The road to Secret Garden: Michael Bond unveils his latest body of work

With a new list of terms added to our lexicon during the COVID pandemic – think social-bubble or maskne – one phrase persists: we are all in this together. While it can feel a little empty, especially in moments of uncertainty, this repeated sentiment is social proof that as physically distant as we are, we are closer than ever. Quarantine through the window of social media has seen to song and movie playlists infiltrating our feeds, while reshared art, nostalgia, and the humble meme have become our visual catnip. On the surface, this externalisation of personality is addictive to watch, yet it also proves that despite much of the world remaining in some form of restrictive state, our thirst for culture has not diminished.

The essence of solidarity in lockdown was an inspiration for Michael Bond’s latest – and largest – body of work, Secret Garden, which unveils in a much-anticipated exhibition at Fenton & Fenton on the 18th of October. “I find that in times of isolation I am the most inspired. Without the distractions of everyday life, I have an opportunity to look inward. But I’m very aware of the realities of isolation and the loneliness that comes with it. I wanted to channel my art to create hope; from something negative, something beautiful can be born.” says Michael.

In a true case of life imitating art, the pathway to Bond’s success stemmed from feeling bound to his career in hairdressing, which started at the tender age of 16 and spanned 30 years. To distract himself from ordinary life, Bond was heavily into the Melbourne party-scene, and along with the headiness and elation that came with it, feelings of uncertainty and confusion formed part of the symphony – this contrast of his internal experience and external expression struck a chord, “I was thinking, is this it? Am I going to be doing this for the rest of my life? I decided I had to leave Melbourne.”

 

Bond packed up and moved to Brisbane – where he had several friends – and while the new scenery felt refreshing, doubts crept in, “About four weeks after I moved to Brisbane I thought, what the hell have I done? And a friend said – well then pack your bags and go home, but is that what you really want? To go back to what’s safe and comfortable?”

The dust eventually settled, and soon after he met his partner of now of 14 years, Greg. It was time to open shop again, “I set up a home salon and occasionally I’d pop something I’d painted up on the wall, and the pieces sold, which was so amusing to me! It was foreign territory [selling my art] so I’d just charge the cost of the canvas,”

“A young client suggested I put my work up on Instagram. She showed me how it worked, how geography had no bounds – my pieces were accessible from all corners of the globe. Importantly, she showed me how I could interact with people who liked my art. I didn’t quite understand the power of it at the time but knew I was heading in the right direction. It didn’t take long before I was approached to sell my work. It was exciting, so new and interesting … it made the decision easy; to move out of the hair business and into art, which is who I am,”

 

“It’s difficult to explain why I do what I do – I don’t sit down and think, right I’m going to paint. It’s just an extension of me and how I can best express myself. It just feels normal to paint.”

Ever since he can remember Bond had his hand in creative outlets; he wrote stories or secret notes from imaginary people. He built cubby houses, bird houses and secret hideaways in trees. On picking up a brush for the first time he says, “I must’ve been about 10 and I got into dad’s shed and painted a picture of a penguin. I had a birthday party to go to, so I gave it to my friend. Sometimes I wonder what happened to that penguin!”

“I guess you could say I truly focused my creative energy on painting in my teenage years. Mum and dad saw that I was interested in art and they believed I was good at it too. They bought me a set of oil paints and I also bought those magazines from the newsagency – the ones that teach you about art – I studied them for hours and began painting landscapes in oil. My mum still has these paintings,”

 

“When I started, my works were more traditional, realistic paintings as opposed to what I do now which is abstract. I probably thought that I was never good enough to paint the way I first wanted to, so I changed my focus to abstract art because it’s open to interpretation and it put less pressure on me,” says Bond of shifting gears into what he is now famed for.

In 2014 Bond was approached by Fenton & Fenton to donate his work to the Peace of Art auction which raises money to improve school infrastructure in Ethiopia, “I discovered Fenton & Fenton on Instagram and when they approached me I thought, wow I’ve made it! After the auction I chatted with Lucy Fenton about selling my art in her store, and not long after I was represented by the brand,”

“I had this la-la land idea of what being represented would be like, as if all the artists would sit around and hold hands and it would be heavenly. I quickly learned that my view wasn’t realistic, especially since I was self-taught,”

 

“In the beginning there was no one saying this is right or this is wrong – you just do what you do, it’s unfiltered. Like a child drawing with no concept of rules. But along the way self-doubt crept in. I started questioning what I was doing because I ran into people who were classically trained in art, and their opinions weren’t flattering. It was like I wasn’t worthy because I hadn’t had the years of university training behind me, but I did have life experience,” he says.

There are moments in life when you realise that ‘life’ is happening. The things you do every day, what you’re thinking and feeling, it isn’t some preamble to life it’s actual life. This realisation is like ripping off a mask, “After so much time in introspect, I just thought, stuff it. This is what I do. There is no right or wrong because true self-expression shouldn’t be constrictive. I toughened up pretty quick, in fact it made me more determined,” and for Bond, this mind state fast-tracked his trajectory to becoming one of Australia’s most iconic abstract artists.

Bond says that his greatest muse to date is nature, “This morning Greg and I were taking the dog for the walk and we saw a dead Rosella in the bushes. I took a photo of it. It sounds creepy, and Greg was a little confused, but I explained to him that even though it was dead it was still beautiful. The feathers, the colours – blue, yellow, green, a soft mauve; it’s not often you see a bird completely still. I saw its beauty, right there in front of me. Death is normally seen as something horrible, but it was so peaceful. I guess it’s all just perspective.”

 

Bond believes that art interpretation simply comes down to being human, “Some people tell me they see fireworks in what I call floral art, I always see florals or an influence of nature in my work, but I don’t question what people see. We’re all individuals, so why would we see the same thing?”

“My work starts off very gestural, I make marks onto the canvas, I don’t think about it and then it evolves from that, I just go with it. There are many layers in my work because I refine as I go along … there’s a lot of adding and deleting, the work is made up of multiple layers of paint. So, I guess it’s fitting that there are multiple interpretations,”

Fastrack to 2020 where you could argue that isolation has had our minds dancing around in our own viscera, a silence we never expected but had to contend with. In the true spirit of personal interpretation, for Bond, the silence was golden, helping him switch off and refocus. “This body of work is my most expressive, more me than anything else because of the lack of any real external distraction.”

 

“The idea of Secret Garden goes way back to childhood – a secret place where you aren’t influenced or distracted by the things that are going on in the outside world. A place you can immerse yourself in the beauty around you. A place that nobody else knows about. This can be confronting, but I see the glass half full perspective. I painted most of the works during COVID,”

For Bond, exhibiting this body of work at Fenton & Fenton is a facet of his art career coming full circle. Since Lucy first discovered him, the art he has produced has tangibly expressed his self-confidence through his art journey; it’s bolder, moodier, more dramatic. “They get it, they get me. They’re not afraid of colour. I totally trust what Lucy Fenton and the team do, to showcase what I do, in the most magnificent way.”

“Their use of drama is what gets me. It’s easy to hang a painting on a white wall and say well there you go, there it is. The reality is not many people have blank white walls with no furniture in a room. I love how they portray to the buyer how the art can look in a home, how you can create a mood with colour and placement, in a real-life setting.”

“The attraction to Fenton & Fenton for me is their love of the unusual – it’s not boring, it’s like going into a treasure trove and discovering a world that sparks your imagination. I’m really excited to exhibit The Secret Garden in a place that feels like home.”

Presenting his largest body of work to date, Secret Garden has a distinct floral concept. With both light and dark pieces, Michael represents how the same vista or subject can change dramatically depending on the time of day. From the crisp clear morning light, to the dusky shadows of late afternoon and into the still of the evening. 

View the 'Secret Garden' exhibition here.

 

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