Thursday, July 31, 2008

Catching My Breath

11.40pm: I'm sitting alone in my hotel room, sipping a cup of room service tea. A kaleidescopic collage of snapshots from the evening fill my imagination. I'm trying to savour it.
Tomorrow I might have already forgotten a lot of what went on. I'll also be busy following up on sale enquiries with the gallery and meeting with more of my own collectors. Right now, I just want the sense of excitement, satisfaction and relief to last just a little longer.
(Above, Willy Zygier, Deborah Conway and me, with a similar haircut to Willy's.)

Show Time

I finished the last painting for the show in my hotel room at 5pm and got it to the gallery to frame and hang by 6.15pm, just fifteen minutes before the opening party was scheduled to begin.
A fire-eater entertained guests as they arrived and waiters in my PORNO t-shirts moved among them with trays of hors d'oeuvres. The gallery space filled very quickly and for the next three hours, it was never less than a capacity crowd. Unusually, everyone looked as if they were enjoying themselves and the good mood of the room became infectious. Also unusually, everyone took time to look at the work.
I chatted with collectors, posed for photographs and signed PORNO t-shirts. "Just so you know, you're really admired by the local lesbian community," one young woman told me.
Julianne Schultz, the editor of the Griffith REVIEW, gave a speech from a low stage set up at one end of the gallery then I got up to thank everyone who'd had a hand in organising the exhibition. Half an hour later, singer Deborah Conway took to the stage with her partner, Willy Zygier, and did a memorable set. Afterwards, I presented her with a small, framed watercolour I painted in Thailand a year ago.
I finally slipped away around 9.45pm with my father, whom I hadn't seen for three years, and a few friends to dine at a nearby French restaurant. There were still scores of people milling around inside the gallery. Maybe next time I'll host an all-night party.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Counting Up

Apart from an early morning outing to check the artwork for t-shirts to be sold at the gallery – which, thanks to Ben Isdale at Super Special Screenprinting, looked amazing – I spent today holed up in my hotel room, finishing the final work on paper.
I wasn't undistracted. My mobile rang incessantly and every five minutes, my computer beeped to tell me that another lot of emails had arrived. With just 36 hours left until the opening party, I couldn't turn either of them off – worse, I had to respond. I regretted being too tight-fisted to fly one of my assistants down from Sydney. I painted in slow motion.
It was probably just as well I wasn't at the gallery. Andy Dinan, MARS' tireless owner, called to tell me that she'd received over 250 acceptances to the invitation for the opening night party – about 50 more than her space was licensed to accommodate. Now she was in a panic. A few weeks ago, she'd suggested that I might reduce my investment in catering for the evening because, as she put it, "I'd be very surprised if more than a hundred and fifty turn up – we rarely have more than that even for a big opening!"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Self Vs. Self For Real

It's an odd experience to come across an image of yourself unexpectedly. In a small cafe, I sat staring at a small, black & white poster for my show for a couple of minutes before I realised what it was. Next to it was a poster for British actor and playwright Stephen Berkoff's solo stint at the National Theatre. He stared back at me with an intensity that, I imagine, must scare the shit out of fey English theatre types. I took a photo of both posters then left, faintly embarrassed, but there was no escaping myself. MARS has done such a good job of distributing the posters up all over the city, I kept seeing them out the corner of my eye everywhere – in bookshop windows, boutiques, and other cafés, as well as on walls and bollards.The monochrome image is so simple and stark, it's very hard to miss, even among clusters of other advertising.

Hang Ups (and Downs)

It was probably fitting that I ended my working day at dusk sitting in my truck by the side of a busy road, waiting for a garage to organise a tow. I had spent most of the day at the wheel. From early in the morning, I had been driving back and forth across Melbourne to check on various pre-show logistics or to rectify things that others had fucked up. Hours I had put aside to finish a couple of works on paper in time for the opening night just evaporated, along with whatever was left of my humour.
I hosted a preview of the show and a light lunch for two bloggers, Brian Ward and Jennie Rosenbaum, and Fiona Scott-Norman, the journalist who wrote about it in The Age last Friday and whom I joined last week in a discussion about female sexuality on Melbourne ABC Radio. All three were cool, clever, and perhaps because we shared a similar, new media-inspired sensibility, quick to get' what I was doing. They helped me regain my sanity. Gallery staff bustled around us, and as I'm an unapologetic control freak, I interrupted our conversation several times to check what they were up to.
Coincidentally, a faux-fur-coat-clad listener to the ABC Radio show arrived at the gallery on a red moped during the lunch. She told the gallery owner that it was so refreshing to hear a real talk about female sexuality that she just had to see the show as soon as it opened!
As for the truck, it was something to do with the gear selectors. It will take a couple of days and a few hundred bucks to repair. There are just 48 hours until the opening party and things are still a long way from ready.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ticking

I spent all day at the gallery today. A photographer from mX, a daily newspaper for Melbourne commuters, dropped by to do a portrait of me. He posed me in front of one of my more explicit images so that my head obscured the genitalia. I refused to smile.
The hanging for the show is going slowly. Besides trying to get the pictures to work well with each other, I want to make sure the combination of vertical and horizontal frames is neither too symmetrical nor distractingly random. I am beginning to appreciate the skills of the best professional 'hangers'.
In between, there are hundreds of small chores to take care of, including email enquiries from collectors to which I have to reply, a sound system to be installed, press packages to be wrapped, and t-shirts to be approved. I'm not dealing well with the stress. I have still a couple of watercolours to finish before the opening party and I'm aware that time is ebbing quickly.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

On A Different Road

I drove through the night to reach Canberra, about a third of the distance to Melbourne, at three in the morning. I checked into the Park Hyatt and slept hard until the front desk woke me at nine. I had a long, warm bath while I waited for room service to deliver hot coffee and croissants for breakfast.
I drove inter-state a lot when I was younger for exhibitions or to visit friends. If I got tired, I pulled into truck-stops and slept in the car. I had – still have – an aversion to junk food so I often went hungry. Two years ago, when I last drove to Melbourne (for the Venus In Hell show at MARS), the long, cold journey left me so exhausted I was irritable and waspish with everyone for a week. This evening, when I reached the city, I was still fresh enough that I was able to pass by the gallery to offload over 30 framed works from the back of the truck before heading to a mid-city hotel.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Getting Loaded

The entire exhibition has been stacked in the back of my truck. Tomorrow, I'll drive the 1,000 kms between my studio, just north of Sydney, to Melbourne, maybe stopping overnight at a country hotel to sleep for a few hours before pressing on to reach the gallery in time to hang the show on Monday morning. I won't have much time to rest after that. I work very hard in the days immediately before and after the opening of a show; it's part of the job to educate gallery staff about what they'll be selling, to spend time with individual collectors and curators, and to do as much press as possible.
There's also the organisation of the all-important opening night party (on 31st July) to oversee.
Brett Whitely
, the famed painter who brought a Byronic flourish to the local art scene during the '60s – he died 16 years ago of a heroin overdose in a beachside motel room between Sydney and Wollongong; he was just 53 – was probably the last Australian artist to turn his shows into high-profile events, transforming his exhibition spaces into elaborate sets on which his works – and he – could play 'big' to their audiences. Before his unarguable gifts (and his louche, rock star-like charsima) were eroded by drug abuse, Whitely's presence both energised and got up the nose of staid commercial galleries and institutions which, between them, had worked out a cosy system to manage the careers of the mainly male artists they deemed 'suitable'. Whitely managed to work the system to tremendous advantage (last year, his painting, The Olgas, sold at auction for $A3.5 million) but remained uncompromisingly unsuitable, a sharp thorn in its side.
Opening night parties never have anything to do with art. I don't even pretend mine do. They're a chance to unwind, to celebrate – an exuberant expression of relief after a long period of self-imposed seclusion to produce the work. And everyone is welcome. Well, almost everyone (you know who you are).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Undefined

The first mention of the upcoming show appeared in a piece by Fiona Scott-Norman in today's edition of The Age, Melbourne's leading daily newspaper. The quotes were not entirely accurate or in context but on the whole, the writer 'got' what I was trying to do. It isn't always the case.
I'll be doing more interviews once I arrive in Melbourne to hang the show on Monday. I'm also hosting a lunch for half a dozen bloggers and critics at MARS Gallery to introduce them to my new work. I don't usually try to explain my art – I try to avoid composing 'artist statements' – but PORNO is different. It raises questions, even in me,
about what the hell I'm up to and how it's relevant to everything I've done before.
My paintings have been called pop, 'shock pop', post-feminist, ironic, diaristic, erotic, punk and even pornographic (usually by post-feminists) so what will be made of this, my first real foray into conceptual art – taking leave of the subjective for the objective – and another medium?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chaos Compliant

I had to get my arms around a sprawl of logistical details for the opening party at MARS Gallery, next Thursday, so I spent the morning sitting cross-legged in a corner of my teak daybed with two phones and an open chat channel on my Macbook, going over long 'to-do' and phone lists and relaying queries between the gallery and my assistants, who, today, all opted wisely to work from their homes.
One of the most pressing items was the hire of a sound system and engineer for the well-known singer, Deborah Conway, who is doing a half hour, acoustic set at the party. I also had to choose two menus: one for 'finger food' to be served at the party, the other for a dinner I am hosting for my collectors at a nearby restaurant afterwards. Then I had to organise the last of my works to be delivered from a lab on the other side of Sydney to my long-suffering framer before turning off the phones and retreating to my studio to work on a triptych of watercolours – cinematic frames of a Japanese girl giving a blow-job, in close-up – that I want to include in the show.
My studio is a pit, chaotic and filthy. I haven't bothered to tidy it for a month. The patchwork nature of its disarray reflects the steep peaks and valleys of my moods – and productivity.
(Note to self: phone the cleaners, offer them double.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hanging Together

There's always a combination of satisfaction and surprise when I finalise a selection of works for an exhibition. I'm able to sit back and review the works objectively and to see them for the first time as a group.
Their coherence as a group is, in this case, important. The photographs themselves – and my role in each as either creator or curator – are much less important than the collective power of the socio-sexual narrative that underpins PORNO and transforms it from being simply a show with an attention-grabbing title to a provocative but deeply considered conceptual work. As such, I am also conscious of hanging the works (some two dozen in all) in a way that they are experienced in association with each other.
I've collaborated closely with my printer, Chris Reed of Blanco Negro, to achieve a uniformity in the dimensions and framing of the photographs. We've also overcome instances of poor exposure and lighting or iffy composition to achieve prints that enhance the content and argue for their consideration as serious art.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Roller Coaster Crazy

This morning, I woke in a state of panic. In some dark recess of my mind, I was convinced that I'd done nothing for my exhibition: I had no work chosen, let alone printed and framed, and I'd forgotten to send any invitations for the opening. Worse, I had no money in the bank, my rent was due, and I had misplaced all my psychotropic medications.
I was still operating under these assumptions when a journalist rang from Melbourne's leading newspaper, The Age, to interview me. I'm not sure but I think that, when I picked up the phone, I said, "Oh fuck!" instead of "Hello". Somehow, I managed to answer her questions coherently.
A few hours later, I felt much better. My reality was different. The images for the show had all been printed and they'd been delivered to my framer. The invitations for the opening night had all been sent. My rent was up to date and I had plenty of money in the bank. I'm still trying to figure out what the hell got into me.
I am never much fun to be around a week or so before an exhibition. My mood swings are precipitous, my demeanour as twitchy as a psychotic sniper. Drawing and painting don't help a bit. Usually, the only way I can calm myself is to fuss over myriad logistical details, making phone calls and catching up on paperwork – the dull but soothing organisational piecework that settles my jittery obsessive compulsive mind.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Home Made

Given the last minute offer from MARS to exhibit my photography, I've been evolving the underlying ideas for the show even as I sift through the images I might want to use. I guess it was no surprise that a concept for it finally fell into place only three nights ago.
My large, glossy, enamel paintings have always reflected and commented upon the way women are portrayed in advertising and entertainment media – even, most recently, in video games and toys. I've also been intrigued by the way young women exploit themselves these days, using digital video and Web 2.0 to gain a measure of unsubtle notoriety. Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian (NSFW) have proved that homespun porn can help rather than hinder a girl's career and if you have a celebrity partner, you can even profit from it.
In many ways, porn's creepy sensibility has insinuated itself into every aspect of popular culture, from the fashion photographs (NSFW) of Terry Richardson to Rihanna's robotic S&M stage persona. In so doing, hardcore porn has achieved some legitimacy and through the internet, has found its way into the hands of millions of middle-class suburbanites who might never have risked a foray into an actual 'adult store' to buy it over the counter. With the proliferation of more sophisticated home media and simple editing applications, many have experimented with producing it themselves.
As I edit the various photographs I've taken as references for my recent, sexually graphic watercolours, I've grown more curious about the images others have made of themselves, their lovers and their own sexual acts. I've asked close friends if they'd allow me to view theirs. Most have agreed. I've decided to 'curate' these images and include them in my show – or, more exactly, refine and reprint them and in so doing, appropriate them to form part of my own narrative.
The colour in these amateur images is often garish and the compositions crude but there is within many of them not just an elemental tension but also a sadness, as if these photographs are a failed attempt to locate some deeper truth about their subjects – now stripped naked, staring blankly at the camera, or fucking.
In a sense, this collection of images is emerging as my first truly objective, 'conceptual' work as an artist. Parodoxically, it will probably be my most intimate.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Come To The Party

There are now exactly two weeks until the opening of my solo exhibition of photography, entitled PORNO, at MARS (Melbourne Art Rooms) on 29th July, this month. An opening night party is scheduled for Thursday, 31st July, from 6.30pm to 9.30pm, two nights after the opening, so as not to clash with the official kick-off of the Melbourne Art Fair. All readers of this blog are invited – simply email your name and the number of guests to rsvp@marsgallery.com.au.
The gallery's address is 418 Bay St., Port Melbourne, Tel. 03 9681 8425.
Make sure you're there well before 8.00pm, when there'll be a performance by one of Australia's best-known singer-songwriters, Deborah Conway, accompanied by Willy Zygier, as well as an introductory talk by Julianne Schultz, founding editor of the Griffith REVIEW.
The show itself will run until 24th August.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Light In The Darkroom

I spent all day standing alongside the printer at the custom black and white lab I use, one of the last in existence in Sydney. I watched as he began to print the first of a dozen monochrome images I will show at the end of the month. It's slow, somewhat tedious work that demands close attention to exposure values, grain and 'soak time' to achieve exhibition-quality prints. Still, there's something satisfying about producing images using the now anachronistic chemical process. Photographs hand-printed onto fibre-based paper are still noticeably more refined than digital prints: the image emerges from within the paper, creating distinctive textures that are somehow more substantial than mere differences of light and shadow.
The custom printer is an artisan. The best imbue something of themselves in every print. The photographer might capture a particular instance – Cartier-Bresson called it "the decisive moment" – but the skilled printer draws out the deeper resonance of that instance.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Tiers Of Emotion

I've been thinking a lot about the differences between photography and painting. I remember David Hockney talking about how the fundamental difference was time: a painting was imbued with layers of time – the hours, days, and weeks over which it was created – with different thoughts, emotions and levels of exertion residing within each. A photograph, on the other hand, captured and preserved a micro-second within a single, thin chemical layer. Because of this, Hockney argued, a painting delivered more to a viewer.
I've always used small watercolours, not photographs, to record my memories. Sometimes, I've used photographs as references or aides memoires for these paintings, but the paintings depict much that is isn't able to be captured on film – the sensual, sometimes surreal elements of experience that reside in the imagination, both during an experience and afterwards. By trying to paint them, they become more real to me than anything that can be absorbed onto celluloid (let alone a digital file).

Monday, July 07, 2008

Foreign Exchange

Last night I watched a drama about young foreign women working in kyabakura or hostess bars in Tokyo. The characters could have been any one of half a dozen girls I knew in my late teens who went to Japan for a little excitement and ended up employed as hostesses. They pretended to me that they only worked for drinks and a little extra money from clients who "just wanted to practice their English". If they had sex with these clients, the money and expensive gifts they received were, somehow, not a part of the transaction. The more generous clients were referred to as boyfriends and never, in the hooker vernacular, as 'johns'.
As Joan Didion once wrote, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live". I still wonder why they couldn't be frank about what it was they really did (and even, in one case, invited me to do with them).
I work so damn hard to be open in my life and work, even at the risk of embarrassing myself. I try to be completely fearless even if I fall a long way short of that. It's difficult but defining. Art is more powerful – and life more genuine – when it's raw and honest. A viewer can feel the difference. One of the reasons why I can't stand so much contemporary art photography is that it's often as fastidiously 'produced' as a Hollywood movie, right down to the special effects. It's insidiously 'untrue' and it leaves me feeling empty.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Embracing Imbalance

I'm often encouraged to live a more 'balanced' life. Well-meaning friends, family, even a psychiatrist have expressed concern that I might burn out because I work too much. Their advice was based on a conventional assumption that work has to be interspersed with 'leisure' or 'down time'.
Making art encompasses everything I'm passionate about. It's something I would do – and have done – even if I had to hold down another job. If I didn't have to work for money, I would still live and work the way I do now. Art brings meaning to my life and I'd be lost without it. I've never burnt out from working too much but I've often fallen apart when I've stopped working. I get uncomfortable when my focus is distracted. I get depressed when I lose momentum.
I'm only just now beginning to hit my stride. If anything, I want to go faster, harder, and smarter. I'm making my dreams come true – and what could be better for anyone than that?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Proof Readings

With four weeks to go before the opening of my MARS show, i have spent the past couple of days finalising advertising and promotion with the gallery and gathering negatives for the first set of prints. There will be about two dozen images in the show but I will print maybe a hundred from which to make the final selection to be framed and shipped to the gallery. A long table has been set up in the middle of the studio to accommodate piles of proof sheets (to which are stuck small yellow post-it notes filled with frame numbers and printing notes), flawed test prints, and trays of old-fashioned celluloid transparencies waiting to be edited.
I have yet to arrive at a clear sense of the show's narrative. Unlike my paintings, which are often conceived as series, my photography has always been unstructured, informal and improvisatory. I hadn't even thought of exhibiting examples of it until a year or so ago, when I became aware of interest on the part of my most dedicated collectors in the Polaroids I used to work out compositions and poses for my early works (a dozen or so were sold, last year, for $500 each). The images in the upcoming show will be a lot rawer and more intimate and as I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I am walking a fine line between art and self-immolation as I choose each of them.