Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Be Careful What You Wish For
Success should have given me the freedom to do what I want, when I want. So why am I unable to devote every day to making art? I've become encumbered by the business my art generates: marketing, sales, collector relationships, exhibition logistics, consignment, transport, materials specification and ordering, staff supervision, accounting, correspondence, and phone calls (so many phone calls). It's not that I dislike these responsibilities. I enjoy them, a lot. But too often, if I don't get through them all within the time I allot, everything begins to spin out of control and I am unable to concentrate on painting – or anything else. If I'm going to enjoy the independence I've fought so hard to gain, I have to figure out how to make it work better for me. Fast.I'm a control freak. It's related to the serious mood disorder I suffer, which, at different times, pits two completely opposite poles of my personality against each other. This can be seen in my art: on the one hand, precisely organised series of tightly controlled enamel paintings, with brittle, gleaming, seamless surfaces and on the other, loose (to the point of anarchic), stream-of-consciousness watercolours and ink drawings. The process of painting in enamel soothes an anal, obsessive-compulsive desire for precision, repetition and perfectionism. It affirms my ability to be in control. The watercolours free me from the disordered thoughts and chaotic emotions that too often undo my self-disciplined life.Success has driven my life out of control. Now, I have to stop it.After a year or so experimenting with two very different, geographically separate spaces, one for my enamel paintings, the other for everything else, I've decided to assemble all my studio processes under one roof. Commuting several hours a day in heavy traffic wastes time in which I could be making art. Not being in one space all day, to supervise and provide guidance to assistants, also wastes time because mistakes are made in line, colour or technique when I am not there to advise or do the work myself. Often, the paint has dried by the time I get to see errors so the surface has to be sanded back and repainted with several coats. Each re-applied coat takes a full day – and, sometimes, two – to dry. And each error not only costs money – materials, salaries, progress lost on other works – but also tries the patience of collectors.I am moving my studios and home to a multi-level structure closer to Sydney, where I'll have access to a bigger pool of skilled personnel and at the same time, be a lot more accessible to my collectors, advisers and suppliers. Where I am now, even an office supplies store is a thirty minutes drive away. I've reduced my assistants' and my tasks to a daily 'one-sheet'. I've done these simple to-do and who-to-call lists infrequently in the past – they made me feel more like a business executive than an artist – but they're extraordinarily effective. They keep my constantly shifting schedule and responsibilities in plain sight and update those around me who need to know what I'm up to. On the other hand, I've stopped caring about my young staff's personal lives. I've had to remind myself that they're not my friends but my employees and our only relationship is in the studio. This might sound callous but if I ensure my own emotional issues are left outside the studio, everyone else must as well. My studio is emphatically not a democracy but a benign dictatorship.These and other changes are not just about organising my time, energy and resources better. They're also about keeping my unruly mental health in check. Naively, I've been clinging to the idea that one day, I would wake up and the bi-polar affective disorder I've suffered my whole life would be gone. Most of the people with whom I work don't notice its worst effects – or so I tell myself – but I have to manage it closely with medication, hard exercise, and simple food, rich in Omega-3.From here on in, I want to be driving my life and career, rather than being driven by it. It's not really a question of being a control freak. It's about being neither a victim nor a stooge.