Friday, September 29, 2006

Road Tripping

There's nothing like a road trip to blow away the musty grit that settles on me after too many days alone in the studio. I decided to put my brushes and pencils aside and drive to Newcastle with my new assistant. My old Volkswagen Transporter had just been serviced, and I figured a two-hour haul on the freeway with my foot to the floor would probably do both its engine and me some good. If I got tired, my assistant could take the wheel.

There was just one small kink in the plan: the start of the spring school holidays. This morning, every road north was clogged with holiday-makers heading to beachside camping sites and motels around Crescent Head, Coff's Harbour and Byron Bay. As the traffic crawled along, I distracted myself by pretending I was Robert Frank making his way across post-War America in a beat-up Dodge (or whatever) with his 35mm Leicas and rolls of black and white film spilled across the back seat. Every so often I stopped to shoot rickety bridges or lonely-looking road houses or mangy but happy-looking dogs scrounging for food scraps in the dirt.

I almost didn't take the turn off to Newcastle. I wanted to keep on driving, to by-pass my obligations to talk to an
audience there this evening, and to sustain the calm of being motion.

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”

― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Brand Aid

I'm heading up to Newcastle tomorrow, to speak as one of the panelists at the National Young Writers Festival.
When I first looked through the program I was excited. I even made a list of events that I'd like to attend. Later, as I read the blurbs more carefully – and experienced the frustration of trying to access the event's two websites without much luck - my excitement waned. Why does everything in Australia have to be so imitative and unimaginative?
I've lost interest in my own panel as well. The Griffith Review is a really intelligent journal, and I am proud I was included in its current issue, The Next Big Thing, but I don't understand why the launch of the issue is marked by a discussion on branding. Worse, it's titled The Brand Called You – way too early Nineties, and so not youthful (the theme of the issue). A good brand has one clear message, and is necessarily attached to a product or corporate identity: why on earth would a creative individual want to limit themselves in such a profound way? The idea repels me. And my panel is just one of a number of crassly titled workshops on marketing – at a young writers festival!? (It only serves to further reinforce a prejudice against writers
I formed at the recent Byron Bay Writers Festival)
For an event that should be conceptually fresh, it all feels pretty stale.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Performance Anxiety

I was getting impatient for the base coats to dry on a large enamel piece, so I started work on a new series of watercolours on paper. I am really bad at doing nothing.
Putting down the first marks of a new work is always hell. I suffer a flood of anxiety and self-doubt, and the initial effort is always terrible. I try too hard. My lines are tight. I am hesitant about how and where to use the paint. I waste a lot of time pacing around instead of working. I have to force myself to finish the damn thing. Then I lie it face down and try to forget about it.
When I'm not happy with my art, everything in my life is fucked. When it's going well, everything is perfect. It’s irrational and unpredictable, and it's downright unpleasant for everyone around me.
I'm going to meet my boyfriend for a coffee. He is the only one who 'gets' the see-saw of my moods, and he usually manages to chill me out (he knows an awful lot about art, too). We're going to look for a book on David Hockney. I love the work of his that I’ve seen but I don’t know much about it. I’ve also been reading a lot about Picasso. I’ve needed to remind myself that even he re-worked his paintings
constantly, that they didn't somehow materialise instantly as fully realised masterpieces.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Framing One's Thoughts

I used to hate picture frames. For a long time, I thought that art was, somehow, less if it needed a frame. I thought it should be able to stand alone, with no border or decoration.
None of my early works were framed. I started painting around and along the edges of large boards and canvasses because I wanted them to look like objects as well as glossy surfaces. When I did small works on paper for friends, I laid glass directly on top of them (an archivist's nightmare!) and secured the edges with metal clasps. I hated any extraneous lines. I hated too-well-defined edges.
I think I was over-influenced by my short time at art school. My lecturers were constantly looking to destroy anything 'old' or 'traditional'. There was often no reason for this except to be reactionary, something I am still prone to be. It's an affliction I'm trying to overcome.
Since my last exhibition of Voodoo-inspired works on paper, for which the works were framed in wide timber mouldings that looked like the mildewed, worm-eaten planks of coffins that had been buried then dug up, I have grown to love frames. They act sometimes as a psychic window between the world within the image, and the world outside it, enticing the viewer to focus on the image and discouraging them from being distracted by of whatever else might be in sight.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Nostalgie De La Merde

I have never deleted a comment here before but I made an exception when it came to this one, posted by Anonymous, to my entry, Yeah, I'm Talking About You:
"Hazey, you sound like a spoit brat who actually cannot paint! The must be a reason to why people rather focuse [sic] on your arse. You probably use your fucking arse to get their attention in the first place! Shall we mention the dude you are fucking right now. Does he have a bit of cash on him! Yes, l think he does! Everyone in the art world knows, my dear hazey. You are only fooling yourself. By the way, l bet you are happy to take the rich patrons money,aren't you? ... Are you giving your pussy up for him to manage as well?? Maybe you should go and have a glass of the fine wine that your patron gave you and find some reality!! Your once patron know [sic] hates what you stand for. Good luck because you need it!
"P.S We all know why Crawford review [sic] you! Did he leave an imprint your arse too! "
I now think it was a mistake to delete it. In every way, it underscores the very attitudes within the Australian art world that my entry attacked. For every woman who makes it, in every business, in every part of the world, there is at least one ugly male who will claim that she fucked someone to get there. The art world is no different.
I know who wrote this. The use of my old nickname, among other things, gives it away. It is one of the dealers I referred to in my piece – oddly, a man who also thinks of himself as a writer on art, although he betrays with his poor grammar, misspellings, haphazard punctuation and unimaginatively crude language the total lack of literacy that has made him something of a laughing stock among serious gallerists and collectors. He is also, clearly, a coward – why else post anonymously? I am not even going to bother to defend myself. Fuck him.
Actually, he's already fucked, if his increasingly seedy reputation is anything to go by. The most charitable joke about him among working artists and gallery owners is that he can smell an old or injured artist from 100km away – he makes a good living from preying on (or in his words, 'helping') them in exchange for their paintings. It's even rumored that he goes so far as to paint some of their work for them, even after they're dead. And maybe dead was what he was hoping I would be when a colleague of his tried to get me to sign an appallingly dodgy contract - of which I still have a copy, in his handwriting – when I was clinically depressed and suicidal.
As for his comment about my 'once patron', I wonder how that patron might feel towards him if he had heard the graphically sexual comments this cowardly, rape-fantasizing misogynist made about the patron's then 15 year old daughter in their own home.
Anyway, I have now aired his rant here and responded. In the future, I'll delete his comments just as I have deleted this piece of shit from the rest of my life.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Upstream Of The Data Flow

Tomorrow, Queensland's leading newspaper, the Courier-Mail, publishes a 3,000 word profile of me by Matthew Condon in its weekend magazine, QWeekend. I am still trying to live down a story I told him, a little rashly, about what I learnt about controlling goats during my childhood in the back-country of rural Australia. I am praying that Matthew won't quote it.
I'm always a little nervous just before anything about me – or my work – is published in the press. I concede that I'm a bit of a control-freak and I dislike surprises. I am also not yet used to there being so much about me floating out there in the ether, so many elements of my life now irreversibly a part of the public domain. Sometimes, I pick up random data about myself as I surf the web. Not much of it is true. It causes me to wonder what sort of picture of me the sum of all this corrupt data creates in the imagination of people who don't know me but who are alert to my reputation?
(The portrait above is by Russel Shakespeare, who photographed me for QWeekend at my studio north of Sydney. Note to self: renew gym membership!)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

As Dull As Watching Paint Dry. Not.

Sometimes the life of an artist has very little to do with art. For most of this week, my life has been about the tedium of catching up with administrative stuff I’ve neglected for a couple of months: filling in earnings reports for the tax department, paying bills, interviewing people for the job of my assistant, and organising the shipment of a dozen, framed works to buyers in the UK, Melbourne and Adelaide. I wouldn’t have bothered with all of this – I would have happily put things off for another month! – but I have been waiting for the delivery of some paint supplies so I can begin work on a large commission that is due in about six weeks.
I am almost finished the bookwork. I have, I think, found a wonderful assistant. I have another few works that will have to be sent on Monday, when the framer has finished working on them. After that, I can get back to my real job.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Stuffed And Hung On The Wall

I wasn't entirely honest in the entry I wrote about art prizes.
Last year, I posed for an entry in the Art Gallery of New South Wales' Photographic Portrait Prize. I don't know what title the photographer chose when he submitted the portrait to the Prize's 'hanging judges', but I wanted to call it Trophy Wall. Leaving aside the obvious socio-sexual conotations – wall, long-billed game fish, naked woman – I was struck by the idea that the thrill of the hunt and trophy displays are what a lot of art collectors are really about. (Not any of my collectors, of course.)
Maybe the same thought struck the judges. Maybe it made them uncomfortable. (Then again, maybe they just thought my portrait, whatever its title, was crap). It didn't make it past the first cut.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Malcolm McLaren, the aging outlaw of punk (both music and art) had this to say a while back:
“Being British is about singing Karaoke in bars, eating Chinese noodles and Japanese sushi, drinking fresh wine, wearing Prada and Nike, dancing to Italian house music, listening to Cher, using an Apple Mac, holidaying in Florida and Ibiza and buying a house in Spain. Shepherds pie and going on holiday to Hastings went out about 50 years ago and the only people you'll see wearing a Union Jack are French movie stars or Kate Moss.”
I wonder what being Australian is about. Don't tell me Akubra hats and Drize-A-Bone coats, the outback's miles of empty red dirt. Don’t tell me the coconut-and-saline scent of the beach, the breathy whisper of the surf. Do tell me it’s more than prawns on the barbie and barracking your mate as he shotguns an ice-cold tinny.
Nah. Truth is, Australia isn’t really about anything at all – except, maybe the desperate solitude of its suburbs, and all those mortgaged red-brick bungalows on quarter-acre patches that never feel quite like home.
Maybe this explains why my recent work has been rooted in the exotic, the weirdly esoteric. Give me voodoo, not a stubby of VB.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Cop This

Having been stopped twice in one week by the local traffic cops , I've racked up three fines totalling more than I used to earn in a month not long ago. The last was the most expensive. I was pulled over for a random breath test. I ended up getting done for driving a vehicle with an expired registration.
It's strange that I've never been stopped, let alone fined, before. I used to drive a car that would have given the cops an opportunity to fill their yearly quota of revenue-generating traffic violations. But maybe they could tell from looking it that I wouldn't have been able to pay a dime.
It was a 30-year-old, canary yellow, Triumph TR7. Wedge-shaped and low to the ground, it stuck to the road like glue as I sped round corners. I used to go out for long drives in it, alone, to unwind – to the beach when I lived in Queensland, or the country when I lived in Victoria. I struggled to maintain it, and in the last couple of years I owned it, I just couldn't afford to. The starter motor let out a screeching grind before it finally turned over. I had to top up the radiator with coolant at the beginning of every journey, no matter how short. It leaked badly in the rain, and the electronics and indicators often failed. I am pretty sure its so-called sports exhaust was illegal.
But the cops never stopped me, just waved me on with a smile. Maybe it was because I was younger and prettier then.
I drive a red VW Transporter van now. It's relatively new, clean, and conforms to all the road standards - as do I, most of the time. I don't mind the police, per se. I just hate rules. Even more, I hate being punished for breaking them. Ironically, in every other area of my life, when I break a rule, I am rewarded. Maybe I shouldn't try to obey any of them, on the road or off.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Pass The Envelope, Please

As a general rule, I don't enter art competitions. They're against everything I love about art. I agree with Ron Radford, the director of the National Gallery of Australia, who says that prizes are "silly in cooking, and even more silly in art... a primitive device, borrowed from sport, which turns everything into winners and losers".
He has a lot more to say in this recent Sydney Morning Herald interview.
Of course Edmond Capon, the director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, promoter of the Australia's best-known art prize, the Archibald, disagrees, although his justification of the worthiness of this event is a little odd: "You don't have artists of the stature of John Olsen entering it, and relishing winning it, if it is not serious art."
I think it has less to do with art than with brand promotion – for the gallery and the artist. Olsen has painted some extraordinary work, but little of it recently. Still, his name is recognizable and he's a popular character when it comes to the local media. He’s also more than happy to be gracious about the prize – now that he’s finally won. It amuses me that, in 1952, he was part of a group of art students who protested that fellow artist, William Dargie, had won too many times. One protester even tied a sign around her dog which said "Winner Archibald Prize - William Doggie".
Art prizes really bring out the best in everyone.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hot Press

Today's edition of the Australian Financial Review, the country's leading national business newspaper, reprinted my autobiographical essay from the Griffith REVIEW, retitling it with a long and almost post-modern sentence – In front is a precipice, behind are wolves: Hazel Dooney walks the razor's edge between respect and celebrity in today's art world – and giving it a double page spread. I am pretty sure I'm the first Australian artist to be featured in this way.
Despite my tendency to deprecate my own achievements, I can't help but love the implication in the headline that I have both respect and celebrity.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Materials Girl

I’m running low on art materials. It’s time to restock.
I’m a total paper, paint and brush fetishist. I love the delicate smells of watercolour and fine papers. I love the acid smell of enamel – even if it makes my nose bleed, deadens my tastebuds and leaves tiny but still noticeable white blotches on my skin. I love the way enamel glides on and disperses, smoothing out any traces of my brush. The smell of raw canvas reminds me of the first paintings I made, when I stretched and primed them myself in Queensland’s tropical heat.
I am in love with the colour and texture of Winsor & Newton Artists’ Water Colour on Fabriano Uno 180gsm cold pressed paper. I tried over 20 different kinds before I found this one. I’m pretty sure it’s no longer being made. In any case, I bought every piece I could find in Sydney, and searched the rest of Australia (and overseas, using the internet) too.
For opaque coverage and block colour on small works, I use Matisse Derivan Acrylic paint. My favourite paper when using thicker layers of acrylic is 100% Cotton Museum Board. It doesn’t buckle and has a fine, soft texture. It also comes in an almost photo white. I like to be able to leave some paper bare.
I've always loved lead pencils in HB, 2B, 4B, 6B. I don’t care what brand they are as long as the lead’s not broken inside. I love ZIG Memory System Writer pens. They’re pigment ink, acid-free, archival quality, light-fast, waterproof, fade-proof and non-bleeding. Each pen has two tips, 0.5mm and 1.2mm. I bought about 20 of them, a few years ago, from one of my all-time favourite art supplies shops Neil’s Art Store, in Fitzroy, Melbourne.
When I was in my teens, some friends who did graffiti turned me onto Posca paint pens. I don’t use them a lot in my artwork because they’re a bit thick, and I’m not sure about their archival quality. I still use them for labelling, though, ‘cause they mark just about any surface, and part of me likes them for nostalgic reasons. For writing, I only use black Uni-ball Eye in Micro. I like the flow of the ink and the silver/grey/black of the pen itself. I bought some Winsor & Newton visual diaries, but I don’t love them like I do everything else. The paper feels strange on my fingertips, it’s so smooth it’s almost abrasive, if that makes sense. I try not to think about it when I use it because I haven’t found anything better yet.
I don’t have a favourite brand of small brush, but I like cheap soft synthetics in a range of sizes - square tips for acrylic, and calligraphy shape for watercolour. For larger works, especially enamel, I only use Purdy brushes.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch

After a dreadful Friday evening at the Griffith REVIEW event, I've spent the last few days in the studio. It's been a welcome relief to do nothing else but paint. I had to finish some acrylic studies that I started between 1999 and 2001 then left incomplete until this year. Most are for Metro 5 Gallery, in Melbourne (you can see them here), which has created a bit of a buzz around them in the local market. Other, larger ones are part of a series commission from two of my favourite collectors.
I haven't answered the phone or left the studio for two days. I slept on the daybed there when I could no longer resist sleep in the early hours of the morning. I've been playing Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Henry Rollins, Moloko and David Gray really loud through speakers wired up to my iPod. Only at night do I put on headphones so I don't wake the neighbours. It makes me feel like I'm in a alternate world made up of only painting and a soundtrack. The night somehow makes the world my own, and my sense of time disappears.
It feels so... pure.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Chick Lit'

I've developed an allergy to writers. The allergy is more acute when the writers are also women my age.
On Friday night, I was one of a panel of mainly female writers from Generations X and Y, all of whom had been published in the Griffith REVIEW's current issue, The Next Big Thing, at a public discussion at Sydney's Gleebooks.
It went OK, I guess. The audience appeared to be entertained but I was disappointed – no to mention bored to tears – by all except two of my fellow panelists. There was fuck all insight and no readiness to address, even in the most general way, the topic that was meant to be under discussion: i.e. what's next for those generations following the Baby Boomers? Everyone claimed to have strong opinions, but those who weren't reluctant to express them appeared unable to be coherent, let alone concise. There were disagreements, often heated and petty, but no reasoned argument. As for well-researched support for specific assertions, it was as if the verb 'substantiate' didn't exist.
In the end, what should have been a stimulating experience felt like some dark, psychic suck. I never want to be around a group of writers ever again, no matter who they are.

Friday, September 08, 2006


I don't know exactly when it was that I became so anti-social and hermitic, but I suspect it was after spending time with a group of other artists, many of them well known, at Lake Eyre, in the desert heart of Australia. You wouldn't know it if you flicked through the expensive coffee table tome that resulted from it – in most of the photographs I look like a bored hanger-on at some boozy frat' party (which, in a way, I was) – but it was the catalyst for one of the darkest episodes of my life.
I won't go into the grungy details of what I went through, but when I came out the other end of it, I resolved to have a lot less to do with everyone who had been in my life up to that point, including my immediate family. I packed my clothes, books and painting supplies into the back of a rented station wagon – whatever I didn't have space for I gave away – and headed north on the main highway out of Melbourne. I didn't stop until I reached the northernmost edge of Sydney, 550 miles further on. The road ran out at the edge of the sea. On a whim, I took a short-term lease I couldn't afford then on a beach house owned by the actors Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward. I didn't bother to connect the phone. I set up a makeshift studio in the garage, protecting the works-in-progress from possums and salt spray with a couple of large canvas drop-cloths. The day after I moved in, I started painting again for the first time in a year.
I have come to love my solitude. Only my boyfriend and my framer visit me at my studio, which is now a spacious, two-bedroom apartment in a nondescript '60s block overlooking parkland not far from the beach. I hardly ever invite anyone else to the ramshackle beach house I rent as my home. Most days, I'm too busy and besides, as the cranky existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre, once put it, "Hell is other people."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Storm Passages

The weather's been wild here for the last day or so - strong winds, rain, hours and hours of lightning, floods. I didn't want it to stop. Late last night, I went down to the beach. I stood close to the tide line, in the rain, and watched the waves break and foam in the dark. Lightning made the water look like dull liquid silver. The sand on the beaches here is made from crushed coral: in the daytime it's a deep orange-yellow but at night it shimmers, picking up fragments of moonlight. I've been thinking of the sea a lot, and of learning to sail. I can surf, but I'm yearning to go further out to sea, way beyond sight of land.
I've started reading Tamata and the Alliance, an autobiography by the French sea-gypsy, solo circumnavigator, writer, and ecologist, Bernard Moitessier. He was, by every account, an extraordinary man, albeit something of a mad visionary. In 1969, when he was 44, he took part in the first-ever single-handed round-the-world yacht race, the Sunday Times' Golden Globe Race, starting from Plymouth, England. Sailing the 39-foot steel ketch, Joshua, his voyage was the fastest. By the time he returned to his 'home' waters of the Atlantic, having rounded the Cape of Good Hope, the southern tip of Tasmania and fearsome Cape Horn and having survived huge gales in the high latitudes of the Southern Ocean , Moitessier's victory was a certainty.
Then something happened. The French sailor changed course. Abandoning the race, he headed back towards the Roaring Forties and sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and Tasmania again to re-enter the Pacific, where he made for the island that would become his home, Tahiti.
In his log, and in a long letter composed for his publisher, which he slingshot to a passing ship (he refused to use a radio), Moitessier wrote: "Why am I doing this? Imagine yourself in the forest of the Amazon. Suddenly you come upon a small temple of an ancient, lost civilization. You are not simply going back and say, "I have found a temple, a civilization no- body knows." You are going to stay there, try to decipher it . . . and then you discover that 100 kilometers on is another temple, only the main temple. Would you return?"
As another sailor, Jean-Michel Barrault, wrote of him later:
"For five months alone at sea, the man had dealt with a multiplicity of technical problems, had shown his physical stamina, had run risks which most would not have faced but above all had sought his own truth, had silenced the sounds of the world and talked with the waves, with the flying spume, with the torn clouds, with the albatross and the petrels. He had lived in the roaring forties, not as a stranger but deep in the beauty of the ocean of which he said, 'I shall always cherish the memory of these gigantic waves, of this incredibly beautiful sea.' What was waiting for him in Plymouth was also the other side of glory: the tumultuous crowds, the lack of respect for the individual, prying indiscretions, the rape of his realized dream. He could not accept this."
Moitessier spent much of his childhood in Vietnam, and after only the first few pages of his unusual autobiography, I'd fallen in love with the pre-war Saigon he describes. In all his photos, he looks strong and peaceful, even when all his hair is grey and his face is weathered by the wind, salt and sun.
I'll always make art, but I don't want to be inside a studio anymore.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Painting From (Un)real Life

As usual, I was asked who my favourite artists were in an interview the other day.
I never know how to answer this sort of question. I could be concise and list the scores of artists who have influenced my outlook and work over the past 20-something years, along with the individual works that have affected me (even if, in many cases, the artists who created them were of no interest). My answer would be at least two or three thousand words, the length of an average magazine profile.
Instead, I keep it simple. I stick to the 'brand' names that even art-illiterate readers and middle-of-the-road journalists might recognise. I love Pablo Picasso. I think almost everyone does. Maybe even more than his work, I admire his curiosity, his willingness to experiment and his relentless productivity. I love Francis Bacon, Frida Kahlo and Francesco Clemente.
On the other hand, there are those who are not visual artists who have exerted a hell of a lot of influence on my imagination.
Working on Venus In Hell, the series for my last exhibition, I listened almost constantly to Vincent Gallo's CDs, Recordings of Music for Film and When – set to repeat, especially at night. More than any other music, it brings my feelings to the surface. The sounds remind me of colours and shapes and delicate layers of watercolour paint mixed with harsh improvisations of line and textures trapped under a thin skin. When I paint hard-edged work, especially in enamel, I listen to a huge amount of PJ Harvey - Dry, To Bring You My Love, Rid Of Me and Is This Desire – and Nick Cave. I love the dark erotic surges of his music and lyrics, especially in Murder Ballads. Lately, maybe because I live at the beach now, I've been playing laid-back, hypnotic Malian tracks by Ali Farka Touré, and Toumani Diabaté and Jack De Johnette.
When I first read Joan Didion's novel, Play It As It Lays (1970), it blew me away. It felt almost like reading an account of one of my own dreams. Everything in it is some kind of strange metaphor of the self, or rather the disintegration of self. I was influenced by it in my most recent work, and I know I'll do more that is directly inspired by it. But my bedside bible is The Outsider (1956) by Colin Wilson. How ironic that reading "the classic study of alienation, creativity and the modern mind" made me feel more like I had some kind of place, that I belonged somewhere, even if it was at the edge of things!
I adore Pedro Almodovar's movie Kika – I wish I had the costumes by Jean-Paul Gaultier in my wardrobe. Despite seeing it countless times, Wim Wender's Paris, Texas always haunts me. I love the dialogue (written by America Deserta's poet laureate, Sam Shepard), especially Nastassia Kinski's long, heart-wrenching monologue towards the end, not to mention the barren beauty of Robby Müller's cinematography and Ry Cooder's mournful, slide-guitar soundtrack (which reaches right into my heart – God, how I wish I could play a National Reso-phonic guitar!).
Then again, the two films that I love the most, and keep returning to, are Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, (I'm fascinated by Pris and Roy), and Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita. Themes of female violence and sexuality have always been strong in my work, and if I wasn't an artist, I would probably want to be a cool assassin like Nikita (played by Anne Parillaud) if/when I grow up.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

On The Grid

I've always liked the egalitarianism of the web, and the early idea of it as this vast, interconnected resource of arcane information. When I first set up my website, I wanted it to be an archive of accurate, up-to-date information about my work and me, as well as a point of contact.
I always wanted to be accessible. Before the web, whenever I'd been represented by commercial galleries, there had been no way for anyone to reach me except through these galleries and counter-intuitively, they always discouraged it. Now I can be contacted by anyone, anytime, and I love it.
Mostly I hear from collectors, gallerists, artists and journalists whom I already know, even if I haven't had a chance to meet them yet, but I also get a lot of what I call 'random' notes from people who have happened across a reference to my work on another web site. Something I didn't expect was the large number of students who write to ask questions about my paintings or about me or about art in general as background for assignments. When I was a kid, the world of art and artists seemed almost illusive, like some shadowy secret society that might not really exist, but I've had emails from primary and high school students in Australia, the USA, Britain, Japan, Russia, and most recently, Korea.
The concept of the Net enabling connection between us all, no matter how fleeting, and dissolving social, financial and geographical barriers is idealised and simplistic, I know – but I cling to it.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Loving The Virus

Last year, I created a stencil based on one of my earliest paintings, the 1998 Ultra Violet One, and offered it free to download from my web site and use under a Creative Commons license. While it didn’t have anything like the impact of Shepard Fairey’s phenomenal Obey Giant, it was gratifying to come across spray-painted versions of it around Sydney – on concrete walls, bus shelters, and a sidewalk near Bondi Beach – and to hear of it turning up on a club wall in Tokyo and in a skateboard store in Venice, California.
A couple of days ago, I was sent this photo of the stencil on the inside of an elevator in Adelaide.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Work Ethic

You can tell from the length of the last few blogs that I've been spending way too much time on my back – or my arse – lately, taking it easy, rather than making art. This morning, my head is clearer and I'm not suffering hot and cold flushes and a headache: it's about the most human I've felt for nearly a month.
I'm still getting to grips with prioritising my increased work load. There are commissions, preparations for next year's shows, public talks, and the few bits of writing I've taken on (I've got another piece to do for the Griffith REVIEW, and I'm meeting with a literary agent this week to discuss a proposal for a book). The truth is, I find it a little overwhelming and I'm beginning to understand why some artists surrender to the impulse to churn out versions of old work to satisfy the market. But I want to use the revenue and momentum I have to expand my creative ambitions and ideas beyond painting into other media, to take a few risks.
Of course, it could all end up being a complete disaster, in which case I will have plenty of time to sit on my arse again.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

My Space

The French novelist, Gustave Flaubert, once wrote, "Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work."
Now that my health is improving – I've been ill with a virus for nearly three weeks – I've decided to devote today and tomorrow to getting my shit together and start living and working like an adult.
It's taken me a while to realise that, despite my increasing financial success, I still live like a struggling artist (I'm frequently mistaken for a university or art school student). I wear one jacket that I swapped for an artwork 10 years ago, and even when I buy something new, I feel more at ease if it appears frayed or faded.
When I first moved into my current studio, I was so used to not owning anything that I furnished it with stacks of milk-crates as chairs (cushioned with painting drop-sheets) and makeshift tables instead of real furniture. I did buy a simple Balinese teak daybed, but I had become so used to moving constantly and sharing temporary spaces with other people that I've never set up a comfortable, functional space of my own. Such disarray is time-consuming – and no longer necessary.
I want my lifestyle to catch up with my earnings so, this Summer, I'm renting a beach house owned by a well-known film director about an hour's drive north of Sydney. It has plenty of natural light, a huge table that will be perfect for drawing, and a big garage area underneath with lots of airflow. I'll use the garage to paint a couple of large, enamel-on-board works. There's a piano in a corner of the living room – its keys are loose and out of tune – as well as wicker armchairs and a big TV. Outside, a wide timber verandah runs the length of the house. Situated in a valley shaded by tall palm trees, about a minute's walk from a secluded beach (where I'm planning to surf every day), it's a peaceful, not-too-out-of-the-way retreat.
I will still keep my studio, and I will make it feel a little more permanent and well-organised. I've already hung a few favourite pieces by other artists and displayed some ornaments, which are mostly fetish-like objects. I've unpacked books and crammed them onto shelves, though there are so many that I still have a few piles on the floor. I will create shelves and storage racks to replace the stacks of carboard boxes for my work materials.
I'm not planning to stay in this space forever, but from now on I want to live in a more affluent and productive present – a present that is really fucking awesome – instead of a past that was, to put it mildly, impoverished, fractured, and not much fun at all.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Yeah, I’m Talking About You

A while back, I had a particularly irksome confrontation with a well-known Sydney gallerist. It took a couple of days to recover my composure, and when I did, I scribbled these words inside the small sketchbook I use as diary:
“I hate the Australian art world.
“I hate the staid, smug, sexist, middle-aged white men who populate it. I hate how I have had to fend off their wildly inappropriate advances, their blatant sexual innuendos and their cowardly back-stabbing asides. When I first started out, I expected expertise and professionalism. Instead, I’ve experienced everything but. I hate how they think that every young woman is naive and stupid.
“I hate the women too. I hate how they won’t stick by each other. I hate that they’re the first ones to tell me how clever my marketing is, as if my success has nothing to do with talent and hard work.
“I hate art dealers. I hate the one that, when I was too poor to stay at a hotel, offered me a lumpy fold-out couch in his apartment. He told me if I couldn’t get to sleep I could always share his bed. I hate the one who helped find me a psychiatrist during a nervous breakdown and then, when I was so heavily medicated I could hardly speak, tried to talk me into signing over all my work to him. He even had the nerve to propose a book by him about my work as if it was some kind of irresistible incentive.
“I hate the rich patron of a much-publicised art project who announced to everybody at a dull, self-congratulatory party for the media and Melbourne’s social set that he wished all artists looked like me. He didn’t mention anything about my art, and I hate that too. I hate that, later, he tried to press me for a tongue kiss. I hate the people who made excuses for him, saying he was drunk.
“I hate the so-called artists’ manager who said – as we stood together in the middle of nowhere and he fingered the trigger of a rifle I was going to use in the series of paintings I wanted to paint there – 'I could rape you now and probably get away with it'. I hate myself for not grabbing the gun and turning it on him.
“I hate every asshole that has tried to kiss me on the mouth or leave their hand on my ass when they greeted me at an gallery opening or party. I hate everyone who told me I should take it as a compliment. I hate that many of them were women.”
I hate that I have never said any of this publicly. Until now.