Paul Maher: Visualising suburbia

IT'S been a hectic month for Newcastle artist Paul Maher: he's been named as a finalist for the Kilgour Prize and he's about to open a solo show at a Hamilton gallery.

His work, Silken girls bring sherbet, was selected for the finals of the $50,000 Kilgour Prize at Newcastle Art Gallery, along with other Hunter area artists Michael Bell, Pablo Tapia and Mark Berryman. The Silken girls painting resulted from a drawing Maher did from life of families picnicking in a seaside park.

"The scene struck me because of their exotic dress and the harmonious way they interacted with each other in a familiar coastal setting," he says.

"The image sparked in my memory a line from Eliot's Journey of the Magi, which forms the title.

"In the poem it suggests a place back home in summer palaces where travellers enjoy lavish comforts. This contrasts with the harshness of foreign roads. For this painting, it triggers thoughts of women in silken sunset dresses bringing spice and sweet things from a far-off land to this country."

Maher's show, at Gallery 139, is entitled in this city's side, and the works are similar to Silken girls in style and tone.

up and under, by Paul Maher

up and under, by Paul Maher

"The paintings are about us and our place," Maher says.

"They are inherently of this town but could easily be transferred to the large proportion of the population that happily settle on the coastline.

"They're suburban coastal paintings without a tubing barrel in sight. They are what we do when we gather in open spaces including well-worn promenades. They are the pump classes and boxing troupes against a backdrop of contemporary coastal villas. They go beyond the sea salted windows and glass doors and to witness euphoric women transcend quiet moments."

Maher grew up in Maitland and trained in visual art at the University of Newcastle, completing postgraduate studies in 1985. He has exhibited in the Hunter since 1988, and had an exhibition in Paris in 1999.

Newcastle poet and writer David Murray says in an essay about Maher, ". . . memory is a persistent timekeeper of self and place throughout Paul's work. Subconsciously personal and publicly historical, it's as if the industrially dirty and unpretentious Newcastle that Paul grew up in has - like a slightly disappointing friend - been beguiled by the petit bourgeois hipsterism of faddish food, fitness and fake authenticity."

Maher’s show at Gallery 139 opens on October 28. 

The winner of the Kilgour Prize  is announced on November 12.


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