Our urban environment is transforming every day, but Donovan Christie’s paintings of shopfronts, streetscapes and landmarks cement the landscape in a place and emotional time, writes John Neylon.
“How much do you reckon you’d get for your house?”
“Get a corner block, push over the shack that’s there and wack up a couple of spec units — make a fortune.”
You know the chat. In suburban Adelaide, and cities around Australia for that matter, rising land prices and shifting demographics are bringing about wholesale changes in the material and social fabric of neighbourhoods. The confected hysteria about the march of the ‘Tuscan Terrors’ has thankfully morphed into more adult conversations about ways to make cities more liveable.
But despite the best laid plans of governments and local authorities, urban development often works on the chaos theory principle where things just happen because opportunities present themselves.
Donovan Christie’s remarkable and ambitious project to paint pictures of the irruptions, accommodations and hybridity that characterise urban change in this city, using subjects plucked from a street or roadscape you know so well, makes for compelling viewing. Through the agency of art, a motley collection of business premises; dry cleaners, fast food outlets, hotel drive throughs, delis and the like are given the honorific of translation into little reliquaries of everyday significance.
Donovan says that the “urban Australian landscape plays the backdrop to our very demanding lives”.
“Often something we glance over as we breeze on by,” he says. “In particular, our local corner stores; they are seen as merely bricks and mortar that house either goods or services. My objective is to showcase these shop fronts and establishments for what they are. They are modern day relics, a place of business that someone has built from the ground floor up.”
Just painting these “modern day relics” is clearly not enough for the artist. His desire to communicate how he feels about these often dog-eared, beat-up or defiantly opportunistic buildings and enterprises is evident in his considered editing and marshalling of the visual facts.
An example is a local landmark, a lawnmower service and sales shop familiar to anyone who regularly travels along Springbank Road. Extraneous details have been eliminated and the colour exchange between lime green exterior and red sky backdrop has been pumped a little. I once spoke to one of the staff working there who told me that when he started, and this business was new, there were just paddocks to the south of Daws Road.
In such a context, I can hear the shop signs and graphics that Christie so dutifully honours, as voices calling, “Bend me, shake me, anyway you want me, long as you love me it’s all right.”
Header image: Donovan Christie, Page Not Found (detail.), oil on linen, 18 x 23cm