Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Not Your Mother's Dress-Up Dolls

The production of the Dangerous Career Babes series accelerated when I set up a studio just to handle these large enamel paintings, late last year. It slowed only when I had to travel to Melbourne, three weeks ago, to be with my father, who has been diagnosed with cancer.
This week, I got back to work. I supervised the repair and re-finishing of three works in the series that were damaged because of carelessness in my old studio. I also began two completely new additions – The Race Car Driver (Homage To Hellé Nice) and The Card Hustler – both commissions.
The Race Car Driver
was a particular challenge. It was devised for a collector who was a fan of the early years of car racing, from the the 1930s to '50s, when glamorous figures such as Tazio Nuvolari and later, Juan Manuel Fangio and Jack Brabham, dominated European tracks. A different breed from 21st century Formula One drivers, with their fire-proof underwear, reinforced Kevlar and carbon-fibre helmets, and body-hugging Nomex suits covered with team and sponsor logos, mid-20th century drivers valued style over safety. They wore stylishly cut street clothes with quilted cloth head-warmers – similar to the leather head-gear favoured by early aviators – as well as aviator goggles and occasionally, a silk scarf.
One of the hardest things when painting any Dangerous Career Babe is to keep it simple, to let the clothing and accessories speak and not distract from them with complicated, detailed backgrounds. I have always to remind myself that the series is, very genuinely, a conceptual work – it just happens to comprise twenty-four, 2.0m by 1.6m paintings.
As I wrote, last year:
As female children, we create an extension of ourselves by dressing up dolls. In a similar way, a lot of women still dress up to pretend roles as adults. This is different to actually being something – a real career babe. Rather, it's a form of play-acting. No skills are needed, and the career can change every day. Feminism made a broader range of female career characters believable. Post-feminism, we not only see imagery of women posing in various uniforms and career-outfits, we watch them enacted in mainstream films – Angelina Jolie as tomb-raider Lara Croft or a sexy assassin in
Mr & Mrs Smith, Charlize Theron as Aeon Flux, or Salma Hayek as vampire Santanico Pandemonium in From Dusk Till Dawn.
When I drew the first
Dangerous Career Babe, I intended the torso and legs to remain the same in each painting but to adapt the arms according to the props. Instead, I have been able to use exactly the same pose. The images are a lot stronger this way. I've realised that it's because it makes the figure seem more like a combination of an action figure and a Barbie doll. One hand is designed for holding, and props can be slid into it. The other is gestural, indicating some kind of communication or action that can be interpreted according to the qualities associated with each costume the figure wears. Mostly, the props are unnecessary. I just think it's fun to include them.
Just as in real life, the costumes are the key. The figure is a dress-up doll. The career the figure assumes in each painting is identifiable because of the clothes.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Shard Of Memory

He’d changed his name to rhyme with gateaux, French for 'cakes'. He delighted in being fat. It was, he said, a political statement – a physical rejection of the mainstream ideal of 'thin'.
“Fat is the new punk,” he'd insist. I was sympathetic.
I'd agreed to design a tattoo for him but I never found the time to do it. He wanted an homage to A Clockwork Orange, except that in it, Alex had to be a girl. For years, he left space for it between his other tattoos. The word 'suffer', all in large, Gothic upper case, was inscribed on his back. I asked him why. "Because that way," he said, "It's always behind me."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Eye, Hand, Mind And Heart

I woke up early, showered and shaved my head to the scalp. I studied my reflection in the bathroom mirror. It took me aback. I saw an androgynous, angular and somewhat alien creature. Thin scars marred the pale smoothness of its skin and its eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep.
At least it wasn't crying.
I caught up with correspondence and arranged consignment of a handful of small works on paper to two clients in the USA. I negotiated the sale of a second of my Precious Blood enamel on board paintings to a collector in Melbourne. I planned what paintings I would try to finish at the enamel studio during the coming week. Finally, when I couldn't find another excuse to put it off anymore, I opened my sketch-book and began to draw.
It took nearly 12 hours, with only a few short breaks, for the eye, hand, mind – and, yes, heart – to reconnect enough for me to draw with confidence. For the first several hours, I had to stifle the urge to rip out the pages and retreat to my bed. I felt like an inept, talentless, unimaginative fraud.
Or I did until just before dawn. As the pale rim of a winter sun rose from the grey-blue ocean into a drear, watery sky, tentative, too-careful marks gave way to quick, confident lines. Slowly, the lines turned into a picture.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Money, Money, Money

I was too depressed today to be anything other than fatalistic about tonight's auction at Menzies Art Brands. I had no plans to attend – I never do. Instead, I stayed at home, in bed, and wrapped myself in a goose down duvet and a miasma of self-negating depression.
The phone call from a contact at the auction house was brief. Bids had started at $A7,000 and quickly broken through the lower end of the pre-sale estimate of $A10,000 to $A15,000, to exceed the seller's reserve. The hammer fell at $A13,000 but once the so-called 'buyer's premium' of 22 per cent (plus 10 per cent sales tax) is added , the price paid will exceed the top end of the estimate by several hundred dollars.
I allowed myself to relax and take a long, deep breath. The work had ripped throught its estimate – an excellent result in the current market, especially when one considers that it represents an almost fifteen-fold return on the $A900 invested by whoever bought it at my first, self-produced exhibition, twelve years ago, in Brisbane.
I hope it ends up in a good home, somewhere it will be seen and enjoyed every day: that's worth a lot more to me – and real art lovers – than money.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Perfomance Anxiety (Again)

I've been affected badly by my recent trip to Melbourne to be with my father. I was glad to be able to support him while the extent of his cancer was investigated. But so many long-suppressed tensions and resentments were resurrected between us that by the time I returned to Sydney, I was a wreck. Now I'm gripped by a deep, irresolvable depression, unable to think straight, unable to work with any constancy.
I'm also experiencing the usual, irritable anxiety I get just before a high-profile auction of my work.
There are less than 18 hours before Lolita At 16 goes under the hammer at Menzies Art Brands. I have no financial stake in the outcome but I'm pragmatic enough to recognise that it is yet another test of my still-new standing as a 'bankable' artist. An executive at the auction house has told me the overall market climate is "difficult".
I'm keeping my fingers crossed. If demand for my work remains strong, collectors will continue to buy it – at auction and from me – despite the recession.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Getting A Break With Tradition

The first time I ever had contact with an auction house was three years ago, when Menzies Art Brands asked me for permission to reproduce an image of an early painting in a catalogue. I said, "Sure." I also emailed further information about the work, including a correction to the title attributed to it. This process was repeated the next few times my work was submitted for Menzies Art Brands sales. I began to develop a rapport with key senior staff.
This year, one of the paintings from my Lake Eyre On Acid series was submitted for auction just as I was celebrating the 500th post here by offering a free, limited edition, signed photographic study related to this series. I suggested to the auction house that they place a 120 of these studies (enclosed in a hand-made glassine envelope with a blurb about the work) on each seat on the evening of the auction.
The studies were intended as a gift, an expression of gratitude. They were also an attempt to introduce something new and different into an otherwise predictable process, a reminder that while art auctions are about money and investment, they're also about art.
I didn't expect Menzies Art Brands to agree. It was a far from conventional proposal. Nevertheless, they did and when I turned up an hour before the auction with the prints in hand, the staff were excited.
These days, auction houses in Sydney, Melbourne and London – even the esteemed Christie's – deal with me regularly, just as they deal with gallerists, curators and private sellers, even though I have never sold any of my own work through them.
The latest 'hard copy' catalogue of the upcoming Deutscher-Menzies auction catalogue arrived in the post today. It includes an image of one of my earliest enamel paintings, Lolita At Sixteen, listed as Lot No. 10. A young woman is aiming a pistol but although her grip on it looks competent it is actually so wrong that it makes it difficult for her to squeeze the trigger – a metaphor for the often clumsy self-discovery of teenage sexuality.
Printed below the usual descriptive details about the work is a somewhat personal paragraph about the conception of the work. I'd emailed it to the auction house but hadn't asked for it to be included. It's the first time I've seen a contribution from an artist in an art auction catalogue. The text is usually written by critics, academics, or so-called 'art specialists'.
Like the gift of the photographic studies, it's another first: an example of the guerilla methods of an artist working outside the traditional art system in Australia merging with the well-established formula for a high-dollar auction sale. Let's hope it helps my works to sell in this very uneasy market.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Even Cowgirls Get The T-Shirt

One of the several things I did to promote my first exhibition of sexually explicit photography in Melbourne, last year, was to create t-shirts that had the one-word title of the show – PORNO – on the front and a reproduction of its widely distributed poster on the back. MARS gallery employees and catering contractors wore them on opening night and over the next week about 100 more were sold to collectors or 'fans'. Since then another 50 or so have been sold or given as gifts by my studio.
I'm always surprised when I see the limited edition t-shirts on the streets of Sydney or Melbourne. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to see a photo of a rare, signed one – posted by a fellow artist (Hazel Colditz, from Arizona) on Twitter – being worn in a café in, of all places, Missoula, Montana. I can't help wondering what the other patrons made of it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

National Art Hate Week

It was probably only a matter of time before "the artist sometimes known as Billy Childish" surfaced again to rail against the crumbling bricks-and-mortar of Britain's art establishment. One of the founders of an informal movement known as Stuckism – a name bestowed by Childish's former lover, Tracey Emin, who told him his art was "stuck. Stuck, stuck." – the 40-year-old Childish (real name Steven John Hamper) has since forged a grudging art world respect as a cultural provocateur through a series of eccentric identities and a relentless output of paintings and prints, self-published books, music CDs, as well as tours with a handful of cult bands (I'm a big fan of The Buff Medways) and the production of a range of neo-Victorian prison merchandise.
Now, in the guise of The British Art Resistance – in association with the L-13 Light Industrial Workshop and Private Ladies and Gentlemen’s Club for Art, Leisure and the Disruptive Betterment of Culture, a new art space in Clerkenwell, London, that features the works of British artists Harry Adams, James Cauty, Jamie Reid, Geraldine Swayne, A.S. Waghorne and of course, Childish – he is mounting National Art Hate Week.
As the B.A.R.'s brief manifesto explains: "National Art Hate Week has been instigated for the disruptive betterment of culture.
"It is a call for direct action against the mass acceptance of art, the grip of control over culture as a tool for mediated emotion, market lead, non-critical homogeny and boring popularism.
"National Art Hate Week presents a unified front of non-unified creative individuals against all that is despicable and loved by the people.
"We oppose the deliberate socio-economic strategy to make us all complicit in our own dumbness. We oppose the affront of state endorsed auto-cryptic balderdash made by the few.
"We oppose the chosen-few ruffians who have been polished up and elevated for our meagre consumption. All art is tainted. We oppose all art.
"National Art Hate Week takes the swastika hung on the gallows as its symbol of resistance. During National Art Hate Week the good citizens of Albion are encouraged to visit the art institutions of the land and silently seeth.
"If a child offers you a painting during National Art Hate Week you are to turn away in disgust."
What more can I say except that we should all enlist as propagandists. It begins July 13th. For further information, visit the Art Hate Week site.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Memento Mori

Today, I walked to Melbourne General Cemetery.
Throughout my life, cemeteries have been a place of refuge. Taking the phrase 'final resting place' to heart, I find peace and uninterrupted quiet in them.
I've studied the rituals of burial and commemoration of the dead in various cultures but I've rarely taken much notice of those in my own. And yet, here, among the old, weather-worn stone tombstones I noticed for the first time newer, more elaborate vault-like structures, some almost like Thai spirit houses, shaped from polished marble and granite. Their surfaces were polished smooth and engraved with gold-leafed lettering.
On some, statues of Christ, the Virgin Mary, lesser saints and cherubs, as well as plastic flowers, urns, and photographs of the deceased were padlocked behind leaded or steel-framed glass shutters. On others, open books carved in marble sat atop grave slabs, bookmarked with natural flowers in various stages of decay. On a few graves of children, there were less formal, makeshift shrines featuring stuffed teddy bears, small dolls , toys, even a lollipop.
We live in groups so maybe it's only to be expected that we're buried in groups when we're dead. But I can't help but think of tombs and vaults as prisons in which our earthly remains have to be sealed while our souls await salvation. (Never mind that our burial places will probably dug over first, in land reclamations engineered by future real estate developers.)
When I think of my own death, I rarely consider what will happen to my corpse. I think I'd like my ashes to be scattered randomly or buried. Having striven all my life for a sense of freedom, I'd want whatever's left of me after death to be uncontained.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Riding Ahead Of The Reaper

I haven't done any work since I flew to Melbourne on Saturday. Before I left, I spent the day at my studio, drawing and adjusting lines as well as confirming major areas of colours to be painted.
My days here have been spent visiting doctors and hospitals with my father, who has been diagnosed with bone cancer. We walk slowly to appointments, no matter how far away they are. It soothes his anxiety. And mine. There are injections to be had or coarse liquids to be drunk sometimes hours before tests. Every muscle in my body aches with fear and tension: I worry about how he must feel, especially with the extent of his disease still being mapped – and the prognosis uncertain.
My father took me to see the classic, custom-detailed Harley Davidson he ordered for himself a few weeks ago. It's street-elegant and loud. He rode bikes during his youth, leaning hard and fast around corners, making sparks fly as the metal exhaust pipe ground against the road. We make jokes about how awful it would be if he'd died before riding it. We share a dark sense of humour – what can either of us do right now but try to laugh as much as possible? – but I remind him that he's not dying yet.
The Harley shop is staffed by rough-looking stereotypes of bikers. My father knows them all and introduces me to them. TV screens drop from the ceiling, playing endless tapes of bike shows and strippers. Laminated photographs of the bikers are pinned to a cork-board next to a communal coffee machine. I am drawn to the ones with children riding pillion. I know the kids are very ill – the opportunity to ride has been created for them by the Make-A-Wish Foundation – but they look happy and grubby. Their faces, painted like skulls, are smeared with melted ice-cream.
I can't help thinking how fun it must be for them to be wild and unruly, to take risks and impersonate death while protected by a burly outlaw. It's how I used to feel, as a child, with my father. But right now, it's his turn to ride pillion as we navigate a way through this uncertain time.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

In Transit

I flew to Melbourne at dusk. When I arrived, I felt cold – but not just from the chill evening air. I found a coffee shop in the terminal and ordered a 'flat white'. Then I sat, quietly, and tried to still my nerves before heading to the luggage carousel. By the time I got there, my bags were the only ones uncollected.
I haven't been back to Melbourne since the middle of last year, when I was here for my PORNO show. The city doesn't hold a lot of good memories for me. Given the circumstances, little about this visit is likely to change that.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Yesterday, I had a rare day off – not even a day, a few hours – in which I forgot about art and the long list of chores that accumulate like dust during the course of a month. I browsed the shelves at a second-hand bookshop, after an unhurried lunch with a close friend, and picked through racks of vintage clothes at one of the few local boutiques that have them. I bought magazines: Juxtapoz, iD, Vogue Italia and a couple of trashy gossip rags.
The phone call hit me like a sniper's bullet in the middle of the street. A member of my family had just been diagnosed with a serious illness. Suddenly, I couldn't breathe and the sunlight that only moments before had felt so cheerful and revitalising was now a predatory searchlight, too bright and hot on my skin. I sat down on a public bench on the sidewalk and cried. Then I rang the person dearest to me: "You have to go. Be with them. Now." he told me.
In the space of the next couple of hours, I rescheduled two weeks of painting with my assistants, packed my bags (including one containing a printer and scanner), cleaned up my house and booked an open return plane ticket to Melbourne. I withdrew a few hundred dollars in cash from my bank account. I rang other members of my family.
Now I am ready to leave. Art feels like an imposition, getting in the way of the awful randomness of real life.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

You Can't Go Home Again, Part One

I returned to Brisbane on a long, sleepless flight from London. A few friends picked me up at the airport. On the drive back into the the city, all of us crammed into a rusting, old Japanese sub-compact, we sucked on plastic bongs and made calls to sleepy connections to hook up with harder drugs. Someone had a Regurgitator tape and it played it very loud on the car’s rattley sound system. Suddenly, intensely, I remembered why I'd made such an effort to leave the place.
The Valley was Brisbane's grimy, sub-cultural refuge then. Its main street was packed with every kind of night-crawling distraction a small Australian city had to offer.
Gurning ravers danced at The Beat, where they could lose themselves in drug-induced, pseudo-spiritual oneness with the smoke and green laser beams. Everyone in the room faced the DJ – or the front door, so they could check out the incoming drug dealers and each other. The acrid, chemical stench of drugs and sweat hung out above the dance floor. Drag queens performed at midnight: later, they’d wander down the street, bickering regally with each other, and offer unsolicited fashion tips to passers-by.
The Zoo was an old warehouse at the end of the block. I don’t remember much about it except that when I was there, I was always stoned, tripping on acid; it made me distracted and forgetful. There were always queues of people waiting to get in. Every hip, tattooed, pierced, natty dreadlocked or shaven-headed, ambisexual feral, punk or rock and roller went there to see a hot new band before it 'blew up'. I was no different.
Outside the strip clubs, bouncers ushered in the working girls ahead of the drunks, who would arrive soon after the surrounding pubs had closed. Hookers, pimps, and dime-bag dealers plied their trade, heroin addicts shot up and alcoholics loitered, impotently, in the dark lanes. The hookers straddled cocks in their johns' parked cars or ducked into doorways to blow wary, awkward-looking pedestrians.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

So Money, Babe

After a frustrating day, yesterday, during which I drew and redrew elements of a new picture without actually moving the composition on from where I started, I slept badly. My scalped itched and burned and I lay awake, resisting the urge to scratch, for several hours. I crawled out of bed at dawn, pulling the duvet with me to defend against the gelid drafts of Sydney's coldest morning of the year. I cursed myself for having committed to meet with Max Markson, one of the city's best-known 'celebrity' public relations advisers: I wondered whether we would have anything to talk about, especially as I didn't see where I might fit in a client list that ranges from Queer Eye For The Straight Guy's Carson Kressley to Joe Bugner, onetime British heavyweight boxing champion. As it turned out, Max was charming and smart and after a couple of hours, we began to recognise that it might be fun to work together.
Maybe one reason why I was hesitant to schlepp up to Max's harbourside home in Sydney was because I still looked like a survivor of a napalm bombing. To alleviate this, I adopted a stereotypical all-black, Bohemian look, albeit with uptown flourishes: working around a pair of Mela Purdie leggings cut up and re-sewn as a head covering, I wore a black linen, buttoned shirt and linen drawstring pants, Italian-made J.P. Tod ankle boots, various African and Asian bracelets and necklaces, and a Bottega Veneta woven leather hobo bag.
I kept hearing Vince Vaughn delivering that line from Swingers – "You look so money, babe" – and somehow it made me feel better.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Pitiful Price Of Vanity

I've not felt like writing or drawing much these past couple of days. For one thing, I've been depressed. For another, the attempt to dye my hair from black to platinum went horribly wrong: my scalp is sore and ulcerated from an allergic reaction to the chemicals used and I have had to shave off all my hair to relieve it. Now I look like I'm undergoing an aggressive cancer therapy or I've been exposed to radioactive isotopes – neo-Chernobyl chic, I'm calling it. No, it's not pretty.
Worse, I'm falling behind schedule. Again. I have three Dangerous Career Babes to be started at the enamel 'factory' and I am working on drawings for two more. I'd planned to have the latter done yesterday but I'll be bloody lucky if they're ready by the end of next weekend.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Pieces Of Myself

Not every interview I do ends up being published. About one in ten is 'spiked' by the editor and never used. At least half are heavily edited between my mouth and the final page (for which, very often, I'm grateful). Some are abbreviated or re-written beyond recognition.
While tidying up my digital archives, this weekend, I came across the transcripts of a handful of interviews I've done over the past year or so. I can't remember who conducted them or what magazines, e-zines or newspapers they were for but I thought I'd choose some of the questions and answers at random and reproduce them here:
A lot of your work is saturated with eroticism. Why?
I don't see my work as erotic, really. It just reflects an aspect of how young women in the developed world see themselves thanks to advertising, entertainment, even commercial pornography. For better or worse, sexuality is always an element of these heavily mediated choices of identity.
Do you think more and more contemporary art appears to be preoccupied with sex?
No. I think there's always been both sexuality and sensuality in art. It's as visible in the works of Michaelangelo as it is in those of Picasso or Modigliani. However, these days, we don't have the same social, religious or gender constraints. We're able to delve more deeply and frankly, creating art that is more explicit, darker and in my case, confessional and/or critical.
How do viewers react to seeing your work for the first time in a gallery?
Reaction is always, umm, unsettled. My works are as immediately accessible as advertising or entertainment but once a viewer spends some time with them, they realise that there's more going on than they'd thought, that what they're looking at is neither simple nor 'safe'.
A lot of my work exploits the seductive but dulling effect of highly repetitious imagery. One of the more interesting aspects of what I am doing in serial works like Precious Blood is show that this repetition is actually quite ancient. The Catholic Church has used it for nearly 2,000 years to convey notions of female purity and piousness. Look at how similar images of the Virgin Mary are, as well as images of popular saints. Their effect has been as carefully managed as any advertising campaign.
In PORNO you were both artist and performer. Why did you expose yourself and your reputation as an artist in such a way?
When I first started to experiment with depictions of what the tabloid critics liked to call 'graphic sex', a couple of years ago, I was responding to what I saw as consumer culture not just encouraging but actually empowering young women to exploit their sexuality – without any fear of public disapproval (quite the opposite!) – in exchange for a measure of celebrity.
I'd found some other female artists' experiments with elements of softcore porn' – from Sam Taylor-Wood's and Vanessa Beecroft's video performance pieces to Ghada Amer's needlework – just a little too prissy and detached to be interesting. So I became, for a brief while, producer, performer and consumer. In other words, I decided to involve myself completely.
After all, I'm an artist not an academic – I'm meant to be subjective.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Indulging The Diva Within – And Without

In an uncharacteristic and expensive indulgence of my physical vanity, I decided to spend large and have my hair cropped and dyed at a cooler-than-thou Sydney salon. My hair is normally jet black – with flecks of premature grey caused by the toxins in enamel paint – but I wanted to try turning it platinum. I was told to put aside the better part of a day for the process. So I loaded up a satchel with pens, sketchbook, diary, cell-phone, iPod and a non-fiction book (the last is just for show – I love skimming the salon's back issues of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar more than anything) and resigned myself to a day in which I would do absolutely nothing productive or creative. Bliss.

Thursday, June 04, 2009


If you read Italian (I don't), my GQ Italia interview is now online along with a gallery of selected works. Not all of the images selected are my favorites but hey, I'm thrilled.
The coverage is timely. I am just now getting to grips with trying to tie down dates and venues for exhibitions in Europe during the early summer and autumn, next year. Despite strong support for my work at two Christie's auctions in London, over the past couple of years, I want to devote an extended period of time and energy to raising awareness of it elsewhere in the northern hemisphere.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Lost In Translation

"Young artists grow with the passion of the sex," the headline reads. Only in Italy could you come across a sentence that managed to be at once so lurid and poetic – in the pages of an upmarket men's magazine.
Last month, I was interviewed by GQ Italia for one of their regular columns that focuses on what the writer described as "trends in sexuality". I'm used to answering questions about the sexual elements of my art but the half dozen emailed from the magazine were a little more, umm, frank than usual: "In the PORNO pictures, it's you, no?" and "You only represent women, alone or having sex... Is it related with your sexual orientation?" Giving GQ the benefit of the doubt, I put it down to awkward translation.
Anyway, I responded as honestly as I dared. Thankfully, not all of the questions and not all of my answers ended up in the short piece, which appears in this month's issue. Given some of my past experience with Italians – who have an unrivalled gift for poetic licence (read, 'hyperbole') – I expect that most of what I wrote in English has been 'amplified' for its testosterone-laden target audience.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Postcards To The Future

Over the past four years, in addition to scores of enamel paintings and mixed media works on paper, I've painted hundreds of small watercolours, some no more than a couple of square inches in size. The subject matter is mixed: coastal landscapes, voodoo vévé, fashion accessories, weapons, nudes, you name it.
I do them only for myself, to pass the time when I'm alone or travelling. Most I send to my lover – something from the heart, more meaningful than a postcard – while some I give as gifts to regular collectors. I used to throw them away but I'm learning to archive what I keep along with the rest of my works and papers, wrapping them in acid-free glassine and storing them in dated, annotated boxes.
I don't try to edit the output, to sort the wheat from the chaff, but I sometimes wonder what might be made of them a hundred years or so in the future – especially the sexually graphic ones. I have this idea that, by then, sex will be automated, remote, nothing more than a software solution – it's unlikely there'll even be a need for men – and my crudely forensic, 'wetware' depictions of it will be nothing more than anachronistic curiosities.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Venus Redux

Among several sketches I came across while my mother and I tidied the studio were the crude watercolour and ink experiments that culminated in my first exhibition of works on paper.
Appropriating recognisable elements of Sandro Botticelli's famous 15th century painting, The Birth Of Venus, these early pieces started out being illustrative and 'pretty' then quickly became violent, dark and stuffed with symbolism derived from voodoo and my own nightmares. Not surprisingly, the exhibition was titled Venus In Hell and in just fifteen mixed-media works, the rapid transition from pastel colours and empty, unpainted patches to dense smears of reds and blacks, like traces of blood dried atop the surface of the porous, cold-pressed paper was starkly visible.
I want to return to these intensely emotional works – and their underlying ideas – again. There's still so much within them that's unresolved, unrefined, and new interpretations haunt my imagination even as I labour on other, completely different paintings. I'm going to hide myself away soon, alone, to get to grips with them.