Friday, October 31, 2008

Clearing, If Not Yet Free

Another few large paintings are in the process of being crated and readied for shipping, having taken an almost interminable amount of time to dry. With luck, I will have emptied my studio of all commissions by the end of the year and be able to begin the new year with a clean slate. As I've often mentioned here before, I want to take a break from the large enamel works that have occupied me for way too long.
It's not just the paintings that are being cleared out. I have also sold several sketches and watercolours. Soon, all I'll have left in my stockroom are my favorite photographs from PORNO and a handful of of small enamel paintings.
The latter have already been offered to my collectors. They consist of two series: Cowboys Babes (Resized For Commercial Consumption) consists of six small (60cms x 40cms approx.) enamel on canvas paintings originally created to accompany the promotion of the now cancelled Legend Rubbers special edition condom tins, which were to feature the images; Studies For Accoutrements Of Desire consists of three, enamel on board paintings (60cms x 30cms) which evolved to become an exhibition of much larger enamels on board. Both series are priced under $4,500 for each painting (much less if bought as series) and represent the most economical of all my available work. If you're interested to know more, email me.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Place Your Bets

One of the several reasons my work has increased markedly in value is that, although my collector base is quite wide, individual works are tightly held. Few works, other than small enamels and works on paper, reach the secondary market and as I'm not represented by any commercial galleries, very little is available anywhere, even in my own studio's stockroom. Less than half a dozen of my paintings have ever been sold at auction, all of them over the past year at either Menzies Art Brands in Sydney and Melbourne or at Christie's in London. All have achieved their estimates and over half have exceeded them.
Next month, Menzies will offer Drowned Ophelia (pictured above), an early enamel on canvas painting, 1.0 metres x 1.5 metres, first shown at the Jan Murphy Gallery in Brisbane in 1999 and sold a year or so later for just $A1,200. The auction house's estimate is $A10,000 to $A14,000 and this range will be tested at Menzies' sale rooms at 12 Todman Avenue, Kensington, in Sydney, on 10th and 11th December. Another of my works of this approximate age and size attracted bids of around $A14,000 at auction, last year.
Drowned Ophelia will be available to view in Melbourne from the 27th to the 30th November and in Sydney on the 4th to 9th December. For more details, visit the
Menzies Art Brands web site.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Swings And Roundabouts

It's been a weird week of precipitous ups and downs.
The downs were only a couple but unexpected. My much ballyhooed deal with Legends Rubber fell through when, at the eleventh hour, just as I delivered final artwork for the tin containers, the company and I failed to agree (albeit amicably) on how they would be packaged and promoted. I was also forced to postpone a small but unarguably fun collaboration with Kinokuniya, the large, Japanese-owned bookstore in Sydney, where merchandise based on my early Cowgirl Babe paintings (which were also to be featured on the condom tins) was to be sold before Christmas.
My disappointment was short-lived. I had been struggling to find time to pursue an opportunity to work on a book project for one of Australia's most respected publishing houses. Now I have a few months in which to write and edit images in between assembling work (most of it existing pieces) for shows scheduled in Asia during the second half of 2009.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dead Heart

On the long road through the desert, we stopped each night to camp. We slept in swags, scattered around the dying embers of a fire. I laid mine away from the others, all men, so the cacophony of snores wouldn't be so loud. I wore all my clothes, including a sheepskin jacket.
I was tired, a little stoned, and very cold. One of the men stayed up until everyone else had gone to sleep. He crept over to me in the dark and murmured, “You’re cold. I’ll warm you up”.
I turned my back to him and he crawled into the swag. I thought about the others waking to see him lying next to me. Then I figured it wouldn’t make any difference. They already believed I'd slept with him. They were wrong. He was short, sun-dried and at least fifteen years older than me. I hadn't given him a second thought.
His breath shortened against the side of my neck. It smelled of stale beer.
At least, it was warmer with him lying against me. I thought about the boyfriend I’d broken up with because he didn’t want me to do this journey.
I felt the man’s hands slide under my clothes. “I think I’m falling in love with you,” he whispered.

I didn’t turn around. I stared into the night. “Yeah. Me too," I said flatly.
He pulled my pants down to penetrate me from behind, then his calloused fingers clawed my still-covered breasts. I lay still as he moved against me. It’s too late now, I told myself. I’m already fucked.
I was very young then. I forgave myself long ago. But I've never let myself become anybody's victim again.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Object Of Desire

My work is often criticised because it objectifies women. From my very first paintings, it was always intended to do so.
All woman are conscious of when they first become objectified. It happens at puberty when our physicality begins to come into focus. And as soon as we are in our teens, we encounter problems with men who only care about the possibility of bedding us. Over and over, older women told me I should think it flattering, instead of inappropriate or abusive.
We're so used to being objectified we don't really know how to look at ourselves any other way, especially sexually. In every culture and subculture, the physical ideals for women are far more codified and rigid than those for men. I try not to reduce women to either sex toys or trophies (at least, not without some irony) in my work but I do try to explore women's real desires and fantasies, starting with my own.
My generation of women is the first to be able to speak openly about our sexual experience, and to experiment outside the conventions of it, without being cast out of society. I objectify women in my work in the same way that I think young women now objectify themselves – as an attempt to harness and reverse the power that men have had over us. I'm also trying to reflect society's values back on itself in the hope that it illuminates the darker aspects of its sexual mores.
If my recent drawings of headless schoolgirls fingering their pussies look like some teenage fantasy, it's because they are – mine, from when I was in my teens. Women's sexuality is often denied. Just as often, we're denied a chance to express it. My drawings trace a younger reality for me: what I did alone, shyly, feeling partly silly, partly ashamed, and yet totally turned on by whatever fantasy was inside my head.
The developing sexuality of young girls, starting with fumbling, self-conscious masturbation, isn't accepted as matter-of-factly as that of young boys'. And if women are still ashamed of their bodies and desires, what chance do they have to get beyond society's over-amplified projection of both to gain a real understanding of themselves?
Without acknowledging and expressing the needs and urges deep within us, we'll continue to allow men to do it for us – and to expect us to live up to their misplaced, totally mistaken ideas.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

At Work, Not Play

I went to an art supplies store, today, to look at some canvas. As I wandered around the shelves, I couldn't help but become irritated that half the shop was taken up with what I thought of as unnecessary, 'decorative' accessories – flimsy, unsturdy easels, elaborate brush holders and sets of drawers, dainty scrapbooks, and project-packs for hobbyists.
I like high quality tools and materials. But I don't need the 'right' table or a picture-perfect set-up in order to work. The contents of my studio are utilitarian and inexpensive. However, as I'm always curious about other artists' studios, I thought I would share a little of mine in the hope that readers might share a little of theirs.
Gorilla adjustable aluminium painting platform steps
are perfect for setting up studio work benches or tables. The height is adjustable and any large piece of timber can be used as the top. I use them to create tables when I am seated and benches when I prefer to working on my feet. They're inexpensive, and (most importantly, for me), easy to transport and move. I like studio space to be flexible: I want furniture that can be dismantled when extra floor space is needed.
Fairway quartz halogen 1000W floodlights
are inexpensive, adjustable and can be packed up easily. They provide a very bright, relatively clean light. Unfortunately, they get hot quickly but that can be used to dry paint at a temperature more like that of daytime than the night.
PH neutral glassine paper
is useful for wrapping works on paper – from pencil, charcoal, pastel, to acrylic. It's waterproof, smooth, protects the surface of the work well, and is relatively sturdy.
Cell-Aire foam
is also very useful for protecting the surface of enamel and oil paints, underneath a layer of bubble wrap, when they're packed . It doesn't mark the surface, like bubble wrap often does.
Heavy duty canvas drop-cloths
are a must-have. Lots of artists let paint fall on the floor of their studio – I don't. I lay these out underneath where I am working. If paint spills in small areas, it's absorbed, instead of becoming a slippery mess. Larger areas sit on the surface for a little while, so it's easier to clean up. I take them to the laundromat every now and then to be washed and dried. It's a nice texture to walk on, and I like the raw canvas smell. I also use them to line the floor of my van, or as extra padding, when I'm transporting works. Best of all, they create a sense of familiarity when working in new spaces.
Clear plastic stackable drawers
are another must-have. I keep everything that will fit in them: tubes of paint, pens, brushes, digital accessories, discs, files, tape, printed reference articles – everything! I label the front with posca pen on masking tape. I like to be able to see what's inside as well (there's nothing more frustrating than wasting time rifling through boxes looking for the right tool). As with everything I like, they can be transported easily – or moved around the studio – without having to repack the contents.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Becoming Chaos Compliant

I spent this morning supervising the crating of the first of my Dangerous Career BabesThe Aviatrix – to be shipped overseas. It's not an easy job. Enamel's glossy, brittle surface is vulnerable to chipping and scratching and I've learnt to wrap corners and edges well to reduce the risk of damage. Even so, the safe delivery of my works is always nerve-wracking.
The Aviatrix
is to be included in an auction of contemporary Australian art organised by Christie's , in London, in December. Last year, two of my early enamels, each 1.0m x 1.5m, were snapped up for just over $A23,000 each. This new work is 2.0m x 1.6m and should sell for considerably more, even in a more cautious and conservatively valued market. However, recent art auctions in London have cleared less than 60 percent of the catalogued lots and even marquee artists such as Lucien Freud aren't achieving the prices they might have a year ago.
In Australia, mainstream commercial galleries are hurting. There are rumours that some have not sold a single work since early this year. I'm not so sure that this is only because of the global economic slow-down. 'Bricks and mortar' galleries have been slow to pick up on radical shifts in the way collectors are staying in touch with both new and established artists and their work online. Their managers remain elitist in outlook, relying on long-established collector bases and traditional, infrequent, and un-individualised communication using old media to support sales. They've been unimaginative in laying the groundwork to encourage (and, in some cases, create) new collectors – in other words, investing in potential future revenue.
If, as is widely thought, a global recession is inevitable, it's likely the only galleries and artists who will weather it well are those who are already bold, inventive and flexible – who have become, as one high profile, Nineties' web entrepreneur once put it, chaos compliant.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Giving No Head

I've been drawing and photographing a lot of women without their heads. I've never done it before, maybe because I've been sensitive to the feminist notion that it objectifies sexuality more by eliminating identity.
I've begun to question this. In my recent drawings of a young woman masturbating, not drawing the face gives the act some kind of privacy.
I've tried versions with heads but they feel wrong to me. Because of the ubiquity of porn' and porn-influenced advertising and entertainment, we're used to seeing sexual images with every possible facial expression. Even in many of my own paintings, the heads turned the women into stereotypes (often, deliberately) performing for someone else. Obscured heads, faces and expressions make my pictures more voyeuristic – as if glimpsed through a key-hole – but also more intimate and meaningful.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Picture Imperfect

One of my (many) flaws is a misplaced desire for perfection. I've never dealt well with doing things 'wrong'. The trouble is, art isn't about right or wrong, it's not even about good or bad. Not as far as the artist should be concerned.
My initial impressions of my own work are always completely off. If I hate a work while I am doing it, or think it a failure, the chances are, someone else will think it very good – and vice versa. I've wasted a lot of time (and ruined a lot of work) by trying too hard to make something 'right', something perfect.
It's almost impossible to suspend my critical perspective while I work. Lately, though, I've been drawing a lot in order to get things more, well, 'wrong'. It's a method inspired by the late English film director, painter, set decorator, diarist and gardener, Derek Jarman, who argued that the pursuit of perfection stifled more good art than nurtured it. His view? You just did it, with whatever medium was to hand – and tried not to think about how something might (or might not) turn out. In his case, if he wanted to make a movie and he didn't have the budget for 35mm, he'd shoot on 16mm. If he couldn't afford 16mm he'd use Super 8, and if he couldn't afford the processing for that, he'd borrow a friends home video recorder and set-dress his living room. And if he got it all wrong, he'd do it again – or do something different.
The important thing, for Jarman, was not to fuss too much about it. Just get something done.
This new attitude appears to be working for me. I've been drawing and painting faster, looser, in pencil and black watercolour. I make ten or more pictures in less time than it would usually take for one. I notice 'flaws' in each, but resist 'correcting' them. As in people, the flaws usually turn out to be the most interesting elements.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pictures From An Empty Place

In the desert, the famous artist dressed in jodhpurs and a Stetson and strode around the fractured, dessicated landscape with a small, folding safari chair and a compact easel. He was very conscious of being filmed and photographed and you could tell he enjoyed the character he assumed on camera – urbane artist-as-adventurer. He painted (to my eye) dull panoramas of barren mudflats, shimmering mirages, and vast skies.
Sometimes, he set fire to lengths of rope held taught between two rough stakes in different settings, then photographed them. It was as much an act of theatre as of creative practicality. We would watch as he donned pink rubber gloves, soaked the rope strands with lighter fluid and lit them. He did one in the lake’s shallow waters, at dusk. As the flames merged with the orange sky and the suns dying rays, I glimpsed embers of meaning that would cool and blow away from the paintings he would later make of the scene.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Two readers have been selected (in a process that doesn't bear any scrutiny as it's entirely arbitrary and mood-driven) to receive signed and stamped artist's proofs of limited edition, colour R-prints that were included in my recent PORNO exhibition in Melbourne. Needless to say, the images (which are each different) are nudes but not sexually graphic – unlike another in the series, of a same-sex couple fisting (emphatically NSFW), that has ended up in the collection of well-known Australian critic. Each print is valued for insurance purposes at $A2,000 so you can sell them if you want to make a few extra bucks for Christmas.
The 'lucky' readers will be asked to confirm their snail mail addresses in the next couple of days. One or two more signed prints will be given away between now and the end of the year.

Childish Infatuation

I was searching online for utilitarian overalls to work in when I found the perfect pair. They were drab, military-issue brown cotton, with a button-up front and a alloy cinch buckle. They had no obvious branding except for a stencilled black hangman's gallows and a number on the back. The trouble was, they were 250 pounds (or around $A625). But maybe they were worth it. The overalls were "a limited edition artist's overalls... meticulously researched by Billy Childish". And there was more: "Made in England by adult craftsmen and craftswomen, this strictly limited edition of 20 outfits has been hand stencilled with the hangman gallows by the artist... sets including the overalls, vest and neckerchief (all with hand stamped labels and hand stencilled insignia), and a fine art print of the advert signed and numbered by the artist, 61cm x 40cm giclee print on enhanced matt art paper."
I have always loved Billy Childish. A genuine English eccentric and 'outsider', he paints, he fronts various bands – including the wonderfully named Buff Medways – and writes. He is also, if his expensive overalls are anything to go by, a dab hand at designer merchandising. Just 39 years of age – although he looks as if he's time-warped out of the pre-war England of my imagination in which every man looked a little like the actor, Trevor Howard – Childish (born Steven John Hamper) has produced 2,500 paintings, drawings and etchings, published 40 volumes of poetry and four novels and recorded more than 100 album-length CDs.
Childish's productivity epitomises what I once referred to, in my essay Life Study, as the 'new punk'.
"The new punk is about raw skill and having something powerful to say," I argued. "This is particularly important now that... originality has been over-run by appropriation, and artisan skills by software and processing capabilities that can’t quite replicate the slippery inexactness of the hand-made. The new punk isn’t a twenty-first century form of Luddism, nor is it a rejection of electronic facility for some idealistic, nineteenth century idea of the purity or superiority of the human touch. It’s about a restitution of subjectivity, of re-emphasising the direct relationship between an artist’s interior world and the individual work..."
Unfortunately, as a recent, excellent profile of Childish in the British newspaper, The Guardian, points out, neither his relentless Victorian work ethic nor his enormous output has helped Childish achieve anything close to the name-brand recognition of Damien Hirst or even Childish's ex-girlfriend Tracey Emin. But he's scores of degrees cooler than any of the best-known Brit Art bunch. Check out the sultry, young-Frida-looking Emin on the cover (above) of one of Childish's early collections of poetry, I'd Rather You Lied, published under his own imprint, Hangman Books. She was never more intriguing than when she was with him.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Just A Bad Memory

Once, when I was younger, I flew a thousand miles for a party launching a group exhibition which included my work. Of the dozen artists involved, I was the only female.
The party was held at a bland, post-modern mansion filled with blue-chip paintings by all the usual suspects. The host was tall and too evenly tanned, with skin like well-oiled saddle leather. His hair had the iridescent sheen of expensive conditioning. When I arrived, I overheard a photographer hiss, “What the fuck is she doing here?”. I heard someone else joke that the exhibition was the first to feature the work of of nine artists and a fashion model.
At the end of the night, a collector asked me for a tongue kiss. I complained about it to a dealer who represented my work. “Oh, he was just drunk,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. He probably won’t even remember it in the morning.” But I still remember it.
It’ll be great for my career, I told myself when I was invited to be part of the exhibition. By the time it opened, I couldn’t help feeling like a whore.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Spiralling Quickly

The online arts and design magazine, Spiral, has published a short interview with me. It's notable mainly because I talk a little more about my personal life – although regular readers of my blog will probably feel they have too much information about that already.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The 400 Blows

This entry is the 400th since Self Vs. Self started on August 23rd, 2006 – a big but unexpected milestone. I thought I would offer one of my works as a simple expression of gratitude to everyone who has joined (and stayed with) me on this serpentine narrative journey.
Based on a favorite sketch in pencil and ink wash on paper, Iku, For You (pictured above) – iku is Japanese for "I'm coming!" – is an unlimited edition printwork that can be downloaded for free
(for a period of 30 days) and reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License on any home ink-jet using a paper of your choice. As with my other unlimited editions online, you can send your hard copy print by snail mail to my studio, along with a self-addressed envelope, and I will stamp, sign and even inscribe it for you on the verso and send it back.
Between now and the beginning of December, I'm also going to give away two or three original, framed photographic works – stamped, signed, and dated artist's proofs from my recent PORNO show. I haven't worked out how I'm going to decide who to give them to yet. I'm open to suggestions. In the meantime, keep watching this space.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Drawing Things Out

Wouldn't you know it? It's raining.
The morning sky is orange, filtered though a pall of leaden grey. The sea surface is glassy, although it undulates gently as a long, steep swell rolls in. A dozen surfers are sitting on their boards about a hundred yards off the north end of the beach, waiting for the sets to build. The air inside my house is cool but clammy.
I was going to lie around and sulk about what a shitty day I had yesterday but I've wasted enough time, this year, feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I'm going to draw. It's been several months since I made art just for myself – the downside of an over-filled order book and a couple of shows. I've missed working loosely and without a plan, letting the marks associate in a kind of stream of consciousness to reveal the picture. And if I don't like what it becomes, I just tear up the paper and start again without having to worry about the clock and a contractual obligation to deliver something.
Of course, I could also get to grips with tidying up my studio. But that feels too much like hard work.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Days Like This

I've had a day of dealing with a lot of the dumb, annoying shit that too often discourages me from thinking of art as a serious career for any right thinking adult: dates lost for an Asian show because some assistant manager trying to do a favour for a friend 'forgot' that I'd reserved the venue, a much-needed and long-overdue order undelivered because the supplier had 'car trouble', a commercial deal gone bad because the basic budget just wasn't there.
I figured I'd have a long lunch and maybe a few glasses of red wine to get over the aggravation but it was Monday and the restaurants I wanted to go to were closed – a Sydney thing – so I was home when a corporate curator rang to tell me that a big money commission for an enamel painting had been cancelled, the victim of faux-austerity on the part of a client whose investments in US real estate had gone belly up in the sub-prime mortgage crisis. I decided to give the painting away as a gift to a couple who have collected the best of my work for the past few years and who would prize it far beyond the five-figure valuation the insurance company put on it. "Gotta launder my karma," as the song goes.
I'm not going to pick up the phone tomorrow. Instead, I might lie naked in the sun on the back lawn, gaze at the deep blue Pacific and sing along to old Van Morrison tunes played really loud on the stereo:
When it's not always raining there'll be days like this

When there's no one complaining there'll be days like this
When everything falls into place like the flick of a switch
Well my mama told me there'll be days like this

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch

The weekend has been filled with the tedious exercise of readying the images for the first three (of six) Legends Rubbers containers: first, cropping and manoeuvring them to fit the awkwardly shaped, round-cornered, rectangular lids, then preparing high resolution files to be handed off to the company's own graphic designers in Melbourne, on Monday. They'll integrate Legend's branding and other text before forwarding the file to printers in China. I've also been putting the finishing touches on a new Cowboy Babe painting, enamel on board, which will be the fourth image for the limited edition series of tin containers. Like the half a dozen other Cowboy Babes (which are as sought after among collectors as my Career Babes), it features a nubile young Cowpoke (its title) on a hot pink background in the usual white Stetson and knickers. However, this one is arguably the sexiest, offering just a hint of what she likes to do get a giddy-up when she's not actually gripping a leather saddle between her thighs and digging in her spurs.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ride 'Em Hard, Cowboy

Having reviewed a decade of output and sketched and photographed scores of new ideas, I've decided to use a combination of new and old work based on the Cowboy Babe, one of my most recognisable 'characters', for the limited edition Legends Rubbers condom tins. The Cowboy Babe recurs in several of my series of enamel paintings. She's strong, sexy and yet somewhat enigmatic. She also appeals to both men and women, maybe because she doesn't tote a gun – her extended index finger is intimidating enough – and she doesn't need a horse as an excuse to saddle up.
With luck, the first of the tins will hit the market before Christmas, this year.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Reinventing The Weal

As the end of the year nears, I'm looking forward to finishing my last enamel paintings – a couple of Dangerous Career Babes commissions (no more will be accepted after the end of this month), an unusual version in reflective vinyl and enamel of one of my iconic Lake Eyre images, and a large, 3.0m by 2.5m self-portrait. The work I've done in the medium this year has been among my best but enamel's harsh, corrosive vapour is dangerous to my health. I need a break. Besides, as I've written before, I have a number of other, non-painting projects I'd like to get under way over the next twelve months.
I want to experiment with sculpture, video and photograph, neither in that order nor necessarily in the same context. I have only just begun to loosen some of the formalistic shackles that encumber my painting but I'm free of them whenever I pick up a camera or assemble the natural, organic components of my sculpture. I'm still self-obsessed enough to want to construct work that reflects the complicated (and sometimes contradictory) narrative of my life but less familiar media encourage me to be less obvious about it.
I am also going to explore publishing: as well as a handful of limited edition portfolios and chapbooks, I'm attempting an autobiography (of sorts) for a well-regarded Australian publisher.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Space Invaders

I had a major push over the weekend and managed to clear a dozen works from my studio. Carefully packed, these are now en route to clients in Melbourne, Sydney, Bangkok, and London. There are another dozen to go – mostly Dangerous Career Babes re-painted in enamel on custom-made 210cms x 160cms boards, still drying slowly in the humid southern spring air. The first of these will also be shipped to London, straight into a sale room in time for Christmas.
Some of the space reclaimed in the studio has been short-lived. A couple of early enamel paintings arrived from sellers in the U.S. to be inspected and re-touched before being forwarded to new owners in Melbourne and Adelaide. And there are framed, metre-high photographic prints for a re-edited and enlarged version of PORNO planned for Japan to be delivered early next week, along with boxes of promotional material. They'll take up even more space than the work I just got rid of!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Hard Drive Is Good To Find

I took today off. It was raining. I didn't feel like getting out of bed. I propped myself up on a half dozen, large pillows and watched some of the movies I'd recorded on my cable TV's digital hard-drive. Among them:
Sketches Of Frank Gehry by Sydney Pollack. A profile of one of the few architects who might also be regarded as a sculptor. I love this line from it: "Talent is liquefied trouble".
Peter Beard: Scrapbooks From Africa and Beyond, a study of the American fashion and wildlife photographer and his reckless life (and loves) 'between' Africa and the USA.
, a strange, twisted psycho-drama directed by James Toback and starring Harvey Keitel, in one of his early and spookiest roles as a Bach-obsessed concert pianist who works as a strong-arming debt collector for his loan-shark father.
The Book of Revelation, an Australian film directed by Ana Kokkinos.
Last Tango In Paris, directed by Bernado Bertolucci, with Marlon Brando and Maria Schnieder.
Betty Blue, directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix. He also directed Diva, adapted from my favourite series of crime novels (by the French novelist-turned-tantric-guru) Daniel Odier, featuring the 40-something concert pianist/criminal Gorodish and his virgin, Lolita-like constant companion, the larcenous 14-year-old Alba. I love the first part of Betty Blue, but I always lose interest half-way. I watched it again because Beatrice Dalle (pictured above) is, in this role, someone I fantasize about sharing my boyfriend (or him sharing me) with
from time to time.
Finally, just before I slept, I let Into Great Silence, a slow, haunting, three-hour documentary directed by Philip Gröning, wash over me until dawn. It has no narration or dialogue, just meditative, intimate observations of a year in the lives of a 'silent' order of Carthusians, a dwindling handful of reverent monks in a grand monastery isolated in the French Alps.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Fight Club

A number of people have asked me why I am against art competitions. The short answer is that art isn't about competition.
In art competitions, the focus and public discussion is not on the ideas within the works but on who might win and how it might affect the winner's and losers' careers and the future value of their work – they've become a sort of testosterone-fueled Fight Club for artist's bragging rights.
Even if artists enter them to increase their 'surface', their recognition, the majority of art competitions barely attract any publicity, let alone critical consideration, so they offer little benefit other than the prize money (which is merely a percentage of the artists' entry fees). Of course, non-artists make a really good living from them: one of the largest art transport companies in Australia earns its most regular bread and butter from artists transporting works to and from competitions.
Most competitions are not about helping art and artists. They're scams to promote and support an archaic, poorly funded, gallery-focussed arts industry, which has convinced us (from art school onwards) that entering art competitions is an elemental means to advance an artist's career. I was advised to do it by a commercial gallerist, a long time ago. He said, "The idea is you enter, your work is seen by your peers, curators, and institutions, and if you win, the institution buys your work for a set amount of money [the acquisitive prize]. Once the work is acquired, you can add the institute's name to your CV." Having work in institutional collections is supposed to increase one's sales – and prices.
Of course, institutions have their own agenda in terms of what work will fit their collection, what work will be a good investment. These considerations often outweigh the quality of individual works when it comes to divvying up the prize money. Again, this is not about art, it's about portfolio management. And it encourages petty rivalry and politicking instead of qualitative, conceptual discussion.
As for publicity, well it primarily promotes the gallery itself rather than the artists entering the competitions.
Of course, commercial galleries are never ones to let a good scam pass them by. They've picked up on the usefulness of art competitions (especially youth-oriented ones that make for better PR copy) to redeem or re-invigorate their reputations and their client bases. They sometimes offer a lot of money and promote the blood-sport aspects of the outcome. This works very well in Australia – a sports obsessed nation that loves a prize fight.
If you want a lotto-style shot at a traditional career within an archaic, dying system, then I guess entering art competitions is the way to go. But there are better ways for young, smart artists to spend time, effort, money – and creativity.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Play It As It Lays

Joan Didion once wrote, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." My story has always been a pretty simple one: I grew up poor and peripatetic and when I decided to become an artist, I offloaded some of the emotional baggage of my upbringing into works that were accessible but subversive.
The subtext of that story line is usually glossed over. My mother moved away from my brother and I, and I grew up without a female role model. When I did have contact with her, I felt her unsubtle hand on my psyche, pushing me to become a version of her: an impoverished, serious, feminist academic who shunned make up and hair waxing and who put other people's – well, not her children's – needs before her own. As a young child, she cut my hair short and dressed me in 'sensible' clothes and shoes. As a teenager, when people approached me in the street about becoming a model, she'd blanche and tell them, "But what about her mind?" She always supported me being an artist but only a far as my work reflected her unspoken terms.
For too long, I let those terms dictate my character. Almost too late, I realised, recently, that I am not at all the woman my mother wished me to be.
I am smart and serious, yes, but I am also someone who embraces her wilder femininity and enjoys fashion and style. I wax my body hair and have regular facials. I seek out subtle perfumes. I pore over fashion sites and spend my hard-earned money on sexy clothes, shoes and accessories. I care about my body and get bothered when it isn't quite as firm as it should be. I am a sucker for celebrity gossip.
I also embrace my own celebrity and the glossy, brightly coloured controversies that swirl around it from time to time. I make no bones about being an attention whore who has a knack for promoting herself and her work. Like a Hollywood starlet, I'll even get naked for the right part – maybe because I work with a director (me!) I trust. I'm not promiscuous – not at all – but my emotional and sexual inclinations are... intricate.
Just look at the work. It's all there. I might tell myself stories in order to live but I don't tell myself stories in order to make art. I always tell the truth about myself, no matter how intimate, troubled, detestable, foolish or self-defeating it might be. In other words, what you see in the art is what you 'get' with me. Except in real life.
This has been hard for me to accept. For too long, I tried to pull the narrative of my art into line with the character my mother tried to mould me into and it caused me nothing but confusion and hurt. It's about time I embraced who I really am. It'd be a lot easier on me.
It's no great mystery why I've always judged myself myself harshly. Leaving aside my mother, it's something that appears to be programmed into most ambitious young females. It's not apparent in males. We talk slyly about Tracey Emin's sex life or her increased bosom but we say nothing about Julian Schnabel's penchant for sunglasses at night and stick-thin model-actresses or Francesco Clemente predilection for tailored Yamamoto suits and hand-made leather shoes.
No-one trash talks male artists about the size of their dicks but even in comments to this blog I've had men make snide remarks about the size and shape of my tits or my unsettled neuroses. They're usually worst when I've been forthright or just plain honest.
I don't give a fuck anymore. I'm going to stop telling myself stories in order to live and start living the stories I want others to tell about me. It's going to make my art even more imaginative and ambitious. As a well-known Hollywood producer once advised a friend of mine, "Play it bigger. Always be damn sure they notice what you do."

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Straight Through The Art

Edited by artist, Steve Gray, Art Re-Source is a relative newcomer in the Australian blogosphere but it has already set its sights on an ambitious series of artist interviews. Today, it published a long Q&A with me that develops what appears to be a theme du jour (see Art News Blog, last month): 'how to be an artist' – or, rather, 'how it is to be an artist'. If nothing else, it'll increase the amount of critical email I'll get this month. Half the three dozen comments to the Art News Blog's piece were from those who felt that nothing I do should even be considered art. But then shit like that is part of being an artist too.