The 7th Floor, 1987
Stewart MacFarlane (born 1953)
oil on canvas
180 x 120cm
signed and dated lower right
Exhibited: Stewart MacFarlane, Compulsion: Brisbane City Gallery 25th Oct – 9th Dec, 2001
Literature & references: Veronique Helmridge-Marsillian, Stewart Macfarlane, Craftsman House, 1996, pg. 141 plate 50;
Simon Wright/Vincent Katz, Compulsion: Stewart MacFarlane, Brisbane City Gallery, 2001, illus. p 16
0419 540 162
“The will to make love succeed is not always enough. When the form of a love-relationship contravenes the moral order of society, it is soon and efficiently crushed.
One afternoon a youth, aged about 21, is standing at the window of his apartment, looking out. The day has been bright, but is swiftly clouding over. He wears idealistic blue—a rather crumpled cotton shirt whose folds reflect pure white. There are flashes of blue in his chestnut hair; his legs emerge naked from beneath his shirt.
Total discouragement can be read in the slumped shoulders and the jutting of neck and chin. Seen close to, his gaze is wistful; it follows still, in the sky before him, hopes now never to be realized; his mouth droops sadly. But at a greater distance, this gentle and philosophical melancholy is hardened, by the angular construction of the facial planes, into a bleak and bitter defiance. Similarly, the left arm and hand hang with awkward helplessness; but the hand is closed about the receiver in a fist whose bones and veins protrude with restrained tension.
At a receding diagonal, in the middle distance, stands a very young girl of, say, 13. Her pink frock, with its horizontal stripes and dropped waist, belongs to childhood, as do the white canvas shoes and ankle socks. Although she has her back to her companion, an undercurrent of solidarity unites them: her pose mirrors his; the same despondence has bowed her shoulders and left her arms to hang helplessly. She pauses at the threshold of a room which has been made as inviting as its somewhat shabby furniture will allow. A tall standard lamp has been lit, which dispenses, from under its fiery gold shade, a rich mauve light answering the tints of the girl's frock; and an armchair of olive green is turned as though to greet her with open arms. She had been stepping eagerly towards this intimate refuge when the telephone rang. The contradiction between the impulse of her thoughts, which were already inside, and the abrupt pulling up of her feet, is skilfully suggested by spatial ambiguity. Although the girl's torso is parallel to the doorframe, her head and shoulders are beyond it, inside the chamber, while her feet remain in the nearer room, apparently closer to the male figure than the virtual line of the door.
As a matter of fact, the entire apartment seems to slip and slide. The wall-to-wall carpet of the inner chamber is metamorphosed, at the doorway, into a fringed rug crawling out as fast as its centipedal border will allow. Where, exactly, does the doorjamb hit the ground? Behind the youth's head, the narrow transversal wall edges indefinably into the lateral perspective of the left-hand wall; it, in turn, curves indeterminately into the floor. Remove the figures, and the setting collapses—the world of this young couple has fallen apart.
They met, they fell in love. They were both young, one much younger. They loved each other with a spontaneous and natural ardour, a tenderness that included spirit and body; she loved him for his greater knowledge, he loved her for her unaffected simplicity. They tried to ignore the severe disapproval of her parents and the sniggering malice of his friends. It was not easy. The others dogged their footsteps so that they could rarely be alone. At length they could bear it no longer: they needed to be together—truly together—alone—if only for a weekend. But they had to cover their tracks. He moved, rented an apartment in a tenement house; a cheap apartment, sunlit and bright because it was high up, in the topmost storey very likely. But even here the eyes of society seemed to peer in, formed by fronting windows one storey below. She had told her parents she was staying overnight at a girlfriend's; he had told his address only to one faithful friend. It was a modest attempt at a modest happiness.
On the day—they had barely had time to cross the threshold—the phone rings. It is the faithful friend. "Bad news, mate. The police is after you. Presumption of carnal knowledge, paedophilia, that sort of stuff. Beware."
Rigid with despair they stand, the girl before the forbidden promise of intimacy, the young man before the blocked vision of his hopes. A high window, supposed off canvas to the right, at once illuminates the folds of the frock and causes the shadows which stretch from both lovers' feet. The youth's lost profile is outlined darkly on the wall, downcast with sorrow, imprisoned in masonry; and if the real gaze still looks courageously ahead, its view is barred with the cross of suffering. He had dreamt of love; he had thought he would be in seventh heaven . . . But as far as he got was the seventh floor.” Veronique Helmride-Marsillian
Stewart MacFarlane was born in Adelaide and completed his Diploma in Fine Art in 1974 before travelling to the US to further his studies, completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1977. He returned to Australia in 1983, moving to Melbourne the following year for post-graduate studies at the Victorian College of the Arts. In 1987, MacFarlane lived and painted in Mornington, Victoria for several months before receiving an initial residency with the Roswell Artist-in-residence program, New Mexico, for a year. Over the next 8 years he moved between Melbourne, Sydney and Roswell, producing one or more solo exhibitions each year. In 1994 he received a residency at The Bemis Center, Omaha, Nebraska, then travelled to Mexico to paint for 3 months. Queensland became home on returning in 1995, where he remained to work for the next seven years. MacFarlane moved to Hobart in 2002 until moving back to mainland Australia, in 2011.
He has held over 50 solo exhibitions of his work in Australia, Asia, U.S.A. and Germany. A monograph of his work, titled ‘Stewart MacFarlane: Riddles of life’ was published in 1996, followed by a second monograph published in 2012, titled ‘Stewart MacFarlane: Paintings’.
MacFarlane’s work is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the QLD Art Gallery, Artbank, Art Gallery of WA, Brisbane City Gallery, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and many regional institutions.