Friday, July 31, 2009

The Art Of Selling (Out)

A couple of years ago, I agreed to adapt half a dozen of my best known images, the Cowboy Babes, as designs for the retro-looking tin boxes of a condom manufacturer, Legends Rubbers. Unfortunately, just before the first tin could be manufactured, the company hit a bump in its business plan and it was no longer able to support the promotion in the way we'd envisioned. I withdrew from the deal.
Since then, I've been approached by other companies wanting to adapt my art to other, more commercial media: a clothing company in Eastern Europe, a mobile wireless re-seller in Sydney, even a department store in Singapore.
However, I've learnt that there's a big gap between what's proposed in an initial, enthusiastic email and what turns up in a draft heads of agreement – and that's if the discussion gets that far. Of the dozen or so approaches I've had in the past three years, not one has amounted to anything more than lots of entertaining but ultimately frustrating talk.
But I'm wising up. In the next month or so, I'm going to hire a professional to handle such enquiries. That way I can remain undistracted from the very thing that attracted these 'opportunities' in the first place: my art.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I was still in the studio at 3.30 a.m., last night, the tail-end of a long, 20-hour day.
There were small corrections, refinements and 'clean-ups' to be made to two Dangerous Career Babes that were scheduled to be packed and delivered to a collector in Melbourne, this morning. Another two, also for collectors in Melbourne, were completed and moved to drying racks to harden while arrangements are being made for their delivery next week. Four more large enamels, in various stages of completion – these bound for collectors in South and Western Australia – are hung on the studio wall, awaiting my attention later today.
I'm utterly exhausted. When I am not at the 'enamel factory, a two-hour drive from home, there are a backlog of collector enquiries to attend to at my other studio, correspondence to review with venues in Asia and Europe and PR to plan ahead of a couple of major auctions scheduled for next month and September.
More than anything, I am longing for a few, quiet, un-pressured weeks to develop ideas for completely new work and experiment with new media. I also want to get away from Australia.
As I wind down my two-year commitment to the Dangerous Career Babes, I'm looking forward to not poisoning myself every day with enamels. I'll continue to work in the medium – next, in the small Precious Blood series – but not with the same intensity or level of exposure.

Monday, July 27, 2009

User Unfriendly

A handful of unpleasant or uncomfortable encounters – some in the 'real world', some virtual – have put me off having too much to do with people, at least for the time being. I know I'm not particularly 'user-friendly' but I'm unfailingly restrained and polite when dealing with strangers. This posture is usually reciprocated. But there are those who take advantage of random encounters to patronise, insult or inflict puerile crudeness.
They usually argue that my art or my written words are some kind of provocation.
There's not much I can do about it except ignore them. On Twitter, I don't hesitate to block anyone who comes across as an arsehole. I'm a little easier here: I won't tolerate gratuitous insults (even between commenters) but strong criticism or dispute is likely to be published as long as it's not anonymous. Just don't expect me to respond.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tough It Up

When I was a kid, I was reckless with my body. I threw it around, tumbled off or over things, scraped my skin, stayed up too long without sleep and fell down from exhaustion. It made me feel alive and exorcised some of the pent-up energy within me that always threatened to combust.
When I grew up, I became more conscious of the idea that I was supposed to 'look after myself'. Which really meant 'preserve my youth' or, rather, the youthful physical attributes others considered desirable. Bloodied scratches and scars were no longer trophies of risk or achievement but blemishes. They had to be covered up or 'treated'. Sport and exercise weren't about fun or endurance or exhilaration but whittling away fat deposits, toning the body.
Then there were the admonitions that I 'shouldn't wear myself out'. I was urged – by friends, by TV advertising, by magazine columnists – to sleep more, not because I needed it but because it would reduce 'visible signs of aging'.
We all have to work hard to achieve anything. And yet women are constantly told – and tell themselves – that they shouldn't. I'm happiest when going hell for leather. I feel strong and confident when I get up straight after a fall. I don't like being fussed over. I don't need time – physically or emotionally – to 'heal' or 'get myself together'.
I like pushing myself and what I achieve when I do gives me a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that nothing else does. I've trained my body to urge itself on, even when my mind is telling me I'm weak, I should rest or worse, retreat,.
I don't want to live less just because I'm trying to preserve the vessel I live in.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Oh, And It's ArtFriday

The blog, New Curator, which is an informative source of news and commentary about Britain's art museums, has featured my work in its regular ArtFriday update. I admit I blushed when I read the introduction:
"Normally, selecting an artist is an easy process or browsing through my social network connections and offering a bit of my own personal interpretation. I don’t pretend to have that curatorial disconnection. I select artists because I love their work. I’m trusting my tastes and asking you to trust in my tastes for the awesome.
"The problem for this week’s ArtFriday is that it’s
Hazel Dooney.
"I am a massive gushing Hazel Dooney fanboy."

Friday, July 24, 2009

No Talk Of Good Old Days

Ten years ago, one of my lecturers at art school told me, in no uncertain terms, that I'd never make a living as an artist. He wrote to me just recently – seeking my advice on how to make a living from art.
I didn't respond. He might well have forgotten the discouraging, depressing impact of his words but I haven't. Then again, a lot of people from my past have chosen to 'redact' their history with me since I became one of art's nano-celebrities. Strangers come up to me at shows or email my studio to remind me of some tenuous connection with them through people whose names I only half recognise. Old boyfriends whine to members of my family that I don't stay in touch or that I owe them some obscure emotional debt. A handful of art dealers, including some who have never represented my work, claim responsibility for my current success (none of them had anything to do with it).
I've drawn a line somewhere around 2005 as the cut-off. That was the year I packed up my few possessions at my father's house in Melbourne, where I'd been living, threw them into the back of a rented station wagon and drove to Sydney intent on re-starting my life and my badly stalled career. My relationships since then, both personal and professional, have been chosen (and maintained) with much more care than any I had before.
Even better – and maybe for the first time in my life – that care has been returned.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Secret Messages To Myself

Sometimes I'm asked what the words scrawled across my watercolours say.
In the small images on my blog, they're mostly random snatches, phrases found rattling around inside my head. In my larger works on paper, they're often poems by someone quite notorious both within and outside the arts who insists on anonymity. I break the intricately crafted words into fragments, re-ordering them to fit a particular work. The writer knows this and doesn't care. Sometimes I combine them with my own words: I partially erase them on the page so that they're reduced to a texture of half-formed thoughts.
I resisted using words for a long time. They were always more definite, more revealing than images and left little room for interpretation. Or so I thought. Then I realised my images have always reflected much more of me than I cared to admit. My attempts to obscure myself were self-deceptive. I decided to let it all out.
I don't like to over-explain my work but when a collector asks about specific words in my paintings, I tell them. I want them to experience and understand every part of the work but also, in the end, revealing their meaning makes me feel a little freer of myself.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Worst Kind Of Waiting

The worst part of finishing a commissioned work is waiting to hear what the collector thinks of it.
When I deliver a study, I always provide an overview of how and why I created it in the way that I did. But I have learnt that the best thing I can do is make myself scarce. The purchase of an artwork is an intensely personal thing but it's even more so when the work is commissioned because the collector feels instrumental in its creation.
Inevitably, they have a picture of what they were expecting in their head. If my work doesn't match it – and it hardly ever will – they need to time to absorb the differences, to become acquainted, as it were, with what has come out of my head. It can sometimes (thankfully, not often) be difficult.
This morning, I finished the final study for The Gambler ('All In'), the last of the paintings commissioned in my two-year series of Dangerous Career Babes. Although outlining has already begun on the full-size frame in the studio, I'm now on tenterhooks to hear how the collector reacts to its intense red and shimmering patches of gold on a stark field of high-gloss, flawless white.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Working In The Raw

I spent most of yesterday re-thinking, then re-drawing, a Dangerous Career Babe. Again. And again.
The fifteenth in the series of 24, I'd expected this one to be relatively easy. I'd begun with a clear idea of what I wanted. But nothing I'd envisioned worked as well as I'd expected. I'm still not sure why. Now, with the study almost finished – and the main figure already drawn onto a 2.10 metre by 1.60 metre timber board and some of the main outline work begun – I am struggling with its details, the small, seemingly insignificant elements that animate the figure and give it authenticity.
Time like these, I begin to hate the highly controlled, almost mechanical requirements of my hard-edged enamel paintings. More than once, over the past ten years, I have promised myself that I'd walk away from them. Although simple-looking, colourful and accessible, their precise black line-work demands careful plotting at the study stage followed by muscle-numbing control in execution. The areas of high gloss colour are, in reality, almost as flawless as the enameled body of a new car but are not sprayed but brushed, then painstakingly sanded back and brushed again, layer after layer.
Then there's the carcinogenic miasma of enamel fumes that irritates the skin and burns the eyes, nasal cavities and throat, even through long-sleeved overalls and the industrial-strength filters of a face mask. A full-body suit is almost impossible to work in and maintain precise control over a brush, so Jim, my senior assistant, and I end up throwing our health concerns to the wind and shedding all protection in order to paint more fluidly.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Thinking Aloud – And Big

Apart from taking an hour out yesterday to respond to Hugh Macleod's questions, I've done little else except sit at my desk and draw. I've been laboring over the details of a study drawing for another Dangerous Career Babe. I want to have it finished by tomorrow morning so that the line-work can be completed on the gessoed timber frame now waiting in the studio and the main areas of colour applied.
This is the very last of the commissioned Babes. Another nine are for my own inventory and although I might eventually display them on my website, none will be exhibited or offered for sale – at least not any time soon.
As mentioned elsewhere, the 24 enamel on board paintings were originally conceived as one work to be experienced as an installation in a large-scale interior space. I worked out today that, when finished, the group will cover around 21,000 square feet of wall space. However, with individual paintings now distributed around the world, that's unlikely to happen.
Instead, I am exploring the possibility of creating enormous one-off billboard versions of each and displaying them in different locations around a major city – Los Angeles would be perfect, as would Tokyo. Can you imagine the subversive effect of The Terrorist (above), at night, bathed in halogen, right above Sunset Plaza or the intersection outside Shibuya station?
Of course, in order to pull off something so extravagant, I need money. Lots of it. A couple of multinational corporations have expressed their curiosity about the idea but I might try to fund it privately so I'm not be beholden to some brand or product strategy. I'm nothing if not stubbornly ambitious.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Breaking The Surface

I took a couple of weeks away from, well, everything. When I came back, my digital inboxes were overflowing with reminders that for better or worse, my career has a life of its own and doesn't always need me around to keep it occupied.
The first email I opened was from Sotheby's. They wanted permission to reproduce one of my earliest paintings, Ultra Violet One, in the catalogue for their Important Australian Art sale in Melbourne, on August 24th. The next two were from collectors asking my help to sell three other works: my very first, The Moment Before Having, as well as two of my most favourite, The Cherry Picker, and Dangerous Career Babe: The Terrorist.
It struck me that this is the first time in a decade that so many of my works have been available at once, other than during an exhibition – thanks not just to a difficult local economy but also the widely publicised high prices my paintings have attracted at auction over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, these prices have also encouraged inexperienced sellers to expect huge multiples on what they originally paid for my work, regardless of its quality.
There were also a handful of requests for interviews. I didn't really feel like putting my 'game face' on for the mainstream media but I was happy to take on ten questions posed by one of my favourite bloggers, the renowned American artist, cartoonist and writer, Hugh MacLeod. My answers felt like something of a manifesto for my happier, more determined state of mind – and a perfect way to announce my return to the virtual space that is (almost) as important to me as my studio. You can read them at Hugh's Gaping Void.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Drawing A Line Within

I'm often asked how I feel about revealing so much of myself in my work – especially in the sexually graphic photographs and drawings and the frank, confessional posts on this blog.
I'm not sure I know the answer. In all my work, I think only about what's needed to express and explore an idea with honesty. I don't hold back.
Where I expose myself the most – and with the greatest emotional vulnerability – is in the line-work of my drawings. Whether I'm sketching loosely for a watercolour or draughting precisely for an enamel painting, the lines reflect my state of mind. Anxiety makes them heavy and lacking subtlety or variation: small details are drawn, erased and re-worked repeatedly and my hand trembles. When I'm stable and happy, the lines run smooth, fast, and are much freer and more confident.
Ironically, I draw best when I feel nothing. It's not about being numb. It's about allowing a deeper, subconscious state – one that influences without being apparent – guide my hand rather than having a temporary, 'surface' mood overwhelm my control and undermine the work.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Here Be Monsters

If you've been wondering why I haven't written about myself as much as usual, lately, it's because I can't stand my own company. My mood has been – to say the least – labile. I've managed to work reasonably steadily since Monday but more than once, I've had to resort to the crisis centre at my local hospital for help. The worst has been what the psychiatrists term 'rapid cycling'. Within just a few hours I can zig-zag from being acutely focussed and productive to frantic, self-destructive and unable to cope – then back again, wreaking havoc on everyone (and everything) around me. In between, I'm drained and exhausted.
Medication helps. So does sex. I suspect I do too little of either to sustain their benefits. If I'm not drawing or painting or dealing with the myriad details that clog the intersection of my art and business, I'm in bed. Asleep, I don't have to deal with a damn thing, especially my own damaged self.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

He Has It Whipped

There are few Gen' X or younger art students anywhere who don't owe some small measure of their education or inspiration to books published by Benedikt Taschen.
From low-priced but good-looking paperback reference works on 20th century artists , art movements, architects and designers and obscure anthologies of European and American fetish photography, Danish gay porn' and fashion to monstrously sized – and priced – limited edition
catalogues raisonnés of Benedikt's favorite artists and photographers, among them the late Helmut Newton, Peter Beard and Jeff Koons, Taschen's back-lists offer everything in the way of references or resources an enquiring creative mind might ever need.
, the imprint, started in a ratty comic-book store Benedikt ran in Cologne, Germany, in 1980. He began publishing original, somewhat raunchy comics but quickly cottoned onto the idea of designing picture books on artists who had been dead long enough for their rights to be in the public domain. He also figured out that what he lost in sales on so-called 'quality' subjects he could make up with risqué collections of pre-war porn' positioned as art.
Today, Taschen is a billion-dollar operation, one of the largest and most successful privately held publishing companies in the world. It's still committed to unusual books on art, design, photography, travel and popular culture – and, yes, sex, albeit much better packaged than before.
I've been a fan of Benedikt, now 48-years-old – and his partner-in-crime and ex-wife, Angelika – ever since I came across a portrait of them (above) in the now-defunct British bible of '80s style and pop culture,
The Face when I was just a teenager. Photographed by David Lachapelle in the Taschen's flying-saucer-like John Lautner-designed house overlooking Sunset Boulevard (it featured in Brian De Palma's psychological thriller, Body Double, in 1984): Benedikt was on all fours, with the arse torn out of his business suit; Angelika stood nearby, masked but completely naked, a whip ready to flay his bared buttocks.
Twenty years on, I still can't imagine another billionaire publisher – certainly not Rupert Murdoch, Si Newhouse, nor Jann Wenner – being reckless enough to pose that way, just as I can't imagine another publisher who'd be reckless enough to produce a boxed, four-colour hardcover and DVD set on the career of porn star,
Vanessa Del Rio, or a 738-page limited edition history of the couturier Valentino.
As Helmut Newton once observed, "There are very few like him. Or there are none like him. He is also, I might add, a madman." Maybe but it's good to know that in this increasingly hide-bound, unremarkable world, there are still some who subscribe to Oscar Wilde's dictum: "Nothing succeeds like excess

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Heart Like A Wheel

Uniquely, both the subject and sub-title of my latest Dangerous Career BabeThe Race Car Driver (Homage To Hellé Nice) – were suggested by the collector who commissioned it. I had always planned to paint a distaff interpretation of a modern, glam' 'boy racer', such as Lewis Hamilton, but the collector was adamant that his Babe's identity should be rooted in motor-racing's early years. It took just one look at the archival photographs of 1930s' cars and drivers he sent for me to be convinced.
To be honest, I was quite taken with the dashing, Italian-born motorcyclist-turned-driver, Tazio Nuvolari,who became know as Il Mantovano Volante – The Flying Mantuan – or Nivola even before winning the 1932 European Grand Prix championship. The founder of Porsche, Dr Ferdinand Porsche, once called him "The greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future."
Then the collector turned me on to a woman driver of the period. Hellé Nice tore up tracks in Bugattis and Alfa Romeos as well as well-appointed beds in dalliances with scores of aristocratic or wealthy (or, sometimes, just plain reprobate) men of her day.
“I don’t believe she ever thought about anything but sex and showing off," one on-track rival said about her, long after her death.
She started out as a dancer and trapeze artist – at the legendary Casino de Paris – and an enthusiastic nude model, before finally finding her true calling as an audacious race driver and an unlikely pioneer or feminism. She toured the world on an early circuit that took in Monte Carlo, Rio De Janeiro and Casablanca as well as famous races at Monza and Silverstone.
I guess it's the way of all fairy tales that such a fearless but profligate figure should die in obscurity, penniless. Her last address was the top floor of an attic apartment, looking out onto a seedy part of Nice. It's said she had lost her social acceptance thanks to an ill-founded accusation of an affair with a Nazi officer during the World Warr II occupation of France. But the truth was her reputation never recovered from a crash in which she killed six spectators, during the 1936 Grand Prix de Sao Paulo in Brazil.