Patrick Doherty | Disappointing

26.10.11 to 19.11.11


Patrick Doherty: End of Days


There could be a logical explanation for the impulse behind Patrick Doherty’s inscribed mayhem. Although this is most likely a flight of fancy, it could well be that he has ingested, consciously or unconsciously, hallucinogens in the form of ergot fungi, which grows on rye and, once consumed in the form of bread, leads to a condition known as ergotism.


Ergot fungi is often blamed for that mass act of grisly performance art, the Salem witchcraft trials in 1692. But the fungus, without doubt, has a far longer history, one that may explain the many stories of witchcraft and sorcery throughout the ages. The reason is simple; it contains potent pharmacologic agents, one of which is isoergine (lysergic acid amide), which has 10 percent of the potency of lysergic acid diethylamide – D-LSD.


This is but one explanation for the ferocious narratives played out on Doherty’s surfaces. All of the hallmarks are there; the visions, the obsessiveness. He draws as if enacting an exorcism, feverishly expelling night terrors, succubi, imps and phantasms. Rat-like creatures gnaw at a Siamese-twinned King and Queen who clutches the disembodied head of a deposed Royal rival; the moon waxes complete with jagged, rending Piranha teeth; a town burns in ritual cleansing while a ragged grave-digger toils.


Elsewhere two pregnant witches do battle while deformed, leprous angels pay witness. In his major work – featured in the 2007 Primavera exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art – an apocalyptic religious war has broken out as Dog Soldiers bearing Crusader crosses forge murky waters, rifles raised as the Mekong courses through Jerusalem.  And utter pandemonium breaks out, Zombies clawing from the ground in a re-enactment of the Last Judgment and emaciated slaves carry wrapped, plague-ridden corpses. St. Sebastian, mortally wounded, looks on as another contemplates his bloodied intestines. Elsewhere, suitably it would seem, he evokes the powers of Silenus – the God of Drunkenness, while the spirit of Hieronymus Bosch, no doubt another imbiber of ergot fungi, floats throughout the gallery.


Doherty would have been well placed as some kind of medieval street artist, but in other respects he could not be more contemporary. Like a number of other contemporary Australian artists (such as Peter Daverington, Stormie Mills and Rhys Lee), Doherty owes much to the street.


He was born in 1981 in Perth. “At primary school, at high school, it was the only thing I was ever good at”, he told writer Robert Crook. “For me the graffiti scene was a social thing, a way of hanging out with friends. It wasn’t an end in itself for me. I always wanted a degree in art and to be ‘an artist’.”


Accordingly, from the street scene he evolved to graduate with a Highly Commended award from Curtin University. But Doherty has retained the urgency of graffiti, seamlessly melding the rapid-fire wall work of Banksy and D*Face with nods to Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Otto Dix while resurrecting the monks illuminating Holy Scripture in candle-lit cells and capturing the End of Days sensibility of the here and now as we await The Rapture.


– Ashley Crawford October 2011