(First Published in BL!SSS Magazine | August 2013 | #72)
I remember the first Michael Zavros work I saw. It was an extraordinary photorealistic painting of a horse that seemed to be falling down the wall.
Although it was a beautiful image, magnificent too, it frightened me.
At the time I was one of those internet junkies who would disappear down the information super goat track for hours challenging the web to dish up something that might shock me.
I loved being grossed out, before I realized that all the horrible things you’ve seen can’t be unseen. That image of Zavros’ horse which seemed to be plunging head first into the polished concrete floor of the gallery space in which it was hung was one that stayed with me, but not because it was horrible. Because it was horribly beautiful.
The top half of the horse was cropped just above its hindquarters as if the poor beast was falling quickly through a photographer’s frame. The image is made more confronting by the artistry and attention to detail that has been applied by Zavros to such a short but terrible narrative. A beautiful horse falling headfirst from height can only result in shocking injury.
Why would an artist do that to such a noble creature? Why promise in such detail, such tragedy?
Later, I met Zavros.
It was at a party, one of those impossibly cool dos. The party’s handsome male host met me at the door wearing an Alexander McQueen jumpsuit in parachute silk. His gorgeous co-host and partner smiled with all her teeth, showing off her signature Meryl Streep gap. This couple were aesthetes and every feature of the party, from the invitation to the guest list was highly, highly designed.
The host ushered me over to the wall of the kitchen, excited to show me his latest purchase, a photograph of some gold Dior heeled boots. At least I thought it was a photograph.
It was then that Zavros, tall, good looking and rather formally groomed for a summer party in Australia was introduced to me as the artist who had painted this work.
His appearance was as perfectly delivered as the brushwork on those outrageous shoes, while all around us the beautiful people were getting loose and drinking too fast, their grip on their own flawlessness growing more tenuous by the hour.
I was reminded then of the falling horse, the doomed thoroughbred on a path of destruction. As I watched Zavros standing so composed, calmly observing the unravelling of the beauty around him I started to understand what this artist was all about.
Beauty and desire in Zavros’ mind, comes with a cautionary tale although it’s not implied outwardly via a strident critique. His comment is more elusive than that. He taunts with the beauty of his images. The beauty is rendered out of reach, fairytale gorgeous, faux aristocratic and lost to us by the day, as we wrinkle and grey and fail to achieve.
Not Zavros though. Since the party at which I first met him, he has continued to groom his image and has achieved much, becoming a sensation in Australian art. Cliches like “the darling” of the scene seem to suit him. He is designed to please in everything he does: what he paints, the way he paints, the way he dresses and looks, the way he comes across in interviews.
His work also continues to explore the unattainable world of perfection in fashion, luxury and of course physical perfection. Though behind the lens focused on beauty, I can’t help feeling there’s an eye that is jaundiced with envy.
Zavros admits he often finds himself painting some decadent toy that either he wants or has just bought for himself. He says we seek in our occupation or in our partners that which we (personally) lack.
In the suburbs of Brisbane, one of Australia’s least urbane, regional cities where Zavros grew up there is not much for a young aesthete to do but covet. Zavros admits that as a boy he pored over books and magazines that described a world different to the one he inhabited, which in his own words was “humble, sometimes harsh, bucolic, certainly less romantic”.
It seems a fairytale outcome then that Zavros recently escaped with his family to an artist’s residency in Italy, courtesy of a benefactor itself known for creating works of art and desire: Bulgari. The famous jeweler and fashion house sponsored the New South Wales Gallery of Art commission prize that Zavros recently won.
His winning work, titled “The New Round Room” is a spectacular large scale painting of the interior of Versailles’s Grand Trianon.
The room, depicted in the work was designed by Louis XIV for entertaining guests yet Zavros painted it devoid of people. Instead, incongruously in the centre sits a polished chrome bench-press set, a symbol perhaps of the impotence of narcissism.
Whether or not that is the comment being made here, it’s being delivered so beautifully most of us would still be prepared to live with the consequences if we could do so in these divine surroundings.
Meanwhile, the world may be changing its appetite for excess. So I asked Zavros about the current moves in Europe toward austerity and whether this political environment will deliver a different read on displays of opulence, seeing it as distasteful for example. He didn’t seem to think so.
Ultimately, he believes that there is no real distaste for excess because the trappings of excess are beauty and physical perfection and that represents a kind of utopia that we all desire.
He’s tricky though, this Zavros character. With his latest exhibition titled “The Prince”, a series of charcoal and paint reproductions of the photographic works of Richard Prince, he creates a maddening loop.
Prince’s work is already a devotion to the advertising images of the Marlboro Man. Zavros takes Prince’s reflection of iconic machismo and reflects it back on itself, trapping the utopia of the male ideal forever in the art world’s hall of mirrors.
This may of course be Zavros’ ultimate comment. That it’s impossible to know where utopia begins or where it ends and where or even how we would enter it. We can view his gorgeous works, but we can’t participate in them. If we were to arrive in one of his rooms, standing in our own less than perfect shoes with our financial woes and relationship issues and health worries, we’d destroy the symmetry.
The utopia Zavros paints isn’t really ours to keep. Or anyone’s for that matter.
Because super models age. Monarchs are overthrown. Fashions change. And horses fall.
View more of Michael Zavros work at http://www.michaelzavros.com