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


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


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".