Friday, August 29, 2008

Concepts Of My Self

Taking a break from painting for a week, I've had plenty of time to add to the increasingly large and definitive archive of works on my site. Despite the many, colourful, Pop-influenced paintings that dominate my oeuvre (love that word), it's becoming more and more apparent that the core of my development has been conceptual rather than representational or even autobiographical (which is how I tended to think of my work when I was younger). Even in the earliest works, like the relatively crude Homogenous Babes collages, I am picking at the edges of ideas about how we appropriate and synthesize experiences from entertainment and advertising media (instead of real life) to shape our identities – diminishing individuality and creating social behaviour that is not dissimilar to children playing dress-up. Clearly, the large, glossy, enamel paintings I assembled as series from 1998 on, such as Ultra Violet One and later, Career Babes, were intended to be viewed as single, integral works – imposing, immersive experiences, driven by abbreviated narratives and overtly manipulative, advertising-style visual cues. Even my early Polaroid series, such as Pola Auto-Erotica, were edited to be 'read' in the same, interconnected way as a fashion layout in a magazine.
If there is a consistent flaw in my early work, it is that I hadn't yet committed to the elemental conceptuality of the work. I was fighting it, to-ing and fro-ing between thinking of myself as a traditional painter – committed to subjective, self-expressive, well-crafted representational work – and something a lot less easily defined, a multi-disciplinary provocateur for whom painting was just one of several means to an end. And the end is getting people to think beyond the work in front of them, beyond the alluring material of their hyper-mediated consumerist culture, and recognise what they've lost of themselves.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Memories And Forgetting

There are now around 130 paintings, works on paper and photographs available to view on my site, roughly three times more than there were at the beginning of the week. A dozen or more works have yet to be uploaded, including some sketches and collages that are strong enough to stand on their own. I can't really explain why I've hidden so much for so long. Some of the paintings are a lot better than those I've had on my site for the past few years. Some of them aren't. However, all of them make a lot more sense now they can be seen together.
I have yet to attribute the correct years or series titles to several individual paintings, mostly from the late Nineties. It's been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster revisiting a body of work that spans 13 years. Many paintings were created during periods of intense emotional and psychological fragility and the process of retrieving and editing digital images of them brought back memories I would've preferred to forget.
My work is inextricable from my life. Inevitably, past works are intimately bound up with people and places that I'm determined now to keep at a distance. Just for an instant, they all felt a little too close for comfort.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Reconsidering Pictures Past

I finished another commission yesterday.
I revisit old series of my work rarely but I made an exception this time as the subject was one I'd wanted to paint when the series, Sports Career Babes, was first conceived, eight years ago. For various reasons, I'd not gotten around to it. So I jumped at the chance when a Sydney couple asked whether I would consider painting Sports Career Babe: The Climber.
The commission prompted me to review the online archives of my work. A lot was missing, perhaps because when I first designed the site, I undervalued my early efforts. Not all of them were successful or refined but they contained ideas that recur in later work and offered clues to the personal preoccupations that still compel me to paint. There are at least half a dozen works that surprised me (pleasantly) – and are likely to surprise even those who are knowledgeable collectors.
I've begun uploading scores of these early works to the site. By the end of the week, the Works section should offer a much wider and more accurate perspective of what I've been trying to achieve over the past decade.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Life Study, Part Three

In his book, What’s Wrong With Contemporary Art? (UNSW Press, 2004), Peter Timms describes the Australian artist Patricia Piccinnini as a designer rather than an artist. “Her installations remain at the level of concepts,” he writes. “We sense her lack of involvement”.
Actually, we more than sense it – she has boasted about it. Her best-known sculptural and photographic works are derived from concepts recycled from the discard bin of Koons’ objective, hands-off ethos. And, like the work of Koons, Hirst and other contemporary conceptualists, her works echo the glossy sheen and plasticity of high-end luxury goods, making it is easier for well-heeled consumers to associate them with more familiar brands – Chanel, Prada, Porsche, Apple, Bose – and immediately understand and accept their relative value.
Most of the artists of the generation immediately before mine are designers. Surprisingly, given that they have grown up under the insidious influence of conceptual art, their work demonstrates an astounding lack of intellectual rigour (often taking the form of a simple puzzle or an elaborate joke), and no sense of history. Individual works are so derivative as to be bordering on plagiarism – for example, Emin’s My Bed, 1998/99, is a dull reworking of Rauchenberg’s Bed, 1955 – and if you review this 40-something generation’s work together, it is revealed as obvious and superficial.
Being banal on purpose is no excuse: banality as a comment on banality is … banal.
When Marcel Duchamp turned a urinal upside down, signed it 'R. Mutt' and exhibited it as 'found art' in 1917, it was revolutionary. Not any more. The old, late-1970s punk ethos of artlessness – of playing and singing badly, sampling randomly and making ineptly – is no longer provocative.
The new punk is about raw skill and having something powerful to say. This is particularly important now that digital tools have enabled so many more people to create, even if originality has been over-run by appropriation, and artisan skills by software and processing capabilities that can’t quite replicate the slippery inexactness of the hand-made. The new punk isn’t a twenty-first century form of Luddism, nor is it a rejection of electronic facility for some idealistic, nineteenth century idea of the purity or superiority of the human touch. It’s about a restitution of subjectivity, of re-emphasising the direct relationship between an artist’s interior world and the individual work, and about the value of an artwork being determined by the skill with which the artist conveys that relationship to the viewer. The purely conceptual is not enough.
“Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art,” Andy Warhol famously once said. I like money. It enables me to make art all the time.
At the beginning of my career, I was told by a reputable gallerist that there were two paths: I could show at artist-run or institutional spaces and gain respect; or I could show at a commercial gallery, sell my work, and be able to earn enough to make art full-time. For me, it was a no-brainer. I chose to show at a commercial gallery, creating the same works I would have if I were showing at a non-commercial space. My works at the time – the works for which I was to become well known – were large, glossy, highly structured and accessible images painted with enamel on canvas (and later on board). Populated with female stereotypes derived from advertising and entertainment, they confronted what bugged me about the increasing commodification of art. They sold well, but the critical assessment was cautious.
Two years ago, I had an exhibition at a well-regarded private gallery. At the opening party, an art critic whom I knew quite well admitted that he now saw my work in an entirely different and more meaningful way – simply because it had been presented in a different context. I couldn’t help but think that he was a bit of a prat.
I have been making and exhibiting art professionally for almost ten years now. It’s not just a vocation; it’s my way of processing the world. One of my early mid-size works, enamel on board, will fetch, according to the uncommitted circumlocution of one major auction house, “low-to-mid-five-figures” in the secondary market. In the past few years, I’ve had solo and group shows in most of Australia’s capital cities, as well as Tokyo, London and New York.
Art is big business. Many young artists – younger even than me – have ended up rich, famous and critically acclaimed very early in their careers. Too often, it all just evaporates. And maybe that’s another reason why I am conscious of walking the razor’s edge between respect and celebrity, even as I work hard to increase my prices and my base of private and institutional collectors. In a hundred years, Damien Hirst will be remembered, along with Bruno Bischofberger, Larry Gagosian and Nicholas Serota, as one of this era’s great art impresarios. Tracey Emin and Sam Taylor-Wood have a shot at being mentioned in a couple of footnotes, the sticky residue of all that high-profile publicity they courted in their lifetimes, but none of their works will be in the canon of great twenty-first century art. Over the last millennium, the few artists acknowledged as 'great' didn’t bow to passing fashion or economic imperative, let alone spend more time socialising – even with royal patrons – than making art.
I might be wrong, but I like to think that my generation is less seduced by the money and hype of art that comes easier now than ever before, and that its creators are more concerned with using it to their advantage to make art all the time, and become better artists.
Still, when it comes to business, we are also breaking new ground of our own.
I used to be represented by important galleries in Sydney and Melbourne. I left both this year when I resolved to try to work outside the traditional gallery system – which, more and more, has come to resemble the stables of champion racehorse trainers, each vying to win a season of million-dollar races. The system has never really worked for – let alone with – most young artists, even if they are making good money. I am still trying to work out whether it’s possible to have an informal relationship with a handful of gallerists in a way that shifts the balance power into my hands, rather than theirs; meanwhile, better established artists – such as England’s Stella Vine – are going so far as to found their own galleries, and to represent themselves.
My generation has an advantage: it’s the first to have globally networked electronic media at its disposal. Still, exploiting these is about more than building a website and creating an email list. I use software for client relationship and inventory management, and I subscribe to online services that track prices for my – and my peers’ – old and new work. Email encourages frequency and depth in my communication with collectors and curators, and I am able to coordinate exhibitions of my work in two or three countries simultaneously, and have direct contact with local gallerists and the press.
A fronte praecipitium,
a tergo lupi.

Alis volat propriis.
In front is a precipice, behind are wolves. She flies with her own wings. When I left art school, I had these words tattooed in an unelaborate sans serif font on the inside of my left arm – a promise to myself to succeed in art, whatever the obstacles. These days I operate as both an individual and a virtual corporation – an evolution of Warhol’s reconfiguring of the artist’s studio as a factory – and the functions of each are discrete. As an individual, I make the art I want. As a corporation, I shift product. Three and half months before my next solo exhibition, thirty per cent of the works to be shown have already been sold.
There is reward, after all, in thinking differently.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Life Study, Part Two

I had my first solo exhibition a few years later. I ignored one of the art world’s unwritten rules and organised it myself. I sold out the show and garnered some good reviews. Since then, from time to time, I have tried to do what everybody else does – to follow some, if not all, of the rules. And yet I am happiest and most successful when I don’t.
“Only criminals and artists defy the rules,” Denis Diderot, the eighteenth century philosopher, once observed. (I should cop to the fact that I am no different from my peers in today’s junk culture: I sample, I 'appropriate', so my references are second-hand and suspect. I haven’t actually read Diderot. I read an article in which Malcolm McLaren quoted him, and what I know about Malcolm McLaren is that he managed a band called the Sex Pistols before I was born.)
Most artists don’t defy the rules anymore. They just pretend to – or, as the British artist Damien Hirst once put it: “What I really like is minimum effort for maximum effect.” In the developed world, the success of an artist is measured in the same terms as that of a lawyer, stockbroker or entertainer: disposable income, the number, size and location of the houses they own, and the series number of their new BMW. The art itself has nothing to do with it. The most successful artists appear on lists of the rich and powerful in the business press, and as if that wasn’t enough, the art world creates its own lists to massage its burgeoning pile of egos. Last year, Hirst topped ArtReview’s Power 100, overtaking the New York art dealer Larry Gagosian, who managed to hold on to second place ahead of Francois Pinault, the French owner of the British auction house Christie’s.
Damien Hirst’s lust for celebrity was – is – always transparent. Still, I wanted to believe that the women I admired were different. I was once young and naïve enough to hope that gender alone might ensure that the ambitions of an older generation of mainly American contemporary female artists – among them, Cindy Sherman (now aged 52), Jenny Holzer (aged 56) or Barbara Kruger (aged 61) – were less prosaic. But no, celebrity was as much a core of their career plans as it was of Hirst’s. Their work wasn’t about revolution, it was about recognition, about renown.
It only got worse with the next wave, the mainly British forty-somethings such as Tracey Emin, Rachel Whiteread and Sam Taylor-Wood (who made the savvy career move of marrying Jay Jopling, the famed founder of London’s White Cube gallery, and architect/co-conspirator of the Young British Artists phenomenon). These women figured out that if fame came fast enough, and the money was big enough, it might lessen the impact of inescapable questions about their talent and credibility. Their accomplishments have reflected a triumph of commercialism over art, their successes as reliant on message, positioning and timing as any corporate marketing strategy: art as commodity, artist as brand.
Emin particularly has made it plain that art for her is just a means to an end – she has talked of wanting to be dubbed a Dame by the Queen, but if she’s not careful, her end might be a role as a wicked step-sister in celebrity pantomime at Christmas, the fate of every faded British TV personality and pop star.
There is nothing new about fame and money being intrinsic to a successful art career – during the Renaissance, artists such as Michelangelo were multi-millionaires by today’s standards, as well as being confidantes of princes and popes. I have no qualms admitting that I pursue both.
Today’s hollow, hypermediated celebrity should not be confused with the recognition accorded to previous generations of artists, for whom it was hard-earned and based (with few exceptions) entirely on a substantial body of work. Emin is known for her sensationalist bed installation – itself something of a salacious media construct – but also for being drunk, and for careless talk about her once troubled life, a confessional process that, according to her detractors, has less do with reality than with a kind of performance art. Her prices – and her appearance fees – reflect her ubiquity in the media, her talent for good copy, more than they do the significance of her work.
For those of us who are of a younger generation, it has been important to shift the emphasis back on to the body of work – to seek attention, sure, but to feel that we’ve earned it.
(To be continued)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Life Study, Part One

(First published in the Griffith REVIEW, August, 2006)
I used to be in love with Tracey Emin. She was bold, self-made and bolshie, and she didn’t care what anyone thought of her. I fell out of love when she stopped making her art herself and began writing about being a celebrity for The Guardian. It turned out that she cared quite a lot about what people thought of her.
Before Tracey, I had a crush on Cindy Sherman. She was an older woman, and someone on whom I thought I could model myself. It ended when I realised that all she really had to offer was a sense of fashion, and even then not her own. There were other women, other artists, all of them older and successful within a system that had once favoured only men with fame and money and the opportunity to be more than a footnote in art history. It was only later that I figured out that it was just an elaborate con.
I am not love with anyone anymore. And I have stopped believing in a lot of what is thought of as art these days. It’s as if a couple of hundred dull-headed, middle-aged men and women – not just artists, but educators, curators, gallerists and critics – have come up with a set of rules to define what real art and real artists are. The rules are vague, and yet still as constricting and moralistic as anything concocted by a Reformation cleric. Which is, I guess, exactly what one should expect since art became a kind of religion in the late twentieth century, a cargo cult for the upper middle class, with the artists themselves playing makeshift shamans.
This is one of the rules: love has no place in art. The conceptualist American artist Jeff Koons, who was once a highly paid marketing executive, insists that art has been too subjective in the past, too concerned with the messy, emotive sprawl of self-expression, as opposed to what he calls objective art – art so sanitised of the germy interior life of the artist that his or her only role in its creation is an idea. The actual making of the finished work, the elements of craftsmanship, are for him best left up to others – preferably others who have no real interest or engagement with the artist other than interpreting his instructions with as much technical precision as possible. In Koons’ world, being able to draw or paint or shape a material is a drawback: traditional skills are a distraction from the process of conception; they are too easily subverted by the awkward, unrefined impulses of inspiration that dance at an unpredictable tempo within an artist’s heart and psyche.
Koons’ self-serving view is exactly the sort of glib schtick that was served up as critical theory to me in art school, where every student had to come up with a justification of his or her work in front of a group of peers and lecturers, an ordeal that was no more enlightening than a heretic’s inquisition. The works themselves were incidental (no one really looked at them) – what mattered was how you talked about them. We were told that this would happen in the 'real world' – that we needed to learn how to deconstruct and qualify, that our artwork was necessarily less without a complex explanation. I recognised early on that what they were really talking about (without realising it) was what brand marketers refer to as positioning. I learned to think like a snake oil salesman; I learned to spruik my wares – never mind the quality, feel the width. Of all the bad habits I learned at art school, this was the hardest to break.
Truth is, I didn’t last long there. I dropped out after just six months. A decade later, I am one of the few former students of that year still practising art, and the only one who is painting full-time and supporting myself from my work.
What provoked me to leave art school was the sense that the art I was being 'taught' was so leached of both technical rigour and emotion that it had been reduced to a kind of glib in-joke between teachers and students. For example, one work that garnered faculty acclaim was a series of dirty, elongated pillows mounted on a wall, vibrating. Another consisted of an ironing board at erection angle penetrating the open door of a clothes dryer. While viewers snickered, and the artists diluted any potential academic criticism with well-practised, casuistic spin, these were ultimately empty works that appeared to revel in their lack of craft. And, like nearly all art of this time, they were reliant on context – being in a gallery space – in order for them to be viewed as art at all.
As a student, I was left with no illusions as to what was valued at art school – painting and drawing were nothing but quaint anachronisms.
The highlight of my two terms at art school was a mid-semester exhibition, held in the church-like, asbestos-ridden building that served as the studio space for first-year students. Not recognising it as an artwork, a guest had left an empty wine glass on a plinth atop which a small mount of powdered ochre was piled. The work’s creator, a mature-aged student, was enraged. “That’s my art!” she screamed. She snatched the glass up from the plinth and threw it a dozen metres through an open back door. It shattered loudly against a brick wall outside, stopping all conversation and focusing everyone’s attention on the irate artist. Performance and installation art were encouraged at this art school, and it was agreed later, by students and faculty, that this incident had been the best example of either ever produced a first-year student.
(To be continued)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Postcript

The second half of my interview with the blog, Art Is Moving, was published today (the first half was published yesterday).
A side-effect of my cursed tendency to blurt responses before I think about them too much is an aggressive candour. This is apparent in my last few answers. The tendency will probably get me into a lot of trouble one day. In the meantime, I guess it makes entertaining, in-your-face reading.

A Little Porno Online

With PORNO ending its month-long run at MARS Gallery tomorrow, I have begun the process of uploading a small number of the 30-plus images to my site. I want to preserve a sense of their context, along with the personal narrative that connects them, so I'm taking some time with my selection.
I've decided to withdraw the editions offered for sale at MARS. This will add rarity to those already sold and allow me to reconfigure how the remaining images are offered in the future. I was never comfortable with selling them one at a time, a purely commercial, gallery-driven decision; to some extent, it undermined the integrity of the concept. Some of the works will be available for sale again in the near future – perhaps just prior to a show in Sydney, later this year, or in Tokyo, next year – but only in series of half a dozen or so images assembled in very small, limited editions.
Incidentally, just two years ago this month, I published my first essay on art in the Australian quarterly, Griffith REVIEW. Its reception encouraged me to write more regularly and led to the creation of this blog. The essay is still relevant to many of the things I've written about since and although it's quite long (3,000-plus words), over the next three or four days, I'll post it here in sections, without images.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Spinning The Web

Lisa Rasmussen and Lauren Usher have published part one of a two-part interview with me on their intriguing US-based blog, Art Is Moving.
The focus of our email 'discussion' was an exploration of the current and future role the internet in the art world and the degree to which it's likely to disintermediate the relationship between artist and 'audience' and create within it a closer, more communicative connection. As might be expected, I reiterated my view that the web is a liberating opportunity for young artists, who should no longer rely on the traditional commercial and institutional gallery system to shape their careers.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Killer Babes

Another in a series of late nights, this time finishing The Demolitionist, a commission for a Melbourne-based collector who has waited very patiently for a year for it to be completed. The latest in my Dangerous Career Babes series, the painting is a wry homage to my father who, in his younger days, worked as a 'powder monkey' or blaster for isolated mines dotted around outback Australia. It was a hard, hot, dangerous job but he still speaks of it with nostalgia.
I'm looking forward to painting the last few Dangerous Career Babes (the series will end in December, this year). Among those commissioned are a ninja, a submarine commander, and a manga assassin.
The last, for a pair of avid Asian collectors, is inspired by Gogo Yubari, the psychotic Japanese schoolgirl enforcer for O-Ren Ishii's yakuza gang in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. Along with La Femme Nikita, as played in French director Luc Besson's original film by Anne Parillaud, Gogo is both an erotic fantasy figure for me and a role model for my career.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Slice Of Cheesecake

A very small, six-year-old work of mine, I Love Cheesecake (Resized For Easy Consumption), painted in enamel on board in 2002, is being sold at auction through Deutscher-Menzies in Sydney, in the last week of September. The work can be viewed at the auction house's show rooms in Melbourne, at 1140 Malvern Rd, Malvern, from the 11th to the 14th September, and in Sydney, at 12 Todman Ave, Kensington, from the 18th to 23rd September.
The signed work is just 40cms by 50cms, and was first sold for around $A1,500. However, another Resized For Easy Consumption work, of exactly the same dimensions, was sold through Lawson-Menzies in Sydney, in March this year, for $A6,600.
Two much larger (100cms x 150cms) enamel on board versions of this work exist, in different colours. One was recently valued at over $A18,500. Another is currently seeking a new home. Two other of my enamel works at this larger size sold at Christie's in London for over $A23,000 in December, last year.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mind's Eye

"Where do you get your ideas from?"
That question again. It's not really a mystery. I keep my eyes open and look at everything. And every day – and sometimes every hour of every day – I find glimmers of inspiration in the commonplace, the mundane, the readily apparent.
I carry a small digital camera everywhere. I take lots of photographs. Most of them are mere reference images, of no particular technical or artistic merit. But they're often more valuable to me than any painting I create. They document my ongoing process of not only learning to see but learning to use what I see.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dead Woman Walking

Artists suffer enough indignities at the hands of gallerists, they don't need to take shit from their assistants as well.
I once knew a young girl, fresh out of college, who was in her first year of looking after the floor of a small, city gallery. At first, she came across as quite smart, energetic and eager to help. Then, after a couple of weeks, she started to pretend she was a real gallerist. Every time we talked, she aped the snotty, patronising 'tude that her boss assumed every time artists were around. Nearly ten years younger than me, she took to calling me hon' – with the same, wearied tone a mother uses when placating a wayward child.
She also thought it was OK to call me Haz, even though my closest friends wouldn't dream of it. When I questioned her about something to do with the way my show was being handled, she'd argue (like I'd never done a show before) or she'd tell me, "Don't worry, hon', got it under control" – although within minutes it'd become obvious that it wasn't.
The poor little twerp thought she had a foot on the first rung of a career in the art business. She'd learned all the wrong things from the gallerist who employed her and now she knew it all. Certainly she knew more than the bloody artists, dealing with whom really was the messiest, least enjoyable by-product of her vocation.
One day, someone like her will step over the line with me. Then, when she – or he – tries to play 'put the artist in her place', I'm going get all Jackson Pollock on their ass. There's something to be said for a little '50s, abstract expressionist-style ass-kicking now and then.
The spirit of Cedar Tavern lives!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Keeping Up With Housekeeping

A day away from my drawing table to do errands: bills to pay, press kits to send, photographs to collect from the printers, and new frames, just delivered from Brisbane, to stack in my garage. Later, I drove into Sydney to meet with the events manager at the large, well-known Japanese-owned bookseller, Kinokuniya. I proposed an idea for a building-sized public installation and despite concerns about permissions, liabilities, insurance and production costs, the manager was enthusiastic. We also chatted about smaller scale alternatives utilising the bookshop's small gallery and display windows.
I haven't been out of my studio since I arrived back from Melbourne. I've been finishing two enamel-on-board Dangerous Career Babes paintings and working on acrylic-on-paper studies for two more. I've been sketching six, small, Pop Art-style nudes for a series of limited edition, tin condom containers to be distributed later this year by Legends Rubbers. I've also been making notes for a handful of large, multi-panel works on paper in watercolour, acrylic and pencil.
Apart from short breaks for food and eight hours of sleep a night, I've done little else. I had almost to squint when the first rays of unfiltered daylight touched my face as I walked to my truck in the driveway
, this morning.
Tomorrow, I'll load some of the black and white photographs from PORNO onto my web site. I've held back from doing so for a couple of weeks because I wanted as many people as possible to view them 'in context' at MARS Gallery. Now I've decided to relent. Just a little.
But don't expect me to make a habit of it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Brave New Whirl

In the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, this morning, there is a long article about the troubles at the British music label, EMI. The company is losing money, artists and senior management as it fails to heed the rapid, user-driven changes wrought by the web.
Artists recognise that major labels like EMI no longer have a monopoly on marketing and distribution. The labels' once vice-like grip on the various rights contained within their back catalogues have been pried loose by peer-to-peer file-sharing, which has not only undermined earnings from these rights but also redefined the function of the whole idea of 'copyright'. Desperate attempts to save money by reducing investment in artist development have eradicated the only other 'added value' major labels offered.
Record companies are not alone. The disintermediating effect of the web – obviating the need for middle men between artists (or 'content producers') and their potential audience – is forcing everyone, from record labels to book publishers, film distributors and image libraries to re-examine how they operate, let alone make a profit, in the midst of mind-boggling tumult caused by relentless, rapid technological innovation and unpredictable shifts in consumer behaviour.
Everyone, that is, except commercial art galleries. They have long been gilded anachronisms which have somehow managed, thanks to a couple of recent, prolonged booms in art values around the world, to conduct their businesses in much the same way as they have since the 19th century, breeding a deluded snobbery not just about their cultural function but their importance as an edifying conduit between artist and collector. The spill of money from the art boom has also made them arrogant towards, if not downright dismissive of, the artists themselves, especially those who have yet to prove their critical or commercial worth.
Unfortunately, the number of galleries that function as anything more than sales outlets can be counted on the fingers of one hand within any one continent – with most playing no role at all in the development of up-and-coming talent or the well-considered, curatorial management of the output of well-established names.

Too many galleries are vanity operations set up by clueless amateurs, lured by the illusion that Saatchi-like wealth, fame and social acceptance can be attained by anybody who can rent a few square metres of white-painted wall space. Too many survive not on sales of art but on regular infusions of new capital from inheritances, trust funds or fuck-you-rich partners. Most deserve to fail.
The number of gallerists with a thorough knowledge of (let alone real love for) art – such as Stuart Purves and Rex Irwin in Sydney or John Buckley in Melbourne – is dwindling. What we have instead are more 'shop-keepers' who choose what to exhibit using the same, vacuous, trend-driven criteria as interior decorators or comic book traders. Their knowledge is minimal, their discernment unrefined, their sales patter inept. If they have any relationships with press media at all, they're maintained by the occasional, poorly written press release.
They also have as little as possible to do with actual artists, most of whom they regard as necessary but unruly evils over whom they need, always, to exert control.
The trouble is, most young artists are so clueless about what it takes to manage their own careers, they're quite happy to put them into the hands of any bozo offering their output four walls and a window. They'll even fork over 40 to 60 percent of the pittance they'll earn from sales, most of which will be eroded by promotional expenses (billed to them by the gallery, of course).
And yet...
As I've written elsewhere here, the ubiquity, speed and complex, no-cost networking capabilities of Web 2.0 is going to radically rupture the traditional relationship between artist and gallery. Unless the gallery can redefine its value as an intermediary – not just between the artist and private, corporate and institutional collectors but also the broader 'cloud' of individualised awareness of the artist's work that constitutes a new form of culture –
it's likely to end up a bankrupt and irrelevant concept. Just like a record company.
The real substance of commercial and intellectual exchanges in culture is shifting from the traditional bricks-and-mortar of what geeks call 'meat space' to the more adaptable, egalitarian and disintermediated 'virtual space' online. In the latter, artists have an opportunity to be truly independent and self-reliant. However, they have to find the resolve – and the nerve – to seize it, to make the most of it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

One Of Those Weeks

This morning, while going through hundreds of items relegated to the Junk Mail box of my email browser, I came across the following notification from one of Australia's 'big four' TV networks, Channel Ten. It was in response to a last-minute reminder about the opening of Porno I sent to Ten's Melbourne-based news editors, journalists and presenters. The subject line of Ten's notification read Profanities to undisclosed recipients.
It went on:
An email addressed to undisclosed-recipients sent Wed Jul 30 10:22:35 2008 has been blocked as it fails to satisfy Network Ten and Eye Corp's email policies. The email contains Profanity. If you have any further queries, please contact us at...
What else could I do but laugh? Now I'm being censored by prudish mail server 'bots. The only questionable words I could find in the original email were the title of the show and, oh yes, 'sex'.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Out On My Arts, Again

I had offered some time ago to allow the Griffith REVIEW to reproduce one of my Dangerous Career Babe series – The Trophy Wife – as the cover illustration for its November edition. I also proposed a short, diaristic essay about my evolution as a so-called 'sex positive' painter (thanks, Gawker!) along with a photo essay exploring the creation of The Trophy Wife. All were accepted.
I've enjoyed a good relationship with Griffith REVIEW for a couple of years. I first met Julianne Schultz, the editor, in 2006, through one of its regular contributors, Creed O'Hanlon. He'd suggested I should submit an idea to Julianne for the cover of a forthcoming edition focussed on young, up-and-coming writers. It was titled The Next Big Thing.
I ended up donating an original design for The Next Big Thing's cover and contributing an essay (for which I was paid) about my early education as a painter. At my own expense – small journals are notoriously underfunded – I schlepped to literary gabfests in Sydney, Newcastle and Byron Bay to spruik the edition. With the cooperation of Andy Dinan, I offered Julianne the use of MARS Gallery during my exhibition of Voodoo-inspired watercolours, Venus In Hell, for a Melbourne event promoting
The Next Big Thing and featuring Julianne and her protegé, Marni Cordell, who co-edited the edition.
Things soured a little (but only a little), last year, when a second essay of mine was spiked because it was deemed to be libellous – a good call, as it turned out, by Griffith REVIEW's Sydney-based legal adviser. I was happy to get involved with yet another Griffith REVIEW edition, this year, SexPowerMoney. It was for this edition that I offered the use of The Trophy Wife for the cover. The image straddled (so to speak) the gamut of everything promised in the edition title.
I emailed a digital file of the painting to both Julianne Schultz and the Griffith REVIEW's production office on the Griffith University campus on 16th June. Julianne called to thank me. I had already sent her the text essay at the length we'd agreed. She'd rung me to say she she liked it. I began assembling images for the photo essay.
On the 17th June, I invited Julianne to be the lead speaker at the opening of PORNO.
I wanted to make sure there were no illusions about the content of PORNO. My respect for Julianne was such that the last thing I wanted was for her to be surprised or embarassed. Five days before the opening, I sent her an email with links to my blog discussing the works in detail. I referred her to my home page, which featured one of the sexually explicit works on paper that form The Lin Triptych. "The show will consist of 14 black and white photographs, and 15 colour photographs, all hand printed," I wrote. "Some are portraits, some more explicitly sexual, but none are distasteful or gratuitous."
The widely publicised title of the show didn't leave much to the imagination.
PORNO
was probably, umm, a lot more porn than Julianne expected – or wanted to be associated with. After making a short, somewhat uncomfortable speech, she made an excuse not to join me at the post-show dinner. A week later, Julianne asked the gallery to return Griffith REVIEW promotional material featuring 'my' cover which she had originally asked the gallery to distribute before and during the opening
.
I might not be mad or bad – some might argue otherwise – but I was dangerous for a well-regarded academic with high-placed connections to know, let alone to be seen with in public.
I heard nothing more from Julianne until the end of last week, when I received a few, vague, somewhat gelid communications about cutting back the number of photos in my proposed photo essay. This evening, I rang to find out what the real problem was. After some hemming and hawing, Julianne told me that it had to do with the cover – specifically, the very short skirt worn by The Trophy Wife was too suggestive. Maybe I could make it longer and more demure?
No. After all, this was one of my paintings and emphatically not a commissioned illustration that an editor, publisher, or production manager could 'touch up' on a whim to address some ill-defined matter of propriety or political correctness. The Griffith REVIEW had had the image for nearly two months and until now, no-one had expressed a concern about it to me.
Of course, I knew the cover wasn't the issue. I was. My most recent work was. And now I was being 'handled' – and that's always a waste of time and energy. I withdrew the cover, the essay and the proposed photographic essay. "Well, ok," Julianne said, "As long as you're ok with that."
I hung up.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Babes Get Collected

A couple of sleepless nights and ill-tempered days and I've finished the study for the latest of my Dangerous Career BabesThe Fashion Stylist.
The painting was commissioned by a Melbourne couple. I am now waiting for their response. It's always an uneasy period – what if they don't like it? – during which I twist myself into knots looking for faults within the work. I've now finished ten of these and I have discarded one. Another four are planned before I end the series in December, this year.
I can't wait to see a number of them together on a wall. The individual paintings, each of which is 2.10 metres by 1.60 metres, were originally conceived as a single work to be hung together but they're so expensive to produce, I have had to rely on commissions to complete them. However, I'm currently negotiating with a venue in Sydney to hang half a dozen together towards the end of the year – not ideal but enough for viewers to see what I am trying to convey with each babe's unchanging action-figure pose, inexpressive features, and doll-like 'costume' changes.
The imposing size and high-strung, neurotic tension of the figures, emphasized by the vivid, contrasting colours of the high gloss enamel surfaces, is attention-grabbing and jittery, even in the confines of my studio.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Working The Work

There are two weeks left until PORNO comes off the walls at MARS Gallery.
It's always a challenge to maintain the momentum of a show. Artists and their galleries put a lot of effort into an opening but after that, a kind of ennui sets in. Works unsold in the first couple of days are left to take their chances with the passing trade as the gallery staff begins looking ahead to the next show. By the second week, all your newspaper profiles and reviews have been used to wrap fish and your carefully designed café posters have been replaced with someone else's. Even the works themselves look a little doleful on the gallery's seamless white walls
Artists have to agitate against this cycle of launch-and-abandon. Efforts to connect with possible buyers – especially among those of the gallery's own clientele who have yet to view the show – have to be relentless. It's hard work. It also takes imagination. But why have a show unless you're willing to 'work it' like a restless streetwalker for its duration?
I'm planning to return to Melbourne at the beginning of next week. I want to spend some one-on-one time with undecided collectors as well as host a couple of lunches for small groups of the gallery's clients. I also need to do some more press: as is clear in Ashley Crawford's few lines about the show and in some recent comments on this blog, the ideas within PORNO are not well understood – for example, the last thing I wanted was "to explore... a new porno 'aesthetic' ". That said, some ideas were still being formed and tested as I hung the show.
Anyway, if anyone wants to argue more about them, come meet me at MARS.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Take Your Fist Out Of My Face

Every artist gets their share of bad reviews. If the criticism is constructive, we shouldn't mind them. Not everyone has to 'get' what we're trying to accomplish and even if they do, they don't have to like it. Besides, works don't always succeed. When that happens, part of the critic's function is to keep us honest.
I like to think of Ashley Crawford as a friend. He has come to most of my shows over the years and has always been blunt with me about work of mine he doesn't like. At the opening of PORNO, he told me he didn't like The Lin Triptych and that it shouldn't have been there. He also told me that he thought "99 per cent of the show was very strong" and worked well. He even conceded there were "two or three images he would like to live with". For the first time in the eight years I have been showing in Melbourne, he shook my hand. Looking directly into my eyes, he congratulated me on "a brave, and good exhibition".
Maybe he went cold on it after my recent comments in this blog (and the Melbourne press) about the Melbourne Art Fair. After all, Ashley is a freelance writer on the arts and many of the people he depends upon for a living were involved with the event. Whatever the reason, his first public reference to PORNO – in his Art Around The Galleries column, published in the A2 section of today's edition of The Age newspaper – was utterly dismissive:
"Hazel Dooney is known for her self depictions in high gloss enamel which comment on advertising and fashion," he wrote. "Here she moves into photography in an attempt to explore what she dubs a new porno “aesthetic”. The results, many of them lesbian sexual frolics, have a strangely depressing effect. Rather than create a new aesthetic Dooney has simply served up soft porn."
The pictures must have been very depressing because this has to be the first time that the depiction of the lesbian sexual frolic of fisting has been described as "soft" – in porn or any other context.
Maybe Ashley has become more jaded than I thought. I'll send him a framed, signed image from the show (above) "to live with" in the hope that it re-invigorates his usually good sense of humour, if not his critical perspective.

Slow, Artist At Work

The sleepless nights and jammed-full days immediately before and after the opening of PORNO have left me drained and unexpectedly depressed. When I draw, it feels like every signal I send from my brain to my hand has to stem a counter-flow of thick, sticky, molasses-like lethargy seeping through my bones – and not every signal makes it. Even the simplest line-work takes an hour or so to get right.
I avoided art 'business' today. I didn't ring the gallery. I didn't answer the phone or download emails. I just focussed on refining a study for a new Dangerous Career Babe.
It'll be finished soon. Then I'm going to give myself a day off. I need to tidy my home and studio. I need to buy some fresh food. I need to dance across my living room naked with the music turned up loud. I really need to let my mind rest.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Look, Not Here

Ever since PORNO opened, ten days ago, I've had requests from collectors, curators, critics and art magazine editors for digital images of the work. Apart from a couple published in this blog and another used on the Australian-based Art News Blog, very few have been distributed because I wanted to ensure that as many people as possible saw them first within the context of the show. As I've written before, PORNO is not about the individual colour or monochrome photographs (some of which I didn't even take myself) but rather what they convey as a group – how we see (and share) sexual experience in our so-called 'networked' society and how notions of intimacy have been co-opted as just another form of cheap, user-generated 'content'.
With the show approaching its halfway mark – it closes on the 24th of August – I've decided to upload a dozen or so of the photographs to my web site next week. I might even make available one of the several images not hung at MARS Gallery as a free, high res' download, yet another of my unlimited edition prints. In the meantime, photographs from the actual show, each printed in a limited edition of five (plus three artist's proofs) and signed, numbered and stamped on the verso by me, are still available from MARS Gallery – all priced at $A1,650. The handful that include me in the image seem to be more valued by collectors, perhaps as a souvenir of the show's succés de scandale.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Restless

After drawing for 18 hours solid, today, I was looking forward to a long, dreamless sleep. Instead, I lay awake agitated, my head filled with vivid ideas for new works – combining painting, sculpture and found objects – and an urgent desire to find unusual spaces in which to exhibit them. I'm already considering changes to my schedule next year so that I don't show at any commercial galleries.
Despite the surge in my productivity (and prices) over the past several months, I'll probably reduce my output. I'll stop accepting commissions for
Dangerous Career Babes soon and finish the series by the end of this year. I'll show the best of it in Tokyo. I'll present an expanded version of PORNO (excerpt above) in Sydney before Christmas, with a better integrated installation of high-gloss enamel paintings, large photographic prints and video.
Then, I think, I'll find somewhere exotic and out-of-the-way to hole up and experiment with completely different concepts, different media, different techniques – and see what emerges.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Resurfacing

Home again. I've unloaded everything from the back of my truck. I've shopped for enough food for several days and I've done my laundry. I've left the phone off the hook.
I have a lot to catch up on. I am tracking a couple of paintings shipped from the U.S. and Japan; I acted as the (unpaid) intermediary for their sales so I want to ensure their quick, safe delivery to their new owners. I have do a final edit on a short photo essay for Griffith REVIEW. And I'm in the middle of study drawings for no less than three new Dangerous Career Babes commissions, including one inspired by the PORNO show – The Porn Star (Self-Portrait).
Dangerous Career Babes
has been, by far, my most successful (and most expensive) series of paintings. They've also been my most troublesome. I originally planned them as oil-on-canvas works, 2.0m by 1.7m, but despite a subtstantial investment in the highest quality materials, I was disappointed by how flat and lifeless the large areas of colour looked compared to those of even my earliest works in enamel-on-board – especially once they'd dried. So I began repainting them all in enamel on larger, custom-built timber frames.
Enamel's qualities have spoiled me, I guess. But then the advertising billboard effect of this series – which, after all, underscores its consumer-critical, super-feminist concept – is lost unless the surface of the individual paintings is as glossy, flawless and glistening as the paint job on a new Ferrari.
The trouble is, working with enamel takes a terrible toll on my health, no matter what I do to protect myself. I've had to evolve an almost industrial process which exposes me to its carcinogenic fumes only for brief periods. I transfer the ink-drawn image to the smooth, white gesso surface of the timber frame. Then, skilled assistants begin applying multiple coats to build up the large blocks of glossy colour. I return to execute the precise outlining and other details (writing, fine brush work, facial expressions and so on) before handing back to my assistants for finishing touch-ups and cleaning.
The final paintings look vibrant and stunning – and suddenly, at last, the point of the series is abundantly clear.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Reframing The Context

I'm somewhat disappointed that I didn't leave enough time to refine the The Lin Triptych (subtitled Lin With My Lover, But Not Alone, Nos. 1 - 3), three panels of watercolour, acrylic and pencil on cold-pressed paper that depict a young Asian woman fellating an engorged, ejaculating cock. I finished, framed and hung the paintings just minutes before the doors opened for the PORNO party, on Thursday, last week.
I'm happy with the paintings themselves – even if a well-known Melbourne art critic whose opinion I respect made it clear to me that he wasn't. Unfortunately, the panels were meant to 'float' together on white archival rag within a single, deep-set white frame, not hung separately (which they had to be, given the time constraint). The images form a single narrative, like a series of screen grabs from a video clip. Framed separately, there's no mistaking their connection but they tend to be viewed individually and thus don't work anywhere near as well.
The paintings will be removed from MARS Gallery this week for a couple of days to be reframed to my original specification. When the triptych returns, I think it will be more coherent and compelling.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Doing It For Ourselves

Traditionally, art galleries are, like local hairdressers, shuttered on a Monday. MARS Gallery is no different. However, I'm determined not to let PORNO's momentum falter even for a day. I am already planning on a second visit to Melbourne in about ten days to spend time with collectors and corporate curators.
It has taken me a decade to learn the discipline and nuances of selling my art. It has only been in the last three or four years that I've assumed responsibility for it myself rather than hand it off to gallerists, as most artists do. I have been represented by some of the very best in Australia – John Buckley in Melbourne, Ray Hughes in Sydney – but I've never been convinced that a commercial gallery representing a large number of artists can, or will, give its utmost all the time to promoting each artist's work and reputation.
Worse, I suspect that there's an inherent yet unremarked upon conflict of interest: it was starkly apparent at the Melbourne Art Fair that some galleries put a lot more effort into promoting themselves to collectors than the artists whose work they were representing. Indeed, there are gallery proprietors who are inclined to nurture their individual public personae more attentively than those of even their most famous artists.
The largest commercial galleries are also hide-bound traditionalists. They all have web sites – too many of which look like they've been designed for a merchant bank or a stockbroker rather than an art gallery – but very few of them understand Web 2.0 and its networking capabilities. They haven't the foggiest notion of how to use it to identify and develop individualised relationships (and dialogues) with potential and existing buyers. Hell, they feel happy with themselves if they manage to email an invite for an opening to a few hundred people.
Not everyone is comfortable with managing the marketing and sales of their own work. Many prefer to leave it to intermediaries. More fool them. Just as musicians and writers are being forced to consider the rapid, revolutionary changes to publishing and distribution wrought by new media, younger visual artists need to re-evaluate their practices, especially in an environment where a reputation in one market can now be uploaded reasonably quickly to another using the ubiquity, instant access, and multi-tiered communications capability of the web and in which the full value of an individual artist's effort can be returned to them without the deduction of substantial commissions.
You want to talk about artistic freedom? Start there.

Opening Frames

The Melbourne-based experimental photographer and blogger, Cameron Stephen, has uploaded some photographs from the opening of PORNO to Flickr. Shot on an anachronistic, plastic Diana F+ medium format camera, using Fuji 400 film (yes, actual celluloid, not digital), the above image of the female fire-eater, Dragon Fire, performing outside the gallery as the first guests arrived, is my favourite.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Gossip Girl

Melbourne's parting gift to me, as I threw my bags onto the back seat of my truck and psyched myself up for the long drive back to Sydney, was half a dozen paragraphs on the show and a photograph of Deborah Conway and me in the gossip pages of The Age newspaper.
PORNO is still being talked about, still selling steadily. Many collectors have come back in the days after the opening to spend time examining the works of interest to them without distraction. Four black and white prints sold on Sunday in the space of an hour. The large watercolour displayed in the gallery window, Kelly, The First Time, No.6, sold before the show opened.
I joined two major collectors from Adelaide on a visit to the Melbourne Art Fair. With scores of unremarkable, partitioned cubicles hung with mainly dull, no-name or lower echelon brand-name art within the cavernous, over-heated halls of the Royal Exhibition Building, the fair had the grim, proletarian atmosphere of a tractor convention in rural Texas.
I said hello to the very few commercial gallerists with whom I maintain friendly relationships. A couple of the best-known even congratulated me on the success of the PORNO show. On the other hand, the proprietor of a gallery that used to represent me in Queensland actually ran away to avoid having to say hello and the managing director of one of Australia's biggest galleries wanted everyone to notice that he was ignoring me. I just smiled archly at him: it takes more than petty, old-school power ploys to spoil my day.
A lot of people I didn't know came up to tell me how much they enjoyed my work. I was even asked to autograph a PORNO t-shirt.
Later, I had dinner with my father, reclaiming a little more of what was lost between us during three silent years of estrangement. He told me he was proud of me, something of a first.
I'm pretty damn proud of me, too.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Circus Moves On

Ten minutes before I was supposed to check out of my room (pictured above) at the Marriott in Melbourne, my clothes, art materials, and paperwork were still strewn across the bed, floor and desk and I was immersed in e-mailing and making phone calls. Thirty minutes later, I was packed and loading up my truck for another day of meetings around the city. I'll stay at my father's home tonight before driving back to Sydney tomorrow, in the late afternoon.
I've had to fight the urge to head back today. I've spent a lot of time travelling during the past year, a lot of time away from the cosy, solitary comfort zone that I've created in my home and studio. Now I'm road-worn and tired. It's been wonderful to catch up with a few friends and favorite collectors but I've had my fill of company. I long to be alone and at work again. I have two other shows in the next nine months, in Sydney and Tokyo, and they will need as much – maybe more – attention than this last at MARS Gallery.
I'm giving a lot of thought to how (and what) I exhibit in the future. I'm convinced that using a commercial space, even in the occasional, non-binding, self-producing way that I do, is ultimately self-defeating for me. I invest a lot financially, logistically and personally into each of my exhibitions – this was apparent to everyone at MARS on Thursday night – but too often traditional galleries adopt what marketers refer to as the "launch and abandon" strategy when it comes to promoting and selling art: after a showy, well-publicised opening, there's no follow-up at all – let alone an energetic, well-plotted campaign – for the next three or four weeks.
I savour the very close, communicative, individualised relationship that online media enable me to maintain with everyone, from collectors to school kids, who has an interest in my work. But I want to adapt elements of that to the 'real world'. Next time I have an exhibition, I want to to draw people deeper into it over its entire duration, not just its opening night, laying the foundation for a closer, 'lifetime' relationship with me, as the artist, and the evolution of the work.
By the way, there's a very thoughtful, well written review of PORNO at Brian Ward's Melbourne-centric Fitzroyalty blog. Brian sees through the show's superficial controversies and focusses on some of the intellectual paradoxes within the work. His observations of the quite different emotional effects the colour and monochrome photographs exerted on viewers at the opening are also intriguing.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Ask Me No Questions, I'll Tell You No Lies

Even at the end of a week in which it was hard to avoid images of myself wherever I went in Melbourne, it was fun to come across a light-hearted Q&A with me in the popular weekend magazine, Good Weekend, included in the city's leading newspaper. The questions for it were originally sent to me by email and I remember answering them quickly, almost without thinking. The result was unexpected – I could remember neither the questions nor the answers – and it kept me entertained over breakfast.
I felt, suddenly, very homesick today. I don't want to be in this hotel room anymore. I want to be in my own house, overlooking the ocean, surrounded by my books, my 'stuff'. Unfortunatey, I have appointments that will keep me in Melbourne for another day or so.