"Alasdair Macintyre has turned the mega rock stars U2 into 13-centimetre figures as part of a diorama in which the Edge - complete with teeny-weeny beanie - waters Puppy's nose. So is calling the work and his new solo show after U2's Elevation Macintyre's little joke?"
HONEY, he's shrunk the icons. He's reduced Jeff Koons's giant floral Puppy to the size of a terrier and morphed the art critic Robert Hughes into a miniature Jabba the Hutt.
The indignity does not stop with the art world. Alasdair Macintyre has turned the mega rock stars U2 into 13-centimetre figures as part of a diorama in which the Edge - complete with teeny-weeny beanie - waters Puppy's nose. So is calling the work and his new solo show after U2's Elevation Macintyre's little joke?
Not entirely, says the Brisbane-based artist. It is as much homage as spoof, sparked in part by seeing the band in concert last year.
"It was sublime. Occasionally in life I had what I call God moments," Macintyre says. "The previous time I felt it was at the Bill Viola [The Passions] exhibition at the National Gallery … Of course, it's a different sort of God moment when you've got 40,000 people around you."
It is high praise for a gig, but it has provided Macintyre with sufficient inspiration to create all the dioramas in his new exhibition around the titles of U2 songs - from Staring at the Sun, to (Stay), Faraway So Close and The Pursuit of Happiness. "I like doing pieces with pop culture figures in them. I wanted to do something with Bono," he says.
And then he saw a film in which Koons was discussing Puppy - the work in which some jester seeded a cannabis plant when it was created outside the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, a few years ago - and decided to bring the icons of the art and pop world together. It is a small world after all for Macintyre.
"Koons was talking about how Puppy communicates love, in that smooth way he talks. And in the doco he climbed a ladder inside Puppy and said, 'Now I'm ascending into the sacred heart of Jesus' … I take his patter with a grain of salt. But I love his work."
Macintyre says he admires Hughes, too. Whether Hughes would appreciate being turned into the slug-like crime boss from Star Wars in the work Hands that Built America is hard to know. It is not the first time Macintyre has shrunk the stentorian critic to less than life-size. Hughes appeared about to impale an artist with an oversized pen in an earlier diorama.
"I like playing with the whole art world situation, where we have these prominent figures," he says.
For Macintyre these towering figures include the artist Ian Fairweather, who lived for years on Bribie Island, not far from the younger artist's home. In (Stay), Faraway So Close, he has depicted Fairweather emerging from a forest of paintbrushes.
"I made a pilgrimage there," Macintyre says. "Some titles fit perfectly. Bribie Island is so close, it's only about 40 minutes away from where I live. Fairweather is so far away from me but you can feel him there."
Macintyre's work is witty and playful, yet there is an engagement with darker aspects of contemporary events, including the Iraq war, in works such as Staring at the Sun, in which a naked soldier raises his arms in surrender.
"I dip into that a bit and then I get kind of depressed and do something else," he says.
"I'll make a piece and want to put it away and have a lie down. Other times I'll fall on the floor laughing."
But all his work is informed by the Catholic faith in which he was raised and which he has retained. He volunteers that his greatest inspirations are three JCs, the others the American artist Joseph Cornell and the mythology professor Joseph Campbell, whose work influenced the Star Wars director George Lucas.
"The three of them combined, that's my work. I think I'm lucky that I was brought up in any kind of faith. It could have been Buddhism, it could have been Islam. I think it just gives you an extra dimension … The history of art, particularly pre-Renaissance, is intertwined with the history of the Catholic Church. When people were illiterate and they couldn't read the Bible they'd look up [in church] and there were visual versions of the Bible."
If he has an eye on the transcendent, he also has an eye for the fake. Hence his best-known work, The Art Park, in which he corralled the art world's sacred sites, among them Van Gogh's Yellow House, Monet's Japanese Bridge and Grant Wood's American Gothic house in a miniature artistic theme park. The work, for which he was short-listed for the 2005 National Sculpture Prize, was inspired by a trip to Movie World on the Gold Coast.
"I got the idea that for someone like myself who couldn't really afford to travel around the world to see art destinations to bring them all in one place, and each would be a fabrication … I pretty much made a list of where I would go if I could."
Macintyre, 36, who studied at the Australian Catholic University and Queensland College of Art, began working with models as a child, including the Star Wars toys he collected. He still does. His mini Bono was created from a Hans Solo toy. Today he works with a mix of existing models and created figures.
"If something pre-exists I'll use it and make a mould and cast it … then I'll dismember the thing I've cast and remodel it into the position I want," he says. "I am still playing with my toys today; I'm just doing it in a more informed way."
Alasdair Macintyre's Elevation is at Sullivan+Strumpf, Gurner Street, Paddington, from August 28.
Here's a photo of Macintyre's Elevation. It's so cute..!! I remember seeing Puppy when I was very young and I loved it so to see a miniature version with U2 is fantastic!