During the 1960s, Andrews' major paintings shared a common theme - social gatherings, the party. Best known are The colony room 1962 (private collection, London), The deer park 1962 (Tate Gallery, London), All night long 1963-64 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne), and Good and bad at games 1964-68.
When asked in 1969 about his predilection for painting parties, Andrews replied: 'The reason, I think, is that, at parties, people are doing nothing except behaving themselves, so that you can get to see what they're really up to'.1 Of Good and bad at games, he wrote:
I was thinking about the variable effect a number of people (initially a group of ten) had on each other. the chosen conventional occasion was a party at which people noticeably behave in one way or another. This might range from, or change gradually from, stage fright to indifference or boredom, or someone's composure or agitation might remain almost unchanged. At any rate I was trying for a definition of how these fluctuations of self-consciousness showed.2
The attenuated figures in Good and bad at games were prompted by a photograph of a group of sculptures by Alberto Giacometti (1901-66) that appeared on an invitation card for a private viewing of the Giacometti retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1965. Television images also seem to have been important. In notes and sketches which Andrews made while he was working on Good and bad at games, he reminded himself, 'use elongated figures at bottom front of picture as on T.V. screen', and mentions 'this sidelong T.V. distorted look (makes you feel you are in amongst them)'. Another notation refers to 'a doughy, mutable, adaptable form. Man as the idea he has of himself; the shapes to suggest this and the way circumstances make him change this'.3 There was a correspondence in the artist's mind between the metaphoric clichés such as someone 'dissolving into tears', somebody 'feeling deflated', somebody 'feeling buoyant' or 'lightheaded', and the swelling and dwindling of the figures from canvas to canvas. The desire to record 'fluctuations of self-consciousness' also suggested a sequence, and initially Andrews thought that the theme might well run to seven or eight pictures.
The setting of the party, a photograph of a lit-up luxury hotel (the artist thought it might have been on the Costa Esmeralda in Spain), was screenprinted in brown ink onto each canvas by a commercial printer. The artist tore ragged strips of paper and stuck them in a row across the image, using varnish. He then removed the torn templates, leaving a halo-like effect of varnish around the shapes, and washed off the areas of silkscreen ink within the shapes. Within these ragged areas, exploiting their chance shapes, Andrews painted a gallery of characters that were his friends. He made a number of studies from life for the purpose. The party-goers include the artist Victor Willing (a little to the right of centre in each picture and consistently identified by a patterned shirt). To the left of Victor Willing in the first canvas is Willing's father-in-law, José Rego, followed (continuing left) by Paula Rego, Willing's wife, then by the painter Craigie Aitchison. At the left-hand edge June Keeley, the artist's future wife, is led in by Maria Rego, Willing's mother-in-law. Beside Victor Willing on the right is Andrews himself, followed by the diminutive figures of his aunt, his mother and the bust-like silhouette of his brother. Many of the characters can be traced in their transformations through the succeeding scenes; Victor Willing grows steadily throughout, his wife Paula and June Keeley remain constant, and the artist himself disappears altogether.
The title was chosen after the work was completed and alludes to a book popular at the time, Games People Play by Eric Berne, first published in London in 1966.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 pp.334.
- Philip Oakes, 'One-Man Party', The Sunday Times, 12 October 1969, p.58.
- Letter from Michael Andrews to Sir John Rothenstein, of 17 February 1973, quoted in John Rothenstein, Modern English Painters, vol. III, Hennell to Hockney, London and Sydney: Macdonald & Co., 1984, p.192.
- Twelve sheets with notations relating to Good and bad at games were acquired with the painting and are now in the Archive Collection, Australian National Gallery.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010