Julian Hooper

Count Gideon Vecsey

2007
watercolour and collage
640mm x 495mm

signed Julian Hooper and dated 2007 in graphite lower right

Provenance

Private collection, Auckland.
Acquired from Ivan Anthony, Auckland, 2007.

Exhibitions

Liliu, Turbulence: 3rd Auckland Triennial, Gus Fisher Gallery, Auckland, 2007;

Liliu, Monash Faculty Gallery, Melbourne, 2007;

Liliu, Whangarei Art Museum, New Zealand, 2007.

Essay

Julian Hooper’s paintings are idiosyncratic beasts, not easily co-opted into the usual art-historical descriptors. They draw on many eclectic visual themes and styles, and oft...

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Estimate $2,000 - $4,000

Julian Hooper

Count Gideon Vecsey

2007

watercolour and collage

signed Julian Hooper and dated 2007 in graphite lower right

640mm x 495mm

Auction N˚4

Estimate $2,000 - $4,000

Count Gideon Vecsey

by Andrew Paul Wood

Julian Hooper’s paintings are idiosyncratic beasts, not easily co-opted into the usual art-historical descriptors. They draw on many eclectic visual themes and styles, and often relate to Pacific indigeneity and colonisation.

This painting, Count Gideon Vecsey, was first shown at Auckland University’s Gus Fisher Gallery as part of the 2007 Auckland Triennial in a solo exhibition called Liliu, a word common to many Polynesian languages meaning to change and transform. This title refers to the transformations undergone by Vecsey, a Hungarian of the late nineteenth century, who attempted to make his fortune growing cotton in Fiji in 1871. The economies of Central Europe had been devastated by the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars, and opportunity was limited. Many sought opportunities in the Pacific where a number of German-speaking colonies existed, but it was the disastrous Hungarian Revolution of 1848 that drove Vecsey to the South Seas. Forced to leave the cotton plantation for two years to seek treatment for his failing eyesight, he returned in 1885 to find himself cuckolded and a bankrupt. Vecsey, by now a naturalised British citizen, returned to Sydney, Australia, leaving behind him a substantial debt, his estranged Tongan wife, and their four children, including a daughter, Alisi, who was Hooper’s great grandmother.

Hooper’s painting is a stylised portrait of Vecsey, reduced schematically to collaged elements on a violet field of vertical watercolour wash. Echoing the gothic style, as well as the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau aesthetic movements, the Count’s moustachioed face is rendered in tendril-like lines and black triangular forms reminiscent of bat wings or ship sails. His eyes merge, or perhaps overlap, with two bats, representing both his metaphorical blindness to his situation and the literal medical problems with his vision. Vecsey’s nose resembles a ship, rendered as a constructivist abstraction, suggesting that his travels in the Pacific were a case of him “following his nose.”

The bat, vampire, and Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes, the original Dracula) imagery that threads through the works of Liliu is also a reference to Vecesy’s birthplace of Transylvania, a region with its own complex history of conquest and exploitation. Vampirism is also a convenient metaphor for European attitudes to the indigenous peoples of the Pacific, and occasionally vice versa. Hooper skilfully draws together the threads of his European and Pacific heritage to tell a rich and fascinating story, through a postmodern version of history painting.