Monday, December 31, 2007

What's New, Pussycat?

I was beginning to regret writing about my immodest collection of vibrators – too many weird proposals from geeky single men (and a couple of women) who mistook my candour for sexual availability – until the last post delivery of 2007 brought this cute gift from a close friend in Japan.
Ten years ago, San Rio, licensors of the Hello Kitty brand phenomenon, stopped producing a Hello Kitty clit' stimulator – oh, I'm sorry, they call it a compact personal massager – because they were taken aback by its widespread misuse among Japan's armies of hyper-sexualised, sailor-suited kogyaru (high school girls). Or so they said. Now girls, young and old, are lining up again at Kiddyland in Tokyo's Aoyama district to buy a new, updated version, available in a range of colours including the traditional Hello Kitty candy-floss pink – and black (which my friend thought would best match my wardrobe).

Sunday, December 23, 2007

'Tis The Night Before, Sort Of

I've just finished the first in my new series of large – 2 metres by 1.7 metres – oil-on-canvas paintings, Dangerous Career Babes. Commissioned by an up-and coming Australian gallerist, it's titled, The Art Dealer, and from the Damien Hirst dots in the background to the dollar notes wafting from the hands of the leggy, cheese-cake babe centre-frame, makes obvious fun of the whole ugly idea of art as commodity.
I am now going to take it easy over the next week or so. I owe myself a break. I will add an entry here only occasionally before the second week of the new year.
I want to thank everyone who has read this blog and taken the time to comment or be in contact with me via email about it. Writing has become an important part of my creative routine, a way to express myself that is discrete from my art – and, at times, personally indiscreet – as well as encourage and sustain a dialogue with those who are genuinely interested not just in my work but art in general. I can't wait to develop this further, next year.
Until then, I wish everyone a happy, peaceful holiday!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holy Fuck

I've had unusual gifts from strangers before but those I received today in the mail certainly take the, um, cherry. Apparently inspired by the brief piece I wrote recently about my collection of sex toys, an anonymous somebody sent me two unusual dildoes and a butt plug. One of the dildoes was in the shape of a plump golden Buddha, the other of Jesus on a luminescent white cross. The butt plug was a swaddled infant Jesus. All were moulded in a soft, pliable, flesh-like silicon that was seductive to touch.
I loved them. Still, despite being an atheist, there's no way I'd use even faux-religious artifacts for self-stimulation – let alone slide the centrepiece of the Nativity scene up my ass, especially over Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Return Of The Idiot Box

I've spent the past couple of evening curled up in front of my new television set. This is the first time I've had TV in my house for over a year. In a fit of misplaced frustration and anger, I disconnected the last one I owned and carried it outside to the curb, where I left it with a sign saying 'Works well. Please take.'
I was raised with the idea that television was a waste of time. If I watched it at all as a kid, I had this gnawing guilt that I should be doing something better, something more productive. TV made me lazy, I'd been taught.
Now, I not only have a TV, I've got digital satellite and real-time interactivity.
I've been gorging myself on it, channel-surfing and recording to an integrated hard-drive so I can fast forward through the ad segments later. I watch Sex And The City using the scene-skip function – I don't give a toss about the plot, I just want to get to the next outfit. I flick back and forth between Kimora Lee Simmons, Tyra Banks, Nigella Lawson (whose eating noises gross me out) and whatever other E! Entertainment junk is on. I've never seen these programs before and I want to watch everything – for a few seconds, at least.
I record hours of art programs, documentaries, travel shows and biographies and later, allow myself to become absorbed in them. My favourite subject is modern history, a fetish sparked by a documentary on the evolution of the machine gun. I've recorded a few movies but my attention is too restless to sit through any of them.
Frankly, what I love most is TV itself. Its like scanning constantly changing images captured from a camera monitoring all of Western society: its flaws, fetishes, and fads reduced to an easy-to-review, point-and-click program grid. So many random sequences, or so they appear to me, and all of them good, bad, smart, stupid, humiliating, sexy, degrading, extravagant and grotesque (often, all at once).
I can't bring myself to look away.

Monday, December 17, 2007

In Stability

When I'm out buying art materials, various people have told me how calm, easy-going, and friendly I seem. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I am, by nature, misanthropic, thin-skinned, highly strung, and anxious. I'm quick to anger. Often, my hands tremble visibly. It's hard even for me to tell whether it's because of nervousness or some percolating rage. My inner tensions are so great that at night I wear a clear silicon mouth guard. Moulded by a dentist to fit over my top teeth, it minimises damage to the dental enamel and eliminates muscular ache caused by the constant, uncontrollable grinding of my jaw as I sleep. When I am not making art – when I am trying to avoid it, when I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do next – my skin breaks into a rash-like blush and my skin odor becomes acrid, sour.
All this stops when I am actually making art – or putting the materials together for it. I am calm and pleasant to be around. Everything is right with the world. Even me.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Toys For Xmas

I'm fascinated by sex aids. Sleek, stylised, sometimes grotesque re-configurings of female anatomy, they're at once alien and seductively intimate, intended for nothing else but sexual stimulation. My collection is modest, so to speak, but over the years I've acquired all sorts of arcane and complexly engineered pieces. I'm surprised they haven't turned up in my work. Many are sculptural – silicon maquettes of shapes that have stimulated my subconscious since I was a teenager.
Do I actually use them? That's something a girl likes to keep to – or is it in? – herself.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Manual Pleasure

I am not a great photographer. I know only how to point and shoot an auto-everything camera. My photographs are plain, prosaic. I'm often frustrated that I don't know how use a camera the way I use a brush or a pencil (although, recently, inspired by Peter Beard, I've taken to using both on my photos). I have neither control over nor insight into how my camera functions, other than pushing its shutter button. Sadly, more and more cameras are operated by pushing just one button.
As my interest in real photography develops, the availability of traditional photographic materials is diminishing. Manual SLR and range-finder cameras are becoming fetish items while quality films and fibre-based papers are disappearing. Some are no longer manufactured. In Australia, it's difficult to find my favorite black-and-white 35mm film from Ilford
and there's only one Sydney-based photo-finisher who will process it and custom print the negatives 'by hand' rather than with digital media.
Digital cameras are easy to use but their images always seem flat to me, as if each shape has been cut-and-pasted into the frame. I'm so not a fan of computer-based photography. Using computers for photography is like using them for painting and drawing. It can be done, but the results are remote, artificial, and even the best works lack richness, let alone humanity and heart. They never make me feel anything.
In the traditional photographic works that interest me most – by people such as Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, Brassai, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Robert Frank, Larry Clark, Penny Smith, and others – the camera becomes eye, mind, subconscious, and heart all at once. Ironically, as it's such an old, mechanical technology, it allows the viewer to experience the result more fully and realistically because there is something more than the image itself. And isn't that what real art is about?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Take Me Higher

I sat up late last night, nervously awaiting the results from the Christie's auction, in London. As I noted in the previous entry here, this was the first time my work went under the hammer overseas. It was also the first time my work was seen at all in Europe, other than by a handful of canny private collectors.
By nine p.m., Sydney time, when the auction started, I was a mess – shakey, irritable, even a little teary. I'm not good at rejection and I knew that if my work was passed in or, worse, sold for less than my Australian auction high of $12,000 (for an earlier and lesser work), then I would take it badly. So, I suspected, would my collectors.
I needn't have worried. There was plenty of support for both works and the hammer fell on bids of 10,000 pounds or $23,185 for each, a new high – and only $5,000 less than my much larger, new oil works sell for right now.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

My First London Auction!

My work turned up at major auctions in Australia for the first time this year. Six early paintings, none of them my best, fell under the hammer for bids between $4,000 and $12,000 (Australian).
This Wednesday, 12th December, at 10:30am, my work will make its first appearance at a foreign auction house when two of my early enamel paintings – Sports Babe: Tennis, 2000, high gloss enamel on board, 100.3cms x 149.8cms (Lot 0092) and Sports Babe: Cricket, 2005, acrylic with high gloss enamel and reflective vinyl on board, 100.3cms x 149.8cms (Lot 0093) – will be auctioned by Christie's, 8 King Street, St. James's, London, as part of Modern + Contemporary Australian Art With Works by New Zealand & South African Artists.
I'm the youngest artist to have works included in this prestigious sale and one of only a few women (Tracey Moffat is another). Among the other artists are Jeffrey Smart, Sir Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin, Norman Lindsay, John Perceval, Sir Sidney Nolan, Ray Crooke, Charles Blackman, Albert Namatjira, and Brett Whiteley.
Estimates for both my works are broad – between 8,000 and 12,000 UK pounds! – but if you're interested in bidding for them, register your interest with Nicholas Lambourn at Christies, tel: +44 (0)20 7389 2040 or

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Machine Work

I used a computer to finish the studies for my new series, Dangerous Career Babes.
I did most of the work in the same way I always have – using photography, pencil drawing, and collage – but I'm experimenting with processes to reduce the time it takes to complete each image. I ink and pencil a clean, simplified version of the initial drawing onto tracing paper, which I scan. This allows me to see the line work without being distracted by my under-working. Later, I use Photoshop to experiment with different colour combinations.
Inevitably, there are always elements of the drawing I want to improve. I print out several copies of the image and make changes by hand using ink and correction fluid. Sometimes I cut and paste sections of line work on-screen although I find this a pain in the ass. I much prefer using my hands, brushes, pencils – hell, anything! – to squinting at computer pixels. Besides, the process takes away the joy of unexpected discoveries I make when I work only by hand.
In the end, it's all about speed. These works are so labour intensive, repetitive and detailed that I just want them done.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Thanks For Nothin', Charlie

Several of my earliest works have resurfaced in the secondary market, this year. Very few are being sold by serious art collectors. Mostly, they're just people trying to make an unrealistic, windfall profit on a minor work bought ten years ago for a few hundred dollars. Looking to make the $12,000 to $18,000 paid for the best of my early works, they're upset when dealers and auction houses suggest a price closer to $5,000 – which is still, in every case, an appreciation of over 1,000 percent. Such sellers often email me to complain.
A lot of my early work was not particularly good. I started exhibiting very early in my career, before my work was fully developed. I also painted a small number of decorative pieces, such as the one pictured above, for shops, restaurants and small businesses that were never intended as serious pieces. I did them to pay rent, eat and buy more art supplies. I don't even consider them to be part of my oeuvre, such as it is.
When such works turn up in the market, nowadays, I'm not concerned about them affecting my reputation or the prices paid for newer, better paintings. It can be unpleasant simply because some of the people selling the works are former acquaintances who contact me after being absent from my life for a decade only to ask – no, insist upon! – my help to sell the works. "After all," one of them told me, "It's in your best interests too, you know!".
Actually, it isn't. What's in my best interests is to be undistracted from making new and better work.
I told one woman that a work she bought for a few hundred dollars would probably fetch $3,000. "But that's pathetic!" she snarled. I pointed out that a thousand percent profit on any investment was a huge rise. The price she originally paid me for the painting didn't even cover my costs, let alone time. Still, it was almost as if she felt personally entitled to a percentage of everything I had ever accomplished. I appreciate the support of people who bought – who continue to buy –
my work but whether they bought ten years or ten days ago, they all got a bargain.
Nearly every consumer product, from cars to furniture, depreciates sharply as soon as it's purchased. Even in Sydney's hyper-inflated property market, 1000% is more than most people make on their house values, especially after maintenance, utilities, rates and taxes are taken into account. Most artwork increases in value by about 10% a year and not every piece is high value, even when it's from a high value artist. The trouble is, mass media has focussed on the money – rather than the emotional and spiritual fulfillment – to be gained from collecting art. Now every second-rank stock broker and mergers-and-acquisitions specialist sees himself as the next Charles Saatchi, with neither his taste nor his shrewdness.
A former advertising tycoon, Saatchi has a lot to answer for. He doesn't just buy art low and sell it high. He works the media to increase the value of both the art and the artist., often financing shows at carefully selected venues in New York, London or Tokyo that, I'm sure, he regards as 'consumer-driven'. An example was an exhibition of works by young British artists he called Sensation. He published a hard cover coffee table book, Sensation: Young British Artists From the Saatchi Collection and used it as a catalogue. He created controversy around the show. Images of key works were printed again and again in mainstream media, building popular awareness and recognition – in other words, brand value. Then he cashed in.
Saatchi doesn't always get it right. He's rumoured to have damaged the careers of a number of artists by cashing in too fast or too soon, flooding the market with their work. Others, like Sandro Chia, he simply dumped, as if in a tantrum. Endless numbers of philistine, self-promoting hacks, media manipulators and con artists have followed Saatchi's example: they see it as a formula for making a lot of money with little effort but more respectability than, say, scalping sports tickets or hustling pyramid scams. Over the past couple of decades, the perception of art collecting has become somewhat akin to investing in state lotteries. Art's value is only about who wins on what and for how much. The art itself is, by and large, neglected, even by the artists: Never mind the quality, feel the width (buyers of paintings are a bit like Benny Hill: they like 'em big!)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Kindness of Strangers

The local post office frequently neglects to tell me when packages arrive for me. I have to ask. Usually, I know what's coming through the mail but today was a surprise. I received a package from the USA, from an artist named Scott 'Malcho' Hull, who often comments on this blog. We've exchanged brief emails but I don't know him well.
I wasn't prepared for his gift: a wooden box full of luminescent watercolours from Daniel Smith, an American brand he'd told me about. I've never seen anything like them. They're slightly pearlised, with glints of a metallic, yet they don't have the artificiality of most metallic colours. They look more like natural minerals as one first sees them, glistening in veins within a rock face.
There was a note inside the box, explaining how his artist friends had given him help and various practical gifts so he'd decided to 'pay it forward' to me. There was also a catalogue, with details of daylight lamps, bags, and storage draws that I've always wanted but haven't found here in Australia.
Also included was a t-shirt (in black, of course!) with Daniel Smith's logo on the back. I usually hate branded clothing. I even cut the labels off the insides of my clothes. But this t-shirt's kind of cool: the logo is a white silhouette of a cactus in a desert. Maybe I'll break my own rule and wear it.
I'm sending a personal thank you note but just in case he reads this first: Thank you, Malcho!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Picture Me Here, Now

I've started a visual diary of my everyday life. I've always used photography in some way in my work but this is more personal, observational, forensic.
I find it easy to live inside my head. Emotion amplifies my memories. This is good for my watercolour paintings because it allows me to blend intense feelings drawn from everyday life with dreams and images from my subconscious. Unfortunately, it isn't always good for me psychologically.
Keeping a visual diary helps me to see my day to day life as it really is. Everything has changed so much in the last three years that I feel like part of me is still catching up. Sometimes, I wake and think I am still in the past: I recognise my surroundings but the sense of being in another, earlier life persists. Reviewing images of my every day, and adding to them, helps me to be more a part of the present, and to navigate it better.
For this reason, I never go anywhere – not even to the local grocery store – without a camera. I have four: a Leica CM 35mm film camera, a Canon Digital IXUS 70 and my very first camera, a Pentax MZ-50 SLR, also using 35mm film. I prefer to use film rather than digital but I have grown addicted to the instant gratification, the immediacy, of digital. I also use an old Polaroid 600AF, a shitty, dime-store 'instant' camera that's been the 'workhorse' of my art-making for a decade or more.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Days Like This

I've been having a bad week. My drawing is going too slowly. Every mark feels like it has to be dredged from sludge somewhere in the darker recesses of my psyche before it can be transferred to paper.
A close friend sent me the image above from one of those dumb, text generator pages scattered around the net. It made me laugh – then it didn't.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Divan Diva

I use each part of my studio for a different purpose.
I have a glass-topped desk at which I deal with paperwork and correspondence. I also work on studies for my 'hard-edged' works there, such as the current Dangerous Career Babes oils – it's near the printer and scanner and I use both in the development of compositions. In the largest room, I have a makeshift bench, actually a slightly damaged painting board on two aluminium trestles. It's in front of a floor to ceiling window, from which I can look outside when I stand to work. The surface of the bench is white gesso, stained with the watercolours I paint with on it. Finally, I have a workspace for large enamel pieces set up in a shed, some yards from the house, where I am slowly finishing the last of my works in this toxic medium.
The real heart of my studio is my daybed. I begin and end each day there, dreaming and I retreat to it to clear my mind when I'm stuck on a problem or I'm feeling a little depressed. Lying on my side, I just stare out to sea. It calms me to watch the long, unceasing swell as it rolls towards shore, its ridges rustled into white caps by the wind, and listen to the waves breaking below. Sometmes, I prop two large pillows against an arm at one end and write or draw ideas for a new work.
Originally, I bought the daybed as a temporary place to sleep but it's become something of a magic carpet, a place to make myself comfortable and rest as I let my mind run free.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Horror, The Horror

Every year I was at art school, at least one first year student made a work based on the vagina dentata. I've seen enough variations to last me a lifetime. The one that made me laugh most was a pair of high heeled shoes, sheathed in red satin, with spiky dentures where one's feet were supposed to slide in. Many (too many) opted for not-so-subtle references to penetration and textured red or pink cloth. Sharply spiked sea creatures (note the fish-smell pun) were also a favourite.
I hated them all. I know a pussy full of fangs is an elemental part of feminist iconography, but I find the idea dull and crass. I'll never forgive my often too exuberantly 'old school' feminist mother for regaling me with its several meanings long before I even reached puberty.
Now there's a film, called Teeth, rehashing this tired idea. Ironically (or, maybe, predictably), it's written and directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein, son of renowned Pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein. Described as 'a black comedy horror', in that ear-jangling marketing-speak with which Hollywood spins its product, I hope it's an art in-joke. Given the plethora of clichéd sexual symbolism in the trailer, (including, for Christ's sake, an unfolding red rose), I suspect it isn't.
What's worse, it'll inspire yet another generation of art school students to rework this done-to-death schlock again instead of doing something genuinely original.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ghost Story

Every so often, I paint another in my series of light-hearted, fairytale-like watercolours about a solitary female ghost . The ghost is that of a young Korean woman who was my first female sexual partner. The few episodes of intense intimacy we had together informed a series of five, large, sexually graphic watercolours, Kelly, The First Time, that were exhibited at Art Melbourne, this year. I wasn't in love with the woman – hell, we weren't even close – but being with her freed my own troubled spirit and allowed me to begin to express my long-suppressed bi-sexuality without guilt or fear.
She died, suddenly, this year. That was the beginning of the watercolours. I wanted to do something delicate, untroubled and free, just as I prayed her ghost would be.
They aren't serious artworks. Still, they seem to have a life of their own. I paint them only occasionally and sell them to people whom I think might relate to them. Mostly, I give them to friends. None will ever be exhibited.
I never have to drag these small, diaphanous images out of me, unlike most of my other work. Instead, after haunting my imagination for a brief moment, they just float onto the page.

Monday, November 19, 2007

My Muse, My Self

I always use myself as a model in my work, even when the work isn't autobiographical.
It began during my teens. Lacking a life model, I taught myself to draw by looking into a mirror. I felt a certain detachment from my body, which has increased as I've grown older. Drawing was (and still is) a way of connecting myself to it, of convincing myself that I actually inhabited it.
I used to wish that people could consist only of mind and shadow so that physical appearance wouldn't be such a distraction.
Like many things, I think this was related to the places where I grew up: lonely little places that didn't care much about the intellectual or creative – and didn't trust them, either. In school and later, at university, it infuriated me that ideas were reduced to mere competition. I think this is what drove me to try and make my body a starting point for something more.
The first mature work I made that used my own image incorporated a full length mirror. Onto the mirror, I lay coloured vinyl to create a simple, glamorised silhouette of myself. The game was for the viewer to try and fit the reflection of their body into the stylised outline of mine. Of course, no-one did, not even me. I was doing some fashion modelling then, so my profile was very tall (which it still is) and lean (which it is no longer).
The work pissed a lot of women off. The notion of women working with their bodies but striving to undermine the objectification of them is essentially feminist. But it became clear that my work would be accepted as feminist art only if I was shorter and heavier. My own inescapable physical reality somehow excluded my work.
(That didn't stop feminist lecturers at university making objectifying remarks about my body unrelated to art.)
A year or so later, I started playing with perspective to force the viewer look up to, rather than at, the figure I created– a figure based, as always, on myself. I wanted to create a kind of feminist idolatry (or heresy) although, in retrospect, I'm not sure sure I was successful at communicating that.
I am still both artist and muse. Because of my feminist upbringing, I used to interpret the role of muse with scepticism. It was, I used to think, related to looks, not intellect, and so inevitably ephemeral and ultimately destroyed by time.
Now I'm not so sure. In the muse that is myself, I am only just beginning to penetrate layers of 20-something years of tightly woven emotional, psychological and intellectual fabric that are enriched, not eroded, by the slow decay of the physical self.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Processed Painting

It has taken me a while to feel at ease doing the studies for my new series of oil on canvas paintings. I haven't worked in the 'hard-edged' style of my early works for a while and I always forget just how tedious and time-consuming it can be. When I was younger, I developed methods to make it quicker. It's taken me a while to remember them.
Initially, I make a lot of notes in order to 'visualise'. It's quicker than sketching. It allows me to move as fast as my thoughts, instead of as fast as my hand can go. I work out the idea of the painting, then write more notes about the details: how I want the pose, what 'props' might be involved, what they symbolise, and whether or not all of this will communicate the basic idea. It's all a form of problem-solving before I begin to draw – or as a friend of mine puts it, "gradually filtering all sorts of ideas to get to the heart of what you want to see, without knowing what exactly that is."
I often work out a pose using a mirror, then I photograph it on cheap Polaroid 600 film as a starting point for a sketch. Being my own model has always been an important conceptual part of the work.
Everything in the painting is decided in the drawing stage. So the drawing itself is re-worked – over and over again. I draw, cut, paste, photocopy, draw new parts, and white out others. I repeat this process sometimes hundreds of times.
Another part of the concept is perfection, as if the work has been machine-produced. I want all trace of human touch, of emotion, eliminated.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sore Points

In much the same way that old friends have been discomforted by my success, I've seen a lot of women I don't even know discomforted by the imagery in my paintings. I've been told (by gallerists) that what many of them see in these glossy, candy-coloured, cartoon-like paintings of women frozen in positions of seduction and control is an embodiment of a lot of things they don't feel they have.
That's part of the point – but it's also missing the point. The images are more-than-perfect, neither skin pore nor brush stroke is visible. Their shapes are unrealistic. Hell, not even Nadja Auermann has legs like the ones I've drawn in my early paintings. And yet I've overheard women compare themselves physically to these exaggerated figures. Recently, an art collector wanted to buy two of my works in the secondary market but his wife said they made her feel insecure.
At my last gallery exhibition of watercolour paintings, I noticed people hardly knew where to look – or they looked everywhere but at the works themselves. The images were only a little more sexually explicit than those seen every day in mass media. They were no more violent than footage on the evening TV news. I guess what people found disconcerting were the ideas within the images, ideas that irritated personal issues with sex and intimacy, ideas that insisted on the viewer embracing or rejecting a certain psychological/spiritual/sexual inquisitiveness.
It's much easier and self-assuaging – especially in the dumbed down, spoon-fed, hyper-appropriated and regurgitated culture of our omni-mediated world - to not think, to not have to deal with someone else's perspectives, just as my former friends and lovers could only deal with me when I suppressed mine. I remember how often I kept quiet so I wouldn't be accused of thinking too much.
If people are discomforted by ideas, it's not surprising that they become discomforted by being around someone whose whole focus in life and work is to explore ideas and somehow bring them to life. Maybe that's why truly dedicated artists and other creative thinkers have often been quite solitary. While their ideas are appreciated over time – in other words, at a distance – having to deal with them up close, every day, has always been confronting and difficult.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Friend or Foe?

"I'm selfish, impatient, and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I'm out of control, and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best."
– Marilyn Monroe
When I emailed my last monthly newsletter, Studio Notes, which mentions my brief profile in Vogue Australia, most of the people who unsubscribed were either former friends and lovers or artists and musicians who were long-time acquaintances.
Over the last year I've received indignant emails from some of them, complaining about receiving my newsletters instead of personal emails from me. They tell me, huffily, that if I can't be bothered to write to them individually, they'd rather not hear from me at all. On the few occasions when I've caught up with them in person, their discomfort with my success – and the isolated life required to achieve it – is palpable.
I don't understand how anyone can be threatened by a friend's success. Why wouldn't anyone want good things for the people they care about?
Too often, in the past, my boyfriends were jealous of the time I spent painting. One even accused me of having affairs but he had only to visit my studio – something he avoided – to find me alone with a canvas. Another, who was also an artist, put down my work under the guise of 'helping' me. We collaborated on a painting, once. I'd been invited to participate in a group exhibition and I wanted to include him. After 'showing' me how to paint, he ended up covering everything I'd done with his own work, so it was really just his work - instead of ours. (Intriguingly, he still tells everyone who'll listen how much I 'owe' him).
I've never had a lot of female friends. I have less now. I stopped being in touch with one after a string of subtle put-downs about the nature of my recent work (like 'joking' that she hoped my family didn't see it). Another, an old friend from art school, attributed my success to my manic depression: according to her, the narrow focus and nervy hypermania gave me some kind of advantage. I was, at once, shocked and hurt: I am not my illness. Besides, hypermania might contribute to bouts of physical and imaginative energy but extreme mania and depression are debilitating and destructive and I fight both constantly. Even one of my oldest and best friends decided our paths were too different and we didn't have anything in common anymore.
Ironically, the one close female friend I do still have is married to a farmer and lives far away in rural northern New South Wales. They have two beautiful daughters. It has crossed my mind, more than once, that she is fine – and very supportive and caring – about my life and work because she is secure in her own.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Stitch In Time

When I was a child, my mother taught my how to sew by hand. Over the years, the skill has been useful to repair worn-out clothing, alter thrift store finds, or tailor the odd original item without a pattern (my mother also taught me how to place fabric on the body, pin it, then sew, adjusting as I went).
I began using sewing in my artwork a few years ago. It began with a few beads to accentuate an area of watercolour on paper. Later, I used thread, sequins, and beading to define a different kind of line. I like how sewn elements carry emotional connotations. A hand-stitch can look like a suture or it can echo a tradition of decorative or illustrative embroidery. It can also form an invisible structure, making transparent beads look as if they're suspended on a surface in a way that's much more refined than using glue. I like the subtle texture of thread, whether it's 'finished' in symmetrical patterns or broken and left hanging.
Sewing in art is mostly seen as a feminist reference, blurring the line between art and craft – art being regarded as male, craft as traditionally 'women's work'. Ghader Amer's erotic scenes, embroidered with frayed, coloured, hanging threads, are always argued as 'feminist', with her choice of medium being fundamental.
I don't see it that way. Yes, I learned sewing as a tradition passed from mother to daughter - although like every good, '70s feminist mother, she taught my brother as well – but whether it's a stitch or a suture, when I use threads in my art it is so intensely personal as to be almost spiritual. Sewing is a female act of making that can carry memory into the very fabric of an artifact – the power of which is something the voodoo mambo understands every time she crafts a fetish or a curse doll.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Under Control

I have managed to get on top of my too-long-ignored administrative chores. Now I have no excuse not to get back to what I think of as 'real work' – making art.
I have drawn up a rigid schedule to better manage my time from now until the end of the year. I work best when I'm organised. As much as I like to think of myself as intuitive, flexible, and good at improvising, I'm not. I don't like it when the unexpected intrudes on my working day. With the exception of Sunday, when I cut myself some slack, my every waking hour is accounted for, in one way or another. Even the time I allow myself to experiment is rationed. This is not just because of a neurotic need for structure but because, over the years, I've found that I tend to be more rigorous and productive if I constrict rather than expand the amount of time I invest in evolving new ideas, new techniques.
It isn't easy. Then again, allowing myself too much leeway makes it even less so. As much as I hate to admit it, I'm a control freak. I crave order, predictability (at least, everywhere outside art), and precision. After a few years of living in denial of it, I've decided to embrace the personal discipline – and the well-ordered studio environment – that might turn this disconcerting personality trait into a virtue.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Moving (In Various Ways)

After an intense month of unplanned, short-notice travel – not to mention a bumpy transition to my new studio – I've been working through an embarrassing backlog of orders, enquiries and proposals. Each month, I become busier, with a tighter, ever more restrictive schedule. Each month, I've become a little slacker about dealing with it.
Maybe it's because I've been plotting some new dimensions to my future output.
For a while now, I've felt something was missing in my art – as if I've been denying a part of myself (despite the explicitly forensic self-explorations of my recent watercolours). I'm known only for my painting but long before I ever picked up a brush, I worked in other media. I've just never exhibited the results.
Recently, I've been revisiting youthful experiments in video, photography, sculpture, and collage and it has given me a renewed sense of freedom in my work - and my self. I still want to paint, but alone it's no longer enough.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

In Vogue

The December issue of Vogue Australia features a profile of twenty young, creative Australians 'on the rise' – among them, the actors Toni Colette and Rose Byrne, the designer Marc Newson, and the musicians Angus and Julia Stone. I am one of just two artists included (the other is Shaun Gladwell).
For once, I'm happy with my photographic portrait: I'm seated, dressed in simple black (well, the top is by Hussein Chalayan, so maybe not that simple), in front of a large work-in-progress, Innocent Demons.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Momentary Distractions

Every day, I try to do a small, emotionally driven sketch. Usually, they have no apparent relationship to whatever larger painting I'm working on. I just do them to keep my hand loose, my imagination more easily accessible. I don't plan them or think them through; I just draw, paint, sew or glue until something is done.
I refer back to these sketches from time to time. I often discover things in them that I can use in larger works, such as the Dangerous Career Babes series: a colour combination, a perspective, a texture, a play on shapes. Sometimes they alert me to a recurring theme or idea I've overlooked, which, if developed, might make all my work stronger.
They're also a way of clearing my mind. After finishing one, I'm refreshed, more alert to possibilities.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hard Work

I've been fed up with everybody and everything this week. I've had to stand up for myself in countless small, annoying ways – with real estate agents, mobile 'phone companies, internet service providers, credit card service centers, and shop assistants. I want to hide out for a while.
It's a relief to be at home, drawing, with the music jammed up loud. The music is always rap. Rap was the soundtrack of my soul half a decade ago and now, when I'm down or when I feel at odds with the world, it reassures and inspires me. Rap is fighting music: uplifting, proactive, aggressive, hard.
Which is good for my work. It gets me so I don't give a toss what anyone thinks. I just do whatever the hell I want.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I had a weird, awful conversation with a so-called art collector recently.
I didn't know him. He emailed me, expressed interest in acquiring one of my works, and asked me to call. Usually, I don't do that, I prefer to correspond with people first before speaking with them. Don't ask me why I did it this time but I regretted it.
He began our conversation by complimenting me on my 'hand'. I assumed he was referring to my recent works using pencil and watercolour but he went on to tell me that he only liked my hard-edged paintings. These have no trace of a hand – mine or anyone else's – because they're intended to look machine-made, with stylised blocks of colour and unnervingly even line work. I guess complimenting an artist on their hand was a phrase he picked up from a commercial gallerist somewhere but didn't really know what it meant.
Then he told me, "I don't like your – what would you call it? – pornographic work. I suppose it's not very popular is it?" . I thought he was talking about my recent, sexually explicit series of watercolours, Kelly, The First Time, then I realised he was referring to the Venus In Hell series I exhibited in Melbourne, last year. I wouldn't call either series pornographic. Obviously, the guy had read neither my interview about them in NY Arts Magazine nor the review by respected art critic, Ashley Crawford, which notes, "With her earlier work, one wondered whether she could in fact draw. Venus in Hell removes all doubt." As for 'popularity', both series sold out within a week of being exhibited.
His next remark made me realise why he preferred my earlier work – he had seen it more. "I like it when I see an artist's work, and bam! I recognise it right away," he said. "That's what I like."
Of course, he went on to assure me, "I only collect art because I love it, not because of the resale value." Yeah, yeah. Whether they are honest about it or not, the reason most collectors buy an easily recognisable art work is that it's easy to sell. Their economic and social peers can also identify it as 'valuable' – a high-end consumer product, like an Italian sports car. In other words, to like an artist's work because it is recognisable has nothing at all to do with art and everything to do with 'brand recognition'.
Once, the tired cliché offered by an uninformed collector was, "I don't know art, but I know what I like." Nowadays, in our over-heated, hyper-acquisitive consumer culture this has beeen dumbed down even more: "I don't know art, but I know what I like when I recognise it."
As the collector himself told me, "Think of a well known Australian artist, and I'll have one of their works".
I don't know why I persisted in being polite during this conversation, especially in the face of bizarre attempts first to impress me then to put me down. I guess I was caught off-guard. Thankfully, my regular collectors are far more sophisticated. When he tried to argue a lower price for my work, inaccurately citing a recent auction house result, I lost my patience. Yes, my work is expensive but over the past 10 years it has increased in price over 1,000 per cent. As another, smarter collector wrote to me, "It is a lot of money but I understand the price is driven by the market."
The guy asked to visit my studio twice during the conversation. As if. I told him I had no stock to show him. And anyway, only my closest friends and most constant collectors are invited here. I know other artists have open studios. I don't. My studio is private, a place of intense creativity not commerce.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Get A Piece Of Me

For the third time in the past two years, I am offering a free, unlimited edition print of one of my small, monochromatic works. This one is titled An Outline Of Kelly, Later (watercolour, lead pencil on cold pressed paper, 12cm x 19cm), and was derived from the earliest sketches for a series of six watercolours, Kelly, The First Time, exhibited at Art Melbourne's Renault New Generation Art, this year.
As before, the work can be viewed and downloaded free from my web site under a
Creative Commons license. It can then be reproduced for non-commercial purposes in any medium. If you'd like me to sign it, you have only to send the work with a self-addressed, stamped (with adequate postage) envelope to my studio address (which I'll provide if you email me at
The last time I did this, it caused a lot of ill-tempered discussion among artists and dealers who felt I was devaluing art by distributing it without cost or any intermediary control (read, gallery) to 'the masses'.
My response was pretty predictable: fuck 'em!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Word Wars

Lots of people write to me, every day.
Complete strangers offer beautiful comments (sometimes in languages I don't understand) and their words are like precious gifts: "Bonjour. Je suis française. Je viens de découvrir tes créations. Je suis complètement subjuguée. Merci..."
Students write, too, posing questions for assignments. If they're interesting or challenging, I answer in detail. Sometimes, they say thank you, Mostly, they don't. Too many are ill-prepared – maybe they're hoping I'll do all their work for them – so I just direct them to my web site or this blog. My time is valuable and in short supply. I refuse to waste it encouraging a stranger not to think for themselves.
People write to seek permission to use my images for commercial purposes. Often, I say yes. I ask only for an acknowledgement. I vet every proposal. If I don't think it's appropriate, I decline politely and thank whoever it is for considering my work. Most take it well, understanding that if you ask for something, anything, a negative answer is always an even bet.
Some throw little tantrums. They fire back snide put downs of the work they've requested to use – and of me. They remind me of those fucked-up, oppressive men who ask a woman out then, if she demurs, heap abuse on her. I'm rarely offended. It's just a vain, stupid, self-defeating pitch to regain some power they think they've lost – go figure! All it really does is reassure me that I was right. Any other emails they send get junked by my assistant so I don't even have to read them.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Higher Studies

I'm surprised by the amount of interest there has been, this past year, in the material I create in advance of a painting. I find it hard to think of any of it as 'work', although my studies in acrylic on paper are almost as well executed as the final, large paintings in enamel on canvas or board. During the past couple of years, I have sold nearly all my early studies to galleries and private collectors, for prices ranging from $2,500 to $4,800.
After several enquiries from collectors, I also began selling my Polaroid 'sketches'. The first half a dozen were sold at my Venus In Hell show at MARS Gallery in Melbourne, in 2006, for around $350 each. Since then, I've sold maybe 30 more and prices have doubled. I don't really think of myself as a photographer but I'm pleased that these clumsy, comic, and sometimes downright embarrassing self-portraits appeal to people. Then again, maybe they just need a little light relief on their walls.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Reasons To Shoot Myself

I used to photograph myself a lot.
Crude Polaroids were always the first step in the preparatory phase of my early paintings. I used them to work out compositions that would best translate into strong, simple shapes and flat planes of colour. I also sketched myself, using a mirror, but photographs allowed me to examine myself from angles impossible to see in reflection. They helped me capture unusual perspectives or awkward poses (many of which I couldn't hold for more than a few seconds).
I was both artist and muse. The few times I used someone else as a model, the results were useless. My process was ruthlessly forensic and tedious. Those subjected to it found it difficult – stripped of any personality or dignity, they occasionally felt exploited. Photographing myself allowed me to push the boundaries as far as I could without worrying about another's discomfort. Over time, I began to explore – again, in a detached, forensic way – what it meant to exploit oneself.
There's a comic, self-mocking element to my early Polaroids. I often donned costumes or props – cowboy hats, roller skates, singlets wet with water. A pair of pink, slightly see-through underpants evolved, unintentionally, into a psycho-sexual constant in more than one series of paintings over the past decade.
I cared less about the backgrounds. I used wherever I happened to be staying or working at the time, and paid little attention to what was in them.
As a result, my study images now form an unexpected, journal-like narrative – or autopsy – of my early personal life and work. With time, they've turned out to be much more self-revelatory than I'd ever intended.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Hot Press

One of my favorite early paintings, Dolores Haze (enamel on canvas, 1.0 metres by 1.5 metres), is the backdrop for an up-and-coming Australian art consultant's portrait (and profile) in today's Herald Sun newspaper in Melbourne!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Group Think

The first painting that really blew me away was Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending A Staircase, No. 2. It made me realise that art could be exciting and intellectually engaging as well as beautiful.
Duchamp first submitted the painting to the
Salon Des Indépendants. A jurist, Albert Gleizes, asked Duchamp's brothers to have him withdraw it or paint over the title that he had painted on the work or rename it. They approached Duchamp with Gleizes request but he refused. He recalled, later, "I said nothing to my brothers. But I went immediately to the show and took my painting home in a taxi. It was really a turning point in my life, I can assure you. I saw that I would not be very much interested in groups after that".

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Birth Of A Career Babe

It began as a sarcastic joke about the women's movement and 'girl power'.
All through primary and secondary school, not to mention my brief stints at university, I was bombarded with the message, Girls Can Do Anything. I guess it was the times. The same message was appropriated by Mattel when they re-invented Barbie for a post-feminist pre-teen market.
I was brought up as a practical feminist, mainly by my father, who taught me less traditionally female skills. I learned, through him, that these were not always easy, or fun, but this was the price of equality. As a teenager, I began to suspect that the rest of society liked the idea of the empowered female more as a marketing tool, a perception reinforced by the vacuous Girlpower movement. Young women played dress up in the clothes of a serious career but they didn't really pay their dues, didn't really commit to what that career demanded. They were sold an attitude, an idea spoon-fed to them by wily advertisers. They ate it up, felt strong, independent, and full of baseless ambition.
Little wonder that this was the first serious theme I confronted in my painting. The result was Career Babes (example above), the most recognisable – and one of the most successful, both critically and commercially – of my series of large works.
In many ways, Career Babes defined the social, political and sexual themes that run through all my work, many of them inspired by the way women themselves have subverted idealised, sexual objectifying mass media and advertising images of femininity in order to compete with each other and, at the same time, try to seduce men. Over the past ten years, I have revisited the series to re-examine it and to review my feelings about the underlying themes.
The latest update of it is really a series in itself. Dangerous Career Babes explores how people use cosplay to play dress-up in fetishised versions of powerful, interesting characters. In other words, it's a step beyond mere career to something that reflects the current social predilection for the sensory, the virtual, the remixed, although it still about the impulse we have to assume a role, a character, in order to succeed. Career, vocation, life path, role, performance – in contemporary culture, these words have taken on new and very similar meanings. People inhabit (or lust after) characters in video games, avatar-based online communitites, anime, movies, even in art (I have heard women make jealous remarks about my earlier Career Babes series, and men make lustful ones).
Intrinsically, it comes down to female sexual desirability.
In the post-post-feminist society, men desire women who have an implied sense of danger, even if they and it are really a puerile, cartoon rendering. Lara Croft is a good example. She is intensely physical, with lots of sexually placed weaponry. Her profession is a great ruse for ogling and objectifying her. She can be held up as a great role model because she ticks some intellectual boxes. In the video game, she is often filmed from behind, each physically demanding movement eliciting a sexualised grunt or moan. Having dangerous female characters in moving media instead of dolls creates many more advantages for 'accidentally-on-purpose' voyeurism. It legitimises the opportunity for the female character's uniforms to be skimpy and skin tight to allow for 'freedom of movement'. Women and girls mimic the concept: the desire for sexual power as a tool again emerges.
Of course, the roles examined – and parodied – in Dangerous Career Babes also fulfill my own fantasies of being a strong, capable, desirable woman who does not need anyone else, whose occupation is dangerous and thrilling. It's a desire for life to be more than it is, to have the pedestrian edited or excised, to be more powerful in a number of ways – many of them related to female sexuality and youth – which are transient, and relatively easily manipulated by others and are not really that powerful after all. Most young women try to turn the last to their own advantage, devising themselves as a marketable 'package'.
I have struggled with the idea that I have had to do this too – an idea pushed on me by gallerists and art dealers and other, more powerful women. I fucking hate it.
In my teenage years, I was often sexually harassed. Men would followed me onto trains and buses, right to my front door. My school teachers hit on me. It debased my self-esteem, devalued what I felt had to communicate. So I dressed plainly, even though people tried instead to dress me up, to make me more pretty. It infuriated me. It also caused me a lot of distress and anxiety. I had to harness it in some way so, in the end, I made art about it.
I don't think people got it, at least in the beginning.
For too long, I felt I was pressured to not contribute to society, to not develop myself to my full potential. I have always been intelligent, but became disliked for it. To make everyone else comfortable, I had to shut up, dumb myself down, grow my hair long, be pretty, flirty and hold my tongue. Just because I could fill that role, because of what I looked like, there was huge pressure that I must.
I see women wasting huge amounts of time, effort, and money, to turn themselves into an ideal that age will inevitably destroy. It's an insult to everything that previous generations of women fought for. There are now so many opportunities for women to develop and realise their fullest potential, but most ignore or misuse them. It makes it harder for those of us who do want to take the best advantage of them.
All this, then, is the raw anger and frustration from which I conceived the original Career Babes, starting with scores of Polaroids self-portraits through which I channeled sexualised mass media imagery into a single, sinewy, crotch-baring pose. Art is supposed to cause people to think. To my annoyance, many who first saw Career Babes thought the works were cute. Women wanted to emulate the figures, and men wanted to bed them. I had made them desirable very deliberately to provoke such reactions, but I'd hoped that people would think more deeply about what it was about those reactions that should discomfort them.
With Dangerous Career Babes, I have decided to revisit the series after a long hiatus. The new images will be more subversive and confronting – yes, still sexualised, but not really cute. I can only hope they will be better understood.

Friday, September 28, 2007


I have been sleeping badly. My body feels tired but as soon as I lie down, my mind becomes alert, over-active. I read until the early hours of the morning, then I finally fall asleep. When I wake, my jaw's clenched so tight I have a headache.
My mind is craving stimulation. Input, not output. It's been hard to paint but I've had some good ideas for future works and exhibitions. They come in a steady stream so I write each one down before its smothered by the next .
I sketch as well, small black scribbles – shapes, figures, shadows. They're like Rorschach ink blots spilled from my subconscious, nothing to do with future works, just obscure symbols of things that are bothering me. I don't want to show them to anyone. By getting them out of my head, they can exist and interact on a page, not haunt me inside my head. It gives me a sense of peace.

Maybe my sleeplessness has something to do with trying to stop these things from coming out in my artwork. I have to just let it all out. Otherwise, I'll only tear myself up inside.
With that small revelation, I might sleep better tonight.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Breaking Camp

I was told I had to move out of my studio. The news was unexpected and at first, it caused me to feel panicked, jittery, and depressed. For the first time in my life, I was having to leave somewhere before I was ready to go.
It's taken me a year to settle in. I've accumulated more material things during my stay here than at any other time in my life – although friends would still call me minimalist. I sleep on a daybed that doubles as a couch. My desk and drawing table is improvised: one of the custom-made wooden frames I use for my larger works atop a pair of adjustable aluminium carpenter's trestles. I own a coffee table, books and shelves, five-by-one-metre wall of stackable clear plastic drawers for files, a number of favourite art works (not mine), and art materials - frames, paint, canvas, and boxes of things I have been collecting for future works.
Despite my reluctance to relocate, I found a new space. It might even be a better space. A small, unelaborate, cliff-top cottage, it has great natural light and there are enough rooms for work and storag. There's even a new shed in which I can finish the last of my enamel works.
One other thing I love about my new studio: it has a killer view. Through every window along the back of the house, I look out to the Tasman Sea across a crescent moon of beach and an ever-present pod of sleek, black wet-suited surfers. I have always been drawn to the ocean. It soothes me, makes me feel small: gazing at it, any troubles I have become insignificant.
I'll still be travelling a lot, but it will be good to know that I have a place like this to come back to. Who knows? I might even begin to call it 'home'.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wandering Ghost

I have never thought of myself as an Australian artist. I was born in Australia, but I'm also British – or, as I prefer to think of it, European. I can live and work without any red tape in 28 countries.
I was raised as a nomad within Australia but I dreamed only of exploring the rest of the world. At age five, I made elaborate plans to go to Europe and later, to explore China's Yangtze River. I sensed even then that I belonged to more than just one place. My parents came from opposite sides of the world – in both a social and a geographical sense – and we spent my early childhood in a odd, alternative world that they created together. My father grew up in Leyton, in London's East End, the old neighbourhood of the Kray brothers. My mother was from what her oldest friend calls colonial landed gentry. When my parents moved away from their pasts, they lived like gypsies. I always expected to do the same when I grew up.
Nowadays, not even my few friends could tell you with any precision where I'm living, let alone why.
My definition of what constitutes 'home' – or, at least, an ideal of it – is a combination of my favourite parts of different places I've been, and yet nothing to do with an actual location. Home is where I sleep, or where my things are right now. Each place that I've spent time has an equally familiar feeling to me. I have no more loyalty to one than another. And I am no more loyal to a place I have been than to one to which I have yet to go. In many ways, I have more affinity with the latter. They offer new possibilities, more intriguing stimuli, unsolved mysteries.
No wonder I sometimes think of myself as ghost, quietly haunting wherever I happen to be. I am intangible, non-specific – then gone.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Fuck Art, Let's Dance (Again)

Australians don't like to think. Too much Australian art is valued for its 'curb appeal'. Scratch its surface and there's nothing more to it: as someone once said of L.A., there is no there there.
To obscure their intellectual and spiritual barrenness, local artists pen statements filled with simplistic notions plumped up with dull, omni-referential jargon and inane, self-inflating 'brand positioning'. Their collectors just skim over them, not because they're smart but because, being Australians, they are nothing if not pre-Socratic. They don't like to think. They blanch at the sight of too many long words. Even if they pretend to understand them, all they really care about is the surface: if it looks slick and glossy, it must be good.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I Am An Island

I've been worn out since I got home. Spending four days 'on the road' and interacting with lots of people have been hard on me. I'm used to solitude: I like it.
My psychiatrist recently encouraged me to focus on rekindling various friendships and family relationships. He quoted John Donne's well-worn line, "No man is an island".
Unfortunately, I disagree – with both Donne and him. Just as there are islands in a geography dominated by continents, there are people whose nature imposes a need to be alone and apart from the mass of, well, others. Mine is a curious, friendly, communicative but introspective, insular personality. If I connect with people at all, it is almost always through my art.
The one exception is my boyfriend, whom I would describe as another island. Luckily, we share a vast ocean of the mind and heart, something I once thought impossible.
In the past couple of months, I've tried to spend time with different people from my past. I have invited them to stay at my house or I've arranged for them to fly somewhere to join me. I can't say that I've enjoyed it. All have been visibly discomforted by the restless, seven-day-a-week busy-ness of my life and work – which are pretty much indistinguishable – and the degree of what they obviously regard as 'privilege' I've earned from it. All have been unable(or unwilling) to bridge the chasm between the woman they once knew and the woman I am now. I end up feeling drained and frustrated. Maybe they do too.
My psychiatrist has argued for the importance of friends as a network of support. Frankly, I would rather pay people to support me, just as I pay him to help me care for my mental health. I pay a cleaner to come to my house once a fortnight. I pay a business manager to handle my financial affairs. I pay a driver to take me to and from airports and hotels. I have good relationships with all these people but I would not call them friendships. As far as I'm concerned, they're more efficient and hell of a lot easier.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Art Of The Deal, Deal Of The Art

I ran into a Melbourne-based art dealer I knew at a party hosted by a law firm in Adelaide. He was there because, like me, he knew the principal of the law firm, who is a collector of my work. The Melbourne dealer introduced me to another, local dealer, who knew who I was. The dealers asked which galleries represented my work and were perplexed when I told them none. When I tried to explain that I worked outside the conventional gallery system, using the web, their eyes glazed over with confusion and incomprehension. "Do you still exhibit?", they asked, "Don't you think it's important to exhibit?" Of course, I said. Just look at my CV.
Both knew a lot about my work and me but neither could explain why. They didn't make any connection between all the information they had and the methods I used outside conventional media to disseminate it. They kept asking why I was in Adelaide: I told them, more than once, that I'd come to visit several collectors of my work. The notion seemed almost arcane to them.
The next day, when I visited a commercial gallery with two other of my collectors, I saw a different art dealer. He asked how long I was staying in Adelaide. When I told him I had arrived last night and was leaving in a few hours, he muttered something about me "flitting around".
So many gallerists I know from well-established commercial firms with reputations ranging from recognisable to renowned cannot grasp the simple idea that I travel a lot to take care of what is, after all, my business.
I care for my collectors as I would for close friends. I gave a small, acrylic painting as an 'office-warming' gift to the principal of the law firm, who was thrilled with it. At the home of other Adelaide collectors, I was shown how my work had been hung within their large collection. They also had a stack of books, magazines, and catalogues containing my work, which they asked me to sign: I added personal notes to them and referred to the relevant artworks of mine in their collection.
With each of the collectors I visit, I talk about my ideas for future works and plans for exhibitions. They buy my work because they love it – it's obvious and I am deeply touched by it – but I also recognise that it's an investment, not only in an individual artwork but also in my long-term career. I email collectors whenever I know a work of mine has become available on the secondary market and I show them work before its exhibited. I take calls in the early hours of the morning from collectors wanting to secure work a week or more before one of my exhibitions opens.
I was gobsmacked by how little the art dealers I met really understood – or cared about – the needs of their clients. Surely, they should be doing everything I've described here, and more!, not only for their own benefit but for their artists. Instead, they note my success – and the evidence of it in my ubqiuity – but don't pause to analyse it. They're simply bemused by it.
Maybe they're content with where they are right now, although I am damn sure their artists aren't. I guess they're happy to be moderately successful and to continue to adhere to a traditional, unimaginative and untaxing methodology, selling the same work by the same artists to the same people in the same way.
The trouble is, many collectors are as frustrated as artists in their dealings with galleries. Many prefer not to have to deal with galleries at all. After all, as too many gallerists have forgotten, the collectors are there for the art.