Home arts visual arts Virtuoso Scene-Making



Virtuoso Scene-Making

October 2013

  • Suzanne Fraser

Opening this week at Anna Pappas Gallery in Prahran is a retrospective of Alice Springs-based Melbourne artist, Rod Moss. This exhibition surveys the artist’s career from 1987 to the present, tracing both the development of his characteristic figural practice and the continuing themes of his career across the last 25 years.

These themes are, for the most part, centred on activity; the viewer is perpetually walking in on an interaction or a gesture in Moss’s work, on the cusp of walking past it, and yet invited to remain through the immobility of the painted canvas. When I asked Moss about this characteristic in his compositions, he confirmed the intentionality of the method: “At the back of mind I wanted to avoid passivity, and do-nothing type portraits,” says Moss.

As both a writer and a painter, Moss has a particular skill for creating moving scenes in his static works; they appear to happen instantly before the viewer, not at a past time when the artist was painting. Indeed his skills as a narrator in literature, as well as painting, have been widely recognised – he won the Prime Minister’s prize for non-fiction in 2011 for his first book The Hard Light of Day.

Having relocated to Alice Springs in 1984, Moss stumbled into daily interactions with the families of Whitegate camp on eastern edges of the town, the traditional lands of the Arrernte. The friendships and encounters that emerged from this closeness have marked the course of his career, representing the principal subject matter of this retrospective. Yet his are not documentary works. While intimate and familiar with the realities of the Indigenous communities around him, Moss is a virtuoso of scene-making in his painting.

In Riverside Bottleshop (1997-2006), Moss was influenced by the documentary-style camera technique of filmmaker Peter Watkins, noting in particular the controversial film Punishment Park from 1971 as a point of inspiration. Moss wanted to confront the viewer in a similar manner to Watkins, to force them to engage with the looming physicality of the lunging figure he portrayed. Without employing any trompe-l’oeil gimmicks, Moss’s fighter – and his fist in particular – emerges from the canvas and into the viewer’s personal space.

Yet in approaching his practice through such avenues, Moss creates a compelling tension between the fictionality and realism of his subject matter. Sometimes based on his own encounters and sometimes entirely made-up, these paintings tell stories that strive to be recognised as fiction whilst also seeming to be documentary.

In this retrospective, the stylistic influences of Ross Moss’s career are on display alongside his works. In Age of Corrugation (1987), for example, we see his early experimentations of Signac-like pointillism and big-scale compositions. In a similar vein, this exhibition highlights the artist’s multiple cultural influences, at the heart of the blackfella-whitefella dynamic captured in his works.

Several of the paintings exhibited are also featured in Moss’s recently-released second book One Thousand Cuts – in which the viewer/reader (his audience) is told of the utterly complex circumstances surrounding the construction of his paintings. These are not easy paintings to encounter, but they are worth the effort.

Rod Moss: One Thousand Cuts shows at Anna Pappas Gallery, 2-4 Carlton St, Prahran, until November 2.

Rod Moss chats with Radio National’s Waleed Aly:


1. Rod Moss, House On The Hill, 2005

2. Rod Moss, Ukaka Band Play With Fire, 2011

3. Rod Moss, Fallen Man (Noelly Johnson), 2013

4. Rod Moss, Equestrians They Lie Among Us, 2010

5. Rod Moss, TV at Reenie’s, 2010





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