Saturday, April 04, 2009
The Secret Of My Success
The day after my very first exhibition at a commercial art gallery, which had sold out, the gallery's director told me, ""Whatever you do, don't change your style."It wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear.She went on to tell me about other artists who had become financially successful this way. I recognised the names – and hated their works. They were repetitive, formulaic, and worst of all, stupid. The only reason the gallerist liked them was because they were easier to sell. The repetition had no conceptual reason. In every case, it was just about easy money. I became an artist because I wanted to explore more deeply the emotional and psychological terrains that intrigued and obsessed me. I never considered making the same thing over and over, with small variations, just for the money – unless, of course, it was part of exploring an idea. Without an underlying concept, the work became meaningless, insulting and exploitative.And yet for many major artists, the central problem of success remains breaking free of the commercial and popular pressure to do the same sort of works over and over. It affects so many of us, from Australia's painter of outback desolation and burning rope', Tim Storrier, to Vanessa Beecroft, Damien Hirst, and yeah, me. I think I'm still young, hungry and reckless enough to rid myself of this burden and ignore everybody's expectations. I have done it before and it has paid off. But it has always been touch-and-go. I just figure I have nothing to lose. Besides, risk makes my heart beat faster. It turns me on sexually and it engages my mind, even when it frightens the shit out of me. In every instance, I never hesitate to put everything on the line.Artists only lose when they play it safe. Jeff Koons' Rabbit is just another floating balloon in a Macy's Parade. Vanessa Beecroft's early installations of naked women have been turned into a branded retail display for Louis Vuitton. Damien Hirst's endless versions of animals in formaldehyde make the stronger works in the series weaker. His most powerful works, such as A Thousand Years, are further undermined with each new pickled carcass, fast-money dot and swirl painting, or high profile diamond-encrusted skull stunt. I always knew that repeating the same works over and over was a trap. One of the reason's I did all my Dangerous Career Babes as dress-up Barbie dolls stuck in the same action pose, was to rip the whole idea of repetition to shreds. So this is not a problem I am confronting with any nervousness. No, my biggest problem is the one I thought I'd never have – embracing my own success.I fought so hard, and for so long, to have a measures of critical acclaim, celebrity and wealth and yet I never really imagined it would be even a fraction of what has come my way in the last few years. I'm used to scuffling, scratching, and hustling for any scrap of attention and to make enough money to get me through the next canvas. So it has been unexpectedly confronting to be on the receiving end of so much opportunity, praise, acceptance, and yeah, money. I know I wanted those things – badly – but I still don't know how to handle them with grace, appreciation and satisfaction. They make me uneasy, make me feel like something must be wrong because I feel so damn good. Sometimes, it gets so bad, it drives me crazy and I try to pull it all apart.It's going to take some time for me to be able to accept my increasing success, let alone enjoy it. It going to take even longer for me to feel like I deserve it.