Sunday, November 30, 2008

Taking Care Of Business (And Myself)

After six months of chaos, during which my career and my psyche have teetered on the edge of disintegration, I have finally clawed back the controls and de-throttled the frenetic pace.
Now I have to clean up the mess. I have rid myself of some of the people who were supposed to be helping – when all they were really doing was making a bad situation worse – and I've hired new people with more know-how and experience. This has left me free to focus on the art itself and to ensure that the delivery of commissioned works that have been held up by inefficiency (my own) or just plain incompetence (my own and others') can resume.
One good thing about this forced hiatus in production has been a chance to spring-clean the studio – even the floors have been steamed! – and to delve into a decade of archived material, including old drawings, photographs and press clippings. Reviewing the past and gaining a better understanding of what I've accomplished has, unexpectedly, freed my imagination from it, enabling me to see more clearly what I want (and need) to do in the future.
However, it will be another several weeks before I can allow myself to become occupied with it. I have still a lot of work to do on current and overdue projects. I also have some hardcore business issues to resolve – including an unpleasant, year-old dispute with a gallery. The last thing I can afford is to be distracted.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Aviatrix Flies To London

Despite the bone-jarring impact of global economic woes on the art market, I'm excited that one my most recent paintings, Dangerous Career Babe: The Aviatrix, is to be included in the prestigious sale of Modern And Contemporary Australian Art And South African Art in London, at famed auction house, Christie's, less than a week after one of my earliest paintings, Drowning Ophelia, is auctioned at Deutscher-Menzies in Sydney.
Christie's pre-sale estimate for The Aviatrix is between $A32,000 and $A37,500.
The large (160cm by 209.5cm), high gloss enamel on custom-made board work can viewed at Christie's main London sales room, which has been its headquarters since 1823, at 8 King Street, St. James, on 12th December (9am - 4;30pm), 14th December (2pm - 5pm), and 15th December (9am - 4:30pm). The sale itself will take place on 16th December at 10.30a.m.
Last year, at this same sale in London, two of my much smaller and much earlier enamel paintings, each 100cm by 150cm, sold for over $A23,000 each. This was a remarkable price given that it was the first time my work had ever been seen in Europe. However, the last six months have seen a precipitous downturn in the prices paid at contemporary art auctions, with many multi-million-dollar masterpieces being passed in having failed to reach their reserves or in some cases, without attracting a single bid.
Damien Hirst's spectacular disposal of his inventory at Sotheby's, in September this year, was probably the last gasp of big-money's breathless enthusiasm for contemporary art for a while – since then, even Hirst has been laying off staff at his London studios and hunkering down for a long, lean year.
I'm just going to hold my breath and hope for the best.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Under Cover Contentment

Although I'm still something of a neophyte in the auction business, it appears that I've graduated to a better section of the catalogue.
I received the book for the upcoming Deutscher-Menzies/Lawson-Menzies sale (in Sydney, on December 10th) today.
In the past, my paintings have been listed in the back of the catalogue, somewhere where the lot numbers are firmly into three figures.
This time, my early enamel painting, Drowned Ophelia, is Lot 13 (you have to click the image to see an unpixelated version). It is among the first 76 – in an initial section given to more established artists – of a total of 251 works offered at the sale. Instead of being next to another boring David Bromley in the catalogue it follows modest works by major international artists such as Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst and is surrounded by the works of major Australian artists who are either dead or older than me by 30 to 60 years.
The work
is estimated to sell for between $A10,000 to $A14,000.
Catalogue placement doesn't guarantee a positive result in an economic crisis – far from it – but I'm incredibly happy that an established, well-regarded auction house considers my reputation solid enough to position my work in this way. It's a really satisfying public affirmation of both the work I've put into both my art and my decision, two years ago, to work outside the gallery system. No matter what happens at the sale, it's a good sign.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Picturing Naam

When I awoke she was sprawled across the end of the bed, already dressed. She was leafing through the pages of an art book: images of a raw Australian landscape, paintings and photographs, among them some of mine.
I stretched and stifled a yawn. She looked up and smiled. I wasn't sure what time it was. The room was dim, the curtains closed; it could have been late at night or just before dawn.
I sat up slowly, then reached out to touch her. There were small scars on her olive skin; they looked like ones I'd gotten as a kid from running carelessly through the bush. Her feet were broad, her toes slightly splayed, the feet of someone who rarely wore shoes. The floor beside her was littered with drawings I'd made of her face and well-toned body.
"What do you think?" I pointed at the book
She turned a few pages to an acrylic painting by a well-known, older artist. "This one... not bad," she replied. She was right – it wasn't. She reached out and pulled the white cotton sheet down from my shoulders, baring a breast. With a slender index finger, she pressed the nipple as if it were some kind of button, then giggled.
"I go now," she said. She stood up, shuffled her feet into cheap rubber flip-flops and tip-toed to the door.
"I'll talk to you later." I said.
She looked at me almost sadly. "Maybe. I'll see."
We never saw each other again.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Trading Truth For Sex

I hadn't bothered to read the SexMoneyPower issue of the Griffith REVIEW. When I first got involved with the publication, in 2006, I wanted to believe it was a brave, intelligent journal that explored ideas fearlessly. After a ridiculous confrontation with the editor forced me to withdraw the use of my artwork for the SexMoneyPower cover, I began to doubt it.
This doubt increased, last week, after I came across an excerpt from SexMoneyPower serialised in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. Sensationally re- titled Love Thy Neighbour: Australia's Shameful Fetish, it was an unoriginal, over-simplistic, prudish, deceptive piece about Australians touring Thailand for sex, written by an Australian male writer who once had an Asian ex-girlfriend (he asked her opinions for the piece – which might be vaguely relevant if she were Thai instead of being raised in England by Chinese parents from Hong Kong).
The writer describes those men who are attracted to Asian woman (at lease one of whom is a good friend, his 'mate') as having yellow fever. Yet he doesn't consider the implication of his own past attraction to Asian women – and with it, the notion that people are often drawn to what is exotic or different to them. For some, it's a fetish for red hair or even hairlessness. Many Asian men fantasize openly about big-breasted, blonde, round-eyed, American women – they consider them sexually 'easy' – and such women are a common fixture in anime. Similarly, some Western men tour Eastern European countries for sex with women who epitomise Caucasian beauty – or lust after mocha-skinned latinas or black women with full lips and even fuller derrieres.
All of these so-called fetishes are based on stereotypes. But do stereotypes have a place in what is supposed to be a critical discussion of the sex trade?
The writer shows his ignorance of Thai culture in suggesting that Thai women are brought up to know their place and be courteous without suffering complaint (now there's a stereotype). I've spent a considerable amount of time in Thailand – and elsewhere in Asia – and with Thai women. Most, especially the prostitutes, are outspoken, sassy, hip and street-smart. A lack of education shouldn't be interpreted as a lack of intelligence. Visiting sex tourists might like to think of themselves as playboys but they are always the ones being played.
Seven-year-old statistics are used in the article to suggest that the majority of sex workers are children. Sadly, children are sexually exploited in every poor country as well as in the poor areas of rich countries but during my several months in one of the sex trade centres of Thailand I only came across women aged 19 to 40 (well, not counting the gay men and transexuals of a similar age). Many of them already had children with a Thai man. Prostitution is a practical way to support themselves and their families. Apart from using statistics to suggest an inaccurate reality, it's insulting to the country to imply that children work the streets unnoticed, uncared for, or unprotected by their own people – the one thing Thais don't lack is a Buddhist sense of compassion.
The writer despairs that women have joined the ranks of men in "exploiting the sons and daughters of neighbouring nations". Here's something to consider: men and women have always exploited themselves and each other, no matter what their background. They fuck over the disadvantaged, naive, and innocent in their own societies. Of course, they also attempt to do so in societies that are weakened by poverty.
It's easy to pretend all women in those societies are exploited. It suits the egotistical, chauvinistic view that all women – and all poor people – are ignorant, weak victims. It suits a simplistic, conservative, puritanical view that sex can't be a recreational or mutually beneficial activity between consenting adults. It also suits the pre-feminist idea that women are never in control of their own bodies, even when they choose to make a living from them.
It's obvious that the writer has no experience with sex workers. He didn't think to interview any. I doubt he's even been to Thailand. Over the years, I've read similar articles in low-end gossip magazines and Reader's Digest, usually sitting in doctors' waiting rooms. That the essay is included in a journal that describes itself as "iconoclastic and non-partisan, with a sceptical eye and a pragmatically reforming heart and a commitment to public discussion" should be a matter of embarrassment to its editor – especially in these times of increasing Australian conservatism, censorship, and a mainstream reluctance to discuss more than one oversimplified, patriarchal viewpoint about women and sex.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis (Especially With Enamels)

The final part of my essay, Life Study, has been appeared on the American blog, Art Is Moving. Originally published offline four years ago, this was my first attempt at writing about my experiences as an artist and was, to some extent, the inspiration for this blog. I've since come to think of writing as an elemental part of my art-making, with texts finding their way into my watercolours and drawings. Writing necessarily imposes an intellectual discipline, a need to get my thoughts straight.
After an intense week of 'cleaning up' a handful of large works before they're delivered to their buyers, I am having a rare weekend off. It's needed. I've spent way too much time around the sickening fumes of enamel: my skin crawls with allergic burns and itches, my eyes are dessicated and I'm nauseous. I need to get these works shipped next week so I have one or two more days of exposure before I'm done with this toxic medium for a while. With luck, a couple of days' rest will help the physical reaction I have to it subside.
Not that I can go anywhere. The gearbox of my usually reliable VW van blew out yesterday, leaving me stranded for an hour, waiting for a tow-truck at the edge of Sydney's western-most suburbs just as the evening commuter exodus became a three-lane, five-mile tailback. My local garage says it will take a couple of days to get hold of the part.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Another Roadside Distraction

I spent my 20s sat
on curbs and gutters
waiting for buses, friends
drugs, and the inevitable
tow-truck for my
broken-down car
Here I am at 30

on familiar concrete.
Relentless ants trail
hot bitumen from
my broken-down van
to me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Far Away Gaze

One of the reasons I travel a lot is because in my idle moments, I day-dream of being a reckless 19th century explorer and disappearing off the edge of the map, only to be heard from in terse, sporadic missives sent back with packages of obscure maps hand-drawn on pale hide and bags of arcane artefacts.
It's a somewhat old-fashioned idea, influenced maybe by my readings of biographies of the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, and Sir Richard Francis Burton, the English explorer, soldier, spy, sensualist, linguist (29 languages!), writer, translator , poet, expert swordsman (in every sense) and diplomat, who, among various achievements, led an expedition to discover the source of the Nile and translated the Kama Sutra.
Like Burton, I could imagine myself holed up in a shady ryad in the backstreets of Marrakech and consorting with unsavoury types from the casbah. I'd have exotic pets and unconventional sexual liaisons and be bound by no set of codes or rules: someone like Isabelle Eberhardt who lived – again, in the late 1800s – completely on her own terms. Maybe I'd keep a teak-floored room in an old Saigon brothel, the faint whiff of opium hanging in the humid air, and gamble for drinks at the bar with the slender, chattering girls.
Recently, I tried to rent a dllapidated apartment in an old Arab slave-trader's palace in Stone Town, near the port on Zanzibar. Built of mud bricks with cool mosaic tiled floors, from its arched windows, I could watch sailing dhows arrive from the Gulf of Aden and glide across the grey-blue waters just beyond the rooftops.
What else? I'd like to travel with the Tuareg in a trans-Saharan caravanserai and learn some of the secrets of their artisanship with silver and steel. En route, I'd stop for a while in Mali, in cities like Bamako and Timbuktu, to hear music I listen to every day in the places in which was first made.
Afterwards, I'd retreat to an ancient Celtic island off the west coast of Ireland. Treeless, windswept, with steep, dangerous cliffs besieged by huge Atlantic swells, I'd seek refuge in the convent of some contemplative order to read, draw and meditate alone with only the whispered rushing of the wind and sea to distract me.
Of course, I'd always be drawn back to the exotic: a slow boat journey against the currents up the Mekong River, a journey to the heart of both light and darkness, or a communion with a voodoo mambo in Port Au Prince in Haiti. Witnessing her rituals, amid the acrid scent of blood, incense and alcohol, I'd want to be overcome by the crude intensity of belief and in a trance, experience direct connection to the ancient loas.
Imagine the art that might flow from any or all of these. But if you were me, what would you dream into reality?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Words On The Road

Some days, I spend hours driving. Mostly I like it but cross-city treks in peak-hour commuter traffic are slow, dull and unproductive. I get bored by FM radio. Besides, someone snapped off my car's antenna so reception is terrible. Instead, I plug my iPod into the cigarette lighter socket on my dash' and play audio books.
When I was a kid, I spent hours listening to recordings of books (my favourite was Oscar Wilde's
The Happy Prince). I've only recently begun downloading them in a digital format. I don't like listening as much as reading but on long, boring drives, it's the next best thing.
Any titles you'd recommend?

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Declaration Of Independence

For the past few months, a lot of things haven't gone well for me. Carefully brokered business deals went bad. Clients affected by the economic downturn pulled out of long-promised commissions. Transport companies damaged works consigned for safe delivery, causing significant delays. A handful of people close to me – people on whom I thought I could rely in the toughest of clinches – let me down. My family refused to help.
Everyone goes through bad times. How one deals with them is the knife-edged difference between make or break.
I didn't break. Instead, I learned to fight my corner, to persist in finding a way, even when things looked impossibly bleak. I also learned to deal better with relentless pressure and stress – sometimes it's just better to ignore it.
On the worst of the worst days, I sat down and sorted through every option. The only one that would surely destroy everything I'd worked for was to lose hope, to give up. As a good friend of mine tried to explain to me, a few years ago, giving up is the one option that makes a good outcome irretrievable. It took a real-life, do-or-die whiff of total defeat for me to understand what he was talking about. It made me determined to fight back.
I'm through the worst now and I've had some time to think about what I went through. I realise just how hard I'm prepared to fight to keep making a living from my art. During the good, comfortable and easy times, it's impossible to know. People always make big boasts about what they would – or wouldn't – do if push comes to shove. Now I know for sure that I haven't, after all, become soft or weak because of a few years of material success. I'm still willing to sacrifice whatever's necessary in order to work as an artist on my own terms.
The bad times aren't over for me yet. They're not over for a lot of us. At least I can see the end of them. I feel stronger. I'm also better prepared for whatever bad luck or trouble comes my way in the future. I'm braver and more capable than I'd thought. Ironically, I think I've even acquired a taste for the fight.
One thing's for sure: I won't ever again make the mistake of thinking so-called friends – or my family – have my back.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fragments Of Myself Set Free

Lately, I've been thinking about future works.
I've been labelled an erotic artist. Occasionally, I've embraced that but the description is an over-simplification – and not really true. In recent years, I've depicted aspects of human sexuality in various media but it has had more to do with exploring identity – my own and that of other young women in the post-feminist era – and with it, sexual identity and the freedom not only to express it but to act upon it. However, I'm currently working on what will probably be my last series of works in which the imagery is graphically, self-referentially sexual.
I'm already exploring somehting completely different: simple (in fact, quite primitive) situational works using natural media and hand-made objects. The underlying ideas in these link to the Voodoo-inspired watercolours of Venus In Hell using daubed veves (symbols of the various Loas or spirits), dolls, curse bags, graffiti and fetishes, as well as hand-sewn maps, carved or stacked stones, handmade bracelets with antique beads and embroidered pieces made with 'found' materials. The ideas have parallels with Andy Goldsworthy's temporary works in nature but are more rooted in the spiritual, even the magical, as well as the intensely personal.
The truth is, I've been making these kinds of things, without thinking much about it, since I was a kid. In the beginning, I used leaves, twigs, grass, bark, rocks, and flowers. But the pieces I made were not about nature. The process of making them was an attempt to actualize some dream or desire or fill a spiritual or emotional void. I imagined that I was creating a fragment of a different future as I made each object. Later, I would burn them or put them on a creek to float away until they disintegrated or sank. In deliberately losing them this way,, I believed the simple dream fetish I created could be set free and become real.
Later, as an urban teenager, I made pieces from objects found in op' shops or around my mother's house. During a very difficult time, I made a small suitcase, which I carried everywhere with me. It was red, made of card, and I kept my personal things in there, separate from my schoolwork. On it, I glued a newspaper photograph of the planet Venus, a ball of garishly vivid, detailed flames. My handwriting covered the image, too small for others to read: juvenile mantras to remind an insecure girl to love herself and to be strong as she underwent an isolated, painful transition into womanhood. Again, the case ended up being sacrificed and set free – I donated it back to an op' shop.
Maybe I'll do the same with these new works – make them then set them free somehow. It'd make a welcome change from making art for money.

Ruddy Bastards

Over the last couple of months, people I barely know have felt compelled to tell me what they think of Bill Henson. My bank manager, mechanic, barista, and others, have all ranted at me about him . They mimic Australian Prime Minister, Kevin 'The General' Rudd's view that the work is "revolting". Like Rudd, they haven't actually seen it. They're just caught up by the media witch hunt. The fact that Henson has never been charged with anything, anywhere, becomes irrelevant.
Bill Henson is an established, internationally recognised and critically acclaimed artist. He has represented Australia at the Venice Biennale and has works in major institutions in the USA, Paris, and throughout Australia. The themes he explores – and the pre- and early adolescent nudity in his work – are far from new.
Yes, at times I find his imagery discomforting – but not because of prurience. It reminds me of my own adolescence, when I wanted to wear make-up and fake nails and shave my legs. The idea of a child exploring a changing body and the roles – sexual and otherwise – of the woman or man they are about to grow into, is normal. Hell, like most kids, I discovered masturbation in primary school and all my peers were curious about 'private parts'.
Still, Henson's work, exhibited in a private gallery, was censored. Because of this, people were unable to form opinions about it for themselves, let alone discuss differing opinions rationally. As always, censorship denies an informed response and imposes the notion that adults need to be nannied and protected – usually from themselves.
Censorship of Henson's work is only the tip of the iceberg. Australia is now joining China, Russia and other parts of S.E. Asia in implementing mandatory censoring of the internet. In a quote that could be Newspeak, straight from Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four, the Australian Federal Government has said that the censoring filter will block "unwanted content". It has nothing to do with legality – no-one voted for this and it has not even been debated in parliament.
A trial run with selected ISPs will begin before Christmas.
Of course, my own web presence could be effected, even though my site and blog are digitally archived by the National Library of Australia. Given the response to Henson's work, it's not far-fetched to envision that my work could be construed as "unwanted" or even illegal. Depending on how some anonymous public servant or low-ranking ISP network manager construes the subject matter of one of my drawings, my sites could be barred or worse, I could – like Henson – be branded a pedophile in the public imagination.
I have added a link on this blog to No Clean Feed, a website calling for action against internet censorship in Australia. I urge you to sign the petition to Stop Australian Internet Censorship, and take further action to help fight this serious erosion of our rights.
Even if you're not Australian, remember, this could happen to you!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Enamel On Board

Having delivered nearly 7,000 words of a sample chapter to the publishers, yesterday, an effort that was a lot more exhausting than I'd expected, I was up before dawn this morning to organise the packing and delivery of more Dangerous Career Babes. The process is going slower than expected. Because of the size and fragility of the works, they require specialist packing: the first company I used was useless while the second had scheduling conflicts that prevented their handlers getting around to my consignment until today. With luck, another four works will be on their way to their owners by the middle of next week.
In addition to the large works being delivered, there's also a small one: a 46-inch skateboard deck based on one I did three years ago (above) for Style Sessions, a nine-day exhibition and auction at Milk Gallery in New York, curated by artist William Quigley, to raise money for the charity, Boarding For Breast Cancer. Among the artists who contributed a board were William Wegman, Julian Schnabel, Peter Beard and Shelter Serra as well as legendary Dogtown Z-Boys, Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta. Mine was chosen as the 'defining' image of the show and featured in all the press coverage. It eventually attracted some of the highest bids and was sold for well over $US3,000 to a local collector.
I love doing these boards. In some ways, they are the rarest, most sought after and per-square-centimetre, the most expensive of all my work – and there are only three of them in existence.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Editing Myself

I have been going through yet another period of hiding out – my mobile phone switched off, my home phone off the hook, a couple of hundred emails left unanswered – as I finish writing a sample chapter for the publisher that invited me to submit a proposal for a non-fiction book. It hasn't been easy. I'm not a natural story-teller, even less so when the story is long, complicated and emotionally provocative. It has taken me much longer than I expected to order my thoughts and find the right words to make them not just coherent but also vivid enough for someone else to read.
I've edited hundreds of images to accompany the words and ended up with a dozen pages containing around fifty photographs, each dated, captioned and credited. As tedious as this was, it was nothing compared to the writing. I sat up until 3.30am, combing scores of image files on my laptop as I half-watched old movies on cable with the sound turned down and listened to random tracks on iTunes.
Meanwhile, in the outside world, the blog, Art Is Moving, has published another excerpt from my autobiographical essay, Life Study. If you missed it in the GRIFFITH Review, the first time around, or here, read it there.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Du Temps Perdu

Once, when I was barely 20, I had an intense relationship with a raver. I had first seen him at a distance as I was applying for admission to the Queensland College of Art. He was tall with a beautiful face and thick, straight, shoulder-length hair. When we were finally introduced, two years later, we fell for each other.
For a while, we were inseparable. We ate, slept, showered, and partied together. We got high together and came down together and we fucked for hours to forget how we felt. We went to the toilet together, one leaning against the door, giggling and talking. We shared our dreams and fantasies in drug-induced hazes, him playing Verlaine to my neurotic Rimbeau. I remembered what we spoke about – although, often, he didn’t. I thought I was deeply in love.
When it ended, I cried for a year. Then I woke one morning and couldn’t remember why I had felt anything for him at all.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Clearing Out

I am getting to the end of yet another period of clearing out old work from my studio – thus clearing my head so I can experiment with some completely new ideas. I've had some foreign interest in the series of small (approximately 60cms x 30cms), enamel Studies For Three Accoutrements Of Desire and Cowboy Babes (Resized For Commercial Consumption) but it's a sign of the hard economic times that most recent enquiries have been about small works on paper.
I've just finished a series of ten monochromatic works in pencil, ink and watercolour on cold-pressed paper – Iku For You, Nos. 1-10 – derived from the image I recently offered as an unlimited edition print to be downloaded free from my web site. Individual works are available for $A850 each, excluding delivery, while the whole set is $A7,500. I have also decided to sell the half a dozen, very small acrylic on cold-pressed paper studies for Cowboy Babes (Resized For Commercial Consumption) for $A1,500 each.
I have two more Dangerous Career Babes commissions to complete before the end of the year, including The Ninja for my long-suffering accountant. Then I'm going to put the series to bed with a very large (3m x 2m) enamel on board work, Dangerous Career Babe: The Pornographer (Self-Portrait), the largest work I've attempted in this medium and the last I will do before taking a long break from it.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Swimming Between The Flags

"Sprawled across the backseat of a taxi stalled in traffic on the Rainbow Bridge, I peer out through the front windshield at clusters of grey, neon-edged towers spilling away from the harbour's low-lying shores, their upper floors just an eerie glow within ragged scarves of low grey cloud. On days like this, Tokyo feels like a futuristic battlefield imagined by sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison and rendered by an otaku game engineer.
"The city is too conducive to the manic mis-wiring of my psyche. It’s too easy to be swept up in its unrelenting momentum, the raw energy of 30 million intense, tightly wrapped souls teeming through its arteries, the hyper-electric jolt of its too bright neon and plasma, office lights always burning, the visceral rumble of its streets – deeper, louder even than New York – and the heightened sensitivity to data swarming like tsetse flies in the ether around you, stirred up by millions of tiny CDMA phones.
"There are also times when I’m oppressed by the stifled emotions, the compressed sense of space and the contrary social protocols that combine to amplify the ever-present neurotic jitter that infects every minute of life here."
Often, when I'm travelling in Japan and south-east Asia, I think about abandoning my home and studio overlooking the ocean in the beachside suburb north of Sydney and immersing myself in a major city such as Tokyo or London, where there's a sense that culture matters to the place and its people.
Not much matters in Australia. The living is easy, the culture is white-bread bland and homogenous, inspired by prime-time TV consumerism and uncommitted to anything more than careless surf-urban comfort. It's no place to be an artist.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Author, Author

The first time I ever collaborated with another artist was on a painting for a group exhibition. It was a modest work and because of an unsurprising imbalance in our relationship – I was young, female and less well known, then, than him – my contribution, both conceptual and physical, was gradually erased under layers of paint he added against my wishes. The experience put me off both the artist himself and the whole idea of collaboration.
Reluctantly, I agreed to try it once more with another male artist. I began by posing for him, naked, but during the course of a two hour photographic shoot, he drew me out of the submissive, passive role of model and encouraged me to contribute to the unexpectedly fast-moving process of isolating the 'moment' that was to become the single image from the session. We signed both our names to the limited edition print.
I collaborated again when I 'performed' in images of lesbian sex for my first solo photographic show, this year. For that same show, I also asked a handful of acquaintances to allow me to view proof sheets of their photographs of casual sexual encounters, from which I chose images I would then print to my own specifications for the exhibition. In the exhibition itself, no differentiation was made between the works I shot myself and the works others shot of me or of situations that had nothing at all to do with me (other than my printing the resultant images).
These various photographic collaborations raise intriguing and maybe unresolvable questions about the nature of 'authorship' and the artist's influence – as model, photographer, director or curator – in the final images. For me, the 'right', such as it is, to a claim of authorship, sole or shared, derives from the fundamental decisions I impose on the final work. In some of the collaborations, decisions were shared and so was the credit. In others, including ones not shot by me but which I edited and printed and gave some 'meaning' to by creating a context for them, it is not.
There are other examples of 'shared' authorship: in several of my watercolours, the use of handwriting as texture is at the expense of various, uncredited short poems and passages of descriptive prose that I have excerpted – with permission – from the works of others.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Out Of The Wreckage

With artists like Damien Hirst earning the sort of 'fuck you' money that would make a media or tech' mogul envious – his recent, self-promoted, stock clearance sale at Sotheby's in London, entitled Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, grossed him more than 95 million quid over just two days – it's inevitable that art itself is now covered with the sort of gelid, journalistic detachment applied to other speculative commodities, like gold or pork bellies.
This week's dour review of the global art market prepared by the online resource, Artprice, is no different in tone to an investment market round-up in, say, The Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal:
"2009 looks set to be a year of price contraction throughout the entire market. During the last art market contraction of 1990-1992, prices fell 44% in just 2 years. A correction of that magnitude is perfectly conceivable, especially considering the speculation to which the market has been subject over recent years: in the United States art prices rose 67% between January 2005 and January 2008. At an international level, art prices rose 48.9% over the same period, a stronger growth rate than the progressions recorded on the world's principal stock markets (CAC40:+46.9% - Dow Jones: +24.5%) over the same period. Stock markets tend to react immediately. Announcements by the Fed or the ECB can impact prices on international financial markets in seconds. The art market functions with a completely different rhythm. Like the real estate market, the art market has a natural 'interval' between cause and effect with transactions often taking several months to conclude."
In other words, the art world is being heavily buffeted by the current economic crisis. A few of my own, monied collectors have spoken of their deep unease and a reluctance to part with cash and there are rumours that some well-established Australian dealers will have to shutter their bricks-and-mortar operations if the outlook doesn't improve over the next 12 months. According to Artprice, things are bleak everywhere: "Prices have contracted in New York, Paris and London – i.e. at the heart of the market – and in the new art market growth zones around Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai."
I'm not sure this retrenchment is such a bad thing. Although I'm pessimistic about how my own work will fare at auctions in Sydney and London, next month, I'm looking forward to this recession enforcing a long-overdue re-evaluation of the emotional, social, political and inspirational function of art – a realisation that it has meaning and value beyond that of just another arena for investment. Maybe artists themselves will become less focussed on their media profiles and market performances and more engaged with the idea of their work reclaiming a place within the lives of people other than those who are merely looking to diversify the risk in their portfolios. If they don't, they might just... disappear.
It happened when the buoyant New York art scene of the '80s went bust. Back then, only the dead, like Warhol or Basquiat, made it out of the wreckage with their reputations intact (although the survival of Jeff Koons is an enigma). Shrewdly, Julian Schnabel sought redemption as a film director. But who remembers – let alone collects – Kostabi, Robert Longo, David Salle or Sandro Chia anymore?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My (Not So) Brilliant Careers

On the bad days, I think about what I might have done for a living instead of making art.
I've written before about my enthusiasm for fashion. If I was wired to be more user-friendly and socially astute – a pretty unlikely 'if' – I might have tried my hand at designing clothes, shoes or accessories. I might have also become a musician or a singer. But as much as I love performing in the spotlight, centre stage, I don't like sharing it. I don't play well with others – in anything. Which is probably why I haven't experimented much with film or video: it's too industrial and requires too many people to do it properly.
Writing is solitary and satisfying if, for me, incredibly slow. It lacks the physicality and almost instant gratification of art-making. And I still can't get my head around the idea that it will be eighteen months, maybe more, between the time I begin writing a proposed book and its publication. Even then, unless it finds a big audience, it's unlikely to make enough to keep me in the manner to which I've become accustomed during these few years that I've enjoyed success as a painter.
Ah, hell. I wish I could just claim 'diva' as a full-time occupation and get away with it!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Words Without Pictures

The few friends of mine who are writers have always warned me against writing: "It's boring, it's lonely and it's hard," one told me. "Why the hell would anyone with anything better to do choose it as an occupation?"
I've always loved books and reading – along with art, they were my refuge as a kid – but I've been disinclined to write much myself, apart from this blog, because most poets, playwrights and novelists I've come across at arts festivals and conferences have been dull, self-important types who thought that just because they could string a few words together, they were a lot smarter than they really were. Their editors were even worse.
The sole exception was a woman I met a few months ago, the editorial head of a successful, independent Australian publisher. She suggested I tackle the outline and a couple of chapters of a non-fiction book I had in mind. After a lot of hemming-and-hawing (and doodling random notes on the back of paper napkins), I locked myself away for a couple of weeks to try to come up with something readable.
The process has been enjoyable compared to painting. Maybe because my ambitions as a writer are very modest ('modest' and 'writer' are, in my experience, a contradiction in terms), my self-esteem hasn't been riding on the outcome.
I wish I could say the same about my art.