Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I'm Not Promising Anything

Like most people, I've been thinking about what I want to do differently in the New Year. I don't like to make promises and I don't really need or want a fresh start in my life and work. But there are a few – ok, maybe more than a few – things I would like to improve.
I figure the last day of the year is as good a time as any to put them on record. You can call them resolutions. I think of them more as margin notes – reminders, if you like:
Buy more fashion. (I'd like to do my bit to support the economy.)
Be nice to strangers (instead of pretending they don't exist).
Be guided by Samuel 22:43: Crush my enemies to dust. (Just joking. Actually, no, I'm not.)
Try to take over the world. (My career mentors are still Pinky and the Brain.)
Use my inability to be moderate – in anything – for good (e.g.lots of work) rather than bad or dumb (e.g. thirty cups of coffee every day).

Be kinder to my body. (Technically, this isn't a New Year's resolution – I started a week ago – but I resolve to continue.)
Make more things, just for the love of it.
Live more simply. (Now that my studio is separate from where I live, I don't need as much space. Also I feel calmer when my environment is more ascetic or spartan. This year, I resolve to stop fighting that.)
it'd be really nice to have a little more inner peace. Bad psycho-chemistry and an over-active imagination always combine to amplify my inner conflicts – but hell, I can dream.
What's on your list?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

We Can Be Heroes

Sometimes, the smallest acknowledgement is enough to make an otherwise shitty couple of weeks seem better.
This morning, I was alerted to my inclusion in a list of 'women heroes' on Harpymarx's blog, women whom, "I admire, respect and I suppose, look up to... the women I have chosen have been defiant, strong, expressed their bold sexuality in times of sexual hypocrisy and sexist double-standards.
"Women who spoke out against oppression, stood shoulder to shoulder with other women, showing support and solidarity to make lives for women better, feminism that built confidence and comradeship.
"Trailblazers in their own right, witty, sensual, sexy women, who knew their own minds and intelligence. Women who made a difference, who spoke out in adversity and wanted to change the world for better. Again, it is my own personal list but many of these women are/were fighters and fighting to make the invisible visible, to be noticed and recognised. So many times there are so many good women in the background, in the shadows, acting in the carer role, massaging some man’s ego, building up his confidence and him getting the credit.
"My own list represents women in all spheres of life, women who have influenced my ideas, politics and activism."
That I made any kind of list that also included Angela Davis, Sylvia Pankhurst, Camille Claudel, Debbie Harry, Nina Simone, Dorothy Parker and Alice Walker was a thrill. More importantly, it gave me a sense of something other than my artistic ambitions to live up to over the year ahead.

Monday, December 29, 2008

In Two Minds, Or More

Last night I was re-reading a passage I copied into one of my sketchbooks from an autobiographical essay published in an Australian literary journal, four years ago. I quoted a couple of the lines in one of the watercolours exhibited in Venus In Hell. I also quoted a little of it in one of this blog's earliest entries. It conveys concisely the tumultuous, real world disorder orchestrated by an unbalanced mind. And yet I find it comforting – oddly – because as I read it, I realise I'm nowhere near as mad as I sometimes think I am.
"I read somewhere that the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick once argued that if two people dream the same dream, it isn’t a dream anymore – it signifies the existence of an alternative reality ...
"The insane always occupy multiple realities: their internal narratives are always different to their actual or external experiences. For me, that was complicated by the fact that, when I was unmedicated, the character I adopted for one experience was very different to another that I adopted for a different experience somewhere else. The process was so compelling that I would, for extended periods, devise a complex network of different characters and different lives in different parts of the world, with different relationships, then live intermittently in – and between – them, while blending them all into a fluid mutability that had the parallel narratives and multi-tiered options of a computer game. Except the game engine was an invisible me – solitary, sentient, egomaniacal and more than a little crazy.

"These days, medication gives me the possibility of sustained reason, of a reliable perception of the present. But the same cannot be said of what I remember so I am disenfranchised from my past, condemned to roam in search of a future."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Writes Of Passage

I've been asleep for the last five days, a result of a bone-deep, emotional weariness and over-exposure to enamel's toxic reek. During my brief spells of consciousness, I've daydreamed about my art and where I would like to go with it next.
More than anything, I want to get my output up to speed with my ideas. The repetitiveness of working on the Dangerous Career Babes series during the past eighteen months (even without the added tedium of having done them first in oil on canvas, then in enamel on board – twice) has leached my life of variety and a sense of adventure.
Now I'm haunted by all the ideas I've left unrealised. With the last of the enamels due to be delivered early next year, I'm impatient to revisit and explore these neglected ideas in new and different media.
I've been inspired lately by the work of Andy Goldsworthy and his use of natural, site specific materials. And I return, again and again, to Eva Hesse. Often, painters who sculpt makes three dimensional versions of their drawings but Hesse's sculptures were much more. They developed not only the look of her drawings but also the ideas within them.
I'm even inspired by Julian Schnabel's work in film. I made a few experimental videos during my brief stay at art school. Indeed, the medium was my main focus – painting came much later. I'm curious to see what happens when I return to it.
I'm making notes and sketches in various workbooks, in preparation. But before I immerse myself in the visual again, I want to write.
This blog has caused me to reflect on of the role writing plays in my work. I like to test ideas in words (both orally and written) and as I review my recent sketch books, many pages are filled with text. Instead of drawing ideas, it would appear that I work them out in words: they conjure up a more complete and complex image. Often, in a half-formed sketch, I can't remember at all the idea I was trying to get at.
Words have also been important in my recent watercolours. I like the depth they add, both in texture and meaning. They also create a greater intimacy and, maybe, understanding for the viewer.
I want to explore writing as a medium in itself, for a while. It's possible that I will even have a paid opportunity to do so. When it comes to my career, I've been blessed by good timing and a degree of luck.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Season's Beatings

I spent the day away from the studio – partly to escape the ubiquitous enamel haze, partly to lunch with my accountant and review where my finances stand after what has been a troubled year (despite various critical and commercial successes), and partly because I needed downtime to cope with a very low mood.
Christmas is always a bad time for me. I just want it to be over. It doesn't help that the enamel has made me so sick that I don't feel up to seeing anybody let alone eating a big meal.
Bah, humbug!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Between The Lines

A Sunday alone in the studio, bent low over a painting, acrid enamel fumes burning my throat.
I reinforce the crisp black line-work between wide areas of color. I hold a Diet Coke can, cut in half and filled with paint. I immerse the tip of my brush in it briefly before each stroke, wiping the excess from it on the side of the tin. The last thing I want is bubbles or clots: each application has to be crisp and consistent, as if stenciled by machine.
After a couple of hours, my arm aches and my eyes are sore. I long to stretch, to breathe clean ocean air and feel its saline fizz purge my poisoned lungs.
I wish it could also dissolve my persistent deep depression.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Moving Images

It's not until the two-metre wide Dangerous Career Babes paintings are taken down from the wall of my studio, where they're left to dry thoroughly for several days before being consigned, that even I appreciate just how big they are. It takes two big guys to lift the boards down and lay them on the floor for wrapping.
I have become very pernickety about how my enamel works are packed. The surfaces are prone to chipping and scuffing during transport so moving the works anywhere is a job for art specialists. One of my early collectors, a tech' entrepreneur who was always moving homes from one country to another, had a custom-built timber box made to protect one of my enamel on canvas paintings, Dolores Haze. I don't go quite so far but I am happy to pay a premium for a competent international art removals company to handle my freight: the recent cost of shipping one 210cm by 160cm painting to Singapore was $A2,000, not including insurance!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Random Acts Of Artisanship

After a couple of days at home to recover from the noxious effects of the enamel, I was back in the city studio early this morning to try to finish more works by Monday. It was a slow, frustrating grind but by late afternoon, I was beginning to break the back of it.
To escape the end-of-day feeling of being trapped in the tedium of these large works, I have been experimenting with some ideas I have for sculptural works inspired by Caribbean and South-East Asian folk art and superstitions. My small home studio is littered with clay, fabrics, beading, scraps of painted paper and organic materials which I pick through and assemble in different ways – just as I pick through the fragments of images lurking in the recesses of my subconscious – trying to get at what it is I really want to make. It's a slow but immersive and pleasurably tactile process, without a schedule or any expectations: art for me and no-one else.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Cautionary Tale

The art dealer offered me a contract after the psychiatrist he'd recommended prescribed large doses of an anti-depressant and a mood stabiliser for me. The medications slowed my thoughts to a snail's pace and made me lethargic.
I was just 24.
I sat on rickety stool at the counter in my kitchen and studied the deal. It was outlined in a shoddy, hand-written note that was his idea of a 'grand plan' for my career. In brief, it offered large sums of cash for my entire creative output over the next five years. The initial payment was a couple of hundred thousand dollars, which looked a lot – but it didn't seem right. A quick calculation, scratched in pencil on the back of his note, show that I'd be paid less for each work than I was getting already.
The art dealer could barely contain his glee as he told me that he planned to sell selected works at auction and 'ramp' the prices, bidding on his own work. He would then show the auction results to collectors, justifying the inflated prices he wanted to charge them for my work.
At the end of five years, my paintings would be published as a book, with text written by another art dealer who was to share in the profits of this deal. The publication of a book featuring an artists' work usually increases the value of the pieces reproduced in it. The two dealers would keep a stash of works to sell when the book came out.
Leaving aside the ethics of the deal – which, even in my heavily medicated state, I found abhorrent – what it came down to was this: I would be paid $A150,000 a year for five years. I would be required to pay for all materials and studio costs, which would come to about $A100,000. The dealers would make around $A200,000 in pure profit during the first year. As they ramped up the prices during the next four years, I figured they'd make between $A200,000 and $1.5 million – probably more.
During the process, everything I had worked for would be destroyed. I couldn't pump out the amount of work they wanted without a steep drop in its imaginative content and craftsmanship. Any artistic and intellectual evolution would be out of the question and at the end of it, I would be left without a shred of integrity or credibility. I wouldn't even be able to have a bad career as an artist by the time they were finished with me.
"I'll make you a star!" the art dealer exclaimed.
Even medicated, I could barely contain my anger. "Are you fucking joking? You really must think I'm really stupid."
He drew back. He hadn't even considered the possibility that I would say no.
I started laughing. Laughing at him, for getting me so wrong. Laughing at his shameless nerve. Laughing because I'd been so stupid to think people like him actually cared about art. My rage amplified as I began to pick at the so-called contract, clause by clause.
"Look, it was just an idea," the art dealer whined. "I just thought it would help you."
Another lie. And even though it was clear that I recognised how detrimental the deal was to me, he pressed on for another few minutes, trying to convince me, trying to wear me down.
"Get the fuck out." I told him. I put my hands on top of the contract on the bench so he couldn't take away the evidence of his greed and carelessness. "Just get the fuck out now."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Aviatrix Flies High

Oh my God!
I just received an email informing me that my large enamel on board painting, Dangerous Career Babe: The Aviatrix, was sold tonight for $A32,701 at Christie's sale of Modern And Contemporary Australian And South African Art in London. This exceeded the low-end of Christie's pre-sale estimate and represents a new record for my work at auction – an extraordinary achievement during a global economic downturn, especially for someone who has yet to exhibit in Europe.
Last December, at another Christie's sale in London, two of my early enamel Career Babes, set a new high for my work of over $A23,000. However, this is my second heart-stopping – and totally unexpected – auction result in less than a week.
I have to lie down for a while. I think I'm hyper-ventilating.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Big Night Nerves (Again)

Having just recovered from the nail-biting roller-coaster of the Deutscher-Menzies sale of Drowned Ophelia, last week, I am gathering my nerves to go through it all again. Tomorrow evening, Australian time (10.30a.m. in the UK), The Aviatrix, from my enamel on board series, Dangerous Career Babes, will go under the hammer at Christie's sale of Modern And Contemporary Australian and South African Art in London. The pre-sale estimate is a heady $A32,000 to $A37,000.
London is a much tougher market, beset by the full effects of the current global economic downturn. I really appreciate the confidence of the Australian collector who submitted my work to the sale. I'm just relieved that I don't have to go through this nerve-wracking anticipation more than a couple of times a year.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Landscape In A Picture

Some days it feels like the heart of my enamel works emerge not from the act of painting but from the much more strenuous activity of sanding the surfaces before and after each coat.
It's during this process that I discover my most intimate connection with the work, rubbing with just enough pressure (and a fine enough grade of sandpaper) to smooth and clear a coat – and to abrade it just enough to take another – but not enough to damage it. It's a delicate balance that requires concentration and a deft, quick touch. I become sensitive to the base surface of the board or canvas, to the natural flaws now invisible beneath the paint.
I've been re-finishing one of the more complicated paintings in the Dangerous Career Babes series, The Demolitionist. The background is a psychedelic spill of yellow, red, orange and grey over which are scattered jagged shards of darker grey. At times, as I bend over the board and peer closely at each small section of colour, it's almost as if I am trying to survey some alien topography and create a map of it in the asymmetrical patterns of the paint.
Maybe this 'journey' of exploration is the real key to my craft.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Missing Miss Page

Last night, the legendary Bettie Page, the fabulously fringed, Fifties' pin-up girl and fetish model who was rescued from obscurity in the Eighties to become a Gen-X cult icon, died last night after falling into a coma following a heart-attack a week ago. She was 85.
James Swanson, co-author of Bettie Page: The Life of a Pinup Legend, once said, "
Bettie Page is the last great icon of the 1950s. Like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, she brought something modern to the era." But she was so much cooler and more trangressive than either of them – the post-feminist heroine every sex-positive girl always wished for. May she rest in peace – and always be remembered in a two-piece.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Daylight, No Saving Me

This morning, I fielded two requests for interviews and closed a deal on a new commission even before I had crawled out of bed and made myself coffee. I always move a little slower after a day of exposure to enamel. I read my email. I paid a couple of bills. I ordered more paint to re-finish three more Dangerous Career Babes promised for delivery before Christmas.
My accountant rang and gave me some bad news about my taxes. I rang my lawyer regarding an increasingly acrimonious dispute – over money, what else? – with a gallery. I thought about getting out of Australia and living somewhere a little more indolent and less greedy. I wondered how long it might take me to learn Portuguese and how much it might cost to rent an old, colonial-style apartment in Salvador de Bahia.
Tonight, I'm wrapping a set of acrylic studies for two of my favorite collectors in Adelaide. They are also impatient for me to deliver a few large enamel paintings but they will be thrilled to get this thick bundle of richly colored images on cold-pressed paper. Tomorrow, I am going back to the factory-like studio to put the finishing touches on works for collectors in Melbourne and Sydney.
There is a dull but reassuring rhythm to these long, way-too-predictable days.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ophelia Floats!

If ever a girl needed a little good news, I did. And tonight I got it. Drowned Ophelia, my 1999 enamel painting, just sold at Deutscher-Menzies' Sydney auction of contemporary art for well over $A13,000. With buyers premium and taxes added, this exceeds the very ambitious pre-sale estimate of $A10,000 to $A14,000 and represents an extraordinary affirmation of the enduring popularity and investment value of my work. The painting was first sold for around $A1,200!
I had been expecting the worst. In the end, 70 percent of the works
at auction tonight found buyers. At recent sales in New York and London, clearances have fallen to 20-year lows and the auction houses have lost tens of millions in guarantees to big-money sellers.

Hard Yakka

The lead-up to Christmas continues to be gruelling. Today, I worked from dawn until late afternoon, sanding and re-coating patches of enamel and re-touching black outlines on two paintings. My arm ached as I concentrated on keeping the edges sharp and straight. By late afternoon, my hyper-sensitized skin was red and inflamed, my eyes sore. Still, it was satisfying to have not one but three different delivery companies arrive to pack works – painstakingly, under my intense scrutiny – for delivery to Melbourne, Singapore, and the USA. By early next week, more works will be on their way to Melbourne and Adelaide.
I still have an enormous amount of work to do before this nightmare is over but my anger and frustration has subsided as my team and I make significant headway – and, even better, make my collectors happy again.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Performance Anxiety

I'm having my usual pre-auction butterflies. Tomorrow evening, at 6.30, one of my early enamel works, Drowned Ophelia, will be auctioned at Deutscher-Menzies in Sydney. As mentioned before, the pre-sale estimate is $A10,000 to $A14,000. However, with so many works by well-known, 'bankable' artists – albeit priced very much higher – failing to reach their estimates or being passed in at major auctions all around the world, I'm very curious to see what happens with this work.
Despite a 1,000 per cent increase in the prices paid for my work over the past decade – a 100 per cent increase over the past year alone – I don't think my work is over-valued. I've worked hard for the prices achieved. A couple of hundred pieces have been tightly held for long periods over a quite wide base of collectors in Australia, Asia, the USA and the UK. I have been careful not to produce too much or exhibit too often and to limit what is available in the secondary market. I take an artisan-like pride in production and finish, especially with my large enamel paintings. I don't attribute value arbitrarily to what comes out of my studio.
What more can I say but... fingers crossed?
Photo above by
Matt Sutton.

Monday, December 08, 2008

All's Fair In Love And Hate

The young(ish) male artist who once asked me for my advice – and when I refused to give it, decided to vent his resentful enmity in the comments of this blog – has written again, this time to take me to task for expressing no interest in Art Basel Miami Beach and mocking the middle-of-the-road media aspirations of Mark Leckey. He also accused me of 'hating on' a couple of artists he likes, a generational mangling of grammar that I don't mind accepting as a compliment.
The last place any artist should occupy is the middle ground. Extremes (and complexities) of emotional response are pretty much our stock-in-trade. It might well be the ethos of the middle-brow suburban working stiff to parrot the old-media-spawned desirability of a 'balanced' perspective but the unbalanced, unpopular, subversive, perverse, creepy, critical, curious, unconventional and not-always-well-intentioned are just a few of the acceptable positions for genuinely creative and/or inquisitive minds – and if you disagree, go look again at the works of Hieronymus Bosch,
Francisco Goya, or Henry Darger.
Such minds should not be expected to agree with each other: "I accept your point of view but..." might work as a polite formulation to salve disputes in the corporate arena but artists (and art-lovers) should have no truck with it: the provocative, the incendiary and yes, even the spiteful should always be preferred to compromise or half-hearted consensus.
The irony is my critic has had a lot of leeway in my comments to 'hate on' me all he likes (even as he tries to entice my readers to his blog). But enough's enough. I'm not publishing his comments anymore. And I am going to keep 'hating on' those aspects of art that give me the shits, along with the artists responsible for them.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Looking Like Lagos

Recently, I re-read a foreword written by Creed O'Hanlon for a US non-fiction book on marketing, Living Brands by Raymond Nadeau. O'Hanlon is one of those rare thinkers who approaches problems outside their conventional contexts and comes up with ideas that, even when they're not immediate solutions, suggest new ways to go about finding them. In other words, they're the sorts of ideas that work best in unstable times.
The following excerpt is obviously relevant to artists worrying about surviving a recession that will endure – and deepen – over the next eighteen months:
Much of so-called ‘smart’ thinking about marketing today is undone by a pervasive disregard for people’s individual capacity for unpredictability. The fatal flaw of many ‘designed’ environments, both physical and virtual – and for me, an ‘environment’ can be anything from a web page, TV ad or a computer game to a living space, a shopping mall or a household appliance – is that consideration for aesthetics and technology comes first, the expressive, improvisational nature of human functionality second. They lack not just basic utility, but soul.
Intuitiveness is missing, and instead of our awareness being enhanced, our minds and senses are overloaded. Too often, too, real creativity has been replaced by what Malcolm McLaren has called, “a karaoke world, a world without a point of view... it is a virtual replay of something that has happened before: life by proxy – liberated by hindsight, unencumbered by the messy process of creativity and free of any responsibility.”
The result: media and humanity have become, somehow, disconnected.
Which is why, these days, I find myself arguing for some kind of benign chaos, and abandoning a measure of organisation and structure (both inherent in the definition of ‘design’) to allow for more random, unmediated patches of unmanaged response and purposelessness – even just plain silence – in consumer marketing.
We’re reminded by post-modern social thinkers that the emphasis on design nowadays is inextricable from the emergence of shopping as the primary culture of developed societies. More and more products compete for our attention, and each has to communicate a unique distinction to capture a jaded consumer’s attention. The trouble is, the context (design) often overwhelms the content (substance) and the consumer, who is drawn by the context, is left dissatisfied and frustrated. Which makes them harder and harder to reach. It becomes a self-negating cycle: design rather than substance is used to attract and briefly sustain the consumer’s attention. Its allure fades and ends up disappearing into the irritating white noise that surrounds our lives. And the disappointed consumer, still compelled by a search for meaning, moves onto the next thing.
Marketers and product managers too often think of their markets as somehow orderly, navigable, the result of a coherent architecture, rather like the cities of Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, or Canberra, the capital of Australia (both of which were purpose-built as their nation’s capitals but suffer from a sterility that compels a degree of both individual isolation and collective dysfunction). In fact, most markets are like Lagos in Nigeria.
If you have seen any recent photos of this city, you’ll immediately understand what I mean: freeways and main roads unfinished and blocked by cars for which they have become temporary parking lots or shanty towns or makeshift bazaars; repurposed for social and commercial interaction, they’re no longer useful as arteries for any kind of mechanized traffic, but they work in other, different and maybe better ways.
Interestingly, in 1999 and 2000, the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and the Harvard Design School’s Project on the City studied Lagos and the total breakdown of basic infrastructure and civil order there that defy all conventional wisdom on how cities develop. He wrote, “We resist the notion that Lagos represents and Afircan city en route to becoming modern... Rather, we think it possible to argue that it represents an extreme and paradigmatic study of a city at the forefront of globalizing modernity.
“That is to says, Lagos is not catching up with us. Rather, we may be catching up with Lagos.”

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Recession Notes

Finally, five respondents to my current blog poll have noted 'art' as among the things they want for Christmas . I was beginning to worry. As it is, I'm having a hard time convincing myself of art's relevance as I review the results of this year's Turner Prize and scan the daily round-up of offerings from the 200 galleries participating at Art Basel Miami Beach ("The art fair as outlet mall," The New York Times calls it).
The only interesting side-show at the latter was the presence of former alternative fashion and punk rock impresario turned art hustler, Malcolm McLaren, who, at 62, makes the so-badly-wannabe Mark Leckey, the 44-year-old Turner Prize winner, look like an anaemic, dandy-ish poseur. Hell, Leckey tells anyone who'll listen that he wants his own prime time TV show: "... a variety show, with his band, Jack Too Jack, as the house orchestra," according to English newspaper, The Guardian. "It would have musical numbers, and a little play or sketch, and Leckey sitting in a leather armchair à la Ronnie Corbett telling an anecdote - except the chat would be 'about art and ways of seeing'. John Berger meets The Two Ronnies, he says." Ugh. I can't imagine McLaren wanting so badly to make nice with the middle classes.
I can't wait for the recession to bite even harder than it has done already on the art business. Note that I said the art business not artists. Art and business have become inextricable over the past couple of decades. Art is now a high-end consumer product, like French handbags, hand-tooled sports cars and beachside second homes, with big, shiney, obvious works with low-pressure intellectual demand – think Koons'
Balloon Dog or Hirst's encased shark – being the most popular among New York's corporate raiders, London's hedge-fund managers and Moscow's oligarchs.
With a little luck, the bad times will reduce the over-inflated physical scale of works and revalue intimacy and artisan-like skills. They might also encourage artists to communicate more clearly and frankly with each other and their audiences, eschewing the strangulated, meaningless jargon of post-modern theory for real, human language – maybe returning art from the high-rent salons to a genuinely enlivening, proletarian cultural function that might even be curative during the darker days ahead.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Cracks In The Surface

When I first exhibited my large enamel paintings, critics and collectors were immediately taken with the hard-edged, glossy colour surfaces, so luminous they look manufactured rather than hand-painted. And yet, precisely because the surfaces were uniform and flawless, like the enamel of a sports car's hood, non-artists took them for granted. They presumed they were as easy to achieve as rolling emulsion on a living room wall – they didn't appreciate the difficulty or the technique.
Some did. In 2002, in an article by art investment writer, Michael Reid, I was listed in a select group of artists that, in his estimation, never produced work of less than exceptional standard. "Peter Booth, Hazel Dooney... Jeffrey Smart are all members of a select breed of artist who, for the benefit of all concerned, cast a somewhat critical and even destructive eye over their artwork. These artists do not turn out bad art."
I've had the worst experiences of my career ensuring this stanadard with the large paintings (2.0m x 1.6m) in the Dangerous Career Babes series. I painted the first half a dozen or so in oils on canvas. However, as the paint dried, they had none of the slick, creamy lustre I love about enamel. The colours were muted, the line-work less distinct. I decided to repaint them all – and the rest of the series – in enamel on custom-built, beautifully gessoed boards.
Unfortunately, as I worked on four works at a time, assisted by a couple of very experienced painters who understood the medium, I didn't pay enough attention to the materials or, rather, the way they were being prepared. Paints of the same colour from different manufacturers were mixed (a big no-no in my studio – or any studio) and paints in different colours from the same manufacturer were mixed in very different viscosities. These found their way onto our brushes but I was too busy to realise until the surfaces dried. Long streaks and jigsaw-like patches of uneven densities emerged. Large areas of each work were sanded and repainted more than once before I got to the bottom of what was causing the problem.
Once I did, there was nothing to do but start again. I fired the assistant responsible and replaced one of the painters. I spent a weekend in bed, hiding under the covers and snivelling with a mixture of self-pity and fear. Then I got back to work. Of the eight paintings due, one has been delivered, four are finished and drying, and one is being sanded for repainting next week. The rest will be finished at the beginning of February.
It's been a harsh lesson but I'm a quick learner. I'll never let this happen again.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

December, 1997

I woke up crying.
A smear of dry, salty tears clung to my lashes and stung my half-closed eyes. Squinting at my surroundings through a cloudy aqueous film, I felt as if I was surfacing from an underwater cartoon. The walls of the room were a deep Persian blue. In dawn’s half-light, shadows seeped across them to form what looked like pools of deep water inside a reef.
Objects in the room sharpened. Electric guitars and a double bass were propped up in the corners. Skateboards leaned at different angles against the walls between a couple of motorbike helmets on the floor. Jeans, smelly converse shoes, studded leather chokers and t-shirts lay folded on shelves. My clothes were draped over a chair. I never brought anything else with me, or left anything there.
The scent of frangipanis hung in the air. Beside me, sheer curtains covering an open window wafted in and out, as if inhaling the warm, perfumed breeze. Still, I felt as if all the air was being sucked out of my chest.
He lay next to me, still asleep. White sheets covered him evenly, as if someone draped them over his body like a shroud after we’d made love. My side of the bed was tangled and crumpled from another restless night. His arm was linked with mine, long fingers splayed over my skin. His fingertips were slightly flattened, as if he was born pressing them against something. The early light made his tan darker, and the black ink of his tattoos a dense indigo.
As he awoke, he began to smile, then stopped when he saw my face.
“Why are you crying?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
He sighed loudly, as if conceding defeat.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Gimme Gimme, More

I think it's hilarious that of the 14 people who have responded to my blog poll to date, not one wants love or art for Christmas. It got me thinking about what I want. I suspect 'More, much more' about covers it.
I had been thinking of having a monastic Christmas: quiet, solitary, with steamed vegetables instead of rich food as a Christmas dinner. I could do with a week of rest. Then again, maybe I'll be like everyone else and indulge myself with not-so-cheap decadence and material things.
Like any good consumer, I've already made a list:
Martin Margiela Sci-Fi Sunglasses. From the front, they look like a black horizontal censorship bar used to block out the eyes. I think the concept is cool, and clever - and rather appropriate to some of my work.
Mondo Cane. A dvd collection, filmed in the 60s, exploring strange or esoteric customs around the world. Part exploitation, part voyeurism, part inter-cultural observation, I've been a fan of the films since I first came across them in my late teens. If you can't bear the condescending voice-over, watch them with the sound turned down.
La Catrina (Day of the Dead) market bag in hot pink. Somehow, I think using these bags might make going to the grocery store – something I hate – a little more fun.
A set of throwing knives. Like Angelina Jolie, I'd like to take them with me wherever I go and practice when I'm bored – or mad. I'd use photographs of a couple of art dealers I know as targets. I love the knives' pared-down, sculptural profile.
Hand-made Zulu ear plugs. They're non-piercing, and look like large round discs, which are painted in Zulu patterns. They clamp onto the ear lobes – like basic clip earrings.
Leather backpack. I've been looking for a strong, practical but beautiful leather backpack for years and at last, this is it. Every 'old-skool' explorer should have one.
A fine art photograph by Mary Ellen Mark, of acrobats practising in India, one of her milestone documentary works.
A watercolour by Francesco Clemente
, preferably from his series, 51 Days On Mount Abu.
So what on your list?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Crosstown Traffic

It feels like I've been living in my truck for the past two weeks. I have spent hours in it every day, driving from one side of the city to another.
Like most modern Pacific Rim cities – think L.A. or Tokyo – Sydney isn't so much a city as a sprawl of separate suburbs and towns that have grown so large and dense that their perimeters are no longer perceptible. With little else to define them, they're just a blur of brick, glass, bitumen and billboards as one skirts between them on the newly built toll roads that are designed not so much to connect them as to control the diurnal flow of commuters from what local planners refer to, with no trace of irony, as 'dormitory developments'.
Some social theorists argue that the real life of a 21st century city is not at its centre but at its margins. Maybe that's also true in Sydney's case. I just wonder whether it's worth the time and tedium it takes to reach them?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Ghost World

I first travelled to South-East Asia two years ago, shortly after the opening of an exhibition of my first watercolours, Venus In Hell. I went without a plan, without any preconceptions. I wanted to wander off the map and just look.
I'm sometimes asked what I found there, at the sordid margins of the sex trade, to inspire me. Certainly, it wasn't a proto-feminist activism about the exploitation of young woman, although I was always repelled by the the hundreds of pale-skinned, late-middle-aged men who haunted the noisey street bars and discos by night and the air-conditioned shopping malls by day, looking for young flesh with which to tamp down their palpitating consciousness of cholesterol-choked mortality.
I began to recognise a kind of magic-realism in the myriad, random encounters I saw in the gaudy, neon-lit alleys of every city and resort town.
I imagined the young women and men offering their bodies as supernatural beings, benign demons if you like, no different to the ghosts and demons so readily seen everywhere in Asia (except by foreigners). They lurked as incorporeal shadows, almost invisible until they reached out to touch the humid skin of a passing tourist. Then they took on the human form most likely to draw the tourist to them – nearly always lithe, slender, barely dressed in shorts and a tight tank-top, regardless of sex. As the tourist lingered with them, tricked by the illusion that their vitality might be restored, the young demons began to suck the shallow residue of life from their aged, damaged souls.
The strangest thing is that I never saw anything sinister in it. It was sometimes sad and desperate for those tourists who were deeply entranced and seduced into thinking they were once again young and in love. But the demons were never unkind. They always gave themselves with laughter and little sexual restraint before retreating within an hour or a day or a week back to their shadow-world, out of sight of curious farangs, who couldn't begin to understand it.