Friday, May 30, 2008

Jesus Saves You (From Me)

When I was invited by a well-known charity to contribute two of my works to an art auction to benefit their local youth initiatives I happily agreed. I framed two small works, valued at around $3,000 each, and delivered them in person. I also used my substantial mailing list to help publicise the event.
Yesterday, on the eve of tonight's auction, I passed by the gallery where the works by various artists had been hung for a 48-hour preview. Mine were nowhere to be seen.
I asked one of the auction's organisers where my paintings were. Red-faced with embarrassment, he explained that they'd been 'withdrawn' because, "World Vision is a Christian organisation and some key people were offended by the content". Neither of the two, somewhat surreal works I donated were particularly scandalous and only one hinted at anything sexual.
"Surely you must have known what sort of work I do when you invited me," I said.
"Well, I tried to access your site and your blog four times but they're barred by the charity's server," he told me. "In fact, I've been asked to explain why I was trying to access unauthorised, 'adult content'."
"And yet you were quite happy to accept the works when I came by to give them to you."
"Umm, yes. I only found out about all this yesterday."
"And you didn't think to let me know?"
I took the two works back. If I ever offer them for sale again, it will be for Bill Henson's defense fund (not that he needs my money for it).
Next time a charity hits me up for help, I'll just send a cheque.
I wonder if I drew a naked breast on the back of it, would they refuse to cash it?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Don't Look Now

I'm not a fan of Bill Henson's photography. However, I am a fan of freedom of expression, intrinsic to which is the freedom for others to express ideas (and images) that might make me uncomfortable or even repel me. Nothing Henson has created is remotely in that category.
Last week, Australian police, acting on a complaint from an activist representing some 'Christian, family values' organisation, removed images from an exhibition of Henson's work at a reputable Sydney gallery. The police deemed these to be pornographic depictions of children. The public prosecutor is now considering laying charges against the man whom The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, refers to as "one of the very few indisputably great contemporary Australian artists - a photographer of astonishing talent..."
Having experienced public censorship on a small scale at last year's Art Melbourne, I am at once sympathetic towards Henson and appalled by the embarrassment this causes all Australian artists. As Shane Danielsen observes, in a blog published today on the The Guardian web site, "Australia has a long and unfortunate history of book- and film-banning, and a deep-rooted mistrust of intellectualism in general and aesthetic experimentation in particular. This is merely the latest installment in a long, painful struggle to grow up, to think and act like adults, in an adult world. Clearly, there is some way yet to go".

Friday, May 23, 2008

Models Wanted!

Since the beginning of my career, if I have needed to paint 'from life', I have only ever used myself as a model. More a matter of convenience than anything else, it was easier to pose in front of a mirror and photograph myself than it was trying to find a model and explain to her what I wanted. I was also uninhibited. No position was too provocative, strenuous or downright ridiculous for me to attempt.
Later, my paintings were about some part of me. It made no sense to use anyone else as a model.
Recently, I began photographing and painting other women. I had experimented with it for the first time in my watercolours, a couple of years ago, including one or two in the Venus In Hell series and a crude, anime-inspired portrait in the series, Kelly, The First Time, but now I'm planning a number of works in different media that are not focussed on me. The trouble is, I have found few models who are willing to give of themselves the way I have.
I am looking for young women, aged between 20 and 35, who are willing to pose nude for half a day at my Sydney studio. Refreshments and lunch are provided. If you're interested, email me a photograph and a few words about yourself. The resulting works will be included in my exhibition at MARS Gallery, in Melbourne, at the end of July.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Art From The Heart

Two of my very small studies in watercolour, acrylic and pencil on cold-pressed paper will be included in a charity art auction for World Vision Australia and the City of Sydney Police and Community Youth Club. The public sale is next Friday, 30th May, at 6:30pm, at Birrung Gallery, 134 William St, Woolloomooloo, Sydney. The works, including others by Reg Mombassa, Euan McCLoud, Graham Fransella, Elizabeth Cummins, David Larwill, and Belinda Fox, can be previewed on Thursday, 29th May and Friday, 30th May, from 10am to 5pm. For further information, phone (61) 02 9550 9964.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Terminal Zen

I was once warned by an experienced traveller about the seductiveness of Asian airports as a way of life.
Simulacra of an idealised outside world are cocooned within clean, white and silver spaces, so seamless and antiseptic they're soothing. Their various functions are well organised and clearly designated. Nothing is overlooked or excluded – even smoking and (in the case of Hong Kong) sex. There are no real-world distractions to dining, shopping, or solitude, no poverty, no mess, no bills, no interruptions. They are great places in which to meditate and think, especially when you know how to use them. Like a global fast food chain, once you figure out the rules, navigating each one is the same. There is an odd sense of peace. Each person knows why they are there, and has, for a time, a solid sense of direction.
The person who first taught me how to travel is a long-time 'initiate' to constant, long-distance flying – one of the so-called Kinetic Elite, as the Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas, calls them. Travelling with him was like being let into some arcane secret that made it all easy. We were guided past queues – waiting in line even to check in no longer existed. We never sat in public lounges. We were ushered into still, luxurious spaces with comfortable sofas, fresh, free food and cool drinks, showers, wireless connection, and solicitous, helpful staff. After the flight, there were always chauffeured cars waiting and hotels always offered the best rooms – at their lowest rates – even when they were supposedly booked out. There were never any customs problems. Everything, including the other passengers, seemed automatically, to part for him to make way.
Nowadays, I travel alone. I am not so well-insulated from some of travel's bleaker moments but I still enjoy the privileges of lots of frequent flier miles, especially on Asian carriers, and I know enough of the loopholes and dodges for it all to be less of a hassle. I have Business Class lounge privileges. I walk through where others are stopped. I am smiled at and helped.
It's all very seductive but in a more powerful way than I had realised. Now, when I make mistakes or don't manage things as well as I need to, I find myself longing for airports. To sit, undistracted by life's annoying necessities, by the past, even by myself, in what I've come to think of as a gleaming, self-organising, reassuring womb.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Three-Way

Yesterday was my 300th 'blog entry. When I stop to think about it, over the past couple of years, writing has emerged as a medium in which I express myself with almost as much consistency (and certainly just as much joy) as I do in painting or photography.
Now I'm getting the chance to combine all three.
Last week, I had lunch with Julianne Schultz, editor of Australia's most respected quarterly, GRIFFITH Review. She invited me to contribute both a written and a photographic essay as well as cover art for its November issue, MoneySexPower. It's a perfect fit for me. Money, sex and power relate to many of my favorite themes – and not just as an artist. The cover will feature one of my Dangerous Career Babes, The Trophy Wife, inspired by Tony Montana's line from the film Scarface: "When you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women."
The study of The Trophy Wife, in acrylic on paper (50cm x 60cm), will be given away in a GRIFFITH Review competition for new subscribers. The photographic essay will document the creation of the work, from the first study Polaroids of the model to the various stages of sketching and painting. The 2,000 word piece I've written is, naturally enough, about sex and imagination and the power both exert over me.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Sight Of Relief

I went to a large, suburban, neon-lit shopping mall, last week. I needed to kill some time while I waited for somebody. As I walked from the car park to the entrance, I began seeing everything double. Bright neon signs, faces, buildings – around each, an illuminated halo shimmered like a misaligned Warhol silk screen. I kept walking, looking at everything, thinking what a waste it was to have this somewhat hallucinatory experience in such a banal location.
My vision returned to normal after a little while but I had my eyes tested the next day.They've ached for weeks. I've also had frequent migraines. My optometrist is an eccentric woman who dresses in electric blue, purple and green – perfect migraine colours. As she tested me, we chatted about visual migraines, cubism and impressionism and how changes in sight were reflected in artists' work over their lifetime. Fortunately, the only thing wrong with my eyes was severe strain. It's easily corrected by wearing glasses when working.
Which means I have to wear them all day. I chose simple Miu Miu frames, with no rim at the bottom to distract my focus. They look a little severe and art-cliché, like something an esthetic lesbian curator or a feminist computer geek might wear. But I don't care. They've brought me so much relief that I'm taking my optometrist flowers tomorrow.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Don't Go Breaking My Art

One of the occasional joys I have is coming across examples of my work that I haven't seen for a while in private collections. This is especially true of the high gloss enamel or oil on canvas paintings I did at the start of my career a decade ago. There are few of these left in good condition. Many were first sold very cheaply – often for just a couple of hundred bucks and perhaps because of that, were rarely looked after well. It's hard for me when I see them, as if someone has been abusing one of my kids.
These days, serious enthusiasts for my work cherish the pieces they buy. One collector, a nomadic senior executive for a multinational tech' company, has custom-built crates to transport the 1.0 metre by 1.5 metre canvases he owns from one home to another. Another pair of collectors have devoted the wall space of a couple of rooms in their home to a definitive history of my enamel, oil and watercolour paintings as well as my Polaroid and 35mm photography.
Often, I don't expect to like the rather simplistic works I did when I was (in my own mind) still a 'kid' but then I'm pleasantly surprised: they're not masterpieces but they're unexpectedly effective and reveal clues to themes I continue to explore in my current work.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Missing The Message

Lately I've been wondering how much people really think about art – even when they're interested in it.
A couple of months ago, I released my fourth web-based 'unlimited edition' print. It's an artwork I created to be downloaded, free-of-charge, and printed at home. I offer to hand sign any prints that were sent to me with a return envelope and postage paid. The original works were black and white, and made using mediums that reproduce well – lead pencil, black and white watercolours – so that each print looked as authentic as possible, even when printed using inexpensive equipment.
The idea behind it was a genuine attempt to enable anyone to own a personalised, and original print. The works themselves have been popular, judging from the number sent back to me to be signed. Yet I'm puzzled by the predominant discussion of the idea. Most comments have focussed on the marketing 'buzz'. Mention of the prints is included in articles like Street Smart Stealth Marketing Pays Off: a skim through this piece uncovers almost every word and phrase that, when coupled with the idea of 'art', make me cringe: entertainment and media productions, franchising, trademarks, multiplied and amplified marketing, targeted audience, guerrilla tactics, and of course, the summation, stealth marketing.
I publicise my work and myself. Art is my career – my life! – but it is also a deep and complicated need to communicate, somehow, with an audience. So, of course, I want people to see it.
Art is elitist. It's inaccessible to a vast number of people, except in reproduction. Even then, it's just a photograph in a book or catalogue or a low res' file on the internet. My prints are an attempt to change that, to give something that is an artwork itself. It's modest but genuine and representative of a much bigger concept that is related to the importance of ideas and art – not advertising – in everyone's day-to-day life.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Repro' Men

Recently, I was approached by a gallery that wanted to produce a series of prints of my early paintings. It's an idea I've thought about but if I were to do prints, I'd want them to be well made, in a very limited edition, perhaps with each one hand-painted.
This gallery suggested the opposite – cheap
giclée reproductions in enormous editions of 300. In other words, my paintings would be photographed then printed on a common inkjet printer. The idea of this was almost as offensive as the deal the gallery offered: no money, just 50 artist proofs (as if I couldn't print them myself on the very high-end digital printers I have in both my studios!).
I said no (
doh!). I also reminded the gallery's 'go-between' that I retain the copyright for all my images. Copyright protects my right to decide how my work is reproduced and used. I license my work under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License – that is, I allow people to share, copy and distribute my work – as long as it's attributed to me, not used for commercial purposes, and not altered in any way. My images on my website are available to other sites and I don't charge reproduction fees when my work is printed in magazines, newspapers, 'zines, and elsewhere. If someone wants to tattoo my art on their skin or print out a signed image and iron it onto a t-shirt, that's cool with me, too.
However, the freedom I offer to share my images does not mean I'm easy-going when it comes to protecting my commercial rights. I care about the work I sell and if shitty reproductions
were offered for sale – necessarily without my consent – my lawyers would to take the matter straight to court.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Happy Snaps

Today, out of the blue, Melbourne Art Rooms offered me a solo exhibition of my photography at the gallery from 29th July to 24th August, this year, to coincide with the Melbourne Art Fair. It will feature around 20 colour and black and white portraits shot originally as studies for paintings. Needless to say, the subjects are all young women in various states of undress, myself included.
I'm excited – and somewhat relieved – to have an opportunity to show in a medium other than painting. One of the reasons I've avoided showing anything, anywhere, for 18 months, even going so far as to reschedule dates in Japan and Europe to next year, is because I couldn't face what I've come to regard as the monotonous routine of assembling yet another group of paintings for public view. I had to take a break from it. These photographs are different: made recently, in South-East Asia and Australia, they express a freer, less disciplined, less technically proficient, and less predictable aspect of my creativity.
I'm looking forward to working in a lot of other unfamiliar media in the future. Maybe, for the first time in long while, I'll have some real fun with my art.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Eat, Me

After years of being relatively disinterested in food, I've discovered the joy of taste and texture.
I used to be very austere, choosing what to eat only by nutritional or caloric content. Food was an annoying, necessary blip in my routine of self-denial and control. Now, maybe because of travelling more frequently, I look forward to savouring the food in each new place I visit.
The trouble is, my stomach has turned out to be very delicate. After suffering cramps, headaches and bouts of vomiting as a result of meals in Asia, I've turned my newfound, fetishistic enthusiasm for eating to comfort food.
As a child, I ate bananas and sucked on plum pits during long car journeys. I ate only strawberries when I was sick and when playing in the countryside, picked wild blackberries and homegrown gooseberries and red currants. Southern summer Christmas dinners with my mother were finished with platters of succulent mango and fresh blueberries.
In Asia, I also rely on fruit as a staple – even if tropical fruit has probably given me more bugs than drinking the local water or eating bad seafood. When I'm alone and missing my boyfriend, I buy bunches of fresh lychees from the market; despite the fact that he hates them, their plump fleshiness reminds me of him.
Food is delicious sex when I'm either with or remembering my boyfriend but it's banal when I'm travelling alone and working. Then I eat only because of the need for routine sustenance. I sip clear soups and nibble rice. Every second day, I have teppanyaki at a well-known Japanese steak and seafood chain. I sit by myself, reading emails on my Blackberry. I order onion soup, vegetables and teryaki salmon. When I'm busy or tired, I get room service to bring me plain steamed vegetables.
After a while, I begin to crave richer foods. I long to share them with my man. When we dine together, any work- or food-related anxieties dissipate. Eating becomes a sensual experience again and an entree to what I miss most about him after a long absence.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Medium Is Not The Message

As I grow and become more confident as an artist, the desire to paint has begun to wane. I was never particularly enamored of the act of painting, it was more the medium with which I painted. For instance, I used high-gloss enamel because it best expressed the ideas within my early work: the seductively creamy texture and hard candy shell it formed, when dry, created the illusion of a machine-made luxury product. Its glossy veneer sealed the canvas, but also, in my mind, suffocated the imperfections I perceived beneath the paint surface, the imperfections that really lurked in my psyche.
I used oils and acrylics for different reasons but again, it was about the physical and psychological effect of the media not the technique.
As my ideas for new works evolve, painting has less and less to do with them. This has caused me to re-examine my identity as an artist because I realise that I'm regarded almost exclusively as a painter.
The only paint that I remain interested in is watercolour. I don't really see it as a paint. I see aqueous emotion, uncertain colour and texture, bodily fluids like ejaculate and blood, even odours. Right now, I don't want to show anyone these works (even if I offer glimpses of them here). I don't know if I will ever exhibit them. I like it a lot better when I keep some works private, detached from any critical or economic value – when I don't have to think about from what they might mean to an audience.
My recent drawings and watercolours have become my secret diary, publicly separate from (but privately, still very important to) my emotional and intellectual processes as an artist.
As for my future work, I'm invigorated by having an idea then thinking of the medium in which to express it instead of the other way round. I'm no longer working backwards.