Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Art For Everyone

I like the idea of distributing some of my art for free and I'm always open to different ways in which to do it. When I was younger, I painted murals on outside walls or in stores. More recently, I've offered unlimited edition, monochrome prints from my web site. This past week, I have been in discussion with a new English style magazine about creating a small, limited edition, hand-painted work to give away to readers and although the specifics and timing have yet to be nailed down, I'm very enthusiastic about the idea.
I just wish someone would offer me an opportunity to do something similar in my home country.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

No Place Like Home

When I travel, I'm rarely as productive as I am when I spend every day in my studio. I like the predictable routine of working in the same place, especially when I have within it nearly everything I need to make art.
This journey has been different. I've taken photographs every day. I've kept up my personal diary and composed a few bad poems. Even more importantly, I've done lots of drawings, painted a handful of studies for large paintings, and filled pages of my sketchbooks with ideas for future works, including A New Canon Of 21st Century Saints (a section of an acrylic on paper study for St Kapri of Brooklyn Heights is pictured above). I've even found time to acquire some new creative skills – and refine old ones.
Still, I'm looking forward to being back in my own space, surrounded my own stuff, albeit just for a short while. I miss my books. I miss my satellite TV. I miss the comfort of a familiar bed, and the satisfaction from the familiar body that shares it with me. I miss home cooking. I miss drinking out of the kitchen tap. I miss the quiet.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tropical Fever

Every time I travel in equatorial South-east Asia, I can guarantee that at least a couple of days will be lost to some kind of illness. As much as I hate to admit it, I don't really have the right constitution to ward off the murky spill of bacteria and viruses that spawns in the clammy humidity.
I've spent most of the past week in bed. In between sleeping or ordering bowls of clear onion broth and bottles of Evian water from room service, I've been sketching and catching up with my life. I finished an acrylic on paper study of my next Dangerous Career BabeThe Mother, pictured above – and edited excerpts from my notebooks to be published in a new English magazine, Case. I've also been corresponding with Julianne Schultz, editor of the Australian literary journal, Griffith REVIEW, about a contribution to its Sex, Money, Power issue, to be published later this year.
I keep the curtains of my hotel room closed. The pool is just beyond the terrace and even with the door closed, I can hear the splash of guests swimming in its too-warm, over-chlorinated soup. Occasionally there's the high-pitched squawk of a maid's two-way radio or the digitized chirp of a mobil phone. I open the door only in the evening, around four p.m., when the sky darkens and a heavy, monsoonal rain sets in. It sounds like uncooked rice being swished around a wooden bowl, a soothing white noise that sends me to sleep – again.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sinners As Saints

A lot of my work is preoccupied with sexual identity. Ever since I was a teenager, I've been unsettled by the way images and attitudes from entertainment and advertising media insinuate themselves into the way we shape this identity.
Sex is still one of the last effective forms of subversion, despite (or, maybe, because of) its slick ubiquity in our consumer-driven, image-conscious culture. In the past, women used sex as a defensive weapon against men who held power over them. In the future, women will no longer need men for either bonking or breeding. In the meantime, images of sex – what used to be thought of as pornography, a term that's becoming increasingly irrelevant as it turns into just another niche of acceptable suburban distraction, like smoking dope or reading trashy celebrity gossip – have become expressions of an ambiguous, morally unresolved freedom.
Being involved in real pornography is an acceptable tactic for a 21st century feminist. The ideas of women like Tristan Taormina and Violet Blue are a hell of a lot more confronting and original than those of glossy exhibitionists such as Tracey Emin or Sam Taylor-Wood.
One of the handful of solo shows I am doing over the next 18 months is a A New Canon Of 21st Century Saints. It opens at Melbourne Art Rooms on St. Valentines Day, February 14th, 2009 – a few months after my Dangerous Career Babes launch party at Superdeluxe in Tokyo.
My 21st century saints are pornstars representing a broad spectrum of race, creed and sexual inclination. They're portrayed as the personae they adopt for public consumption, enhanced by the vivid colours, slick surface finish and sheer massiveness – some works will be as much as three metres high – of what some art critics call Shock Pop. They form the canon (with an accompanying liturgy) of the
spiritually sterile cult of porno' chic and come complete with traditional, saint-related trappings, including statuary, relics, scapulars, and votive offerings: think of it as the merchandise of modern organized religion.
Nominating new and unlikely saints for our times is an ideal way for me not only to trace – and also, in some way, celebrate – the disorienting intersection of sexual identity, perversion, political subversion and feminism. It is also an opportunity to offer a critique of the whole concept of sainthood and our enduring reverence for it.
Above: St. Alexis of Tijuana, 2008, study sketch for oil painting, acrylic on paper, 30cms x 20cms

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Dashboard Meditation

I look out, half-blind
from tearing, swollen eyes.
The Mercedes cuts a swathe

through tattooed crowds
of
sweat-slicked foreigners
and
mocha-skinned whores.
I'm a sullen ghost,
driven, alone,
in a cloud
of cool air, to your world.
I want to capture evidence:

one small, good deed,

an attempted peace offering

lost to the ether.
I used to write poetry when I was younger, short verses forged from a pain I couldn't shake loose even by painting. I'd scribble them in the margins of my sketchbooks or on random scraps of paper. Nearly all were lost or thrown away, usually before they were read by anyone else.
Something about the see-saw mood I've been in since I arrived in South-East Asia has made me want to write poetry again. If anything, I've been writing as much as I've been drawing or painting. When I'm depressed or when I'm missing someone I love, creating collages of impressions out of simple, arhythmic words gives my emotions more specificity and enables me to deal with them better.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Too often, though my pictures end up in public. My words I get to keep to myself. Most of them, anyway.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Outback Memory

“But there’s nothing here,” the artist kept saying. He appeared oppressed by the emptiness. Maybe he just couldn’t stand that it forced him to pay more attention to his own thoughts. He didn’t do much else other than take photographs. He asked me to drive him on long, fruitless searches for landscapes he could paint. He aimed his camera at the sky though the car’s windscreen and once, stretched his arm up out of the passenger-side window, hoping for some unframed stroke of luck. He accumulated hundreds of rolls of exposed film.
Later, when he returned to his city studio,
he developed them to study. The landscapes he painted from them, in oils warmed with a sepia tinted varnish, would look nothing like the barren places he visited.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Shock Pop

I get my best ideas when I travel. Maybe it's because I don't work as much or maybe it's just that I have more time to read and think. I scribble in my notebook, sketch a little, and take lots of photographs but I'm not usually looking for inspiration.
I've been thinking a lot about the disparate themes of sexuality, identity, the insidious pervasiveness of advertising and entertainment media, religion and ritual and how I've resorted to different styles of painting and even photography to explore them, often, over the past decade. More and more, I've felt confined by painting alone, just as I have by the conventions of exhibiting such work in commercial and institutional spaces.
I've been exploring ways to expand my work so that its underlying concepts can be expressed in forms that obscure its purpose as 'art': making the experience of it more accessible but also more unsettling and even subversive. To a curious extent, this connects to my enduring enthusiasm for graphic novels, Japanese anime, graffiti, fashion and pornography (not necessarily in that order).
One young writer, profiling my new work, called it Shock Pop, a phrase I think he glommed from a critique of the Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami. I can see how, in obvious ways, it applies to my paintings, especially those in which there are unavoidable encounters with violence and graphic sex, but now I am exploring how to take it even further, to tap-dance between the slippery wet patches where the chemical-smelling perspiration of art commingles with the sticky fluids of sex, spiritual yearning and consumer culture.
With all this swilling around in my head, it was little wonder that, almost without effort or thought, some initial studies, in acrylic on paper, for an entirely new body of work – combining painting, installation, photography and video – began spilling out onto the floor of my studio. Along with them came words, a title, and an invitation from a couple of well-known Los Angeles pornstars of my acquaintance to come spend a week with them by the beach.
An Australian gallerist has already expressed enthusiasm for the still-evolving ideas and has committed her space for February 14th – Valentine's Day – next year to launch a month-long 'event' in Melbourne. I also expect to lock in a date in Tokyo very soon.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Back Of Beyond

A lot of people have written to me about my Lake Eyre paintings and photographic studies. They want to know where they came from, particularly as they look somewhat different from the rest of my work.
In 2001, I took part in a large-scale, big budget art expedition – a journey to the central desert of Australia, including Lake Eyre, Alice Springs, and the Aboriginal community of Kintore, which is a major centre for the Western Desert art movement. Of the ten artists involved, I was the youngest – and the only female. The others included some of Australia's most renowned painters (many of whom I had studied at school) – John Olsen, Tim Storrier, Robert Jacks, David Larwill, Rodney Pople, Jeff Makin, Andrew Sibley, Mark Schaller and Jason Benjamin. The whole thing was privately funded by an Australian millionaire and f
rom 2003 to 2005, our paintings, which he bought, were assembled in an exhibition that toured major regional Australian galleries.
Each artist created ten large works inspired by the expedition. These were reproduced in full page, colour plates, in a large coffee table book, William Creek & Beyond, documenting the journey. The book also features photographs by Hari Ho, and artist interviews by well-known Australian critic and author, Ashley Crawford. It's available online, with prices ranging from $643 in Canada to $232 on Amazon. However, it's still available new from the Queensland Art Gallery for $108 plus postage and handling.
A documentary film about the expedition, The View From Here, was directed by Liz Jones for ABC Television and although it's available to buy through ABC TV, it's screened regularly on one or other of the national broadcaster's Sunday arts programs.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Shoot Quick, Leave

I haven't done much painting, this week. I've been taking a lot of photographs instead.
I 've always travelled with a couple of cameras but I really only got into using them a lot outside my studio (where photographs have always been an important part of my preparatory process for a painting) last year. I am quite shy and it wasn't until I learnt some of the 'tricks' of traditional documentary photographers – Larry Burrows and Mary Ellen Mark are among new-found favorites – that I gained enough confidence to do the sort of work I really like.
I've had to stifle my compulsion to have everything perfect before I push the shutter button. "If you see the shot you want," a very experienced photojournalist once told me, "it's too late." He taught me to shoot a few frames quickly as soon as I thought there might be a picture; only when I "had the shot" could I afford to spend a moment refining the composition, focus and exposure. Another thing he taught me was, "When you think you're too close to a subject, take another couple of steps forward."
I don't pretend to be very skilled. A camera is just a tool that I use to make visual notes or to keep track of some external narrative. mostly when I travel. But I would like to become as good at using one as I am a pencil or paint brush.