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Tony Garifalakis: Mob rule

Melbourne artist takes on the dark side of power

Tony Garifalakis, Untitled from Mob rule (Family) 2014, enamel on C Type prints, 60 cm x 40 cm each. Courtesy of the artist and Hugo Michell Gallery © the artist

These haunting images by Tony Garifalakis are dark, humorous and politically charged. They hint at conspiracy; tyranny played out in pop culture.
– Macushla Robinson, assistant curator, Art Gallery of New South Wales

A new exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales presents the latest instalment of Tony Garifalakis’s ongoing series Mob rule, in which faces of powerful figures are obscured with black spray paint. The use of blacking out extends from his interest in forms of censorship as both a political and an aesthetic gesture; a theme the artist first began to explore in 2008.

The Mob rule series features many notable ‘characters’, from British royals – Prince Charles, Lady Diana and Camilla Parker-Bowles – to political leaders – Vladimir Putin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, George W Bush and Robert Mugabe. The images of the latter have been taken from the book Power: portraits of world leaders by photographer Platon Antoniou.

All the photographs featuring in Mob rule are formal portraits; they are not personal or candid. As such, they signify power and position over a sense of personality or individuality. This is further developed by the simple gesture of blacking out the face.

However, even with this individual defining feature obscured, we can still infer who each subject is. They are adorned with political, military or regal regalia; they adopt the confident yet formal body language of power. And so, we know they occupy ruling positions within the social hierarchy.

Mob rule makes clear that it is not who but what they are that matters to us. It draws attention to other ways in which power is signified in the press and popular culture. Over the past few decades Garifalakis has explored the darker side of popular culture, from heavy metal to doomsday prophesy, often through subversive juxtaposition.

Recalling graffiti and street art, the use of spray paint is also significant. It speaks of defacement and vandalism, but also grassroots movements to wrestle back public space and voice political dissent. After attacking his images with spray paint Garifalakis reworks them with a paintbrush.

Tony Garifalakis was born in Melbourne, where he currently lives and works as a lecturer at the Victorian College of the Arts. His work has been presented in a number of curatorial projects and group exhibitions, including Negotiating this world: contemporary Australian art, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2012; Theatre of the world, Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, 2012; and Neo Goth: back in black, Galerie Desaga, Cologne, Germany, 2011.

AGNSW Contemporary Projects are supported by Andrew Cameron.

Contemporary art with UBS

On view
12 Jun – 21 Aug 2014
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney


Media contact

Lisa Catt
Tel 02 9225 1791
Mob 0431 509 978