Today, Clive Palmer announced that his political aspirations were dead. But, if we gaze deeper at his abhorrent behaviour, the artist shines through.
If I have one complaint about this country, it’s that we 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. Which brings directly me to Clive Palmer, a man whose artistic talents are as wide as he himself; a man who, for my money, should go straight to the pool room, nationwide.
It wouldn’t be remiss to hang laurel on his alpine scalp and label him appropriately, for he is our own modern-day Down Under Da Vinci. This morning, Clive has announced that he will not contest Western Australia’s state election in March, bringing to mind the words of the other Da Vinci, who once noted that “art is never finished, only abandoned”.
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. Unlike the prosaic medium Leonardo used, Clive is his work, and we’re his gallery; he’s a living, breathing mosaic of artistic expression. Sadly, like all great artists of his time, his exit was a quiet one, as he delivered the news to a room mostly populated by empty chairs.
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. However, what he achieved was something greater, as he proved to the nation that what we value (money, democratic elections, journalistic integrity, political secularity) were merely illusions, and could be shattered as thus.
Just as Andy Warhol recognised 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 masked hubris and displayed 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 plastic 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 legitimised by the narrowness of court dates and news crews.
— 7 News Melbourne (@7NewsMelbourne) May 10, 2017
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 demonising the once-famous who appear in court, and presuming guilt over innocence, are we in fact guilty ourselves?
Clive Palmer also appears to be using some kind of oxygen mask or breathing machine. https://t.co/12DsEvmxZM
— Sarah Elks (@sarahelks) May 10, 2017
As a country, we have a long-standing history of this. The sunburnt schadenfreude of gleefully chasing someone notable down the street en route to a 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 accoutrements? Is he saying that our continued assumption of guilt will in turn birth yet more stupidity from those facing charges?
Clive Palmer looks like shit
— Commander in Chief (@iamshaunbailey) May 10, 2017
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. The colour spectrum of 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 – ergo, modesty is our greatest export.
For example, the above masterpiece, Democracy Manifest (Oil on Bonfire, 2013-2017) undercut the bar stool notion that each Australian has, emboldened by the ambrosia of Carlton United Brewery, 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 current moment.
The ex-footy player, the bloke who’s good with an engine, the shrill xenophobic barmaid. The solitary foreign-looking guy, because he happened to catch eye-contact with you mid-sentence. Real Australians. Short on political nous, but long on local know-how; jars raised, and a chorus of support washes over the wall of Toongabbie RSL.
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.
Does Palmer’s breathing apparatus reference Christopher Skase’s wheelchair and oxygen mask accoutrements? Is he saying our continued assumption of guilt will birth yet more stupidity from those facing charges?
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 laboured 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. Hung, prostrate, the vivacity of the fridge light highlighting our inability to refuse. 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 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 sexualises a lamington, describing the curves as he would a lover he met in the darkness of hours past, 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.
I love lamingtons
In the morning
I love the coconut
I want you
— Clive Palmer (@CliveFPalmer) February 28, 2017
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.
You change the world when you change your mind
— Clive Palmer (@CliveFPalmer) April 20, 2017