Sunday, June 29, 2008

Restless

I stayed up late last night to put the finishing touches to The Dominatrix, a couple of additional lines on the golden dildo that forms the handle of her purple velvet whip. The colors in this work are very different to those I've used for others in the series and I'm still not sure they don't verge on the garish, even though they suit the subject matter. I was becoming uncomfortable with the predictability of the palette for these Pop-inflected works. Since finishing The Terrorist, I've wanted to experiment with bolder hues.
I was going to take it easy today, to have a short break from painting. Then I remembered that I'm supposed to deliver two designs for Legends Rubbers condom tins tomorrow. I have a couple of ideas based on images I've collected from porn sites, including one in which a young woman strokes the heel of her stiletto as if... well, you get the idea. I've been warned against naked breasts and pudenda otherwise Woolworths and other major retailers will refuse to display them. However, as pretty much anything else goes, I'm determined to have some fun with them.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Papal Latex Pussycat

I've finished another of my Dangerous Career Babes – this one a dominatrix, although her role is somewhat ambiguous because a chain leads from a manacled, latex-clad leg to an unseen voyeur beyond a gold-rimmed keyhole. This has been one of the easiest to draw but not to finish, as there's more detail than others in the series. I also changed my mind a couple of times about the colours, see-sawing between severe monochromaticism (not really suited to these works) and rich, lushly decadent colors inspired by the ceremonial vestments of Roman Catholic cardinals (historically, a very decadent bunch).
I'm always surprised how much inspiration I derive from the Catholic Church, perhaps because its rituals and places of worship are ornate and theatrical and it comes with an eccentric retinue of saints, angels, demons, miraculous virgins, aesthetes, hermits, prophets, martyrs, redeemed whores, mystic visionaries, radical converts, heretics and sinners – many of them served by artists who were themselves one or all of these. It began when I first researched the syncretic Afro-Christian beliefs of voodoo and santeria for my first watercolours, three years ago, and even though I'm unlikely to become a convert, its influence insinuates itself into my work in all sort of unexpected ways.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Show Me Yours

One of the first questions people ask me – usually straight after they ask where I find my inspiration (as if it were somewhere I could send them, like an interesting bookshop or a vintage clothing store) – is whether I collect art myself. As it turns out, I don't, not really, but it's more because of a lack of time than anything else. Lately, as I've become more settled into somewhere I like to think of as 'home', I've been thinking about populating it with a few objets that mean a lot to me.
I've always bought books. I have enough of them to constitute a modest library, covering a variety of subjects from 20th century art, photography and sculpture to Caribbean voodoo rituals, Polynesian navigation and early 20th century sexual fetishes (a source of constant surprise and inspiration). I also have the beginnings of an unusual collection of sex toys. However, I don't own much art – not even my own.
So what would I like to collect? Well, odd as it might sound, dolls – but not the sort of cherub-face, porcelain-limbed infants in long nightgowns that might once have graced your maiden aunt's dressing table. I've fallen in love with the naked, skeletally fragile china dolls made by Marina Bychkova. Each is exquisitely crafted, with expressive hands and languid posture. I adore that they are, if desired, anatomically correct – even the vulva is painted beautifully, as on one of my favourites, 'Sapphire' – and each character transmits an undercurrent of psychological tension. I love the occasionally grim attention to detail, including the accurately bound feet of her 'Lotus' doll. Bychkova's research of both costume and culture is even referred to in the doll's name: "Lotus refers to the shape a woman’s foot takes after it has been severely broken and mutilated by binding."
I used to prefer blank walls, painted white. I found anything hanging on them distracting. However, I'm beginning to like the idea of having other people's art around me. I have a number of pieces in mind: a painting by Francesco Clemente, one from his Fifty One Days On Mount Abu series (example above), and a small oil painting by Frida Kahlo; a study drawing by Eva Hesse – there's an intimacy and exploration in Hesse's drawings that I prefer to the conclusiveness of her finished works – as well as a monochrome silver gelatin print by Tina Modotti and a messy, diaristic collage by Peter Beard. The only Australian work I'd want is a sculpture by Linde Ivimey, whose work reminds me of the spooky Capuchin Crypt in Rome.
I am curious about what readers of this blog might like to collect – and why. Leave a comment.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Grind House

A year ago, a good friend warned me that if I was to cope with the increasing demands of success, I'd have to re-organise my working life and get a better handle on my day-to-day routine. At the time, I didn't really understand what he was talking about. After all, I've been busy for the past ten years, one way or another. How different could it be?
A lot, as it has turned out. However busy I was before doesn't compare with the way things are now. The relentless demands on my time feel like some kind of existential tsunami. Being organised, diligent and disciplined is the only way to survive. Each morning, I spend two to three hours returning calls and another hour revising and updating to-do and phone lists before I even get to my drafting table. With three shows in three cities in the next nine months as well as a number of large scale commissions to complete, managing myself is a full-time job.
Sometimes, I have to remind myself that all this administrative labour is really just a by-product of the full-time job I already have – artist.
This morning, I have to plan lunches with several private and corporate collectors as well as press interviews ahead of my upcoming Melbourne show. I have to liaise with my film processors, custom printers and framers and coordinate their output with DHL's delivery schedules. My accountant is bugging me to update my monthly income and expense summaries so she can begin work on my end of year taxes and I have two models to book for shoots the week after next. I try to respond to the several dozen emails I receive a day as they come in but I prefer to accept phone calls only before 10 a.m. or after 4p.m.
All this is just the tip of a huge logistical berg that drifts through my life 24 hours a day. It's still bloody hard to get my head around and I know my slowness to learn has sometimes been frustrating for the senior members of my team. They remind me that this aspect of my career was never going to be fun but if I don't learn to manage better, I risk losing not only my sanity but everything I have worked so hard to achieve.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Not A Pretty Picture

In the past, assembling images for an exhibition has been relatively easy for me. I worked within the self-imposed confines of series of images that were conceived within a narrow theme. Often, as in the case of my Lake Eyre and Self Vs Self series, each of the works were variations of a single idea explored within the same frame dimensions and colour palette. Even before I started them, I had a pretty clear idea of where they were going.
The process of editing photographs for my exhibition at MARS Gallery, next month, has been very different. When I first agreed to do the show, I figured I would select a couple of dozen images that had been shot, mostly informally, in different circumstances over the past few years and then hang them in such a way that they might be reasonably coherent as a group.
It hasn't worked out that way. As I look more closely at the photographs, I've been surprised to discover within them fragments of an unexpected and not entirely comfortable story about myself and other women my age. These fragments are most visible in our make-up-less faces and our naked bodies – very literally, given that many of us have symbols of the more intimate or troubling episodes of our personal narratives tattooed on our skins. These fragments combine to create a raw, arhythmic poetry in the many random acts of affection, self-gratification, and lust I've captured on celluloid. Unmistakeable traces of our successes and failures, our defiance and our many small surrenders are etched into our expressions.
I have no sentimentality about any of this. If anything, I want to be utterly ruthless about laying myself and my models – all of whom are my age and from a similarly unsettled background – quite literally bare, using the sexuality that pervades all the images to tempt the viewer to look closer but then daring them to keep looking as the emotional disarray of the underlying story becomes apparent.
I've changed the exhibition's title. What else could I call it but Porno?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Playing Better With Others

I realised, today, that the upcoming show at MARS will be the first that involves a large number of other people in my creative process: among them, several models, a photographic assistant, a production manager, a photographic processor (I still use film whenever I can) and a couple of custom printers.
Art used to be something I did completely alone. However, over the last year or so, a lot more people have become involved. At first, it was something of a challenge to adapt to them but it's been worth it. For one thing, I get to turn more of the contents of my imagination into reality. For another, I have more time for myself, during which I can conceive new work.
I also have more time to live. This gives me more experiences and sensations from which to draw inspiration. In the past, my life outside art went on almost entirely inside my head – and for the most part, my head was stuck in the one room of my fairly grotty former studio. So the images I made were, in a sense, drawn from the narrative of a pseudo-life.
These days, art and life are all one. I live both to the fullest and I'm infinitely happier.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sorting My Self

I stayed up until the early hours of this morning finishing The Trophy Wife, yet another of my Dangerous Career Babes series of oils. It was the hardest of all to do, so far, perhaps because I had to get into the right sort of consumer mind-set to ensure that the several brand references in the image were authentic. The image will be used for the cover of the sexmoneypower issue of the Australian quarterly, Griffith REVIEW, later this year.
The rest of my week is going to be taken up with editing images for my photography exhibition at MARS, in just six weeks time. This involves sifting through several thousand colour and monochrome negatives in my archives, and as many digital files, as well as shooting new images.
As I've written elsewhere, I'm treading a fine line with these works. I want to show images that are intimate, revelatory and even shocking but I also want to protect myself (although I'm not entirely sure what I want to protect myself from). This unsettling dichotomy is inherent in the work of all artists who mine the darker recesses of their psyches (and sexuality) for their narrative-like subject matter – in photography, Larry Clark and Nan Goldin are obvious examples – and it's emerging as a central theme of this show.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hard Core

I spent the morning being photographed for magazine advertising and posters – as well as a short piece for Good Weekend magazine – promoting my exhibition of photography and works on paper at MARS Gallery in Port Melbourne, at the end of next month. Unlike the sedate but stylish image of me used by Vogue Australia, these black and white portraits – which bear an unsettling resemblance to the shaven-headed Evey (played by Natalie Portman) in the film, V For Vendetta – are unembellished and unflinchingly stark, a reflection of my growing confidence in my art and myself, as well as, maybe, a clearer sense of purpose.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Overload

I've been in bed with the flu. Or, rather, I'm telling everyone who asks it's the flu. I suspect that it's actually some kind of existential malaise, an exhaustion caused by too much contact with the world – and maybe not enough meaningful connection with my imagination – over the past couple of months. After all, I am, by nature, something of a hermit. I don't respond well to too much social immersion.
I get like this in Asia, where it's hard to get away from the urban press of people and the pervasive, high-pitched dissonance of traffic, bar music and loud chatter. It's less usual when I'm holed up at home in Australia.
I've switched off my mobile phone. I'm ignoring my emails. I'm not answering the door. I have enough food in the fridge to get me through the weekend. I'm going to watch TV and thumb through some magazines. In between, I'll sleep.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Slip It Into My Art

In an unusual commercial agreement signed today, I've licensed my name and six images from my 2009 solo exhibition at MARS Gallery in Melbourne – A New Canon Of 21st Century Saints – for a limited edition series of tin condom boxes.
Devised by Legends Rubbers, a small, Australian manufacturer of condoms, the tins will be distributed throughout Australia, New Zealand, the USA and possibly Europe. The first in the series will be released in September, this year, with a wider launch planned to coincide with the opening of the show at MARS Gallery, in Melbourne, on St Valentines Day, 14th February, 2009. The exhibition's opening night party will be hosted by Legends Rubbers.
This is the first licensing deal of this kind in Australia. It's a bold move on the part of the young entrepreneur, Daniel Moeschinger, who runs Legends Rubbers, especially given the controversy that so often swirls around my art. As far as I'm concerned, the money is modest but it's a great way to increase awareness of my art and distribute it to people who might not otherwise be able to afford it or who have yet to be even interested in it.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Strike A Pose

In between working on two new Dangerous Career Babes paintings – during those long (especially in the tropics), dull intervals when I'm waiting for one coat of paint to dry before I can paint another – I've been editing photographs for my solo exhibition of photography and works on paper at MARS Gallery, in Melbourne, at the end of next month. There's a huge archive of material to review – God, how many photos have I taken of myself? – but I want to choose what to print of my existing images before I shoot new ones, next week. I also want to experiment with painting and writing on some of the images, as well as collaging them into a couple of large, mutli-panel watercolours I'm working on.
I have two models that I'm excited about photographing. One is a long-time friend, also an artist. The other is a Japanese student in her early '20s who takes a perverse glee in injecting a little manga-like craziness into every shot – not an easy thing to do when you're butt-naked, trying to dance around wet paint swatches in the middle of my studio.