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


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.