Reviews and quotes

Below we have included some of the reviews and critiques of James Guppy's work published over the years. You will find links below each one that will take you back to the relevant galleries where you can view the related paintings.

- Andrew Frost reviews James Guppy, 09/2009 Australian Art Collector
- Gallery 13: Sunrise Boulevard
- Gallery 5: Marine Etiquette
- Gallery 4: Beauty and Blemish
- Gallery 3: Flowers
- Gallery 2: Passion's End
- Gallery 1: Early Works


Andrew Frost reviews James Guppy, 09/2009 Australian Art Collector

James Guppy is a productive and imaginative artist - always trying new things, experimenting with techniques and presentations, not all of them necessarily successful, but impressively diverse and wholeheartedly committed to the surrealist project. As André Breton wrote, "beauty will be convulsive or not at all". Some are born, some are not. A long admirer of his work, I was impressed by his Weather Reports exhibition in early 2007 and its embrace of the painful and still controversial memory of 9/11, its immediate aftermath and the symbolic representation of the spiritual malaise of the West during the war on terror through clouds and fire. Guppy's next solo show in Sydney was the suite of works Fay that mines a personal fascination with Edwardian fairy tales and a frank eroticism. Guppy's oddly shaped canvases, the Velásquez-via-Dali sheen of the surfaces and the disturbing conflation of fantasy with personal history proved to be his very best work. The show was a sensation.

Andrew Frost
"Critic's Choice", Australian Art Collector #49 p.202, 09/2009

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Gallery 13: Sunrise Boulevard

"...The triumph of the garden suburbs, with their carefully manicured lawns, large gabled houses and streets dominated by the life cycle of the car, represents a triumph of the cultural values exported by the USA in the decades after World War II.

It is this apparently bland culture of the suburbs that so intrigues the painter James Guppy... in his series of paintings entitled Sunrise Boulevard. The paintings are hung at an angle, so that they form a diamond shape. The result of this is to unsettle the viewer and to create an air of instability. The diamond also encourages fleeting glimpses, and a sense that whatever is seen may well be a distortion. Despite the homogenous nature of the architecture, the most common recurring form in these works is the yellow-lidded wheelie bin. We have created a society so wasteful that one of our biggest problems is the disposal of rubbish.

The edgy aspect of these paintings is not just in their faux tranquillity. For Guppy, Western civilisation may be a part of the march of suburban utopias, but they often look like ghost landscapes. His interest comes in part from his relocation to Sunrise Beach, on the outskirts of Byron Bay in northern New South Wales. Unlike the popular image of Byron as an upmarket architect designed community, Sunrise Beach is an empty, neat suburban transplant with the pristine architecture of a project home building development placed next to a beach.

"I've been living here for two years," he says. "It's a weird place. Usually the streets are empty."

In order to show the way the residents of these apparently perfect suburbs are disconnected from any sense of place, he has placed them in the air. They float above the ground or even high in the sky. A real estate agent is so far removed from reality that he floats upside down in The Appraisal. A woman walks her dog, who strains against the leash as he knows he belongs on the ground. It is a great metaphor for dislocation. The only sense of clutter comes from abandoned supermarket trolleys in a vacant lot.

"All we have are these material possessions," Guppy says. "The buildings are real, but we're ethereal."

Acting as a counter to this dystopia are children. The only neighbours who actually appear to inhabit the streets of Sunrise Beach are children waiting at the bus stop on their way to school. In his paintings they are at play, reacting with each other in games, flying through the air towards the ground, or hiding behind a fence. But even here not all is well. In Ruby Behind the Units, a half-naked child is crouching alone, behind bushes. In Guppy's world of neat trimmed gardens and precise gabled houses, demons may lurk behind the lace curtains and children will do well to hide."

Joanna Mendelssohn
Associate Professor at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales
New Matilda online magazine, From Sunnydale to Sunrise Boulevard Article, 10/8/05

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Gallery 5: Marine Etiquette

"Fantasy and dream imagery are the hallmark of James Guppy's Marine Etiquette . Surrealism's birthday might have been in the 1920s, but its spirit lives in these small-scale works playing out escapist themes.

They are painted in the dramatic style of the Northern European landscape masters... Guppy's narratives are orchestrated... and softened by a quirky sweetener. So Alice in Wonderland journeys with Gulliver's Travels while a rose blooms on tormented seas. Surrealist juxtapositions of man-made objects... and the natural world, combust in ambiguous pictorial language."

Courtney Kidd
Sydney Morning Herald, 18/4/00 p7


“One very small but very successful work is James Guppy's “A Noble Cause”, an acrylic on canvas stretched into an embroidery hoop. The narrative is of a small boat caught in a stormy sea, its passengers desperately holding onto a giant rose tied to the boat. Part Winslow Homer, part Post-Modern satire, “A Noble Cause” is lovely, mesmerizing and unique.”

Erica-Lynn Huberty
The Southampton Press, New York, 23/12/99 pB4

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Gallery 4: Beauty and Blemish

"Like all deformities exceptional beauty is freakish. Uma Thurman and the Elephant Man are siblings. The contemplation of this paradox tempts James Guppy to tinker with the conventions by which we identify the beautiful and the ugly... his rejigging of Pre-Raphaelite stunners such as Fanny Cornforth and blemishless stars including Rock, Lana and Grace, is liposuction gone feral. Goitres dangle from swan-like necks. Flawless foreheads swell with pus. A strawberry mark spreads like an archipelago across the cheek of Rosetti's Jane Burney - pulchritude as hematoma. Guppy adds injury to insult by spiking his divas with pearly pins, gold-plated sleepers and fish hooks. It's body-piercing meets belle peinture. Strangest of all is a self-portrait in which Guppy sports a carbuncle as big as his face. This image from the here and now of the painter's life... brims with the all too recognisable terrors of our time..."

Bruce James
Sydney Morning Herald, 30/8/96 p16


"Beauty is not skin deep. It is solidly constructed on conventions and ideals, although these vary from place to place and time to time. James Guppy's paintings are a personal subversion of these ideals, recreating and manipulating familiar types of image into a bizarre one, transforming glamour and allure into repulsion. He repaints the images of Hollywood stars and Pre-Raphaelite beauties adding strange facial distortions, then re-works the surface of the painting, cutting into it and attaching found objects. The applied objects, attractive in themselves and arranged with pleasing regularity, become disturbing when embedded in the painted flesh. These paintings reverse the aesthetic conventions we take for granted.

Guppy re-interprets and exaggerates the mood of the original image. In some of his works the precious and mysterious qualities of Pre-Raphaelite painting have been made grotesque by enlarging part of the face (or in the case of Liberty, projecting across it a blood-red strawberry mark in the shape of a map) and piercing the entire surface of the picture with gold rings. In Lucky Strike, a 1950s still of Marlon Brando is made a caricature of what was described in that era as a smooth character - so smooth in fact that his mouth has been erased. This peculiar distortion makes his cigarette smoking absurd and undermines the cavalier glamour that such a pose was originally intended to convey.

The re-working of existing images is a long and continuing tradition. Guppy's work can be associated with the recent tendency among artists to examine the conventions and sources of art, to deconstruct images so they can be read objectively and not simply interpreted through intuitive response. Ideals of beauty evolve from a process of refinement that can lead to peculiar and unnatural results. The strangeness of Guppy's paintings is implicit in the original images on which they are based. There is a darkly obsessive, unnatural atmosphere in the claustrophobic world of feminine mystique (invented by men) in nineteenth-century European art, and Hollywood pin-up idols are somewhat sinister because of their vast pervasiveness and power.

The questioning and analysis of how previous painters and photographers have composed and devised their works reflects the current tendency to dispel illusion both visually and intellectually. Nothing could be more disillusioning than the deformed hot-house specimens hybridised by Guppy. He stained the cheek of Capucine with the map of New Zealand, made Tony Curtis start to grow a clone out of the side of his face and gave a bulbous nose to Jane Morris, who was Pre-Raphaelite painter Gabriel Dante Rossetti's epitome of female beauty.

Guppy is a technically skilled painter who deliberately undermines the persuasiveness of fine technique. The ability to create a seductively beautiful picture with paint is in itself a kind of manipulation (the artist manipulating the unconscious emotions of the viewer). Guppy uses a far more overt kind of manipulation in his works, cutting into them to make them transparent, so the viewer can see through the tricks of image-making and be conscious that there is a calculated process that results in a work of art. More importantly, we are made aware of the precise conventions that define beauty and how disturbing it is to see these conventions violated."

Blemish Catalogue Introduction
Timothy Morrell, Curator
Contemporary Australian Art
Queensland Art Gallery 1997

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Gallery 3: Flowers

"James Guppy has placed a highly realistic technique at the service of bizarre surrealistic ends... It is hard to categorise these paintings or think where they might look most at home. They are a strain of mutant rococo-androgynous, morbid, attractive and repulsive by turns. They would be perfect for the wall of a gloomy castle in a Roger Corman film: they might appeal to the dandy, Des Esseintes in Huysman's novel Against Nature."

John McDonald
Sydney Morning Herald, 5/11/94 p13A

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Gallery 2: Passion's End

"Guppy's works... feel as though they come from an earlier era. This is partly because of their surrealistic elements, but also because of the Beardsley-like curvings of his foliage and the trumpet-like flowers that transform themselves into orifices and ovaries. His palette also suggests the patina of age with its rich golds, greens and magentas, and it is perhaps appropriate that in his subject matter he explores the aging process and the journey towards death. Implicit in the works is the notion of the danger of the sexual- interwoven tendrils, flaring lilies, a maelstrom of swirling stormwaters, all engender the inextricable intertwinings of sexual feelings..."

Lynn Fern
Sydney Morning Herald, 18/ 6/93 p24


"I like Guppy's work because I find his exploration of ideas interesting. His courage and honesty in tackling the most intimate of human emotions never fails to surprise me, and the subtle ways in which he manages to suggest the tensions between people, and comment on some of our cultural legacies and their effects on the way we live, are intriguing and satisfying. The work is never trivial, never trendy, and never fails to connect with one of the fragile threads that form the web of human experience."

Maris Morton, Director
Passion's End Catalogue Introduction
Tweed River Regional Art Gallery 1993

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Gallery 1: Early Works

A Series of Contrasting and Unsettling Images

"Guppy's choice of images is deliberate with all the paintings ultimately involved in making statements about life and death, the solid and the void, the passive and the active. It is a series of contrasting states of being with one image setting an emotional context through which to interpret the other. As a whole, it is an exhibition of rather unsettling pictures, close to reality but at the same time disturbing... Common to all the paintings is the sense of claustrophobia and an atmosphere of tension and anxiety."

Sasha Grishin
Canberra Times, 18/11/92 p30

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James Guppy








Represented by:
May Space, Sydney
Jan Murphy Gallery, Brisbane



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