Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Looking Back, Moving Forward

I had a birthday ten days ago. Maybe because of this, and because I am immersed in the brain-wracking process of working out of a whole new series of large-scale paintings, I've been in something of a solitary, reflective mood. I'm not much fun to be around when I'm like this.
After a few months of travel, I've withdrawn to the comfortable isolation of my studio. When I'm not working or sleeping, I'm thinking, not just about the technical demands of getting the images in my head onto a canvas, but also about an exciting, yet tiring and emotionally draining three years during which nearly every assumption I ever had about art and life has been turned on its head.
In some ways, it has taken more from me than I might have been ready to give (but then, who knew?). The money and attention have been welcome but for a time, I lost sight of myself and the things I really cared about. I've regained a necessary sense of self but to do so, I've had to disconnect from a family I once thought of as close and several friends who called themselves 'life-long' – or, rather, they did when the life I had with them looked like it would remain the same.
My life now bears no resemblance to the life I had three years ago. I'm not even remotely the same person I was then. When I first set out, without a map or compass, on what I knew was going to be a long, difficult journey, I figured I would find a well-worn track that would lead me to where I wanted to go. I didn't. As a result, I've occasionally been lost and very afraid. Still, I wouldn't trade the mad, fucking adventure of it for anything.

Friday, August 24, 2007

On The Ramparts

Yesterday, after my photo-shoot for the fashion magazine, I was 'phoned by Louise Schwartzkoff, a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. She wanted a comment on this year's Primavera at the Museum of Contemporary Art, an event that's supposed to promote (in the MCA's own words) "the hottest emerging young artists". This year, the selected artists are mostly in their late 20s and early 30s.
"Don't you think that's a bit old to be considered a young or emerging artist?", Ms. Schwartzkoff asked.
"Yes. The so-called Young British Artists – Emin, Hirst, Whiteread and others – were either conquering the world in their 30s or had done so already," I said. "I also think it's bloody condescending to young Australian artists, especially those under 25, to suggest that they don't have anything valuable to offer before they're 30. Some have already been making art for 10 years! Primavera should be a showcase for work that hasn't yet been seen widely, work that may not have been sold or supported yet – in other words new work, by new artists."
"The curator has suggested that this years selection is made up of the people who would have been included in Primavera 10 years ago," she pointed out.
"Well, that goes against Primavera's mission statement," I argued. "There aren't many opportunities for emerging young artists to have their work exhibited in large institutional galleries within Australia, and I think they need to be supported early in their career. The curator's proposal demeans all the young artists excluded as well as those included."
"What about the view that work by very young artists tends to be grungy and not suitable?", she asked.
"Huh? That's a ridiculous stereotype. There are plenty of articulate, intelligent, professional and ambitious artists in their early 20s. Damien Hirst was curating large exhibitions of his and other artist's work in his early 20s and the most eminent YBA's were making and exhibiting very significant works before they were 30. The art world in Australia needs to stop being so backward and conservative and recognise its homegrown talent early."
"So what does this mean for the young artists who are not being included in such exhibitions?"
"In the end, probably not a lot. Young artists are now begninning to abandon the rather shop-soiled traditions of these institutions entirely. I organise my own exhibitions and my art is seen by millions of people both here and internationally through my use of the internet. It's nice for emerging artists to have institutional support, if it comes when they need it, but really, exhibitions like Primavera aren't relevant to young artists' careers – or contemporary art – anymore."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Posing As An Artist

This morning, I was photographed in my studio by a small team from a well-known fashion magazine. It was the first time I'd ever allowed anyone, other than a few close friends, to visit me there and it took a few minutes to get used to the normal curiosity of strangers scanning my bookshelves – "Oh, I love Clemente! Can I look at this?" – and the works by other artists hung on the walls. Thankfully, the view of the tree-shaded bay outside distracted them from the intimate sense of self that resides within what I'd chosen to share my most private space. When the novelty of that wore off, beautiful but raucous rainbow lorikeets flew down from the surrounding, high eucalypti and demanded to be hand-fed a snack.
I posed in front of my current work-in-progress. A two metre high canvas being worked on with with various media, it's the first in my new series of paintings, tentatively titled Innocents And Demons. I was reticent about exposing its still-crude preparatory lines and colour tests, but the magazine's features editor and photographer insisted. Dressed all in black, with cropped black hair, I felt like a severe, dark-eyed widow about to profess at a Mexican convent. I swirled the ankle-length, ruffled flamenco skirt around my legs, then sat, legs apart, the fingers of both hands touching between my thighs (a sort of vulvic supplication, I realised later), and stared defiantly at the camera: "Very Frida, darling".

Monday, August 20, 2007

Craft, For Every Sense

I love Thai craftsmanship. I love it even more because in Thailand, beautiful, hand-made objects are owned and valued not just by the rich. The façade of the humblest rural wat is intricately carved in teak and other fine woods, hand painted, and overlaid with gold-leaf. Skillful wood and stone carvings – mostly of Buddha or dragons, for the tourist market – and hand-embroidered fabrics are sold by street vendors for a few baht. Phuang malai, delicately scented, threaded garlands of flowers, are everywhere: draped over ornate phra phum – spirit houses – or hung from rear vision mirrors of beat-up trucks and taxis.
I've been following the construction of an Polynesian-inspired catamaran (or sea-going double canoe, as its English designer calls it) via a blog titled
A Tiki In Thailand. With hulls hand-laid
with cedar strip-planking and epoxy by Thais at a yard run by an Italian master boat-builder in the jungle sout-east of Pattaya, the 39-foot vessel is capable of sailing round the world but it looks like an artwork to me. Large, sculptural and seemingly animate, I can almost smell the cedar, along with the aged rosewood trim and teak decks. On the stemheads of both hulls, carved in timber and overlaid with fiberglass, are stylised fish-hook shapes based on the hei matau, a traditional Maori symbol usually carved in greenstone or bone and worn around the neck, said to bring "prosperity, fertility and safe passage over water".