Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lost And Found

The re-organisation of my store room is almost complete. I now know where everything is – or will be – and it's all labeled: watercolour paper, complete and partially finished sketches, tools, boxes of archived work and files. Maybe more importantly, it's easy to put everything away. With more people working at my home and studio, it's essential that everything has its 'proper place'. I can't afford the time I used to waste searching for things.
I've already found various things I thought I'd lost: a Polaroid camera, film, drawings from 10 years ago, a tripod, old exhibition invitations – the list continues to grow.
I've also found a small number of incomplete drawings and watercolours. I left them unfinished because I was stuck or thought I'd ruined them. Once, I would have torn them up or thrown them away but thankfully, my boyfriend talked me out of it. I feel very differently now that I'm no longer so emotionally wrought by a sense of frustration or failure. I'm actually excited to see them again and I'm already thinking about revisiting each – maybe finishing the works and developing the original idea fully.
I don't want to forget any of my artworks or ideas anymore. And I don't want to leave anything unfinished. It's vital – in every sense of the word – that I can refer to my past from time to time as well as find all the various tools I need.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


As the readerships and revenues of traditional, 'hard copy' mass-market magazines continue to decline, more and more enterpreneurial young publishers are taking their chances online. The result: thousands of niche e-zines that better identify the enthusiasms of smaller but more responsive audiences.
The latest is My Style Australia, founded and edited by Brisbane-based former model, Jennifer Arndt . It's very new so its editorial direction has yet to crystalise but elements of Elle and maybe Nylon magazines are already apparent, especially in its mix of fashion and pop culture and its uncluttered art direction.
The first edition features an outline of my career to date and an interview with me
. There's also an introduction to my Dangerous Career Babe series, with a 'click-thru' of the dozen works to date.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

On Making Art And Money

The Unconventional Guide To Art + Money is an hybrid e-book combining a 55-page text and about 200 minutes of audio in three MP3 recordings (with transcripts). According to its creators, Chris Guillebeau and Zoë Westhof, it attempts "to break down the difference between successful and unsuccessful art marketing" and "offers a range of materials to help you supersize your career in the arts (if you want one) or begin earning money from your art". Mostly, it's an overview of ideas and perspectives on managing a working life from nine visual artists, more than half based in the U.S.A.
I was one of the three or four invited to offer a non-US perspective. I was also asked about how and why I chose to work outside the traditional gallery system and what it took to maintain an active presence online through a web site, blog and selected social networks. "I’ve noticed that some artists have a hard time talking about money. What’s up with that?" writes Chris Guillebeau – I wasn't one of them.
The Guide comes in two versions, the basic 'Starving Artist' at $US35 and the 'Picasso' at $US58. Neither is cheap. For further information or to order, visit Chris Guillebeau's heavily trafficked blog, The Art Of Non-Conformity. My audio interview can be found here, its transcript here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where Am I?

My Australia is a widely distributed free magazine, sponsored by Tourism Australia to promote travel within Australia. The debut issues, out this month, targets Gen-X and -Y Australians: "Experience it now – before your hair goes grey and responsibility sets in!"
I guess they figure I'm recognisable to some of the target demographic because I'm featured as a 'personality' in two sections. In the first, well-known Australian 'creatives' talk about the places in Australia that have inspired their work. Besides me, there are Richard Flanagan, screenwriter for Baz Luhrman's over-blown epic, Australia, playwright David Williamson, Rob Hirst (former drummer with Australian band, Midnight Oils) and award-winning novelist, Tim Winton. In the second, which is themed around the natural elements of Australia – Earth, Air, Ice and Fire – I'm quoted briefly on Earth.
The magazine is included as a supplement with magazines such as the Australian editions of Marie Claire, Men's Health, Cosmopolitan as well as others.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Working Mother

My mother is staying with the me at the moment. She arrived a few days ago to help get my studio organised.
Its mess is not as bad as
Francis Bacon's but in another month or two, it might have given Bacon's a run for its money. Every shelf is over-burdened and I've been stacking paper, books, and everything else on the floor. Even the tops of my filing cabinets are piled high with folders, waiting to be sorted. I lose immeasurable amounts of time, every day, rifling through the mess to find old drawings, image discs, correspondence, and even misplaced cheques from collectors.
The effect of my mother's presence has been rather like a whirlwind's. She drove my van across town to Ikea several times to buy new shelves, a work table, storage boxes, a mirror for drawing/video work, lamps and countless smaller item. My personal assistant helped her to load and unload the van, clear space, move boxes, and transfer delicate stacks of paper and art materials to my bedroom so they wouldn't be damaged.
Right now, it's after midnight and my mother is still in the storeroom, which she has emptied out. She's assembling shelves that reach to the ceiling and line the longest wall. Framed artworks will be lean against stacks of heavy boxes of books. After that, boxes piled in other rooms will be sorted, repacked and shelved. Then my mother will drive to my storage facility and transfer boxes of archives, materials for installations, and my own collection of artworks from there back to the studio. After unloading and organising those, she'll sort through rolls of negatives, stacks of photographs and artwork then wrap them in glassine paper and archive them.
As one area is tidied, the chaos of another becomes more obvious. Photocopied scraps of reference images, collages and business paperwork still need to be reviewed and filed. I thought it'd take a couple of days to sort through but it will be probably be more than a week.

My work has to go on regardless. After all, there are the rent, salaries and a stack of bills to pay. When I surface for lunch, seeing each newly re-organised space makes my mind feel less cluttered, my spirit less overwhelmed.
I'm 30 years old. It's chastening to think that, sometimes, even a big girl really needs her mum.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Revaluing A Gun-Slinging Lolita

Lolita At Sixteen dates from my very first exhibition, which I produced and promoted myself in Brisbane in 1997, when I was just 18.
The work marked the beginning of my preoccupation with the influence of media and advertising on contemporary female identity. I expressed this by making paintings that aped the size and proportions of roadside billboards. It was stamped (rather than signed) HAZED – later works are stamped DOONEY – because I was also exploring ideas inspired by Andy Warhol about the commodification of art. My aim then was to create a corporate-style brand for my work, to promote it as product rather than unique artefacts. Doing away with the centuries-old tradition of the artist's signature was the first step.
Painted in high gloss enamel on a 1.45m x 3.00m canvas, Lolita At Sixteen was my first conscious declaration of my very big ambitions as an artist.
The painting is to go under the hammer at Menzies Art Brands, in Sydney,
on June 24th. The auction house's estimate of $A10,000 to $A15,000 is cautious – a more recent, smaller work sold for twice that amount at auction in London, in December – but these are difficult, unpredictable times.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Craft Work

“If you want to be an artist, I’ll help you pay for your first lot of materials,” my father said, "but it’s up to you to make it work.” He gave me a room to use as a studio in his house. He made it clear that if I didn't work hard, I was out.
A carpenter, a friend of my father’s, made a free-standing easel, three metres wide and two high. Two or more canvases could be positioned on either side of it at the same time. He also crafted a dozen frames on which to stretch canvas. I did that myself, using a canvas stretcher – really just a clamp – and a staple gun. Overly anxious, trying too hard, I sometimes stretched the canvas too tight so, despite their hardwood frames and metal brackets, the frames warped. I'd have to pry out the staples and started again.
I finally got the hang of it after I called the Queensland Art Gallery and spoke to someone in their conservation department. They explained the best way to prepare the canvas to take enamel paint. Soon my small space was filled with a number of large paintings being worked on simultaneously. As I waited for a coat to dry on one, I moved to the next.
So much has changed in the decade since then. I have two large studios, assistants, and a lovely cottage overlooking the ocean. In a bad month, my income is five figures. And yet very little has changed: every day, there's the same precarious balance of artisanal skills, persistence, inspiration and intellect needed to transform a raw canvas or timber surface into 'art'.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

See-Through Surfaces

I want to paint a series of portraits. Nobody you know – just friends, acquaintances, and one or two people I've slept with (less than friends, certainly not lovers).
I've wanted to before but I've been put off by artists like Elizabeth Peyton, Stella Vine, and countless other near-contemporaries of mine (actually, they're much older). They all focus on easy-to-recognise faces and fey, conventional poses. Some images are copied straight from magazine pages – a publicist's dream. High-priced photographers like Annie Leibowitz or David LaChapelle create 'artistic' publicity party-pieces that are simply a heavily contrived expression of the individual sitter's heavily mediated brand. There's no elemental truth to be found in any of them. Daniel Edwards' mash-up of celebrities and public figures in classical, traditional or cheesecake poses – for example, his bust of Hillary Clinton or Britney Spears giving birth on a bearskin rug – are different only in that they have brought the artist a modicum of celebrity, too.
Despite a plethora of conceptual explanations, I've yet to see any of these works "hold a mirror to our times" or "subvert popular culture", as their fawning gallerists claim. There's no real insight into the sitter – and zero intimacy. Even the sitter's celebrity is left untested, unexplored, uninterrogated. The portraits are just another form of viral marketing for the sitter's 'brand promise' – replicating and distributing a constructed persona (actually a carefully refined product) masquerading as art.
I prefer portraits of non-celebrities: real people not product. Their unmediated, imperfect personalities, marred by shyness (or lack of it), imperfect appearance, unpracticed personalities and eccentric tics are infinitely more interesting. I love observing people's unconscious, natural expressions. One reason I've made pictures of people having sex or masturbating is that it's hard for them to mask their faces of their raw responses, even when those responses are boredom, pretense, discomfort, or vulnerability. Not even professional porn actors manage it. We are all somehow 'unmasked' by sexual acts and our real selves seep to the surface like artesian waters.
I don't pretend that my own portraits will delve deeply into their subjects. My interaction with my sitters will be fleeting. However, I am unlikely to let them hide behind their assumed personae. I am also unlikely to let them remain dressed. If nothing else, the results should be unsettling and certainly less 'safe' than the glib, trite, formulaic portraits-as-press-photos that elicit egregious critical praise before they're absorbed into the over-stuffed image bank of consumerist pop culture.
Any volunteers?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Objects Are The Exercise

I make my art available in three ways. The first is simple: I assemble a series of works around a theme or concept and I exhibit them. The second is less simple: I work out a concept for a series of works, then describe it in detail for a handful of collectors who might commission the first pieces, sight unseen; the rest of the series is then offered (at a higher price) for commission by those who want to view examples before they buy. For the record, I never make art to anyone else's specifications – which is to say, I don't do requests.
The third way is rare: I make 'one-offs' – usually mixed-media paintings or small sculptures – as gifts for friends or collectors; these are usually done with no reference to the rest of my body of work and are often simply decorative: art lite as one of my assistants calls it.
Among my new collectors are a husband and wife who have been waiting patiently for me to finish Dangerous Career Babe: The Stylist. Yesterday was her birthday and with some input from him, I devised a painting that depicted a few items that any woman of her age (or mine) might desire as gifts or distractions. Included among the objects I came up with were items that she had already acquired.
I was quite taken with the finished work. Although it's relatively unrefined, visually and intellectually, the idea of using twenty disparate objects to describe a specific personality is compelling enough to inspire me to do a couple more, similar pieces. Besides satisfying a restless compulsion to serialise my ideas, who knows what might emerge from this attempt to 'objectify' (so to speak) individuals – especially those I know?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Floating Life

I feel her soft breath on my shoulder, then the light, spider-like spread of her fingertips on my breast. Waking, I see her face close to mine: pale skin and dark eyes, half closed, framed by long strands of black hair. She is lying on her side. I reach out to draw her closer. She bows from the waist to rest her head on my shoulder.
I can just make out his shadowy frame behind her, his hand like a gentle talon around the back of her slender neck. Her breath catches: she tries to stifle a low, guttural sigh. I extend my arm over her boney hip to touch where he is moving within her. She presses her swollen lips against my mouth to suppress a low moan.
I've lost count of the nights that she has found her way to us. It's never planned, never announced. She slips in through an open terrace door, always after midnight, and makes her way by touch to our bedroom at the end of the hall. She undresses by the window in sight of the sea. Sometimes we watch her. She doesn't always join us in bed but rather, lies naked across its foot to gaze at the shimmering reflections of the moon and stars on the dark water. She leaves, often without waking us, in the half-light of dawn.
The first time we met, she wouldn't tell us her name. Reed-thin, quite tall, with olive skin, she looked Chinese or sometimes even Mexican rather than Japanese. She asked if she could sit with us at a small table outside a coffee shop in Darlinghurst, in Sydney. There were empty tables nearby. She said, "You look as if you don't match. I think that's interesting". We spent the aftenoon together. She didn't look as if she matched either.
I've given up trying to figure out when – or why – she might visit. I don't have her phone number nor her mine. Maybe once a month, she drops by the studio during the day. She sits, cross-legged, on the day-bed. As she sips herbal tea and chats distractedly about her life back in Tokyo, I sketch her subtler details. Once, she brought an old, Selmer alto saxophone from which she coaxed a looping, breathy Stan Getz ballad. She's always dressed in long, '60s-style velvet dresses and long, paisley-patterned shirts, always barefoot.
"It isn't about the sex," she told me, suddenly, as we sat together on the studio terrace, a month or so ago. I hadn't asked. "It's about having somewhere to lose myself, somewhere that isn't the me I used to be. Does that make sense?"

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Paper Work

I've spent the day working on a large, 'one off' watercolour for a collector in Melbourne, an unusual work derived from a ten-year-old series of enamels, Accoutrements Of Desire. I did have a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve in it. However, because I'm tired, I'm over-working the image – fussing over unnecessary details, painting too much and too carefully – so it's turning out a little differently than I'd first imagined.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In any case, it's relaxing to be working on a much smaller work (just 40cm by 60cm), on paper rather than heavy timber board, in a more forgiving and less sick-making medium than enamel. As evening draws near, I'm beginning even to have (gulp) fun.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Over The Limit

Sometimes the relentless pace I maintain takes its toll. My immune system becomes vulnerable to every bug that's floating around. I'm often irritable and quick to anger. When I'm utterly exhausted, my mental stability wobbles and I end up on an unpredictable roller-coaster ride from jittery, anxious highs to depressive, energy-sapping lows, often within a few hours. It's impossible to concentrate for very long on anything. I take a Valium and try to sleep. Or I go for a long drive. If it gets really bad, I'll succumb to slight but perceptible, uncontrollable shakes and end up on my knees in a toilet, throwing up. It can take me a week or more to settle my jangled nerves.
But I'll keep on doing it to myself. I haven't mastered the idea, let alone the discipline, of a balanced working life. Or a balance between my working and my personal life. There is none. Or, rather, there is none of the latter. For better or worse, it's a choice I made when I was very young: to succeed as an artist on my own terms and not to rest or allow myself to be too distracted until I had. Which means I'm not much fun to be around when I'm busy – and I'm busy all the time. It explains also why my closest friends are either those whom I employ or my collectors.
I had a bad couple of days this weekend. I gave up fighting it on Sunday and took to my bed to wallow in self-pity and weep a little. Today, I am back in the enamel 'factory', finishing three large pieces and a couple of smaller ones. I might come across to my assistants as a little impatient or crotchety but I learnt some time ago to keep my fragility to myself.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Life In The Day

I got to bed at 3am, after a long evening spent re-working sketches for a new painting. An hour and a half later, I was up again. I wanted to beat the hell-ish crosstown commuter traffic on the long drive to my enamel studio in the 'far west' of Sydney.
A two-man team from a specialist shipping company arrived at the studio at 9.30am to wrap and take away a two-metre high Dangerous Career Babe bound for Melbourne. I put in four solid hours drawing in the outline for another large work on a freshly gessoed timber frame, then approved the colours to be applied to two large areas of the composition.
My cell-phone interrupted me half a dozen times: enquiries from collectors in the UK, USA and closer to home, most of whom found my prices daunting even before I told them how much specific works were.
The new owners of The Surfer, the most recently completed Dangerous Career Babe, dropped by after lunch to inspect the finished painting and to organise its delivery to its new home in one of Sydney's more fashionable beachside suburbs. The couple loved the work so much, they wanted to throw a party to celebrate its arrival. It struck me, suddenly (and a little sadly), that the work had ceased to belong to me and rather like a mother whose child has grown up, I had to let it go.
I made it home again long after sunset. I stripped, showered and fell into bed to eat a light meal while I watched an old Stewart Granger movie on cable.
I fell hard asleep before it ended.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Art Business. Business Art.

I've been drawing and painting at a frustratingly slow pace these past couple of days. Because of that and indecision over a choice of colours for The Wrestler (El Luchador) – one of the first Dangerous Career Babes to be completed, I decided to rework it a little before delivering it to its very patient Melbourne-based buyer – I'm now running a couple of days behind on the detailed work schedule I devised at the end of last week.
Still, I'm regaining a degree of order to my practice. After an horrendous series of mishaps that all but ruined a dozen near-completed works, last year, my re-organised studios are now highly disciplined and productive. The quality of what I like to think of as their artisanship has radically improved too.
The administration of my sales and marketing is slicker. Collectors, dealers, curators and suppliers are managed with a lot more care and receive clearer, more regular communication, even when I'm not around to supervise.
I can't claim sole responsibility for this. I've had the counsel of a couple of much older, much wiser heads. I'm given no quarter when my head is stuck either deep in the sand or far up my own ass.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pre-Socratic And Pissed

Several years ago, I came across an interview with the then Dean of Smith College, Jill Ker Conway. Born and raised in rural Australia, Ms. Conway described Australians as "pre-Socratic... they don't like to think."
It took me a while to recognise that I didn't like to, either. Or rather, I did but over the years, I'd become lazy about it.
I used to pride myself both on my intelligence and on my fluency in communicating ideas. However, neither were attributes encouraged in teenage girls where I grew up and by the time I was in my twenties I'd turn silent, sullen and dull-headed from the drugs and alcohol I used to ameliorate my frequent bouts of depression. The best drug of all was to avoid thinking and I soon became addicted to it, even in my art, where I settled for effect – substance overwhelmed by high concept, a simulacrum of 'smart'.
I still find it hard to look at some of the paintings I produced between late 1999 and early 2001 and not wince. Even in the best of them, I recognise missed opportunities to improve them with a little more consideration about what – or maybe why – I was actually trying to paint.
Sometimes, I wonder if it's not so much an Australian as a female thing. We abandon thought to focus on appearance as a way to cope with anxiety, especially when it's related to our self-esteem. We go window-shopping, get our hair done, have plastic surgery. (Maybe men resort to empty action, like sport or driving too fast or wrestling with their mates).
Whatever the reason, I've been fighting hard to overcome it, along with all the other limitations I've imposed on myself through stubborness, indolence and worst, a persistent but pointless desire to be liked.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Late Night, Reworking

I was up until 3 a.m., last night, refining a drawing for an early Dangerous Career Babe. I'd decided some time ago to repaint The Wrestler. I was unhappy with the way the large silver skull had turned out – the silver paint lacked the hard, pristine surface of the surrounding colours. I also wanted something more in the composition – but just what exactly took me a year or so to figure out.
As I worked, I exchanged emails with a researcher in the art department of GQ Italia. The men's fashion magazine is publishing a brief interview with me about the sexual politics of my art – can you imagine an Australian fashion magazine even considering the subject? – and the art director wanted to feature one of the more provocative in my series of watercolours,
Kelly, The First Time.
"Is that you in the picture?" the researcher asked.
The interviewer, a woman, had asked me whether the reason the figures in my work were almost always female was because of my "sexual orientation". I'd had to stifle a giggle.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday At Home

Most weekends, I work. It's what I love so why would I do anything else? My work is divided between a studio in my house and a so-called 'enamel factory' but today, I just wanted to stay home and do nothing. I slept in, then lay in bed for a while watching the surface patterns of the ocean.
Later, between loads of washing and drying, I cooked the sort of food my mother used to prepare for me (lentils with mustards seeds, sauteed vegetables and herbs), and listened to music:
Blondie (Remastered) and The Essential Collection by Blondie
It's Not Just Sentimental by Otis Redding
Clandestino by Manu Chao
The Seville Concert From The Royal Alcázar Palace
and Echoes Of Spain by John Williams
Bach: Morimur by Christoph Poppen and the Hilliard Ensemble
Homogenic by Björk
I've played these albums hundreds, if not thousands of times. Each has grown from something I appreciate to an aural reminiscence of specific experiences and moods. In repetition, they've mingled with moments of my life to become intensely personal.
Repetition, again: because of it, we form associations and imbue things – and people, places, sensations – with meaning.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Fragments Of Myself In A Box

I've plumbed a whole new level of tiredness this week: to bed after midnight and awake well before dawn for five days straight. Every hour in between has been consumed with work, other than a few minutes grabbed here and there for a coffee or a sandwich as I log into email (and, yes, Twitter), or make essential phone calls to collectors, suppliers and the young assistant grinding through a weekend shift at my other studio. The poor kid is re-organising what I refer to, a little grandly, as my 'archives' – lots of battered foolscap file boxes filled with sketches, photographic negatives, catalogues, press cuttings and keepsakes – annotating and dating the printed materials and wrapping the artwork in acid-free paper and reboxing it by year. There' a hell of a lot more of it all than I'd imagined, twelve years of output on paper, fabric, VHS tape, 35mm negatives and Polaroid SX70 and 600 prints, as well as a few dolls and small, fragile sculptures.
There's not much that's personal, such as letters or family snapshots. They were always the first things I got rid of when I was moving from one place to another, even as a child. I regret it now. It's too easy to forget who you were once, when and where. Now I'm much stricter about keeping track. I even allow sentimentality to seep into the choice of pictures I pin on the cork-board in my office or tape to the edge of one of the bookshelves in my bedroom.
The black and white photograph (above) is one I found today. I was a teenager, tall and gangly. No tattoos but already some scar tissue.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Dead Head

When I'm gripped by ennui, my blog entries get longer. So does the time it takes to write them.
I fight off boredom by focussing on the practical. I have several large paintings at various stages of completion. I want to deliver half of them by the end of next week. This means I'll spend five or six hours a day in my car, driving to and from the enamel 'factory' on the other side of town, and about as long (I'm too allergic to the fumes to cope with any more) working alongside my assistant on the paintings themselves. This leaves no time at all for navel-gazing so, with luck, I'll stave off the depression that lurks in the shadows of my low tolerance for tedium.
Don't ask me why I feel like this. I suspect it's just another segment of a fairly conventional creative cycle – that, or a psychological trick I play on myself to upset the dull predictability of my current routine and, maybe, compel myself to act on, rather than file away, the next good idea I have.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Repeating Myself

I'm sometimes criticised for the obsessive repetition of characters, compositions, colours and dimensions within my paintings. The most obvious examples are the Dangerous Career Babes, in which each Babe is posed exactly the same within a 2.0m x 1.6m high-gloss colour frame. It's also apparent in series as different as The Lin Triptych (watercolour, pencil, acrylic on cold-pressed paper), Lake Eyre (enamel on custom-made board) and Precious Blood (enamel on custom-made board): in each, individual paintings look like random frames excerpted from the same film sequence.
They're intended to reflect the insistent repetitiveness we encounter in advertising, just as
their flawless, shiny surfaces are intended to be as seductive as any high-end consumer product.
Such repetition is rooted in religious iconography. Indeed, the Precious Blood series suggests that it's an ancient propaganda device. For nearly 2,000 years, t
he Catholic Church has used it to reinforce, among other things, notions of purity and piousness. Look how consistently similar and accessible images of the Virgin Mary and popular saints have been over centuries, our impressions of them (as well as our understanding) as carefully managed as any product advertising campaign.
I readily embraced the power of repetition in my work even if, when I was younger, it unsettled me a little. Maybe I suspected it undermined the originality of individual works. However, as I grow older – and as I begin to think of myself less as a painter and more as a conceptual artist – repetition makes more and more sense. It communicates the intellectual intent of my work and tracks the relentless, serial productisation of what we used to think of as 'high culture' – another thing
Andy Warhol (himself a good Catholic boy) 'got' way ahead of the rest of us.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Six Things You Don't Know About Me

The trouble with updating an expanding online presence regularly is that I'm left wondering, sometimes, just what the hell readers don't know about me. Answer: probably not much. Here are six things about me that I haven't told anyone:
My first big crush was Ming The Merciless
in the comic-book version of Flash Gordon.
I was 18 when I first kissed a girl. And I was 27 when I first gave a guy head willingly. Until then, I had to be pushed into it. Literally. One guy finally turned me on enough to want to.
I love old black and white movies, especially Pandora's Box, a silent melodrama starring Louise Brooks, one of my eternal crushes.
If I wasn't an artist, I'd want to be a ballet dancer
Sylvie Guillem is another crush – or (on my few pious days) a medic for Médicins Sans Frontieres.
I've worn Chanel
Cristalle perfume since I was 16. I chose it after sniffing every fragrance in a department store. It smells like summer – and where I live, it's like summer all year round.
I used to hate hot pink.
I began using it in my art during late teens after deliberately experimenting with all the colours I disliked. Now hot pink is almost synonymous with my paintings. And my panties. Yes, I do wear hot pink panties.
So tell me what I don't know
about you.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sanctify Myself

Although I was raised by agnostic parents, I've always been fascinated by religious rites.
I used to exercise – or do I mean 'exorcise'? – this by making altars. They were an early, uninformed experiment in syncretism, melding a variety of disparate belief systems and their symbols: Catholic rosary beads and scapulars wound between stone Buddhas and Santeria-like snake skeletons; a plastic Virgin Mary and a scalloped finger bowl for holy water watched over wooden, hand-painted skeletons, souvenirs of Mexico's Day of the Dead, in small, hand-carved coffins; there were offerings of dried flowers, a bottle of Brazilian cachaça, partly melted red and black candles and plastic Mardi Gras beads from New Orleans, some moulded to look like skulls.
The fascination with crude altar-making inspired a curiosity about the strange amalgam of Latin American Catholicism and West African Yoruban beliefs found in Vodou, Santeria, Obeah and Candomblé. My first watercolours, exhibited in 2006 as Venus In Hell, were torrid depictions of Vodoun tales and rituals, incorporating various signs (or vévés) and spirit figures (loas), such Erzulie Freda and Baron Samedi. The works also explored symbols derived from my own spiritual nightmares : snake skeletons, bleeding crows, subdued or tethered young women at the mercy of a corpulent, visibly aroused houngan.
I created an altar for the exhibition with offerings and small fetish dolls hand-made from cloth and clay strewn across the floor around it.
I've flirted only superficially with spirituality in my enamel works and even then, only in a couple of my early works and more for humour than anything else. However, despite having been immersed in the ironic superficiality of the Dangerous Career Babes for a year or so, the complex, animistic multi-theism of Caribbean religions and the more baroque, set-piece rituals of Roman Catholicism have continued to percolate in my imagination, prompting fleeting obsessions first with Mary Magdalene then with various virgin or martyred female saints.
More and more, I found myself revisiting the religious folk portraits of female saints – typically chaste, showing only veiled head and shoulders – that had inspired Frida Kahlo. Through rough sketches based on a series of Polaroid self-portraits I'd shot in 2000, I began re-imagining these images with me in the tense but faintly erotic grip of an ecstatic holiness.
I have now painted two of a planned series of six enamels, titled Precious Blood, each on hand-crafted 1.0m x 1.5m timber boards, each with the same figure – somewhat flat in perspective, in the manner of the 15th century painter, Piero Della Francesca – on the same pale pink background, black rosary beads entwined in her fingers, a suggestive smear of blood (like cum) at the edge of her pale lips. The repetition reinforces a cinematic impression while also reflecting the convention of early religious painting in which the portrayal of a particular saint were often very similar – if not exactly the same – even from artist to artist.

Friday, May 01, 2009

My Art, Not At All As Advertised

I was in my late teens when I became an artist.
I was already hyper-sensitive to the influence of advertising on my generation of young women. We couldn't help but get suckered punched by the constant bombardment of contradictory messages about how we should look and act and feel. For a while, we fought hard against the worst of the bullshit but in the end, most of us were ground down by it.
After I outgrew teenage awkwardness and turned into the sort of woman society considered attractive, I was, like many of my peers, objectified and harassed. At art school, my looks were more often commented upon than the art I made or the ideas I raised – not just by males but by heterosexual female lecturers.
For a brief time, I modeled. It was an angry response to my experience; if people were going to stare at me and treat me as an object no matter what I did, I might as well get paid for it. But endorsing products and values I didn't believe in got to me. I quickly gave it up. But not before I'd gained some insight into how entertainment and advertising media really worked. My first inspiration as a young artist was to find way to subvert it.
I had been looking at feminist and alternative art since I was a kid. However, most of it addressed a marginal audience: for instance, how many of us remember – let alone care about – the artist Judy Chicago? I always wanted to be at the white-hot core of popular culture rather than at the edge of it. I wanted art to exert the sort of influence that rock music then movies once did.
From the outset, I began creating images and objects that were seductive on a base level, that mimicked mass media's serial imagery in a format, sheen and flawlessness that was at once accessible and seductive. I inserted myself into them, objectifying myself, to redress the powerlessness I felt at being objectified – in other words, I turned myself into part of my 'product', something I could develop and control, even as I was evolving a more critical, ironic commentary on a culture in which such a self-obsessed concept of 'the brand of me' was gaining traction.
I went further, making large, glossy enamel paintings with surfaces as flawless as television screens. With their broad, bright patches of pretty, palatable colour, they were meant to be as easily consumed as candy – but ultimately just as corrosive. I wanted them to work the same way as good advertising, to incite some kind of impulsive desire.
The paintings (and figures in them) are supposed to be approachable and un-threatening, so that the viewer is suggestible, more open to their hidden meaning – a strategy commonly used in propaganda. Their effect emerges later, maybe after they've been looked at uncritically multiple times. Like advertising. Except that their message is deeply connected to my experience as their creator, as well as being subversive, disruptive – the very stuff of good art.
My commitment to the idea of these work being deeply connected to mass media was absolute. The proportions of their frames mimic those of roadsde billboards, A4 pages, or computer screens. The female character they portray (most of them versions of me) ape the subliminal body language of print- advertising or in the case of newer works, such as the Dangerous Career Babes, the expressionless, stiff-limbed, functional poses of Barbie dolls. I apply several coats of enamel paint to create a shiney, completely opaque veneer that reflects a shadowy image of the viewer onto the pseudo-perfect character on the painting's surface.
Of course, it has taken critics and institutional curators a while to 'get' it. Many still cling to an idea that art is less valid, less intellectually rigorous, because its 'pretty' or accessible. Their prejudice is derived, in part, from Conceptual Art, which became a major movement in the 60's and 70's. As Sol Lewitt defined it, more than 40 years ago, "In conceptual art, the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art."
Intriguingly, the planning and decisions for my enamel paintings are also made before the rigorous, hand-made but unemotional process of their execution. However, their execution is anything but perfunctory. They are the result of a deal of old-fashioned, painterly craft (a far cry from the industrial 'art fabricators' utilised by big-name, contemporary 'objective' conceptualists such as Hirst, Koons and Kapoor)
As mentioned, the characters in my enamel works are mostly cartoon-like, unrealistically refined versions of myself. The traditional role for women in art is as a muses. In my own work, I am both and I don't hesitate to idealize myself in the same way that a male artist might. Bumps, knuckles, and all other bodily 'imperfections' are adjusted; skin flaws are airbrushed into an impenetrable, untextured gloss. In short, I make myself better than real – but still real enough to be desired, real enough to be used as the basis of other women's comparisons. The refined shape of myself as product, as artifice, also becomes an ideal for myself as consumer.
In my art, the personal is conceptual. Unfortunately, this has its traps. If I looked like Beth Ditto, my methods (and models) would be different. But I don't. I'm a tall, lean, angular female who has worked as a fashion model. No matter how much I dress down or how closely I shave my head or how much weight I gain (deliberately increasing my body weight by a quarter, not so long ago), my physicality is still one that can be easily objectified by the mainstream media. It'd be ridiculous for me to conceive critical, conceptual art that didn't acknowledge this.
An art dealer once noted of the hyper-real women in my paintings that men wanted to fuck them and women wanted to be them, to openly envy the 'perfection' they found within them. It had always been my intention to provoke these initial responses but after repeated viewing, I also wanted there to be a sense that the viewers had been taken in, causing them to re-examine their initial responses. Of course, some never do – but that's ok. They're still left in thrall of the art's surface properties, its unarguable allure.
This allure is where my art dissects and disposes of the influence of mass media advertising. Unlike advertising, it offers no product – other than itself – to sate the discomforting desire it provokes and this reaction without possibility of fulfillment is part of its power. The real meaning of my art is revealed not within what it is but what it is not. Its power is its independence of any need for pseudo-intellectual or critical 'context'.