Friday, January 09, 2009
Bury Me Standing
As a toddler, when I was upset, my father would wrap me in a blanket and take me for walks outside. He would name everything that we looked at together. It always calmed me. Before I hit my teens, I would sneak out of the house at dawn and return only at dusk, having spent the day riding my horse miles over unfamiliar terrain. I'd follow dry creek beds just to see where they went. I got my driver's license as soon as I turned 16. I went 'cruising' at all hours – four wheels took me even further afield. Now, as an adult, I have to be in motion. I'm no good at staying in one place. Prolonged settlement depresses me.In the back of my mind, I've always felt I should aspire to having a permanent studio. Every artist I've ever admired has been photographed at work in theirs. If they die famous, their studios become places of pilgrimage. I've been to some. I lived and worked in the late John Perceval's final studio space and spent a lot of time at Heide – a studio used by Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Arthur Boyd, Joy Hester and others – in Melbourne. To have a studio seems like the most natural thing for an artist to want. But maybe it's just the most conventional thing. After all, most suburban Westerners are not raised to be nomadic.My current studio is set up in two places. Enamels are painted in a warehouse in an industrial area of West Sydney. I also have a studio at home where I work with non-toxic materials. Yet I hardly ever use it. I paint on the floor or on the coffee table or sitting on the edge of my bed with my materials balanced on a stool. I draw sitting on the carpet, my back against the wall, paper balanced on my bent knees. I even like to make things in the hallway, because it's blank, all white and empty. I have never used a traditional easel. For a long time, I thought that having a permanent studio would help my work but all it does is put pressure on it – for one thing, I have to pay the rent – and makes me feel confined, frustrated and unfocussed. No matter how much space I have (and I have a lot), I fantasize about escape, about being constantly on the move – and I don't care much where. I've traveled to a lot of different places. In many, I've thought "I love it here. It might be fun to stay for a while". But I've loved them only because I was there temporarily – visiting, just passing through. I used to think that settling down – surrendering to immobility, as it were – was a matter of finding the right place. But I was wrong. My upbringing programmed me with an almost pathological restlessness. I can be nothing else but a nomad. I'm not going to fight it anymore. Instead, I'm going to get rid of my house and studio and live and work on the move. Just don't ask me, yet, how I'm going to manage it.