Thursday, May 31, 2007

Escape Artist

I've just got back home after three weeks in South-East Asia.
I had wanted to have a holiday, to take a rest from painting and the dull business of art, for nearly a year. Despite an increasing amount of critical and financial success, I'd felt I was running out of steam. Certainly, I'd lost confidence in my ability to do good work. I found it harder and harder to pick up a pencil, let alone a paint brush, and when I did, my imagination felt as arid and infertile as the Sahara. I tried taking time off at home, hanging out with my boyfriend and going for long walks along the beach, but it was clear that I needed to do something else. I was irritable and antsy. At times, I even felt suicidal.
Yeah, it was that bad.
Following a stray impulse, I packed a small overnight bag with a couple of loose dresses, a pair of sandals, a bikini, half a dozen t-shirts and half a dozen pairs of knickers, as well as a 35mm camera, a sketchpad, and a tupperware box filled with pencils, brushes and watercolour paints, and booked a flight to Bangkok. I got there the following morning. Three hours after landing, I was in Pattaya – piña colada in hand, looking out from an air-conditioned hotel room across the calm, jade seas of the Gulf of Thailand to the islands of Koh Larn, Koh Sak and Koh Khrok.
It all happened so fast that it was only when I was an hour south of Bangkok, on the Sukhumvit Road, that I realised I had forgotten to bring my laptop. I didn't give a toss.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Mortal Blow

I cried when I found out that one of the few of my generation's real originals, the unconventional but unarguably glamorous muse, Isabella Blow, had died from a drug overdose. She was best known for discovering and/or encouraging some of the most intriguing fashionistas – among them, milliner Philip Treacy and designer Alexander McQueen – but I always thought she was so much more interesting than any of them.
Unusually, for a woman so involved with style and image, she was neither exotic nor beautiful. But her mind was. She didn't create (or negate) herself with extreme diets or plastic surgery but instead, transformed herself with couture – the more unusual and experimental, the better. The complex, fascinating contents of her head were visible in the way she dressed and decorated herself. Styling herself was her art and she embraced it without compromise. She didn't dress up for an occasion, she dressed up so that every moment was an occasion.
In a world where, increasingly, women become more and more invisible because they adhere to whatever convention is fashionable, Isabella Blow did the opposite. As a consequence, she always loomed large in the spotlight.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth

I am bipolar about most things. Take art. On the one hand, I'm elitist. On the other, I'm depressed by the value of art being determined by the same 'free market' forces that affect other retail commodities – supply, demand and brand recognition.
A couple of years ago, inspired by the American sculptor, Robert Graham, I began experimenting with the online distribution of free, unlimited edition prints. The first was a stencil, NO!, based on a painting I'd done early in my career. I liked the idea that someone else could recreate my image in another medium and own at no cost and with little effort. I've distributed a couple more since then, offering to sign and 'authenticate' the reproductions if they were sent (along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope) to my studio. They're still available on my site: Multiple Surrenders and the Voodoo-inspired I Will Not Be Your Give Man Anymore .
I copped a lot of flak from 'art business' people about releasing free prints. A large number wrote to me saying that it wasn't really art because it could be reproduced and redistributed without my control. I was even warned that it would negatively effect the price of my original works (it hasn't, of course).
I am predicting a change in attitude now that the British Turner Award-winning artists, Gilbert and George, have done a similar thing. Unlimited edition art works will be acceptable, even desirable. The BBC TV controller/presenter who's laying claim to the idea seems pretty thrilled about it but I don't care – neither, I suspect, does Robert Graham. What bothers me is that people are so ready to reject an idea until it's proposed by someone more famous or – better yet – fashionable. Yeah, I know: we live in a time when celebrity determines influence. I guess I'd hoped that, in the arts, people were brave enough to think for themselves.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Road Works

I like living and working on the move.
Whether I'm travelling for a few days or a few months, I carry the same two, small bags. My clothing and personal items are packed into a rectangular-shaped Sergio Rossi bag that I've had for years. It's made of a neoprene-like fabric,with wooden handles through which I can slide an arm. Among the items I always take are a small make-up bag, a few t-shirts and underpants, a pair of black, straight legged pants, a shirt, a dress, and a pair of shoes. I wear another skirt and a t-shirt, and carry a mid-weight jacket. If I need anything else, I buy it.
The other bag is a slim but strong, supple leather satchel by Rodd & Gunn and into this goes all my drawing and painting gear. I often sketch or write as I travel, so I like to have it near. Among the items that are always in it are a Leica CM film camera (now out of production), a dozen rolls of 35mm colour negative film (usually Fujifilm Pro 160C), half a dozen small tubes of Winsor & Newton watercolours, a Winsor & Newton A4 visual diary, two round, nylon brushes by
Drawell (encased in cardboard to keep the bristles straight), a small black leather pencil case containing lead 6B and 4B pencils, a Staedtler retractable eraser, a small metal pencil sharpener, Uniball Eye pens in black, one roll of wide duct tape, and my leather-bound journal.
Sometimes – rarely – I also carry paper, an Italian-made cold-pressed watercolour paper of a particular weight. I wrap the sheets in glassine paper, and sandwich them between two sheets of fibre-board. I tape the edges, then wrap the boards in plastic to protect them from moisture.
So where am I off to next? North. Soon. Somewhere warm. The best itineraries are never more specific than that.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Street Hazed

I took a break from 'serious' art this weekend to paint a skateboard – more specifically, a colourful enamel for the underside of a multi-ply timber Sector9 'Bert Pintail' deck.
Such work doesn't come cheap. The first deck I painted was auctioned for the benefit of Boarding for Breast Cancer in New York , two years ago, along with others by Tony Alva, Julian Schnabel, Peter Beard, William Wegman, 50 Cent, and Lance Mountain (to name but a few). It sold for $US3,500. Nowadays, my decks sell for around $US4,500 and as I do only two or three a year, each different, they're reserved well in advance by a handful of my collectors.
I like doing them. Maybe it's a way of retaining a frayed connection with the youthful, post-punk roots of my art in graffiti and 'the street'. Maybe, too, it allows me to make art and yet not take it quite so seriously – what a fucking relief!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Unfinished

A fellow artist and blogger took me to task – albeit politely – for what he termed the 'unfinished' look of my recent work:
"...What bugs me is that, as one artist looking at another's work, her current style just looks too easy.
"Which is not to suggest it is easy at all. It just looks that way. It looks like experimental works ripped out of her visual diary and called 'finished art'. They look like paintings still in the planning stages.
"Ordinarily I'd go for her more expressive style in other lesser known artists. Usually this style is a break from the monotony of landscapes and rural settings I see in the various regional community galleries. Someone who isn't inspired by yet another tree with sheep grazing in the distance. However Hazel is something of an Australian icon. Perhaps I expect to see something more... 'crafted'."
Such criticism reminds me of Woody Allen's self-mocking line from his script for Stardust Memories: "I prefer his early films, especially the funny ones". People prefer my early work, especially the big, colourful ones.
No-one ever accuses them of looking 'unfinished'. They have a flawless, almost industrial sheen and the sort of immediate, sexy curb appeal that looks good in a gallery window and arrests the attention of passing trade. However, last year, I set out to tear their hard, shiny, enameled surfaces aside to reveal what was underneath: it is exactly the point that my recent work should look as if they were "ripped out of [my] visual diary and called 'finished art'."
Leaving aside arguments about the relevance and value of traditional artisan skills – just for the moment, because I'd like to come back to them another time – let alone about at what point a painting should be regarded as 'finished', what I'm really reacting against in my recent work is the post-modern notion embraced by many conceptual artists that the intimate, the subjective, the self-expressive has no place in art. The last thing I want is to refine or 'over-produce' my work. I want it to retain a improvisatory rawness, a few abrasive grains of emotional truth, that are as discomforting – and as unresolved – as real life.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Post-Traumatic Stress

I have been preoccupied with everything other than making art, this week.
I've been recovering from an awful confrontation with my boyfriend, one that almost ended our still very loving, loyal three-year relationship. For days, I sobbed and screamed (at him, but mostly into my pillow) – and no, I will not tell you what is was about!
Predictably, it was during this time that the rest of the world decided it wanted to connect with me: artists (mostly young, male) sending me emails to ask my opinion on their work, old 'friends' upbraiding me for not being in touch during my three days in Melbourne, collectors trying to negotiate discounts on new works, and editors asking me to write on censorship following my experience of it at Art Melbourne, two weeks ago.
The last got under my skin. They wanted me to comment on what had happened to me, and to offer an artist's perspective of censorship in a broader context of an increasingly more conservative society, but not one of them had examined what my work was
really about – what it was within the work, apart from a few engorged dicks and swollen pussies, that really got under people's skin? I suspect that, even in an age when becoming a porn star can be a good career move for a rich, upwardly mobile American socialite and young kids can see all sorts of kinkiness and violence on prime-time TV, the graphic portrayal of (bi-)sexual acts still has a subversive tendency to unsettle the collective psyche.
Regarding the image above: One of the more interesting interviews I've done recently has just been published in a new North American online arts/culture 'zine, PensEyeView.com. Written just before Art Melbourne, it declares, Dooney has become a cult figure in contemporary/pop art circles.
Ah, if only it were so.