Michael Zavros

Capturing the Prince

by Mariam Arcilla APR 2013

The ‘Marlboro Man' advertisements of the 1950s – featuring masculine cowboys, stately horses and epic landscapes – are considered to be one of the most successful campaigns of all time. In the 1980s, American artist Richard Prince began translating the ‘Marlboro Man' into works of art by rephotographing, cropping and manipulating the advertisements. In 2005 Prince became the first artist to sell a photograph for a million dollars, and his notoriety prompted Sam Abell, the editorial photographer who originally shot the million-dollar image, to publicly label Prince a plagiarist. More than a decade later, Michael Zavros, one of Australia's most influential mid-career painters, spins a modern rope around this legendary campaign for his latest series, The Prince, currently on show at Rockhampton Art Gallery, Queensland.

In The Prince, you have re-authored (Zavros) the appropriation (Prince) of an original copy (Abell) based on a fantasy (Malboro Man). In so doing, you have created a new gravity for these already-doctored works, and have enriched a legend that was fabricated to begin with. What was the reason behind The Prince?

I'm aware of a debate surrounding my work regarding issues of criticality and intentionality, and retrospectively the same questions arise around Richard Prince. I wanted to champion this in redrawing and repainting these epic icons of postmodernism and appropriation.

Prince emptied the smoking campaign from the image of the American cowboy and I've emptied Prince from the rephotographed image. With the passage of time and the vanishing of cigarette advertising, what we're left with are these incredibly beautiful, romantic images of the fictional Marlboro country.

Why did you choose Rockhampton and Griffith University to stage this momentous show? And what was it like to collaborate with Tracy Cooper-Lavery (Rockhampton Art Gallery Director) and Simon Wright (Griffith University Art Gallery)?

Tracy Cooper-Lavery had seen the first few Prince works when she accepted the directorship at Rockhampton Art Gallery. It was her idea to bring this new series to Australia's beef country, and to see these images of the American mid-west in Australia's cowboy country. The whole point of these new works is about meaning shifting and changing, being lost and born anew. A regional audience might embrace the works differently to a metropolitan one. It's been fantastic working with Tracy. She's that can-do style director/curator where nothing is impossible, and Rockhampton Art Gallery is exemplary of the great things happening in regional Australia.

I'm also excited to bring The Prince to Griffith University Art Gallery. I did my Bachelor of Fine Art at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University in Brisbane. I also felt it was important to collaborate with Simon Wright on the project because he'd bought the first Prince/Zavros work at Art HK 2011 for the Griffith University Art Collection.

You work with traditional media – oils, charcoal, and cast bronze – to explore concepts and ideals that have a ‘nowness' element and neological aesthetic; at the same time an antiquated romance lingers. What drives this?

In terms of media, it's not a deliberate engagement with… Subscribe to read this article in full

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