Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Year's Resolution

I have learned not to make promises. I think of myself as a woman whose word is good but it makes me uncomfortable to be held to it too often. Which is to say I am someone who likes to keep her options open. I like to be able to embrace sudden change without having to give much of a toss about the expectations of others.
I don't make seasonal resolutions. No-one who knows me well would ever say I'm indecisive or fickle. It's just that I'm not too keen on self-imposed strictures, even benignly intentioned ones.
This New Year is a little different. I've decided that, from now on, I'm not going to waste any more time when it comes to my work. Over the past few years, so many weeks and months have disappeared into the sinkhole of prolonged, self-destructive depression that I'm almost too ashamed to look at a calendar.
Now I'm healthier, more loved, and better supported than at any other time in my life. When it comes to my art – or, rather, this passionate effort to create a meaningful body of work – as well as the rest of my life, I want to make every minute count.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Process Driven

I sold a study of one of my early enamel on board works, Wham!. The study was quite large and also in enamel and it prompted me to review my old process of developing a work from a few handwritten notes, Polaroid self-portraits, detailed, annotated sketches, and a painted, full colour study. Compared to the way I work now, it was fussy, long-winded, and not a little obsessive-compulsive – as if every element of it was designed to emphasize the technical and sterilise any possible emotional involvement. I don't miss it a bit.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Procrastinating

The problem with taking even a little time off is that it's so damn hard to get back into the unrelenting daily grind of working again.
I've enjoyed being a slacker a little too much. Just the thought of getting up early tomorrow morning to begin another large enamel on board painting – another overdue commission, this time from a British client, that'll absorb my every waking moment for the next five or six weeks – is enough to have me making up lame excuses to extend my holiday until the end of the year. The trouble is, no-one else is going to do the work if I don't.
As for excuses, I ran out of good ones years ago.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Cutting Myself Some Slack

I haven't been as disciplined as usual about updating this blog but then for the past week I haven't been as disciplined as usual in nearly every aspect of my life.
I've needed a break. I've been going to bed early and getting up late. I've been having long lunches at out-of-the-way places with my boyfriend and spending hours making crazy love with him
outside, in the warm sun, on over-sized Indonesian cushions scattered across my verandah. I have sent hand-painted Christmas cards. I've entertained one or two old friends. I have caught up with some reading. I have even watched TV.
Art hasn't been ignored but it hasn't been allowed to dominate the way it usually does. After ten years, I have finally understood that 'having a life' can be an art in itself.
My work and life are the better for it.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sonic Youth

When I was a child, I played the violin. My teacher was a young prodigy, just a few years older than me. She gave lessons in the living room of her parent's house. I remember only fragments now: dark wood floors with eastern rugs, an exquisite piano, an array of wind instruments. I loved hearing the richness of each note as my playing improved. I played duets with my teacher. My part was simple: long, sustained, tremulous notes beneath her fast, fluid melodies. I loved it.
My lessons ended abruptly when my teacher's mother died. I didn't see her, or play my violin, again. Later, after my parent's divorce, the instrument was sold.
I lived with my father after the divorce. We didn't have much money. He bought me a tin whistle and a book of traditional Irish jigs. I taught myself to sight-read them by reading the instructions in the front of the music book. I practiced the more complex melodies. Each was faster and prettier than the last. The whistle and the book were lost in one of our many house moves.
When I was 15, I moved in with my mother. I began learning the piano. I didn't like the teachers much, or their choice of music, but I practised and any time I felt low or angry or bored, I played. I started with scales, to see how fast and precise I could be, or if I could express emotion through the way I played them. The sheet music I was given sounded like versions of scales. It didn't really touch my heart. I ended up experimenting with sounds and figuring out how to play songs I knew from the radio. I taught myself to sing in tune by singing the notes as I played. I don't remember why I stopped. Maybe I felt it was going nowhere.
At university, where I majored in art, I played around with a lot of different media. I became interested in sound as an art experience. I was going to a lot of D.I.Y. trance, tribal, Goa-influenced, industrial raves. I listened to '80s hip hop – melodic rappers like Slick Rick and Dougie Fresh, and raw, percussive beats, like L.L. Cool J.'s Rock The Bells.
I was fascinated by how sounds could elicit responses and emotions in ways different to images and words. If I closed my eyes, sound inspired patterns and colour in my mind. I convinced the head of the music department to let me take the electronic music elective. The classroom was full of basic computers, each with a keyboard. Finished pieces were recorded onto VHS videotape, for better quality sound. My compositions were percussive and industrial, centred around a rhythm abstracted from a heartbeat. I also used these compositions as part of my Visual Arts course.
In a group exhibition at the university, I built a make-shift box that was black inside and out. The listener had to step within it to reach a pair of headphones. They experienced the music in darkness, their senses isolated so that they weren't distracted by sight, touch, movement or changing smell.
Now that my interest in using different media has revived, I want to explore all the disparate strands of those early experiments. I thought of doing music before I committed to art but it required equipment and money I didn't have. My boyfriend is coming around tomorrow to show me how to use the Apple's GarageBand application on my laptop. I can't help but be excited that I might be able to return to some of the concepts I laid aside. As I become more adept with media beyond the surface of paper, canvas, and board, I am more and more inspired.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Meaning(less)

Along with the relief of having finished a relatively large piece using a medium as allergenic (at the very least) as enamel, I now have a little time to do another work on paper. It's almost like a reward.
Over the past year, I have done only a very few works on paper using pencil, ink, watercolours and elements of collage but they have been among the most intimate and meaningful of all my output. They're an opportunity to let my imagination flow without any of the strictures that, in my hard-edged work, begins with the preliminary sketches, colour plans, and photographs and continues through the drawing of a detailed image onto carefully crafted timber board and the rigorous, incremental process of applying segments of shiny coloured vinyl and multiple coats of enamel, all precisely outlined in more enamel.
It's little wonder the works on paper have disconcerted several of my collectors and gallerists, although they've been appreciated by critics. They're anything but accessible. Most are complex allegories derived from my basest fears and fantasies.
I'm not going to waste too much time trying to figure out what they'e really about. It'll either become apparent as I paint more of them – or it won't.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Life's A Beach

I have always wanted to live near the ocean.
As a child, I spent every holiday at the beach. It took a day or more to drive there. My brother and I didn't have boards, so we bodysurfed and swam. We were always in the water, no matter how cold it was.
Later, when I learned to drive, the first thing I did was take off to the beach. I loved to experience the surf pounding the shore, to imagine the shells, rocks and coral as they were crushed into fine grains of sand by the ocean swell. The long, relentless process makes the frenetic, land-bound striving of short-lived humans seem even more futile.
Living near the sea has changed me. I'm healthier. My skin is tanned and the whites of my eyes are clearer. I walk a little looser. But it hasn't caused me to slow down, the way it does with many people. If anything it makes me even more aware of the passage of time. It makes me want to embrace each day more, to suck each breath in harder, to live as much life as I can.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Out Of The Void

The enamel painting I've been working on is finished. Now I can focus on ideas for a new body of work.
My mind is cluttered with stray thoughts and half-formed images. I need to write and sketch: shape concepts, experiment with them, see flaws. I spend hours browsing books, magazines, and the web to fill in gaps in my knowledge and understanding of themes I want to use. Often I'll come across a fragment of an idea in one place that ties in with another from somewhere else.
I am always searching. The more I search, the more ideas I have. When I am close to sleep, I let my mind wander. If something seems interesting, I scribble it down in a notebook. Sometimes it's nothing, sometimes it's the complete resolution of a thought I've been struggling with.
When I am painting in watercolour, I sketch a very basic composition. I empty my mind and let my subconscious run onto the paper through my hand. All the restless, insubstantial visions that have collected within my psyche over many years begin to seep out and mingle with the more conscious ideas I have evolved and an image begins to form.
How many times does an artist get asked, "Where do you get your ideas from?". The question irks me. It implies that the creative mind relies solely on inspiration or random input – as if ideas are available without effort. In other words, it's the wrong question: instead of where, it should be how. The simple answer is: it's a process. It isn't always easy, but it's a hell of a lot more reliable than waiting for an idea to somehow materialise, as if from nothing.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Á La Recherche Du Temps Perdu

I received three cardboard boxes from my mother in the post today. In one was my late aunt's sewing machine, a gift to me from her daughter. The other two contained possessions from my childhood to my mid-twenties – or rather, the possessions that weren't lost or given away as my family moved around. Every item was wrapped in red tissue paper, and sprinkled with heart- and star-shaped sequins. As I opened each parcel, sequins spilled onto the floor.
I've laid everything out on my kitchen bench. There's a miniature porcelain tea set that I adored as a child. I think my grandparents gave it to me. Each piece has a small bunch of cornflowers painted on it, and is trimmed with a thin line of silver. There are two beautiful Japanese bowls – one for rice, one for tea – moulded in thick grainy clay and painted with a dull Indian blue glaze. They were a gift from my then closest friend, who brought them back from Japan. A year later we ran away to Osaka together. She was 18. I was a year younger.
There are things I vaguely remember collecting – and some I don't remember at all: a small, wooden, heart shaped table, in pieces; a tin of heart shaped cookie cutters; a multi-coloured collapsible medicine cup from my retro phase; an empty bottle of essential oil called Wood and a small, empty vial of jasmine oil (I used to mix herbs and essences and heat them in my first studio to try to disguise the smell of enamel). There are five wooden egg cups, dyed red, and five very fine shot glasses in blue.
Finally, there's a makeshift cardboard folder containing the English papers I wrote in high school, when I was 16. The essays and short stories are all bleak and a little over-influenced by Franz Kafka and Margaret Atwood. Death, love, sex and feminism are recurrent, if not entirely coherent, themes. Everything was pretty much a self-portrait, even when it wasn't meant to be.
It was intriguing but discomforting to recognise the seeds of my art in these early writings. I was a very troubled teenager but even now, I like the person I was then – the 'me' before I tried to change myself for other people, before I consciously dumbed myself down and hid behind an ingratiating façade. I was hurt, confused, and obviously very isolated from my 'peers' – and yet I was myself.
In some ways, now, I feel more like the person I was at 16 than the person I was at 26. Except I don't feel alone. And I am happy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Beginning Of The End

I am almost finished, in more ways than one. I am painting the long, precise outlines that are the final stage of many of my enamel works. It feels like a penance for a sin I didn't commit.
I am counting down the hours until this painting is done. I am also counting down the paintings themselves. I have only three more commissions in enamel to complete, then I am done with the medium for good. I have inhaled litres of its toxic fumes over the past ten years. When I was younger and more troubled, I didn't really care if it killed me. Now I do.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Wedding Gift

I'm so tired at the moment. An old back injury has been irritated by painting at an awkward angle, leaning over the wide board. It's yet another of the downsides of my hard-edged, enamel work – and the tedious need for precision of line and surface smoothness. I'm sore and irritable. I have a lot of headaches. The enamel has burned a small ulcer inside my nose that bleeds all the time.
This will be one of my last enamel paintings. I can't do it anymore.
Still, I have to get it finished. I turn the music up loud, driving my assistant crazy as she tries to do accounts and paperwork. I think about the couple who have commissioned this work. They are getting married in January and my painting is their wedding gift to each other. It blows me away me to know that what they've chosen to celebrate their love is something I've created.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Lino Cut (And Run)

I've been lying low for a a few months, getting to grips with not only several, long-delayed commissions but also the first, tentative ideas for a new series of large, acrylic paintings I hope to exhibit at the end of next year. I haven't done any press since my last show, at Melbourne Art Rooms, in July. Back then, I seemed to come across my words and pictures everywhere – from the financial and cultural sections of metropolitan newspapers and the gossip columns of color weekend supplements to the flimsy, recycled pages of obscure art 'zines – and although a couple of magazine articles about me have appeared since then, I've welcomed the brief spell of anonymity.
On Monday, the cooler-than-thou Australian and New Zealand 'design and lifestyle' magazine, Lino, will publish a four or five page profile of me, featuring some of my new watercolours, my old enamels on board (and canvas), my sketches and photographic studies.
As usual, I probably won't look at it. My assistant will buy copies for my gallerists, my literary agent, and my best clients, and she'll file two copies in an archive box, along with all my other press.
It's not that I don't enjoy the attention. I love attention. Besides,
Lino has one of the most gifted editorial creative directors in the country, Rex Turnbull, and I know he has designed a fantastic-looking piece. It's just that I'm not the person they're writing about anymore. I hardly ever am. I've already moved on.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Twisted Knickers

I have a panty fetish – at least when it comes to art. A glimpse of panties in an image can be, at once, innocent, erotic and unsettling, and it turns the viewer into an unwary (and sometimes unwilling) voyeur. The colour of panties in my early paintings was meant to be symbolic. They were usually white or pink. Plain, unpatterned pink was, for me, a sexual hint.
I like lingerie, but I am - surprise, surprise! - particular about what I wear. Every now and then, I see something I really like. My first pair of pink panties were by Calvin Klein: a semi sheer bikini in a soft metallic hue. I bought the matching bra as well. Both have featured in the polaroid self-portraits I shot as studies for my paintings. Then I found some knickers in finely netted hot pink with orange elastic trim. I wore them in the studies for my
Lake Eyre paintings.
My boyfriend burst out laughing the first time I undressed in front of him, exposing those same pink knickers. Another woman might have been offended but it made me love him even more. It meant he understood – the symbolism, the joke, the innuendo, the irony, the protest, the trick. He got it all, in an instant.
He still loves seeing me in my pink panties but I know he loves my mind a lot more.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Seasonal Jeer

The official Australian summer holidays have yet to begin, but it's already tourist season here on Barrenjoey Peninsula. BMWs, Mercedes, Porsches, and even the odd Bentley jam the narrow stretch of coastal road known to locals as 'the bends'. The beachside population has increased steadily for about a month, but in another couple of weeks, it will explode. 'Outsiders' will swarm the cafés, squabble over parking spots, and stand in the middle of the sidewalks having loud conversations on their mobile phones: assets and real estate are popular topics.
The whole area loses its cool, laidback air.
Some of the outsiders own holiday homes here. Others (including most of the Australian media moguls and movies stars you've ever heard of, along with their Hollywood celebrity pals) rent them for tens of thousands of dollars a week. The locals surf at dawn to avoid the crowds, or head north – far north, to Indonesia or Hawaii – to better, northern winter waves. At night, I hear people having drinks on their verandahs, glasses clinking; someone is always asking where the lighter is for the barbie.
My assistant goes to the village to shop for me. I can't deal with it. In the mornings, she brings coffee. From now until the end of January, the queue for take-aways
at my favorite café runs out the door and it take ten minutes, minimum, to be served. If I have to shop for food myself, I go to a supermarket five miles away, late at night, when there are fewer people around. Unfortunately, for the next couple of months, nowhere is really quiet.
You can spot the outsiders at a glance They look, dress and even move differently to the locals. They're so tightly wrapped they make me look relaxed.
Their skin's pasty or dyed orange with spray-on tan. Most sport nautically themed resort-wear. White pants are popular, as are navy and white striped matelot tops, leather slip-on yachting shoes, wide-brimmed straw hats and high-heeled espadrilles. Middle-aged party women over-do the rich and glamorous look. They shop for groceries in full make-up and stilettos. It impresses no-one. A lot of locals around here are rich – or, at least, reasonably well-off – and natural beauty is common.
Still I wonder, why is that when people want to be somewhere different, even be someone different, they do everything the same way they always do?
Whatever. I just can't wait until the season's over.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Escape Artist

I love my new-found home on the water – and I am determined to settle here for a couple of years – but I find myself longing to explore the rest of the world. I've traveled to a lot of places within Australia but other than a brief sojourn in Japan, in Tokyo and Osaka, I have yet to spend much time anywhere else.
When I was five, I dreamed of Paris. I loved the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and I thought Paris would be like his paintings and prints brought to life. During my teens I read the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell and The Naked Lunch by Wiliam S. Burroughs then dreamed of Morocco and further east, Egypt and the shores of the Red Sea.
I never went. As an adult, I didn't want to wander aimlessly. I wanted to focus on making art and to a large extent, to make the art I wanted to then required me to stay in one place. Now I'm a lot more secure, in every sense of the word. I am ready to take some time out to explore
.
I'm hoping to go to the Philippines soon with
my boyfriend. A seaman by trade, he plans to visit a specialised boat builder on Panglao Island, not far from Cebu. South-east Asia has always fascinated me with its complex history, both ancient and colonial, its extremes of poverty and privilege, the contrast between its polluted, crowded cities and the serene natural beauty of its rural areas, not to mention its sordid under-belly of exploitation and violence.
I want to live in Mexico. I've wanted to go there ever since I saw bits of the Day of the Dead celebrations in the'60s 'shock' documentary Mondo Cane. I also want to live in Brazil, in part because any country that has the musician and activist, Gilberto Gil, as its cultural minister has to be somewhere special. There was a brief article about him in The Guardian newspaper, in which he talks of his belief that poverty can be challenged if ideas are shared for free. He has put his money where his mouth is and released a number of his own songs under a Creative Commons Sampling License. I can't imagine an elected official – or any kind of government figure – in Australia or the USA having a CV like his.
I could write thousands of words about all the places I want to visit and explore but right now, I have to get back to painting – and exploring inside my head.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Dead(line) Zone

My entries here have been sporadic lately because I am pressed by a deadline for a commission. I have had to delay setting up my new studio space and instead, enamel fumes permeate the house as I finish the work in the living room. The persistent lorikeets, hungry for seed, are the only ones not repelled by the acrid smell.
I cannot bear to look at myself in the mirror. My face is disfigured by an angry rash and my eyes are red and bleary-looking. Another week, and I'll be able to regain a semblance of healthy living – as well as a more predictable routine to updating this blog.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ars Longa

My tattos are reminders – personal symbols and inscriptions made permanent so I would never forget. They were also reassurances, promises and dares to myself.
I got my first in 1995. It's a blue band on the index toe of my left foot. It was done by a friend of a friend using a home-made tattoo gun. The skin there is so thin that I could feel it vibrating against my bone. It was the equivalent of a tying a string around my finger.
My second was a year or so later. It's a butterfly design, a reworking of the eliptical shapes making up an atom symbol. It's in the centre of my lower back, where I feel my creative, and sexual, energy. I wanted to somehow mark it, to bring it to the surface, to make it visible on my skin.
I have a blossom on the inner wrist of my right hand. The outline is pink, the shading very soft pink and white. I wanted it to look like it was surfacing from beneath my skin, but sometimes it looks like a burn scar. I positioned it over my veins: a flower in perpetual bloom, growing from the blood that flows to my drawing hand.
My last is on the upper inside of my left arm. It reads:
A fronte praecimitium

A tergo lupi

Alis volat propriis
(In front is a precipice

behind are wolves.

She flies on her own wings).
It was my promise to myself about art, about pressing on, about stepping into the unknown – or off the cliff. I had it done when I decided to pursue art as my life and everyone was saying it would never work.
If I could have them removed flawlessly today, I probably would. I have enough belief in myself that I don't need marks on my skin as mantras. It's strange to look at them, and as time goes by they become more unfamiliar to me. They're like scars inflicted on my body by someone I used to be.
As the curator and art consultant, John Buckley, who's about 65, once said to me, "I never understood why people get tattoos. They are permanent, and one's personality is not. I think I've been about seven quite different people so far".

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Right Place

My house is built atop three-metre-high, narrow steel poles sunk into a concrete slab. The slab is wide, dry, fully covered, and airy, ideal for an open-air studio. I'm planning to surround it with temporary walls using a product called Natureed. It consists of natural reeds paired or tripled together with galvinised wire to create woven panels. The walls will act as a wind-break while still allowing plenty of daylight to filter through. Most importantly, the constant flow of fresh air will dissipate carcinogenic enamel fumes.
There's a laundry room in the centre of the slab where I can store my tins of paint. It has a deep, stainless steel sink in which to wash my brushes and a counter-top on which I can lay them out to dry.
I'm setting up other areas to work inside the house. I want each to be slightly different, so that moving between them is like a physical expression of the different head spaces required for different media. I already use a large coffee table, positioned in front of the daybed in my living room, overlooking the water, where I work on smaller works on paper. For larger works on paper, and painting with acrylics, I am thinking of putting an Indonesian teak dining table near the main entrance. Beneath a sheet of toughened glass, the table-top is decorated by rough-hewn carvings depicting what look like a cross between voodoo rituals and the karma sutra.
As I've written before, this is the first real home I've ever had. Now it's the most practical studio I've ever had as well. It'll be a long while before I think about moving again.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Living In Colour

Colour has a strong effect on me.
Over the years, I've used a lot of different, vivid colours in my paintings but maybe oddly, I find them jarring in my everyday life. My clothes are mostly black or natural hues. My home is furnished with muted ethnic prints, natural wood, and plain industrial looking metal. The brightest colours are on the covers of my books.
In my early work, I used opaque sections of artificial-looking, saccharine, lolly-like pigments. Hot pinks, sky-bright blues, stark white, pure yellows,oranges and lime greens, balanced by large patches of camel, and separated by dark blue or black line-work to retain their clarity. I wanted the paintings to look seductive and instantly appealing, like advertising, enabling the unsettling underlying themes to insinuate themselves into the viewer's subconscious. In retrospect, I'm not sure they always worked that way.
I first became interested in the ideas of colour psychology and symbolism when I was in my late teens. I looked at a lot at advertising and popular culture and examined how specific colours were used to provoke emotional reactions. The most influential reference work was The Art Of Colour by Johannes Itten, who taught colour theory at the Bauhaus. He looked at colour from every perspective – philosophical, religious, psychic, psychological and physical – and urged his students to develop their own palettes.
My own use of colour is an attempt to create an almost metaphysical harmony, as well as a way to tap into sources of physical, emotional and even spiritual energies that sustain me and enable me to stay sane.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

In The Mood

I was happy today. It wasn't the jittery, energetic, hypomanic feeling I used to think of as being 'up' but rather a sense of calm well being. Painting was pleasurable and easy.
I work every day, no matter how I feel but if I'm depressed or tired, painting is hard work.The day becomes long and dull and the paint fumes affect me more easily. Sometimes I become so anxious that I begin to tremble. I've learned to steady my hand by leaning on my outstretched little finger; for larger areas, I keep my wrist still and move my entire arm with each brush stroke. If the tremors are really bad, I breathe out, then make the stroke before I breath in again. It's pretty much the same technique as a marksman uses before triggering a rifle.
I used to work 120 hour weeks for months at a time when I had tight deadlines for exhibitions, prizes or commissions. I don't do that anymore. It's neither sustainable nor healthy. I believe that the difference between art as a vocation and art as a hobby is simply a commitment to work every day, without surrendering to excuses.
I hear so many people make excuses. They don't work because they don't feel like it or they're uninspired – they're "not in the mood". The need for inspiration is a 19th century Romantic myth. Inspiration and motivation are unquestionably an advantage but they almost always come with action – and a resolve to press ahead regardless of them.
The worst excuse, especially among my peers, is that there's plenty of time. No, there isn't. Time passes quickly and relentlessly. If you're intent on accomplishing anything, there is never enough of it.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Rules Of Engagement

I think of this blog not as a public space but rather as a personal one. I created it so I could share with a few friends and fellow artists my thoughts about the emotional and technical processes of making art (and making a living from it). I wanted it to be somewhere I could express myself honestly and without restraint, even it meant being, metaphorically speaking, naked.
New visitors are always welcome. Assholes are not. Over the past few months, I've received a handful of incoherent rants and downright nasty little notes submitted as comments. I treat them like abusive phone calls - I just hang up.
There's one in particular – I'll call him 'McDealer'. I responded to his first schoolboy-smutty, sexist spew here but he just can't help himself. He continues to post, despite the fact that:
i) after his first, very ugly note, I obtained his IP address, so now I know exactly who he is, and from where he has been posting;
ii) I know this even when he posts anonymously or under a psuedonym.
He also doesn't appear to understand that posts are not published on this blog automatically; they are sent to me first for approval, and I choose either to publish or to delete them. I always delete his.
With the exception of McDealer's diatribes, I'll publish any comment that isn't gratuitously insulting or mean-spirited, even if it's critical or contrary. That said, I have little respect for those who try to start an argument with an anonymous post. If they're not as willing to stand by their remarks as I am by mine, then why the hell should I give a toss?
My space, my rules.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Homecoming

On average I have moved house once a year since I was an infant. My family never really settled anywhere, and I got used to houses not being homes. Instead they were places in which we camped for a while. What furniture we had usually came with the house, or it was bought from (and given back) to charity shops. So many personal possessions were lost along the way that I developed an aversion to owning anything.
Like every good nomad, I learnt to cover my tracks. With every move, I tried to erase my memories, to move on unencumbered. I carried little in the way of keepsakes, let alone photographs or letters. I left behind everything that revealed where I'd been, or who I was before.
A lot has changed in me, especially over the past year.
I moved into my new house and studio yesterday, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I had found a home. The space is light and airy, with white walls, pale, varnished timber floorboards, and exposed beams, also painted white – it's almost gallery-like. I can hear water lap against the sand in the bay, a hundred metres below my verandah, and from the living room and bedroom windows I can see a shimmering sea through the gnarled branches of tall eucalypti. On the other side of the wide bay, there's a dark green strip of ancient, uninhabited forest. At night, I can hear cicadas and during the day, the discordant squawks and trills of hundreds of different birds – rosellas, sulphur-crested cockatoos, pink and grey galahs, ravens, magpies, currawongs, ducks, and Indian mynahs, even a few sea hawks. Already, two rainbow lorikeets have come to sit on the verandah railing to watch over the unpacking.
For the first time, I don't want to go anywhere: the fugitive impulse, the urgent desire to be on the run, has left me. Now I am looking forward to a sense of constancy. It's a huge relief.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Low Marks

I often get emails from high school students who want information about my work for their art assignments.
When I was younger, I didn't have any access to professional artists – even when I was at art school – and nearly all the great art I saw was reproduced in books. When I came across a work I loved, the idea that I might be able to talk to the artist who created it never occurred to me. Artists lived in another world, another universe, very far from my own.
Of course, the web changed all that.
I always take the time to reply in detail to students' questions, no matter how busy I am. Still, I don't know how much longer I'll do it. Only one has ever written back to thank me for my time – symptomatic, maybe, of a peculiar sense of entitlement elemental to the character of Australians – and it's begun to feel like I'm answering anonymous surveys from strangers. Besides, my website details a decade-long career and
there's plenty of material to be found there, from downloadable images to links to interviews and reviews that can be read in full for free.
I'm all for being accessible but doing some ungrateful kid's homework for them isn't quite what I had in mind.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Words To Live With

As I'm in a list-making frame of mind – if only because of all the lists I've had to come up with ahead of moving house next week – I thought I'd note the ten books that, wherever I am, can always be found on my shelves.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
Heart of Darkness
, Joseph Conrad

Story of the Eye
, Georges Bataille

Diva, Delacorta (I love all the Gorodish and Alba books!)
Perdita Durango
, Barry Gifford

Yellow Yellow
, Frank Asch, Illustrated by Mark Alan Stamaty

The Outsider
, Colin Wilson

Play It As It Lays
, Joan Didion

The Andy Warhol Diaries
, Andy Warhol, Pat Hackett

Fifty One Days on Mount Ubu, Francesco Clemente

Friday, November 17, 2006

Fuck Art, Let's Dance

I always listen to music when I paint. I have over 5,000 tracks in my iTunes library but these are the six songs I've been playing again and again, really loud:
Redondo Beach by Patti Smith

Military Rap
by Debbie Harry

Lovertits by Peaches
Hunter by Björk
Reeling by PJ Harvey
Fite Dem Back by Linton Kwesi Johnson
I listen to a lot of other stuff – from Glenn Gould's interpretations of Bach to nearly everything by Ali Farke Touré – but right now, these six mean the most to me. If I'm feeling edgy or uninspired, they seep into my subconscious like a benign drug and soothe it enough to enable me to get lost in my work.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Defense Of The Indefinite

I am always surprised by people's notions of what is or isn't art. They are often so disparate, even among artists themselves, the only rational conclusion is that nobody knows what art is, they just know what they like.
Artists don't like a lot of other artists, especially if they are near-contemporaries, if they work in media and methods too different – or too similar – to their own, of if they're selling better. Note that none of these have anything really to do with art.
Gallerists and curators are even more self-serving. They don't like art that doesn't need them as intermediaries to define, aggregate and value it for the viewer. In other words, they don't like art that strays off the somewhat elitist reservation they have worked so hard to create – for the artists, they are quick to assure us, even it's really for themselves.
The one thing everybody agrees on is that art isn't about money, even if the best-known artists these days are earning almost as much as the hedge fund managers and bond traders who are propping up contemporary art prices in London and New York.
Or is it? When recently, for the second time, I created a work to be distributed via the web and reproduced in an unlimited edition by anyone who was interested, I was accused of devaluing art, of being a shameless self-promoter, and of behaving like K-Mart and offering a free sample to entice more customers into the store. Worse, I was told the work itself wasn't art, or if it was, it wasn't much good.
I thought about how I might try to explain why I did it, to try to reason with even the nastiest critics, but then I realised that to do so would be like trying to come up with a definition of art that works for everybody. For some people, nothing I say would work. So, fuck it, I'm just going to let what I think is art and the way I've chosen to distribute it speak for itself – even if, ultimately, it's derided or misunderstood.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On The Move

I've been staying out of the way at the beach house studio, painting, while my assistant makes arrangements for the 'big move' at the end of this month. She has packed all my books, art materials, and personal belongings, including my most treasured possessions: a couple of Zuni fetishes, a tiny Mexican soapstone Madonna, the paper on which I first wrote my boyfriends' phone number (then absentmindedly drew an angel), a china doll with a raggedy dress I've had since I was a child, an old hatpin of a crow enfolding it's wings with feathers made of black sequins.
The move is my assistant's project. I don't have time to give her detailed instructions but I've noticed that she's carefully wrapped all the above items in glassine paper, just as I would. She has also spent a lot of time on the telephone, getting quotes from removalists and trying to nail down the logistics so that the move will be effected as quickly as possible and my work can go on after only a brief interruption.
It's a huge relief that I'm able to work without having to think too much about all this. I don't have time to do otherwise. Every room of my studio is filled with commissioned works in various stages of completion, from five large enamel and acrylic works to a suite of ten acrylic studies on paper for one collector, a suite of four for another, as well as sketches, watercolours, and photographs.
I can't wait to be in my new home. There's a huge, open-space there to use as a studio and plenty of storage – all of it separate to the living areas. For the first time in over a year, I'll have my whole life under one roof. Already, a five minute drive is too long when all I want to do is make art.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Another Way Of Looking At Myself

I seldom collaborate with other artists. Working with someone else requires a radical shift of intellectual and emotional balance to which I find it hard to accede. Most artists are innately egocentric and I'm no different: I want to explore themes that I'm interested in and I'm not usually open to the compromise that successful collaboration demands.
None of which explains why I have, a couple of times, agreed to model for photographers whose work I respect. I suspect it's because it is easier to regard it as an extension of the ruthlessly forensic self-examination of myself that underpins a lot of my own work. It also introduces some scary but energising variables: I am, by nature, a perfectionist, a control freak, a relentless obsessive compulsive, and yet I have to agree to surrender to someone else's perception of my identity, personality, and even sexuality in what is often an unfamiliar, discomforting context.
I allow the photographer to see me raw. I don't dress, or undress. I don't wear make-up. I don't consciously pose. A good photographer doesn't objectify, and good work is necessarily intimate, intriguing to look at, with different layers of intellectual, psychological, and emotional intensity. I rarely recognise myself in the resulting images.
Maybe it's because my own work can be so self-conscious and bound by ideas of (and objections to) how women are represented in traditional figurative art, advertising and mass media, especially in my work's early conceptual stages, being photographed enables me to to go somewhere I am unable to go on my own. It's also mindless, in the best sense of that word. I am aware of the photographer as he (or she) circles me, but I have no imaginative connection with whatever is seen through the viewfinder. In these moments – and in the moments, later, when I look at the final images – I feel a sort of peace.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Graphic Subtext

I've spent the last couple of days in bed, sleeping off a bad cold. In my few waking hours, I kept myself entertained by reading Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis:The Story of a Return, both graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi, an outspoken, punkish Iranian woman, regarded by many as one of the best in a medium too often thought of as a dirt-poor cousin of mainstream literature. Told in simple and expressive images and sometimes brilliant dialogue, the Persepolis stories are an intimate, funny, and unsettling memoir about growing up in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. Read The Independent newspaper's frank, fuck-you profile of Satrapi – Princess of Darkness – to know more.When I was a kid, I devoured comic books – the usual Wonder Woman and Catwoman, as well as schlock-horror 70s' classics such as Vampirella. I've just finished reading my boyfriend's complete collections of Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan, featuring the drug-addled, seditious, misanthropic, Hunter Thompson-like journalist, Spider Jerusalem, maybe the most appealing contemporary anti-hero since Hellblazer's John Constantine, and David Mack's superbly drawn yet twisted Japanese morality tales of abused young women, espionage, yakuza and assasination, entitled Kabuki. Although very different from each other, both were like having movies play inside my head. Unlike movies, they could be consumed in snatches, wherever and whenever I wanted. They lasted longer and were, ultimately, a lot more satisfying.
I first came across dense, paper-bound volumes of highly sexual and violent manga in Osaka and Tokyo, in 1993. They were a minor source of inspiration for my earliest paintings. More recently, I've discovered the more literary, mainly British and North American graphic novels that interest me most. At their best, they feel like a new way of both reading and seeing: an intricate visual narrative with pared-down dialogue and elemental, mythic characters that infect your subconscious like a virus. They work the way good art should (but rarely does).

Friday, November 10, 2006

More Materialism

There are very few good art supplies stores in Sydney. The best of them never have the materials I'm looking for and the staff are clueless and rude. Worse, I have to drive for an hour to get to them.
Not anymore.
Last month, a new store called Art Depot opened in the beachside village where I live. At first, I avoided it. It's a little off the beaten track – to get there from the main street, you have to walk down an alley and find your way to the back of a second-hand clothing shop to a set of stairs – and I figured, given the philistine moneyed bourgeois that make up two-thirds of the local population, it'd cater mainly to enthusiastic amateurs and wouldn't stock anything I need.
Then, a couple of days ago, I had an emergency. I realised, just two hours before I was due to courier a pastel work to a collector, that I had no fixative. There was no other choice but to go to the new store.
It was like coming across an oasis in the middle of the Sahara. The space is large, quiet, open-plan and warehouse-like. Its owner, the artist, Leonie Barton has a studio set up in a corner, and there are aisles of simple timber shelving, many of them stocked with materials I have sought in vain for several years. There are my favourite paints, brushes and pastels, even Sennelier fixative – exactly what I wanted. As I browsed, Leonie came up to me and offered to research and order any specific requirements I had. I was dumbstruck. An art store offering genuine care and service to working artists - and at reasonable prices? Whatever would they think of next? I chatted with her for a short while, then, encouraged by a generous 'professional discount', I spent much more than I'd intended. I didn't mind a bit.
I used to send my assistant to buy supplies, armed with a long list, a credit card, and a mobile phone. From now on, I am going to go myself.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Another Dot On The Matrix

I shouldn't be surprised at the random way things find their way onto the web but I am. It's almost as if there is some real world web crawler, an insidious, utilitarian piece of hardware that roams the shadows of our physical spaces as well as our virtual ones and sucks up whatever stray or disused data it comes across. It then redistributes them haphazardly online.
A couple of months ago, I gave an interview to an Australian freelance journalist, Katerina Kokkinos-Kennedy, who was writing a piece about how artists are beginning to exploit the web as an alternative to the traditional gallery system. Unfortunately, the piece was spiked by the editor who had originally wanted it. I figured that was the end of it.
Silly me. Last week, it surfaced on the web, quoted in full as an entry on a UK artist's blog, PictureDreams Studio.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Instant Gratification

I have taken Polaroid photographs of myself since 1996. I use them as raw material for my paintings. When a pose is too awkward to hold, study in a mirror and draw, I take a Polaroid (using a rubbishy, plastic, point-and-shoot Sun 600 camera). I take Polaroids of my face from angles that I can't see in a mirror, so I can examine the differences of expression. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I capture something fleeting, something unlikely to be revealed in a mere reflection.
I hadn't shown anyone these 'instant pictures' until I showed them to my boyfriend about a year ago. I'd never looked at them all together. Once an image had served its purpose to develop an idea for a painting, it was thown in with scores of others I kept in a garbage bag at the back of whatever closet I was using as a store-room.
It was my boyfriend, a photographer, who got me to look at them again. I was surprised to discover just how intriguing and revelatory they are. My poses in them are always unselfconsciously angular and a little absurd, as are the skimpy, mismatched clothes that are my usual work attire. The backgrounds are relentlessly banal and suburban: a makeshift studio, my bedroom, the living room of my father's Melbourne house. In some ways, they're the truest record of my life – and the raw beginnings of my art – that I've got.
If you're curious, a very small selection of them can be found at Polanoid, under the username hazeldooney.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Setting Art Free

Multiple Surrenders, for ink-jet/laser media, 20cm x 28cm, is another in my series of 'unlimited' edition prints, devised to enable everyone to become a collector of my work. It's available now for a limited period to download free under a Creative Commons license from my web site. For those who might want to have my 'real' signature, along with an authenticating stamp, on the work's verso, the print can be sent to me, along with an adequately sized, stamped, self-addressed envelope, to my P.O. Box address.

Picture Me

I have never been much into television. I've always thought of it as sedating and depressing. Still, there are moments when it can be pure inspiration. Today, I watched A Tribute To Jacqueline Du Pré, a documentary on the prodigiously talented but disturbed cellist who developed severe, degenerative multiple sclerosis at age 28.
The Du Pré film made me realise the importance of capturing not only great performances, but the lives of the performers themselves, especially when they reveal their process of creating work, and the personal cost that goes along with it.
My own life and work is as undocumented as it has been, until recently, unremarkable. I have a few scraps of paper – mostly rough sketches, notes, and some personal correspondence – as well as photographs of most of my completed artworks (all now owned by collectors) but little else. That's going to change now that i have a better understanding of why a record of the intricate way that art is intertwined with my life just might be important. If nothing else, it might one day help me to make a little sense of the choices, both personal and creative, that I have made – or failed to.

Friday, November 03, 2006

What's Luck Got To Do With It?

I used to believe that you make your own luck. I still believe it, but I also recognise that there's something more: a rare but unarguable magic that makes everything come together. Some people refer to it as being in the the right place at the right time. Still, unless you recognise it, take advantage of it, and work harder than ever, it can pass you by.
I'm living my dream now and even though I am not at all spiritual, I can't help feeling blessed. When I was younger, I truly hated my life – it didn't even feel like a life but rather a long, hard sentence I was condemned to serve. I'm not sure what I did to get that sentence commuted but now my life is defined by the sort of freedom and independence that I always craved.
Talk about a lucky escape!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Home, Sweet Home

I have been thinking about moving for a while. I have outgrown the two-bedroom apartment that has served as my office and studio for the past year, and my lease on the beach house nearby that serves as both a larger studio and temporary accommodation runs out next month. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find anywhere that is, at once, big enough to serve as an office and studio space and pleasant enough to satisfy my growing need for some place in which to make a home.
Until yesterday when, almost by accident, I did: a three-bedroom, timber pole house set on a few acres of raw bushland overlooking a wide bay fringed, along its uninhabited western shore, by a national park, just a mile and a half from the beach house. The master bedroom and the living room have varnished timber floors and open onto a wide verandah with uninterrupted views across the smooth waters of the bay, and beneath the house is a huge area of bare concrete, roofed by the house itself, where I can paint my enamel work in fresh air. There is a pleasant office for my assistant, plenty of storage space, and a laundry room where I can store my paint and keep my brushes and other material clean. The next-door-neighbour is a sweet, funny, elderly woman who, many years ago, produced two of this country's best-known films, Picnic At Hanging Rock, directed by a young Peter Weir, and Gallipoli, also directed by Weir and starring an even younger Mel Gibson.
I went to the real estate agent's office and told her I would take the house straight away. I filled in an application for a year's lease, paid a deposit and retreated to a café for a nervous lunch while I waited for my tenancy to be approved. Which, of course, it was. Now I have two studios, an office, and all my personal stuff to move in just three weeks. Somehow it doesn't seem at all like a chore.
I can't help thinking of this as the beginning of an exciting new chapter of this new life I've made for myself – and my very first attempt to create a real home of my own.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Marking Time

I've become acutely aware of the need to micromanage my life.
Today, while I painted, my assistant started filling in a schedule for the next 18 months on a huge planning sheet pinned along one wall of my studio. She's only about halfway through but already it looks like a large-scale, abstract map of my life, with the course of time and events described by dated boxes, long, parallel lines (the proposed work flow for several new paintings), color codes, arcane symbols and key words.
When I study it, I feel like a general in one of those old, black and white war movies, overseeing the execution of a battle strategy – except, in my case, there has never been much of a strategy other than to paint a lot. Each day is divided into time-frames for specific tasks. My assistant's diary, which is kept in an electronic form on both her computer and a Palm Tungsten PDA, with excerpts copied onto my computer, as well as printed out and pinned over my desk, is crammed with detailed instructions and reminders to ensure that it all runs smoothly.
Even unfinished, the
complex schedule is something of a reality check. Nearly every day, including weekends, for the next six months is accounted for. There are enough commissions to last until the end of next year, even without my next Melbourne show, which is a year away and pre-selling even before I've finished the preliminary sketches – and I still have to confirm '06 dates for two overseas shows.
The was a time, not too long ago, when I would have felt constrained, even a little frightened, by the idea that such a long span of my life could be so strictly accounted for. Now I find it reassuring and energising. I guess I must be growing up.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

An Appropriate Response

I found myself stuck in traffic, staring ahead at two mobile billboards attached to the backs of Italian motor-scooters. Each billboard had the same ad: two good-looking women in a glamorised fight pose. The slogan was something along the lines of Designer vs Designer. The figures, and even the phrasing, was very familiar, even though I hadn't seen the ad before. The angles of the limbs, the facial expressions, even the position of the hands looked like pieces of a puzzle that I had created but that someone else had assembled in a different way. Quite simply, they were a collage of two of my best-known paintings – one from 1999, another from a 2004 series, Self vs Self.
It was a curious, empty feeling. I suppose a lot of people might have been flattered. Others might have been annoyed. I was neither. I only regretted not having my camera with me. I could have taken a very cool black and white shot through the dirty windscreen of my van.
It did make me think back to the conceptual-centric art school I went to, and about postmodernism, and the over-appropriative culture in which we live now. In the past, a number of people have told me about both advertisements and artworks that have looked incredibly similar to mine. I've even had the 'pop-eating-itself' experience of seeing an Australian artist's painting appropriated from an ad that, in turn, had been appropriated without any substantial alteration from one of my early works – and each time, the central figure (originally my own, twisted self-portrait) was reproduced, it lost not only anatomical accuracy, but intensity, and ultimately, meaning.
Which pretty much sums up contemporary culture for me.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Unbearable Lightness of Seeing

Sometimes the light in Sydney can be harsh. Today, it was so bright it hurt my eyes, so I stayed inside my studio, curtains drawn, and worked.
Don't get me wrong: I love light and shadow, and how they can change the physical and emotional natures of things, but glaring light makes everything dischordant. Colours are bleached, textures hardened. The effect can be as depressing as a dank, grey day.
Still, even on the worst days, there is dusk. The sunlight softens, becomes diffused, and everything is painted burnt umber and gold.
I love watching light shift and change. Everything touched by it is animated, and becomes somehow more real and intense. Shadows take unexpected forms, colours become more vivid and saturated. Softer light lets me stare at the shapes, enables my eye to follow a line for ages without blinking. Looking – really looking – is one of my most intimate pleasures. When bright light makes it uncomfortable, or impossible, I don't even want to be out in the world.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sisters Are Doing It By Themselves

I never had a female role model when I was growing up. I didn't come across anyone I admired enough. It wasn't just that I wanted them to be an artist. They also had to be self-sufficient, smart, creative, ambitious (in every sense of the word) and passionate: in other words, eveything I wanted to be.
For a while, I lost faith in the much-vaunted achievements of late 20th century feminism. We used to tell ourselves, "We girls can do anything!" – so often and to so little effect that the line has been reduced to a cliché barely worthy of a marketing campaign for the latest generation of Barbie dolls. I knew, still know, a lot of
very capable women but lately I've been less and less convinced that any of them are really driven enough to take on the hard work necessary to actualise their wildest ambitions. "Be who you wanna be", we're told (again, most often by Barbie advertisements). Instead, we tend to be what we can be with the least amount of effort and sacrifice.
I've been looking through Invitation, a huge, coffee-table book celebrating the life and performances of French ballet dancer, Sylvie Guillem. I've also been reading about her online, mainly bits and pieces from her quirky, fuck-you cool website. As Jenny Gilbert writes, in Who Is Sylvie?, a profile for The Independent newspaper, "Contradictoriness seems to have become Guillem's special study."
I love that she's classically trained, technically and creatively exceptional, and yet rebellious, intelligent, risk-taking and, sometimes, almost childishly playful. Whatever I was once looking for in a role model, I've found it in Sylvie Guillem.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I Love Hues All

I've discovered Sennelier's extra soft pastels – and I've fallen head-over-heels in love with them. Soft, creamy, and not at all chalk-like, they come in a wide range of primary and delicate hues and all are luscious and intense. Whatever pressure I use with is subtly revealed, even if i only caress the paper. When I press down, there's a thick trail of dense pigment.
I found these pastels by accident or, rather, I chose them without knowing anything about Maison Sennelier. It was only later that I happened onto the company's web site, which recounts its history in passionate detail, starting with the devoted chemist and colourist, Gustave Sennelier, who opened the house in 1887.
Which reminds me: I still have to finish the extraordinary Colour : A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay. It has already inspired in me this restless longing to be out of my studio and travelling to places rich with history, culture, artisanship and great art.
Unfortunately, Australia is not on this map.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Trail Of Crumbs

I thought a little about Robert Crumb today after I caught a glimpse of a volume about him at my local bookshop.
I first discovered his work in 1994, when I saw Crumb, the award-winning documentary. I was immediately drawn to the weirdness and explicit honesty of Robert – "I felt so painfully isolated that I vowed I would get revenge on the world by becoming a famous cartoonist. " – and of his brothers, Charles and Maxon. The Australian art critic Robert Hughes also appeared in the film. Delighted by the deviancy in Crumb's work, he talked (and, later, wrote) about its contemporary relevance.
Ironically, Crumb, like the fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, loathes pop culture, even though he, like Westwood, is credited with having helped to define it. "
When I come up against the real world," he said once, "I just vacillate."

Monday, October 23, 2006

Today Was A Good Day

My new assistant started today. As a result, my anxiety has begun to dissipate. She's practical, capable and in one day, has managed to accomplish what my last, short-lived assistant could not in ten. Better yet, while she spent all day schlepping around the city doing errands, I worked.
I am almost high with relief. After weeks of dragging my ass around the studio – or, worse, lolling around on my daybed too enervated even to read a magazine – I am re-energised, alert, and joyful (well, almost).
I'd started to wonder where the all the fun I usually derive from creating had gone. I haven't written in my journal for months. I haven't sketched or painted for pleasure. Instead, well, I've panicked. A lot. Now, it's as if the stifling grey shroud that was draped over my mind has been lifted, and along with it, an overwhelming, dulling sense of tedium. I can't wait to get back to my real life, to get back to everything.
Yesterday seems a very long time ago.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Rewriting The Rules

Lately I have been anxious about whether my work is 'good or 'right'.
I'm a freak for precision so I am often tested by the idea that not everything in life and art is definitive. I like things to be spelled out. I want a set of rules. The malleable, the uncertain, the non-specific – they discomfort me.
I recognise the irony in this. The art I love most resides in the grey areas: it is often imprecise or ambiguous and nearly always flawed. The idea of 'good' or 'right' has nothing to do with art.
Still, my anxiety shaped the way I first painted: a highly structured, restrained, and repetitive process, at once physically demanding and mentally soothing. It enabled me to be assured that each work I completed was, according to the rigid technique I employed, painted correctly, regardless of subject matter. I paid lip service (like every artist) to not being bound by rules but it took 10 years to come to terms with the fact that my work was constricted by hundreds of them, all of them concocted in my own head.
Maybe this is why I had these words tattooed in blue ink onto my upper arm: A fronte praecipitium, a tergo lupi. Alis volat propriis. (In front is a precipice, behind are wolves. She flies with her own wings.) It wasn't enough to remind myself of them from time to time, I had to make them permanent.
Yesterday, my boyfriend sent me a quote from the American choreographer, Martha Graham. The more I read it, the more I feel that it is the only rule any artist needs.
"You do not have to believe in yourself or your work. It is not your business to determine how good it is, how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. But it is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly to the urges that motivate you.
"There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, the expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through another medium and will be lost. The world will never have it."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Woman At Work

Grey clouds, a strong, cool wind out of the south, and light showers – it could hardly be a better day for me to get back to painting.
I have learned not to push myself too hard when I'm working with enamel. My body absorbs so much of its toxic vapours, even with a mask, gloves and layers of protective clothing, that after three or four days of painting, I am nauseous all day, my skin festers with small sores, my eyes are as bloodshot as a crack addict's, and my thinking is addled. I have to stop and get away from it completely for a couple of days.
This is why I try to maintain a studio that's separate to where I live. These days, my work space is a small house with bright, natural light, a steady cross-flow of fresh sea air, and plenty of open-plan floor space to allow me to work on two or three works – right now, the largest is three metres high, the smallest about half that – at the same time. A secluded surf beach is just a short walk across the street and I go swimming or surfing three times a day to rinse the acrid stench of enamel off me.
Still, it's not enough. If I want to continue being imaginative and productive as I work with this despicable medium, rather than oppressed by it, I have to allow for a slower pace, punctuated by short breaks in which I can recover some measure of physical well-being.

Friday, October 20, 2006

So Shoot Me

I made another expensive purchase today: a Leica CM camera. Still in limited production (although only three or four are still available in Australia), it's the very last of its kind: a robust, professional-standard, semi-automatic, point-and-shoot, 35mm camera.
I am not going to argue the toss about digital vs. film photography. I'll concede that, these days, a high-priced 35mm film camera is an elegant anachronism. But you don't have to be a camera geek to appreciate the superiority of Leica's traditional German engineering. From the Leica Summarit 40mm f2.4 retractable lens – the pin-sharp resolution and colour of which puts even the most expensive digital SLRs to shame – to the hand-tooled titanium body, the experience of using the CM is somewhat akin to driving a classic Mercedes coupé. Needless to say, the images it produces are so technically precise that one American photo magazine described them as "almost 3D".
I've always used photographs as references for my work. However, over the past year, I've been exploring it as an alternative medium of expression – if only because it offers an irregular but necessary escape from the solitary tedium of painting. I've collaborated with a few photographers – as both a model and as an artist (reworking the prints they make with words, hand-drawn embellishments, and paints) – and I've shot hundreds of candid, black and white snapshots of my own that, collectively, form a chaotic, occasionally confronting monograph of my life these days.
Maybe buying the Leica CM means that I'm taking this 'pastime' just a little more seriously.