URBAN MYTHS AND LEGENDS WITHIN CLOUDS OF NARRATIVE
                                                                           SASHA GRISHIN                           p.1   p.2   p.3  p.4  p.5  notes
characteristic of Neilson's working method that the composition in the paintings is resolved in paint on the canvas surface within the process of work, rather than in separate studies. Radical transformations occur on canvas within the surface film of the paint with several different paintings frequently concealed beneath the final resolution.

The paintings of the 1960s and the 1990s have some similarities, but also a number of major differences which go considerably beyond the use of medium and technical competence. Back in the 1960s Neilson was involved with the grand narrative a major statement concerning the state of the world. A parallel may he drawn with the work of Michael Andrews and his slippery narratives of the 1960s such as The deer park, 1962, in Tate Britain, and especially the huge painting All night long, 1963-64, which was acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1964.8 Neilson knew these works well both from Melbourne and from the year he spent mainly in England in 1970 and was attracted to many of Andrews' ideas. All
night long is a triptych of modern life, but also resembles a "screen-sized like Hollywood still" whereby "incorporating mass media techniques and bill-board scale, the artist uses them to attack the world of fashionable publicity". Andrews explains his purpose: "The painting episode is a real situation imagined. Re-enacted and rehearsed until its performance is best possible . 10 In some ways this was also the purpose of Neilson's work of the 1960s.

The ideas of the French philosopher, Jean-François Lyotard,11 may be useful in trying to understand the transformation which took place in Neilson's art from the 1960s to the 1990s. Lyotard argued that the age of "discourses of legitimation" and of "grand narratives" "such as the dialectics of the Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth" was over and belonged to the past. What, according to Lyotard, characterises the present, the postmodern, is the incredulity to metanarratives. "The narrative function is losing its functors, its great hero, its great dangers, its great voyages, its great goal. It is being dispersed in clouds of narrative language elements - the narrative, but also denotative, prescriptive, descriptive, and so on. Conveyed within each cloud are pragmatic valencies specific to its kind. Each of us lives at the intersection of many of these. However, we do not necessarily establish stable language combinations, the properties of the ones we do establish are not necessarily communicable." 12 This can be viewed as a possible characterisation of Neilson's paintings

of the past decade, where the images are "dispersed in clouds of narrative language elements".

For Neilson's art the telling of a story - the narrative - remains important, but whereas in the 1960s it was a coherent story-line which could be verbalised, in his paintings of the 1990s and into the 2000s there is a complexity of competing discourses, where Lyotard's concept of clouds of narrative elements is particularly apt. In paintings such as Luxurious disagreements, 1994, Possible solutions, 1995, and Forgotten cities, built on half-remembered dreams, 1998, we witness a growing pictorial fragmentation and precisely this effect of splintering of narrative elements. In his method of work Neilson would frequently source a couple of images from magazines or newspapers, images which simply


Michael Andrews b. England, 1928-95
All night long 1963-64 oil on composition board 183 x 122.3 cm
Felton Bequest, 1964, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

caught his eye and which seemed pleasing to him, which he would then draw onto the canvas and a sort of dialogue would he established between these images giving rise to a series of competing discourses. There would he resonances from one part of the painting to another, architectural stage sets would appear with contrasts in scale. Staircases could lead into space, a reflection or photographic image could appear as tangible and as corporeal as the carefully and minutely observed figures. These fragmented narrative elements collectively alluded to a sinister world of big business, to shady deals brokered after the midnight hour, to facades and people, and to many different types of realities.

The paintings which were first shown at the Diane Tanzer Gallery in 1996 and then at the Pinacotheca Gallery in 1999, both in Melbourne, introduced this world of nervous agitation, where the canvas became an ambiguous figurative arena, busy,