John Bokor’s recent still life paintings – shown alongside earlier interiors at Nicholas Thompson Gallery – sound out the shape of absence, even in their colourific and textural richness.
In recent months, video footage of empty CBDs – especially Melbourne and Sydney – has been circulating through my varied social media feeds. Populating this footage are shopping strips empty of foot traffic, six-lane motorways with a solitary Uber delivery person being blown through on a bike, and huge multi-million dollar stadiums full of silence. These images – and they’re almost stills, really – have an eerie half-liveliness about them. The scenes might feel post-apocalyptic, or they might feel like something from deep historical time; the worst bit of this is, of course, that these are scenes neither of the future nor the past, but from now. While emptiness has sat outside waiting for us, many will have just passed a winter of intense interiority.
In John Bokor’s A single bloom, 2021, two chairs face into a table. There is, per the work’s title, a single pink flower in a vase, two plates, a few cups, and what looks to be a drawing, perhaps of an animal form. Dark shadows spool out from each pictured object: perhaps this is a nod to Margaret Preston and the Australian still life tradition into which Bokor enters in his work, or perhaps it is just late in the day. Certainly the light is warm enough to suggest this latter option. In fact, the whole image is “warm” – the titular “bloom” is robust and pink like a cheek, the edges of the crockery bright and slightly glowing, everything (including the table) round and soft at the edges. And yet, I’m drawn continually into the unoccupied space the shadows fall across. The plates are empty. The chairs are empty.
Bokor is “not interested in the hard concrete facts of the objects,” in his still lifes, and says his “aim is to paint a response to the subject rather than a documentation of it.” Many of these works were made on the Umbi Gumbi Artist Residency at Cuttagee Beach this year, though some older paintings of interiors are shown as well. Though his approach to genre, and his use of space in the picture, have developed over time, what echoes across the different periods of his work is the sense that a human occupant – sometimes even named, as in Sallie’s table, 2014, and Hendrik and Julianna’s sitting room, 2014 – has just stepped out of the scene. Rather than simple documents of what remains in empty rooms, though, these paintings do indeed feel like responses to the phenomenon of unoccupied space: to me, twelve weeks into Sydney’s lockdown, the “warmth” of Bokor’s interior object studies feels like a reaching towards the vanished people who would have sat, drawn, drank, and remarked on the roses in these scenes. Even the tabletops do this reaching – see how the perspective of Bokor’s paintings tilts their surfaces down toward the viewer like extended palms.
In light of this, it seems entirely fitting that these paintings should be viewable, for the foreseeable future, primarily through Nicholas Thompson Gallery’s website. Our looking must echo Bokor’s painting. That is, we can look at the richness in front of us, and use this to better understand the shape of the cavities which have grown around us over the past, say, eighteen months (though perhaps it is much longer).
Erin McFadyen for Artist Profile (online) 29 September 2021