Paul McDermott's exhibition, 'The Dark Garden', at M16 Artspace, in Griffith. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Each armed with a torch, a select group including Canberra School of Art students explored Paul McDermott's darkened art exhibition on Thursday, spotlighting his work as if it were creatures scurrying in the undergrowth.
A bearded McDermott gave an expansive talk at the M16 Artspace in Griffith, returning to his former home town for his first exhibition in the national capital since graduating from the School of Art three decades ago.
McDermott has tried his best to block out Canberra's powerful light in the airy space of M16 to create a darkened dreamscape where people walk through velvet curtains into the myths, fairytales, childhood memories and career artefacts that inform his exhibition, The Dark Garden.
Before ... ex-Good News Week host Paul McDermott.
He has created a world that is both rotting and fertile, grotesque and beautiful, painting animals, plants, insects in an unsettling milieu, all displayed against a threatening soundscape.
There are also religious images (he's a Catholic - ''lapsed, slightly, ladies and gentlemen''), flotsam and jetsam collected in glass boxes like scientific specimens, silhouettes of polar bears, gunmen and teardrops that were made from the rubber floor of the studio where his show Good News Week was filmed; all images that contribute to his netherworld.
He says if you look closely, the eyes of the animals in his paintings are camera lenses, saying he realised he had ''spent most of my life staring into a camera lens'', assuming people were watching on the other side, but actually just looking into a void.
After ... Paul McDermott speaks to ANU school of Art students at his exhibtion, 'The Dark Garden', at M16 Artspace in Griffith. Photo: Rohan Thomson
McDermott has also recreated a little of the ''damp, mouldy, horror show'' studio in which he works, including empty bottles of red wine, pallets of paint in takeaway containers and an old white shirt from Good News Week that became a painting rag.
He said he had always created art, but only recently decided to share it. He still had opportunities in television, but was gloomy about its future in Australia, saying it had been dumbed down and outstripped by quality productions made overseas.
''I don't really like television in Australia at the moment. I think it's pretty shit,'' he said.
''Television used to be a good medium. Now it's a big widescreen billboard in the middle of the lounge room that just screams products at you. It's a little bit grotesque.''
He also said he felt like ''a totally alien creature'' at Marist College, but right at home at the School of Art, a ''great melting pot of humanity'' and a ''furnace of ideas''.
His final year work, a major installation, was ''still the best thing I've ever done in my life''.
''I actually found a place absolutely sympathetic with everything I had experienced in life,'' he said.
■ The Dark Garden is on show in Canberra until Sunday.