Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Life In Pieces

I sat up until the early hours of this morning, sorting through loose folders filled with more than a decade of hand-written notes and sketches for paintings, and hundreds of Polaroid 600 instant prints I'd kept for years, somewhat carelessly, in a large plastic garbage bag.
Four years ago, I didn't archive my preparatory work or any other papers. I didn't see the point. I'd lost confidence in my painting to such an extent that the evidence of what went into a specific work was of little value to me – nor, as I saw it, to anyone else – and was even somewhat embarrassing. I treated study drawings and photographs with contempt. Whatever I didn't destroy, I stuffed into drawers or files that I was never tempted to open again.
A friend came across the bagful of Polaroids in my old Palm Beach studio – a fibro' beach cottage rented from the actors Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward – just a few months before my Venus In Hell show. From several hundred creased, stained or faded prints, he edited a selection of a dozen which, without my knowledge, he took away to have mounted and framed.
He delivered them back to me, in Melbourne, on the day I hung my show. He insisted they should be exhibited in a small ante-room of the gallery. The price arrived at for each small print was arbitrary, around $A400. By the end of the show, every one of them had been sold.
I've offered very few of them for sale since. They're intensely personal – as a narrative of my conceptual development as an artist, as a sporadic snapshot of my life. Still, the price has more than doubled. Recently, a signed, single image related to a specific painting, mounted in white archival rag, sold for $A1,000 in the secondary market.
I'm learning to hold onto these pieces and not be so quick to dispose of them, either through sales or throwing them in a garbage bin. I now have a formal archive and an assistant who takes care to wrap my stray bits of handiwork, however unloved, defaced or battered, in acid-free paper, then annotate and date them, before storing them on purpose-built shelves.
Maybe, over time, I'll learn to appreciate them. For now, it's enough to know that, somehow, they've survived.

1 comment:

Jed said...

Yes. Who knows what others value about our work. Your archival actions seem sensible. That fact you now have an archivist seems to imply it is already too late! :-)