater mascot. You dress the same. You repeat the same words. You do the chant at the same time as each other. You totally remove the singularity of yourself. You’re playing what’s expected of you.”
At an earlier exhibition - What Noise Does a Pig Make at Gertrude Glasshouse last month – Moore re-purposed the go-to motifs of activist and protest movements, in particular the use of ‘pig’ as a slur against cops, big business and the world’s wealthiest 1%. Moore says he was interested in the way recent anti-austerity and Occupy movements still relied on a clichéd caricature of the ruling class – a filthy rich industrialist pig chomping on an fat cigar – that seemed like a leftover from another century. I can’t even begin to describe how delightfully prescient Moore’s Gertrude show was, given this week’s news about aristocratic initiation rituals involving secret societies, pig heads and burning 50 pound notes in front of beggars. As Moore explained during our interview a couple of weeks earlier, it might be an anachronistic stereotype but it’s certainly not without merit. “I like to think of myself as the pig on the spit,” he says of these stereotypes of power, “I sit in-between, being slowly roasted, complicit on both ends. You sympathise with but are critical of their representations.”
Moore’s current exhibition - The House of Simon Fitzsimon at Caves Gallery (until 10 October) - continues his interest in the mascots of mass culture but it covers more personal terrain. A row of painted boards ring the little Caves gallery. Each painting features a grinning clown adapted from assorted fragments of cultural ephemera, including wall scribbles, drippy street tags, fake eyeballs, fridge magnets, Sao biscuits and cheerio dogs. Painted clay pops out from the surface of the board, like a novelty, “cheap monkey trick” trompe l’oeil painting. All of the paintings sit propped up on plaster moulds of motorcycle gloves and draped behind each is a swathe of fabric printed with repeating patterns of pickles, tomatoes or Piet Mondrian-esque graphics - somewhere between a souvenir tea-towel and a national flag. Finally there are Tully Moore trademarks and logos absolutely everywhere.
The House of Simon Fitzsimon (a combination Moore’s middle name and his mother’s maiden name) recalls the name of a fashion house but also the house Moore grew up in, where he helped decorate children’s furniture and toys for a little side-business his parents ran out of their back shed. “That was my first act of painting, painting these clown chairs and dollhouses and stuff,” he laughs, “that was my grounding.” The paintings in the Caves show are based on images Moore spotted “just walking around town”. They consist of fragments of faces visible in the patina of the city – in posters, rubbish, graffiti, everyday doodles, “Terry loves Sonya”. “I love this instantaneous imagery,” he says, “it’s …almost like a visual eavesdropping.”
Moore repeatedly refers to the clowns in his paintings as 'the individual' and 'the everyday man'. And he describes the original street doodles and marks that they're based on - those smiley faces and squiggly moustaches - as being 'genuine' and 'singular' and 'generous'. Of course the notion of 'the everyday man' is itself a pretty nostalgic concept, an outdated caricature, which Moore knows full well. These are Tully Moore's mascots of humanity.
>> Maura Edmond
>> 23 September 2015
GO SEE IT:
The House of Simon Fitzsimon
17 September - 10 October, 2015
C A V E S
Suite 18, Level 6, The Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Thurs - Fri 12 noon - 6pm | Sat 1pm - 5pm