Hotel Tiepolo: Motel Monet
The Banquet of Cleopatra looms over the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection—a
cultural leviathan in the far-flung Antipodes. As a schoolboy, I used to stare at its detailed
immensity, my head exploding with the complexities of art. Venetian Giambattista Tiepolo’s
masterpiece, completed in 1744, contemporises the moment where lust and daring
changed the course of history.
Tiepolo, famous for his ceiling frescos, was the master of the heavenly Baroque vision.
Angels and their halos beam out from the Claudian cloudscape, set in the ceilings of the
great palaces of Europe. Clustering of man and beast around the perimeter exaggerate the
drama, focusing our view to the Divine. It is important to understand that the history of art
is not littered with a series of Eureka moments—it is a rich layering of cultural history and
artists’ marks that have evolved our way of seeing.
Uniqueness does not come from a bolt of aesthetic lightning—rather, it is derived from
artists and their posthumous collaboration with their forefathers. Christopher Horder’s
monumental Hotel Tiepolo: Motel Monet, draws on the compositional tension Tiepolo so
directly applied to the ceilings. Horder’s clustering of marks revolve around his stretched
linen—mirroring the significant moments of the extraordinary Venetian. Dark stains in ink
bloom from the alchemy of water and the sun’s UV rays. Horder creates marks that are
layered over swathes of watercolour that ebb and flow like the strata of sandstone rock—
abstract in form only—not thematic intent.
The contemporary Horder is still directing us skyward—we are looking through the
stained glass windows to the enormity of the universe above. The artist turns up the dial
of abstraction and grandeur—both through the physical scale and the immediacy of his
methodology. It is the role of the artist to take it further. Horder, unshackled from artistic
conventions, picks like a raptor at the moments of modernist practice for his own aesthetic
requirements. Yet, he remains informed by the Impressionist godfather, Claude Monet.
The artist is well known for his controlled automation. He makes us feel what he feels—that
moment of walking around the romantic, yet rambling garden of a tired motel off Highway
One—the detritus of a seventies’ architectural time capsule. He is living a verse from
the gothic songbook of Nick Cave, but, as the sun hits his back in the strangely beautiful
garden, the artist is moved by the very same feeling—that moment of the brinkmanship of
Cleopatra and Antony all those years ago. At that time, Horder is reminded that our rational
contemporary society is still searching for meaning, and probably always will.