Tuesday, October 31, 2006

An Appropriate Response

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

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Unbearable Lightness of Seeing

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

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sisters Are Doing It By Themselves

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I Love Hues All

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

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Trail Of Crumbs

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

Monday, October 23, 2006

Today Was A Good Day

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

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Rewriting The Rules

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

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Woman At Work

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

Friday, October 20, 2006

So Shoot Me

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

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Guiltless Pleasure

Yesterday, I bought a handbag I have wanted – lusted after – for over half a decade. It's a classic, hobo-style shoulder bag by Bottega Veneta, hand-woven like an ancient basket with strands of black leather. The leather's so soft it feels (and smells) almost other-worldly and it's lined inside with a cashmere-like nude suede. The bag comes with a small hand mirror backed with the same black leather. The cost was just a little less than a second-hand American car.
I've been justifying the purchase by telling myself (and anyone else who'd listen) that I needed a strong, well-made bag to carry the increasing amount of stuff I take with me when I'm away from my studio – sunglasses, make-up, medication, 'analogue' diary and weekly planner, palm pilot, pencil case, phone, wallet, small sketch book, whatever – but to coin a Joan Didion line, that's just the story I tell myself in order to live.
Even when I was dirt-poor, I was as particular about the clothes, shoes and accessories I wore as I was about the materials I used for my art. It wasn't about how luxurious or stylish they were (although a certain, bohemian style was a factor), but rather about something ineffable. When I had time but no money, I drifted around second-hand designer-wear outlets to find distinctive, individual pieces - unusual fabrics, unconventional tailoring, unique accessories with no apparent logos or labels. However, this Bottega Veneta bag is the first piece that I've sought and saved for spurred by a long-term, specific desire. It is also the first new, very expensive thing I have ever bought for myself – the first heady and even reckless indulgence of my new-found success.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Too Kewl For School

In an earlier entry, I wrote about a skatebaord, a 4' 10" Sector 9 cruiser, I was asked to paint for an exhibition and charity auction in New York City. Several people emailed to ask to see a photograph of it. So here it is.
I remember being hesitant about taking on this project. I kept telling myself that a so-called serious artist didn't waste her talents on painting decks. The truth was, I was still just a little too close to a time when street culture – which, for me, was skating, graffiti, music, and speed
(in no particular order) – distracted me from my ambition to be a painter. As it turned out, working on the board was one of the best things I ever did, not just because of the opportunities that flowed from it but because it opened my mind to the idea that I didn't have to turn my back on my past to be successful.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Sense Of Entitlement

"From now on, I want a royalty on the resales and I'm going to get it." - Robert Rauschenberg, 1973
A valued collector emailed me recently to ask if I had an opinion about the notion of droit de suite – the artist's right to royalties on the resale of their works. I had the impression that this collector, an intelligent, sensitive man, was in favour of it because, on the face of it, it contributes further to the support of the artist.
I disagree.
Droit de suite
negates the significance of the collector in an artist's success. Every person who buys a work of art is supporting an artist at whatever point that artist happens to be in their career. Even at Rauschenberg's extraordinary level of fame and earnings, collectors who buy his new work and bid for his old works at auction sustain (and, these days, increase) the value of both past and future works. Even an artist like Rauschenberg derives enough significant benefit from this not to deserve a royalty in the same way as a musician or an author does from works that must necessarily be distributed in volume to earn any sort of return for them.
In 1996, I sold my first large painting for about $300. It would fetch nearly $30,000 now. When the value of my works grew, I wanted this collector to make as much money as possible from an eventual sale. Over the past ten years, the work has been through a series of owners, but I still feel that each believed in me and was invested in my future. The original price of $300 bought my food, rent, and several large tins of paint. The person who bought it next paid twelve times more. I didn't receive another cent. However, because of that re-sale, I could be confident that whatever I painted next would be sold for a lot more than $300. Subsequent buyers not only invested in the long-term value of my work, they encouraged an expectation that I might be able to create and sell more works in the future
.
For every artist that makes it – and making it means being able to make art full-time and not having to worry unduly about where the next meal might be coming from, let alone rake in the millions that Rauschenberg and many of his peers do – there are thousands who don't. Everyone who supports an artist by buying their work, especially in the early, 'risky' stages of a career, deserves all of whatever eventual profit there might (or might not) be. It's unreasonable for artists to think they are owed anything more.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Floating World

My boyfriend gave me the most beautiful surfboard in the world. It's a 9'2" longboard, with a deck the exact shade of hot pink that I've used in several of my early paintings. The design is a kind of a camp 'Old Glory', a pastel pastiche of the American flag with off-white stars scattered down the left hand side and pink and cream stripes down the right. The whole design is bordered by a thin, Klein blue line. These exact same shades of pink and blue were combined in my very first enamel painting.
The board is still shiny and new. Yesterday, I kept its surfaces pristine so i could admire them, and peer into them like the facets of some exotic jewel. Last night I dreamed that I'd fallen asleep embracing it. Today, I can't wait to wax the deck and blur the hard edges of colour under layers of opaque carnauba extract. It's time to turn it into a practical water craft instead of a slippery totem.
I can't wait to paddle out on it. Sometimes, when I'm in the surf, I catch glimpses of rich, aqueous colours around me, as if my art has swum out to keep me company – a surreal idea that makes me feel whole, as if I am able finally to assemble all the disparate pieces of myself on the heaving surface of the shore break.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Good Man Is Hard To Find

Some time ago, I had an awful experience with the Melbourne-based gallery, Metro 5. I vowed never to have anything to do with it again.
Then the Italian-born Andrea Candiani was appointed as the gallery's new director.
Right from the start, Andrea had to confront the Herculean task of restoring the gallery's badly damaged reputation and credibility, as well as re-establishing the trust of many well-known artists who felt they'd been burned in their past dealings with the gallery. It was, and still is, hard and thankless, but Andrea has
persisted.
He genuinely loves art. Moreover, if he believes in a particular artist, he will put the gallery's money where his mouth is to support them. He manages to resist the gallerist's natural inclination to be controlling, manipulative and possessive.
Andrea is bright, imaginative, and blessed with boundless enthusiasm. Unlike a lot of gallerists, he doesn't hesitate to get involved in polemical discussions and I often come across his name under posts in art-related fora on the web. He is quick to embrace new ideas, new media, and new ways of promoting them.
It is probably too much to hope that he's the first of a new breed of Australian gallerists – gallerists who actually care about art and artists, rather than the money they can make from them – but the fact that Andrea exists at all is enough to reassure me that all is not lost when it comes to the business of art.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Body Work

My new assistant came to have lunch and hang out with me while I painted. She doesn't really start the job until next week, but I wanted to get to know her first, and talk more about what her job will involve. One of the things she'll be doing is preparing my food - four or five small meals a day. She loves to cook, and is what I think of as an educated vegetarian. I'm not. I'll just have to cook my own meat.
When I'm alone I skip meals, or eat very bland food. I used to decide what to eat based on what cost the least, so I could buy more art materials. Eating raw or blanched vegetables and little else meant I could spend more time working. Now whatever resilience remains from a healthy childhood has been diminished by my own lack of care and outright self-abuse. With a better diet, I'm hoping that I'll notice a difference within a couple of months.
I'm also rejoining a gym, which I've avoided for almost a year. The one closest to me is like one sprawling posh suburban nightmare encapsulated in another. My boyfriend gave me some old-fashioned earphones for my iPod, so I plan to cocoon myself in Glenn Gould, Moloko, and Henry Rollins' spoken word CD, Get In The Van . At least technology helps me create an alternative, more pleasant environment within another that I find oppressive.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Art In Real Life

Years ago, before I had my website, I had little contact with collectors of my work. The galleries that represented me were quite controlling. I was sometimes introduced to them, briefly, at an opening, but only if they were shepherded by the gallerist, who declined (without my knowledge) their requests to visit my studio, or meet me to discuss future works. Worse, when I eventually left these galleries, collectors were told that I had been asked to leave – or even that I was no longer an artist. I never understood the reason for wanting to fuck with an artist in this way. I never figured out why a gallery might think this was a good way to sell art. All it did was undermine the confidence of both artist and collector.
That's all changed now. As a result of my online presence, I have regular contact with several of my collectors. They are no longer mere consumers of my art but committed supporters. Over time, a few have become almost as absorbed as I am in my creative process, and make a point of acquiring pieces within which they can construct their own narratives of the development of a particular idea, deriving intellectual rather than just decorative satisfaction from them.
Today I received a beautiful surprise from one such couple. They had taken about a dozen photographs of the two-story entrance hall of their large house, then taped them together to form a 360-degree view of what (they wrote) was soon to be home to a couple of my largest paintings. Written in black felt pen were notes with arrows pointing to where these commissioned works would hang, along with abbreviated anecdotes about hanging other works of mine – they do it all themselves – that made me laugh out loud. They even captioned some of the images: Art Collector's Ambition/Dream, An Art Collector at Work/Play, and Indulgence/Contemplation Spot.
How do I begin to describe how much this means to me? I don't make art for anyone but myself. And yet to see that others not only connect with it, but make it an important part of the lives, makes me very happy.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Nothing Left To Lose

Yesterday, I accepted three commissions for large-scale paintings which, on top of several other private commissions and exhibition commitments, have closed out my schedule for 2007. I will now have to tell clients and galleries that I'm unable to look at any new projects before January, 2008 – and maybe later, if I decide to spend Christmas, next year, in Brazil, where I want to join a samba school and dance in one of the Carnival parades.
I am still a little gob-smacked by how quickly all this has happened. Eighteen months ago, I was working part-time in a clothing shop to make ends meet. I was living with my father and trying to recover from a debilitating mental breakdown. I hadn't touched a paint brush in almost six months. My last solo exhibition at the John Buckley Gallery in Melbourne, in 2004, had been a bust – it took a year to sell all the paintings – and at least a couple of artists and gallerists I knew were already talking about my career as an artist in the past sense. Hell, I was, too. There was nothing in my life then that suggested any reason for optimism.
What got me off my sorry ass and working again was the opportunity to paint... a skateboard. Thanks to the artist, William Quigley, I was the only foreigner among 75 artists and celebrities – everyone from Julian Schnabel, William Wegman and Tony Alva, to Peter Beard, Robin Williams and 50 Cent – invited to submit a hand-painted skateboard to be auctioned for the benefit of the Boarding For Breast Cancer charity. The boards were exhibited in a show entitled Style Sessions at Milk Studios on West 15th Street in New York, and on the big night, my board attracted one of the three highest bids (which equalled what one of my large paintings were worth then).
A month after the auction, I quit my job and decided to leave Melbourne for Sydney. I committed to the idea of being an artist – or die trying. As I packed up my few possessions, I couldn't help thinking of this passage from Goethe:
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one element of truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and spelndid plans – that moment one commits oneself, then providence moves all.
"All sorts of things occur ton help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed could have come his way.
"Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin in it now."

Monday, October 09, 2006

Fatal Attraction

"Life is on the wire. The rest is just waiting." - Papa Wallender, legendary tightrope artiste.
I spent at least half this day sick or sleeping off the effects of using enamel paint. My tolerance to it has declined in the year or so since I last used it. Tomorrow morning I'm going to my favourite industrial paint store to buy a protective suit and some fresh chemical filters for my mask. I'd take a photo to post here but it feels too ridiculous. Then again, the ramifications of not taking it seriously are anything but ridiculous.
I've been reading about the sculptor, Eva Hesse. She worked with lethal material and was diagnosed with a brain tumor, probably caused by the carcinogenic fumes wafting around her studio. She died at 34. I love her work: abstract yet emotional and fragile. I love the way she drew line and light into her pieces and how she made impermanent, unbeautiful media incredibly tender.
I understand all too well why she didn't change materials, even when she understood their toxicity, even when she knew, in the end, they were killing her.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Welcome Back, My Addiction

I painted with enamel for about four hours today and now I am sick. I have washed twice but I can still smell the fumes on my skin and taste them at the back of my throat. My eyes are dry, I have a headache, a dull throb right at the top of my skull where only enamel fumes seem to reach. A familiar, lung-wrenching cough has returned.
I get these side-effects despite new, health-protecting work habits. It would be worse without them. I used to paint with little or no protection and I painted until I was sick, or fell asleep in my clothes. It made me sick but I liked it. I liked to feel the effect it had on me. Now I care about my health. I don't want to damage my body any more than I have already. I keep a few clean shirts on hand in the studio to change into so the fumes that are absorbed by the fabric don't sit too long on my skin. I rub vaseline into my hands, and around my mouth and nose. It stops the fumes burning my skin. I also rub it inside my nostrils to protect the sensitive membranes there. I've bled inside my nose because of using this paint and for years afterwards, whenever I blew my nose, there were traces of blood. I wear a mask, with chemical filters.
None of these things, alone or together, stops the effects but they would be much worse without.
I still love enamel paint. Even when it's dry, it appears to be seductively, wet. When I'm using it, I mix it so the viscosity is smooth and glides on in an erotically suggestive way. I love its creaminess, the way it settles after the brush has left the surface. When I apply it, the action is more like stroking than brushing. I've been using enamel – with certain brushes – for so long that it feels like an extension of my fingers. I can make it do whatever I want, without conscious thought.
I can't help myself. I have to keep using it. It's a beautiful, self-destructive addiction.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Words To Live By

I spent the day in the studio, working on a new enamel-on-board painting, a commission based on one of my older series, Cunning Stunts. It's taken a long time to begin the work – the usual hesitancy and self-doubt that plague every painter before they commit to their first marks.
Halfway through the day, my boyfriend called to offer this advice: "Just remember, connect all the dotted numbers in the right order when you draw and don't color in outside the lines."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Lost In Spaces

Today was a total bust. My assistant was supposed to arrive at 9:30am, then take my van to do a series of urgent errands, pick-ups and deliveries in the city. I would usually allow four hours for it all in heavy traffic. I allowed about twice that time for her to get lost, look for parking, and have a couple of breaks. I had a full day of painting planned. Deadlines are looming.
The whole point of having an assistant is to enable me to spend more time making art.
Instead of a knock on the door at 9:30, I got a text message. The assistant wouldn't be in until midday, which turned into "sometime after midday" during a subsequent phone conversation. Maybe I have a tougher work ethic than most but somehow her excuse that she needed " just a little more sleep" because it was going to be "a big day" – her first big day after a week on the job – just didn't cut it with me. I fired her.
Late this afternoon, I hired my second assistant. She starts in two weeks. That's soon enough. Right now, I just want to be alone and paint.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Pseudo Galleries Or Art Pimps?

A couple of years ago I had a conversation with respected Sydney gallerist, Ray Hughes about the rise of what he called "pseudo galleries": places set up by people who have no knowledge or understanding of, or any long-term interest in, art. These people see only an opportunity to make some easy money. They sucker new or naive collectors into buying bad art with talk of investment value – trendy, meaningless adjectives such as directional are adopted from fashion jargon – and blue chip artists' names. Client lists are harvested from non-art-related businesses and the pages of the business press. The less a target punter actually knows about art the better.
I had a nasty encounter with one of these galleries yesterday. The manager had written to me and invited me to his Sydney gallery for a coffee. He meant, of course, for a chat about “working together”. He had told me that they organise exhibitions in Singapore, and are opening a new space in Perth.
What a fucking waste of time! The gallery looked like a discount convenience store. The staff had not been told to expect me, and even after I had introduced myself, they behaved like badly trained shop assistants. I was asked twice if I was happy browsing – huh? – and whether I liked the space.
Eventually, the manager walked me through the space, such as it was. He explained how the gallery operated in conjunction with another business selling a luxury product under the same primary brand. In one room, there were stacks of packing cases, and another was an open plan office with about ten staff, each with a phone and a computer. They were selling not art but the company’s other product. The art 'sales people' were housed upstairs and when we looked in on them, it looked like they were canvassing potential buyers like some bucket-shop share brokerage.
By the time the manager finally took me to his own office for our so-called meeting, I was already regretting having stayed so long. When his boss, the company’s managing director, joined us – wearing a pastel lemon polo shirt, and all the rest of the now anachronistic uniform of an ‘80s yuppie – the only thing I was convinced of was that they were low-brow, middle-of-the-road and completely uneducated about art. Nevertheless, the pompous head honcho tried to lecture me about the art business and his unfounded perceptions of what was ‘commercial’ in Asian markets. All of which I knew to be rubbish. After all, I number a few major Chinese collectors among my buyers. That didn’t stop him being condescending and treating me as if I was some naïve newbie. I laughed out loud at a few of his dumbest remarks. I just couldn't help it. Then I regained my sanity – and left.
“Motherfuckers,” I kept thinking. “Totally wasted my time.” Henry Rollins once wrote that having your time wasted is like being murdered slowly.
The gallery manager ran after me, keen to patch things up. Bizarrely, he thought that inviting me to their next opening party might do the trick. What an idiot!
Art snobs, I am rejoining your ranks.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Job Lot

My assistant has only been with me for less than a week, but already I notice a difference in having two pairs of hands. She helps me with everything except my creative work and correspondence.
Today, as I painted, then later wrote to or spoke with a handful of collectors, she set about organising my office and the smaller of my studios. It's an ugly job but someone had to do it. My spaces are about as tidy as a teenager's bedroom. Everything is stacked in cheap storage boxes, a hangover from the times when I had no money. My boyfriend sourced a fabulous aluminium horizontal plan cabinet for my works on paper – it will be my first proper piece of studio storage – and tomorrow, we're buying lolly-coloured filing cabinets for administration paperwork and personal archives.
The assistant also went to the supermarket and stocked up on groceries for both studios. I often forget to eat when I'm working. I sometimes feel like there is too little time to stop. She quizzed me about the foods I like, and noted down everything in a red hardcover notebook I bought her. She's promised my boyfriend to rat me out if I don't care of myself.
I'm still getting used to having another person around. The assitant has an Asian respect for my personal space, and although I wonder if I am sometimes too intense, or chaotic, or if my attention to detail might drive her nuts, she appears to take everything in her stride. That quality alone ensures her job security.