Wednesday, August 30, 2006

If Only They Could All Be Like This

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Adelaide for the day to visit two collectors of my work, Eugene and Ee-Lynn. I needed to repair a work that had been slightly damaged when it was transported to them from my studio.I had never actually met them in person. For me, meeting my collectors for the first time is rather like a first date, so I felt a little nervous. I was particularly so this time, as E 'n' E, as I think of them, are among my most supportive and enthusiastic patrons.
E 'n' E have an amazing art collection that includes works by John Olsen, Patricia Piccinini, Bill Henson, Annette Bezor, Ariel Hassan, and many othes. The cool thing about it is that it's unpredictable, even eccentric, and difficult to categorise other than the umbrella description of "contemporary". So many art buyers are happy to pursue 'brand-name' artwork [shudder], even if the work is awful, sloppy, or the hundredth repeat (yes, Damien, I am talking about you!). E 'n' E's is very different, and while it has some key works by major Australian artists, it also has others that are a lot less well-known but just as affecting.
I've also never seen such beautiful furniture – E 'n' E have a real eye (and a high degree of expertise) when it comes to selecting unique pieces from different parts of the world and different periods.
As I retouched the chipped enamel of my painting (one of the Self Vs. Self series), E 'n' E chatted and made lunch – freshly shucked oysters, prawns, steamed whole fish with coriander and chili, and barbequed quail. Five hours later, they drove me to the airport, stopping on the way to introduce me to the Director of Adelaide's prestigious Greenaway Galleries. They gave me a bottle of Australia's most expensive red wine, Penfold Grange, to help ease the pain of having to return to Sydney.

Monday, August 28, 2006

How Much For Your Artist?

Lately I've received a lot of emails from strangers. They begin by telling me they are "fellow artists", then, on that tenuous basis, they ask me to help them market and sell their work. I've been trying to figure out why I've found these requests so offensive, especially as I am not exactly a shrinking violet when it comes to self-promotion and I often speak frankly in public about my (mis)adventures in the so-called business-side of art.
Then it clicked. There's nothing in their emails that is actually about art, theirs or mine, and they imply that my focus is more on marketing and sales than creativity and plain old hard work.
Well, fuck 'em. I make art not only because of a passionate desire to communicate but also a jittery compulsion to make real what resides only in my imagination. And when I have a body of work that is ready to be viewed, finding an audience for it is sure as hell very different to launching a healthier breakfast cereal or a gentler washing-up liquid. There is no demographic research you can (or should) do to identify a consumer niche. Whatever some people think (including an increasing number of critics and curators) it is not about brand development and key selling propositions. Yes, I 've been guilty of being identified with this sort of attitude – mea culpa! – but now I know better. So should you.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Thinking Within The Frame

Graham Reynolds started making frames for artists and collectors when he was an architecture student, “just to make money, to be able to afford to go to university and drive a car and take girls out". Thirty five years later, he has given up architecture but he is still making frames – a master craftsman whose clients include private collectors, and major museums and art galleries across Australia and New Zealand. His hand-built pieces cost anywhere between $600 and $100,000.
I’m lucky enough to have Graham build and prepare the timber boards that I use for my large-scale enamel works and I have grown to love the ritual of ordering them from him. Delivery usually takes about three weeks and there is something almost sensual about the smoothness of the painting surface and the finely contoured edges on which I also paint.
Graham's workshop is a big, old, non-descript warehouse. You press a buzzer and look into a camera to be let in, then you go up to what looks like the inside of a traditional colonial-style house, with frames and artwork stacked or hanging in every room. You walk though these rooms to the workshops where they have massive shaping and pressing machines to work the timber and in different rooms, craftsmen gilding and sculpting
Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, devoted a mini-documentary to his craftmanship.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Give Man Give Away

I Will Not Be Your Give Man Anymore is a self-portrait cast within the anguish of a familial relationship. It echoes a voodoun 'curse' that turns its victim into a zombie, what Haitians call a 'give man', a mindless slave. The image can be downloaded free from my web site under a Creative Commons license, and can be reproduced and distributed in any way for any non-commercial purposes. For a high resolution file, just click here.
I think of this work as an unlimited edition print that can be obtained and reproduced by anyone anywhere. The sculptor, Robert Graham, came up with this idea back in the ‘90s and for a time, offered a few of his nude drawings from his site.
If you would like me to personalize the print with an original inscription and signature, all you have to do is send it to me (my address is on my web site), along with a return, self-addressed envelope and sufficient funds for airmail postage from Australia.

Friday, August 25, 2006

My Generation

I'm on a panel of so-called Gen’ X and Y contributors to the Griffith REVIEW's The Next Big Thing, chaired by Radio Triple J’s Ronan Sharkey, at Sydney's Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, in Sydney, on Friday 8th September. The discussion begins at 7pm.
The topic is pretty broad: has our generation's culture fallen prey to these conservative, commercially driven times? If so, where to from here? Among the other writers and artists attending are Eve Vincent, Miriam Lyons, Ben Cubby, Marni Cordell, Emily Maguire, and Tara June Winch.
For further information, or to book a seat, contact Gleebooks. (By the way, I designed the cover of The Next Big Thing, pictured here.)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Breaking The Surface

"Hazel Dooney found considerable commercial success early in her career with self-portraits rendered in tight graphic lines and highly charged colours. With a strong nod to pop art, these works were very much about surface and, as such, came across as slight and one-dimensional. With her current show, however, Dooney has ripped the surface asunder, revealing a troubled and troubling potpourri of psychological self-investigation and an obsessive fascination with arcane ritual.
"With her earlier work, one wondered whether she could in fact draw. Venus in Hell removes all doubt. For all the cacophony of imagery, there is a surety of line that balances the maelstrom of blood, skulls, bones, snakes and flames that leap from the paper..."
From Ashely Crawford's review of Venus In Hell in The Sunday Age, Preview Magazine, Melbourne, last month.

Subjective Vs. Objective

At my recent solo show, Venus In Hell, at MARS Gallery, in Melbourne, I overheard two young women, both artists, discussing my work. One of them was visibly unsettled by the graphic sexuality of some of the images, and the undercurrent of violence, and she wondered aloud about my mental and emotional stability. “Well, I guess we all feel that way from time to time,” her friend replied. “It’s just that we don’t feel the need to paint it like she does!” Which got me wondering, if an artist wants to avoid the conflicts and contradictions of their interior life, what’s the point of making art at all?
I examined this a little in my recent esssay for the Griffith REVIEW: “The conceptualist American artist, Jeff Koons, who was once a highly paid marketing executive, insists that art has been too subjective in the past, too concerned with the messy, emotive sprawl of self-expression, as opposed to what he calls objective art, art so sanitised of the germy interior life of the artist that his or her only role in its creation is an idea. The actual making of the finished work, the elements of craftsmanship, are, for him, best left up to others, preferably others who have no real interest or engagement with the artist other than interpreting his instructions with as much technical precision as possible. In Koons’ world, being able to draw or paint or shape a material is a drawback: traditional skills are a distraction from the process of conception; they are too easily subverted by the awkward, unrefined impulses of inspiration that dance at an unpredictable tempo within an artist’s heart and psyche.”

I am
so not into this approach. The work I’m drawn to most often – in art, photography, music, literature or film – is intensely personal and inextricable from the artist’s every day life: if anything, the more diaristic it is, especially when it comes to words and images, the better. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with text, photography, and video to tap more directly into my everyday, not necessarily to create art in these media but to attempt to trace the seismic jitters of my psyche as a reference for future work.
As a friend of mine wrote in an autobiographical piece published last year (part of which I quote in an inscription on one of the paintings in the Venus In Hell show): “I read somewhere that the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick once argued that if two people dream the same dream, it isn’t a dream anymore – it signifies the existence of an alternative reality ... The insane always occupy multiple realities: their internal narratives are always different to their actual or external experiences.”In my case, I am trying to keep my story straight so I can retell it in my art.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Just Trying To Explain Myself

"I used to be in love with Tracey Emin. She was bold, self-made and bolshie and she didn’t care what anyone thought of her. I fell out of love when she stopped making her art herself and began writing about being a celebrity for The Guardian newspaper. It turned out that she cared quite a lot about what people thought of her.
"Before Tracey, I had a crush on Cindy Sherman. She was an older woman, and someone on whom I thought I could model myself. It ended when I realised that all she really had to offer was a sense of fashion, and even then, not her own. There were other women, other artists, all of them older and successful within a system that had once favoured only men with fame and money and the opportunity to be more than a footnote in art history. It was only later that I figured out that it was just an elaborate con’.
"I am not love with anyone anymore. And I have stopped believing in a lot of what is thought of as art these days. It’s as if a couple of hundred, dull-headed middle-aged men and women – not just artists, but educators, curators, gallerists, and critics – have come up with a set of rules to define what real art and real artists are. The rules are vague and yet still as constrictive and moralistic as anything concocted by a Reformation cleric. Which is, I guess, exactly what one should expect since art became a kind of religion in the late 20th century, a cargo cult for the upper-middle-class, with the artists themselves playing make-shift shamen."
From my essay, Life Study, in the current issue of the Griffith REVIEW: The Next Big Thing