Thursday, March 29, 2007

Position Fix

I haven't left my bed for nearly a week.
When I'm awake, I lay entangled in a sheet and read a book or surf the web. Last night, I stumbled on a link to a quartet of my Polaroid self portraits. They were included in (RED)alert, a virtual exhibition launched on 1st December, last year, by the English magazine, Dazed & Confused, through their online portal, Digital Dazed, to raise awareness of World AIDS Day. Even though my contribution was very small – I am not even sure how they got hold of my images – I was happy to find out I'd been a part of it. 

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Time Out

For the first time in several years, I am having a holiday. I wish I could say that it was my decision. It wasn't. I have been working every hour of the day on works to show as part of Renault New Generation Art at Art Melbourne '07, next month. Yesterday, my boyfriend, worried about the state I was in, insisted that I should see a doctor.
The doctor told me that, whatever my deadlines are, I have to take a two-week break immediately. As soon as Art Mebourne is over, I have to take two to three months off. I am not to draw or paint. I am not to become absorbed in art business. I have to rest – "It'll be hard for you, but you're to do nothing at all, except sleep, read, and maybe learn to surf," the doctor insisted. "Oh, and stick with the medication."
I have been fighting bad physical health (related to the long-term use of enamel in my painting) and depression for the past six months. Now I have to take care of them before the damage becomes irreparable. I have left it way too long as it is.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

After The Deluge

An violent storm drenched my home tonight. A small, revolving storm passed right over head, bringing with it heavy rain, violent squalls and lightening. In an instant, it was as if the sky had split open, with lightning flashing blue-white beneath the pitch black clouds.
I got home about ten minutes after it hit to find the wide, floor-to-ceiling folding doors of my living room blown open by the gale.
Water was puddled beneath stacks of blank, gessoed frames in the store-room. The frames were (thank God!) still wrapped in plastic. A couple of electrical fuses blew as I was throwing towels onto the floor to dam the flood. After I'd reset the switches, I discovered that my modem, AirPort Express, and Harman Kardon sound system had all blown, despite being plugged into safety boards. Now I'm connected to the Net via a slow, dial-up account that my boyfriend keeps for emergencies.
It will take a few days to
replace everything. It will be sad not to have loud music – lately, the late, great Bob Marley – to dance to while I paint. But after the initial pang of upset, I realise that I like being free of technology. It's been years since I disconnected from it voluntarily and the peace is almost ethereal. I've lit some candles and after I finish writing this, I am going to sprawl on my daybed to read Michael Holroyd's definitive biography of the English bohemian portraitist, Augustus John. At various times during his colourful, late 19th century life, the artist travelled with his children, siblings, wives and lovers in a gypsy caravan around England and Wales. As I sit here in the soft candle-light, I'm beginning to wonder whether it might not suit me to do something similar.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lament Of A Fallen Feminist

I was raised in a feminist household. I read Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales and most of my mother's feminist classics – The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir, A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, and The Women's Room by Marilyn French – mostly before I hit puberty. By age 11 or 12, I had moved on to American contemporary women's erotica. Most of it was published in the the late '60s and early '70s and hailed as revolutionary but the only one anyone vaguely remembers now is the almost unreadable Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. Jong's notion of the zipless fuck seemed a bit brutal to me even then but I gathered from the book that women were supposed to be strong, independent, sexually predatory and - perhaps because any hint of raw feeling might be regarded by men as a weakness - emotionally remote.
By my late teens, I was totally confused by feminism's contradictory messages. What was acceptable and 'correct' when it came to female sexuality? The graphic depiction of sex (in words and pictures) was exploitative if it was created by men but not when it was created by women. If it also featured unshaven legs, armpits and pubis, it was even liberating. It was ok to study Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party – a lurid set of ceramic vaginas offered as dinner plates – but not to watch male-produced porno' featuring depilatoried, surgically enhanced women.
Over the last few years, I've discarded most of the values I grew up with. I have gone from satirising aspects of the objectification of male-oriented female stereotypes in advertising and entertainment to delving into the rawer, more visceral entanglements of my own sexuality, especially in those shadowy areas where it intersects with the evolution of my adult identity. Without revealing too much of the intensely personal, an unexpected sexual awakening caused me to become more intrigued by how and why we respond to sexual provocation and why it is that, after nearly half a century of feminist revolution and more than a decade since the deep penetration (excuse the pun) of individualised, uncensored media-on-demand into our everyday lives, it still manages to be unsettling and subversive to so many people.
Then again, as Michel Houllebecq observes in his novel, Platform, "Men live alongside one another like cattle; it is a miracle if once in a while they manage to share a bottle of booze."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sex Trade

On Saturday morning, I slept in late. I woke to an insistent knocking at the front door. It was my cleaners, two lovely, middle-aged Asian women. Just as I was about to let them in, I glanced around the living room. Nearly every surface was littered with photographs (most of them print-outs from images downloaded from the web) and half-finished sketches of young Asian women engaged in various sexual acts. I scurried around the room, picking all of them up and hiding them in a large folder, before opening the door.
Elements of my new work skate the edge of hardcore pornography and although I've used porn' as source material before, particularly in the last series of enamels I exhibited, three years ago, I don't remember ever being quite so, umm, immersed in it. I've even become acquainted with a couple of well-known 'adult actresses' in Los Angeles. We email each other from time to time. Not so long ago, my boyfriend helped one of them out on a business matter and she offered to repay him with blowjobs. When I told her – once I'd stopped laughing and he'd stopped blushing – that I didn't think I'd be altogether comfortable with that, she said, "Oh baby, you and I are friends. I wasn't going to do them myself!"

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sexual Experiment

I've been experimenting with a combination of watercolour and acrylic on different types of paper for the series of mixed media works to which I've given the collective title, Sex Tourist.
When I'm not painting, I'm re-reading Platform, a provocative, satirical novel by Michel Houllebecq that, in part, revolves around the sex tourism of affluent, middle-aged males and females in S.E. Asia. The way the book is written unsettles me. Strewn through the pedestrian blandness of the bourgeois main characters and the somewhat sensationalist narrative are ideas and dialogue that I find by turns provocative, repulsive, nihilistic, tedious and funny. It's inspired me to take a similar approach with my new paintings, to try to channel the seductive yet ultimately soiling effect that Houllebecq's deadpan prose has on me. It's sort of like sex with someone with whom you have no emotional connection – and you don't have to be a sex worker to know what that's like.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Social Pages

Last night, I went to a party to launch the Autumn issue of Art & Australia magazine at Ariel Booksellers, on Oxford Street, in Paddington. I was invited by its new(ish) editor, Katrina Schwarz. I rarely go to art-related functions anymore because my tolerance for fake amity and air kisses is at an all time low.
Thankfully, this party was different. It was low-key and friendly. I bumped into Vasili Kaliman, of Kaliman Gallery. He was there with one of his artists, Del Kathryn Barton. She and I have never met, although we've been lumped together in several 'up-and-coming-female-artists' articles since the beginnings of our careers.
The magazine had commissioned a sculpture by artist Louise Weaver to be featured on the Autumn cover and it was displayed at the party in a perspex box. Titled Guido Valdez (Vendetta for Love), it's a taxidermic Pacific Gull, enfolded in a gaudy, delicately hand knitted covering, with an asymetrical tinsel boa. (My clumsy description doesn't really do it justice.)
I hadn't expected to see an actual artwork there. I'm used to art parties being about everything but art. I was surprised - and delighted - that last night's was an exception.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Seeing The Other

Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it creative observation. Creative viewing.
– William S. Burroughs
Occasionally, I get emails that make no sense to me.
Written in response to my work, they are often articulate but they refer to something invisible to me. The writers assume that I understand what they're talking about, simply because they experienced an intensely personal response to an image (or words) I created. Too often, I don't.
It's puzzling and yet very touching. It reminds me that art extends far beyond its original conception – and the object itself. What it evokes within each individual is different and sometimes mysterious. I can never fully understand but I feel very lucky to be a part of it.
On a completely different topic: I came across an old image (above) online of a couple of murals I did outside a tattoo parlour in Brisbane's West End. Neither the parlour nor the murals are there anymore. As is often the case with my early work, I feel a vague sense of relief.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Torn Apart

For a long time now, my past work has felt like an obstacle I had to eradicate from my path in order to find my way to the work I want to do in the future. The problem is, I've laboured hard to acquire the skills and process to create that work and it has been hard to let go of them and pursue new techniques, new ideas. It has also been hard to convince collectors, curators, and gallerists to follow me as I change direction: after all, the imagery I want to abandon – sexy female fantasy figures arranged within hard edged, glossy surfaces, as accessible and as easily 'read' as cartoons – is what drew them to me in the first place.
My new work is different. It's complicated and unsettling, as if I had ripped apart the colourful sheen of one of my old paintings and revealed the seething mess that really lies beneath. And it's not just confined to paint and carefully prepared timber boards: not only have I been learning to use pencil, crayon, ink, and watercolours on paper to create new textures and deeper layers of meaning, I have also been experimenting with clay, beading, shells, feathers, and other 'found objects' as well as Polaroid emulsions, 35mm film, mini-DV, text and even music.
Every so often, I've tried to go back to my old style, as I did yesterday – but it's no good. I enjoy it for a few hours, mainly because it feels easier and more familiar, then it begins to feel like a gilded cage. I become so anxious and claustrophobic that it makes me sick. I recover only when I destroy the work.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Practice Makes Perfect

I've been painting with acrylics today, working on a small, manga-like image on paper for an upcoming show.
I've noticed that my brush skills have improved again. It tends to happen when I'm happy. This new painting is hard-edged, but I can now do the very fine, precise lines it requires without agonising over them. I've also managed to eliminate a middle stage of the technical process. It hasn't made a lot of difference in terms of time – painting in this way is always time-consuming – but every little bit counts.
It has made a difference in my interest level. I've always enjoyed working out how to turn an idea into an image, but actually executing it used to be slow and mind-numbing. Sometimes I felt like an industrial robot, repeating each step over and over in order to refine it. I was plagued by anxiety and self doubt. I so badly wanted the surface of the work to be perfect that I felt I had to experiment with several alternative strategies before I could commit to one. And yet, every time, the strategy I would go with was always the same. I wasn't even conscious of this until my current boyfriend pointed it out.
Now, I work without any hesitation or need for certainty. It's an enormous relief, at last, to have faith in my own process.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Sleepless

I didn't sleep last night. I stayed up until dawn wrestling with a long-postponed, 3,000-word piece – a dark memoir – for the Australian literary journal, Griffith REVIEW. I finished it but it still needs some editing and refinement. I am not really a writer so my writing process is a little haphazard: I prefer to get all my thoughts down in one burst – partly so I don't over-refine the prose or try to restrain my natural inclination to 'tell all' as I go. For the past couple of years, I have avoided working too late at night in order to handle the responsibilities of my art business better but hell, I'm still young and by nature nocturnal so pulling the occasional all-nighter still feels good.
I often get wound up when I write something (or make art) that taps into my troubled personal history – or my fragile heart. For the last few hours I've been stretched out on the day bed in my living room, listening to music. In another hour or so, my boyfriend will be here and we'll make love on the verandah, in the open air, as the last of the warm sunlight recedes through the surrounding trees.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Schlock Of The New

“All of our values are simulated. What is freedom? We have a choice between buying one car or buying another car? It’s a simulation of freedom.”
- Jean Baudrillard, 2005.
Whenever I buy something new, I set it aside for a while and leave it boxed or wrapped. I do it with everything – always have. From an early age, I was aware that people acquired and consumed so much stuff not because they needed it but because of the sense of freedom, happiness, confidence, or esteem that clever marketing promised it would give them. As I got older, I found myself buying into the marketing bullshit too. I hated it. I felt so duped. So now, whenever I buy something, I try to pretend I didn't, just to make sure I really need it and I'm not just cluttering my life with another meaningless trinket.
There are other reasons. I grew up wearing clothes from charity stores. Most of our houses were furnished from them too. My parents were often poor but they also harboured a mish-mash of non-consumerist, and nomadic ideals that included a lack of sentimental attachment to possessions.. Each time we moved house, we bought second-hand furniture then gave it away when we left. If we stopped using something – a saucepan, a shirt, a toy – it was given away.
Even after I became an adult, it took me a long time to feel at ease with possessions – especially if they were new.
My boyfriend encourages me not to be so self-denying and monastic, especially when it's merely habitual. I can't help but see through what Baudrillard, who died yesterday, referred to as simulation. Still, I hope I can become a little less paralysed when the mindless impulse to indulge myself comes over me from time to time.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Kill Buddha On The Road

I've started running again. I run along the local backroads and the beaches. I don't give a toss about exercise, nor about gyms with their programs and their exercise machines, their personal trainers counting down seconds and calories. I run because I love the rhythm of it, the repetition of my feet striking the ground. Treadmills are too controlling, the motion on them forced. Outside, I have to propel myself and each step varies a little according to the changing terrain.
I've been inactive for nearly two years. I get out of breath quickly, maybe because of all the corrosive paint fumes I've inhaled for so long. But I don't care. I like to feel my lungs under pressure. The meditative idea of being aware of every movement of my body becomes a reality. I think of nothing. I don't try to do anything at all except move. I let my thoughts drift until they finally disconnect.
I grew up watching my mother meditate twice a day. I did it too, for some time. But it's not my way anymore. Being still just makes me feel more remote, fragmented. The more active my body is, the more I am able to find a space within my mind for ideas to develop.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Because the Night

By late afternoon, every day, I am tired of daylight. I long for dusk. I love the mystery of the dark, the shadows and shapes that loom from it. Everything looks more intense and three dimensional, instead of bleached and flattened by unfiltered sunlight.
I prefer to drive at night. I like that I cannot see everything, all at once. The world is revealed as I get closer, illuminated by headlamps, then it disappears again as I pass. It's like continually being shown something new. I love the sensation of subtle motion the night brings. Daylight makes everything look similar and static.
By day, I'm acutely aware of time passing, of the sun moving toward tomorrow. Night doesn't seem so linear or tightly structured. It feels more relaxed and peaceful. Still, I need the structure of the day. Which is why, despite preferring a nocturnal life, I get up early every morning and work a full day.
Then again, the night is my reward.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Got It Covered

It's always fun when I come across one of my own works, properly credited, in an unexpected context. The use of my enamel painting, 21C Feminism: Toward A Better Future?, on the cover of Australian author Michael Wilding's new novel, National Treasure (to be published soon by Central Queensland University Press) wasn't exactly a surprise – Michael had asked my permission several months ago – but it was still a treat to open up the file received from him via email, first thing this morning, and see the final artwork.