Mark Thompson

The Hidden Artistic Genius of Clive Palmer

Australian billionaire Clive Palmer thought he could win a court case against Twisted Sister, defending himself by suggesting that he was just doing what all artists do.

 

Recently, Clive Palmer made headlines after losing his case against fossilized hair rockers Twisted Sister for his flagrant misuse of their song “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” In defense of his actions, Palmer said that he was preparing for the election and in “deep contemplation” when he wrote the words “Australians aren’t gonna cop it.” Palmer also claimed it was taken from a hymn composed in the 1700s, not a rock ballad from 1984. Nevertheless, Clive now has to pay the band $1.5 million in damages. And you know what? I’m not going to take it.

Clive was merely doing what all great artists do, he was heavily inspired by existing work in order to create something new. If I have one complaint about Australia, it’s that we Australians don’t “get” art. If it’s not something we can slap immediately on a tea towel or shoehorn into comedy routines of our own, we give it a wide berth.

Frankly, I believe Clive Palmer is a man whose artistic talents are as wide as Australia itself. He’s our own modern-day Down Under Da Vinci.

In years gone by, Clive has drawn up plans for ridiculously ambitious modes of transport from another time, he’s rebirthed the long-dormant beat poetry movement, and he’s painted extremely memorable, albeit ambiguously disguised portraits of himself.

But unlike the prosaic medium Leonardo used, Clive is his work, and we’re his gallery; he’s a living, breathing mosaic of artistic expression.

His masterpiece would probably be his pop-art subversion of the 2019 Federal Election. By outspending the biggest brands of the day, he approached true meaninglessness, hanging his own name, face, and trite slogan (“Make Australia Great”) over the nation’s broadsheets. The result? $60 million and not a solitary seat. Just as Andy Warhol recognized his superficiality, Clive gave himself the credit, noting that he “saved Australia from a trillion dollars of extra taxes”; an obvious pastiche of a politician’s performative hyperbole in the wake of an election win. Bravo.

In 2017, he added a new artistic string to his bow. Performance art. Prompted to appear in court, Palmer used the publicity to expose something deeper: our willingness to focus on the minute details of those societal winners we now deem as failures, our vast prejudices legitimized by the narrowness of court dates and news crews.

 

 

With his usually articulated hairstyle suddenly skewed, his op-shop grade un-ironed polo top holding his shoulders in check, oxygen tank in one hand, pillow in the other, Palmer gave us something to think about: in demonizing the once-famous who appear in court, and presuming guilt over innocence, are we in fact guilty ourselves? Should we all not pay our employees?

 

 

As a country, Australia has a long-standing history of this. The schadenfreude of chasing a celebrity down the street en route to their court appearance. Does Palmer’s cheap polo reference Ben Cousin’s V-neck T-shirt? Does his breathing apparatus reference Christopher Skase’s wheelchair and oxygen mask? Is he saying that our continued assumption of guilt will in turn birth yet more stupidity from those facing charges?

 

 

I’m unsure if that is Palmer’s intention, however, I am certain that he has long been the greatest critic of the Australian way of life. Our greatest living satirist. He paints by example, with the broader strokes in cautionary tale yellow. The underlying point of all of his work seems to show that in living our craziest, half-strung, far-flung plans, perhaps wanting something is better than actually having it.

 

Democracy Manifest – C. Palmer

 

For example, the above masterpiece, Democracy Manifest (Oil on Bonfire, 2013-2017) undercut the bar stool notion that each Australian has, that, given the opportunity, you’d be able to roll into parliament and sort it out, stocking the new political party with whoever shared the bar with you at that moment.

The ex-footy player, the bloke who’s good with an engine, the shrill xenophobic barmaid. The solitary foreign-looking guy, you didn’t want to exclude because you didn’t want to seem racist. Real Australians.

Through Palmer’s work, we know that to be a fallacy, an ideal as perishable as the dwindling contents of the glass that bore it.

 

Frankly, I believe Clive Palmer is a man whose artistic talents are as wide as Australia itself. He’s our own modern-day Down Under Da Vinci.

 

He’s also tackled something else that is close to our hearts – or more accurately put, that stops ours from working: our national addiction to food. As it stands (or indeed sits with labored breathing), Australia is in the upper echelons of per capita obesity figures worldwide. The ethos behind the statistic is that we love food, and none more so than Clive Palmer.

He’s a man of foolish lazy impulse, as we all are. However, he raises the issue in a subtle way. Not through criticism, but rather as a bent ode to addiction, acting as a mirror. His words are as beautiful as the food is delicious, but his poetry holds a deep subtextual message: dessert for breakfast is not the solution.

This is evidenced in the following stanza, where he sexualizes a lamington, describing the curves as he would a lover, charting the foolish possibilities of having her pass through his lips one more time before she has to go to work. He’s hopeless in her grasp. He wants her. We all want her.

 

 

The enduring quality of Clive’s work is that he’s deep in a shallow way. He has that indefinable knack of manipulating our vision, exposing us to the deeper unseen side of our prosaic existence. The enduring lesson from today’s lecture is: the next time he speaks, listen to what he’s saying, not what you think he’s saying.

 

 

Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson lives in regional NSW working by day in an accounting firm, and by night lives and breathes being a food and wine snob. He hopes to one day be a food critic or at the very least, meet Maggie Beer.

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