A bottle on the shore doesn’t have to hold a rolled up message inside it to tell a story — not when Julian Meagher is there to pluck it from a watery grave of obscurity. The Australian artist has been working with the discarded empties for a new set of paintings after bumping into a scuba diver who had been salvaging them from the foreshore of Sydney harbour. The “longnecks” as they are colloquially known, have been languishing beneath the waves for generations after being thrown there by beach-side revellers in days of yore, but now rescued and brought back into the light they have prompted Meagher to embark on an exploration of masculinity in a historical context.
Taking it’s name from the work of Charles Bukowski, Drinking With the Other Sun is a collection that, like Bukowski, flits between sensitivity and machismo, fragility and brawling strength. Meagher’s bottles, sourced from the sea but also junk shops and markets, stretch back to the days of the British Empire and the pint measurement. The vessels, alluding to a cultural history of alcoholism, are delicately rendered, often balanced precariously lip to lip and vulnerable to the slightest tremor or breath of wind, while also suggesting the shape of hourglasses and the passing of time. Paired with the still lifes are a series of portraits of the artist’s friends and relatives (and Meagher himself), seen through a prism of history and presented in period costume, drawing a direct link between past and present. The collection is on show at Olsen Irwin in Sydney until 10 May.