Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Off The Grid

I am going to be on the road, revisiting my chidlhood in rural northern New South Wales, until the middle of the first week of January. As mobile connection to the web is, to say the least, unpredictable in those parts, I'll be tweeting rather than blogging updates, so check here regularly.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

End Of The Line

It always surprises me when other artists ask me: How do you know when a painting is finished?
I've always known it exactly. My works in enamel are so carefully planned in the study phase that when it comes to the painting itself, there is a logical and quite precise structure to the line-work and application of coats.
The discipline and analysis this requires flows into my looser, more improvisatory ink drawings and watercolours. In these, I allow my thoughts to stray and form random attachments which, in turn, inspire anarchic reactions in my pen or brush-work. And yet I rarely lose track of the picture's essential 'narrative' which manages always to suggest – to me, anyway – a clear-cut beginning and end.
If only it was as easy in my life outside of art.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Eye Of The Storm

I have been striving to get as much work as possible out of the studio ahead of Australia's long shut down from Christmas Eve to the middle of January.
I've been cleaning, re-touching and wrapping the last few enamels being consigned this year and in between, inspecting the last of the The Yes/No Stencils for flaws as each coat of enamel dries so that these, too, can also be readied for shipment. I have sent books and t-shirts to collectors and friends in the U.S. and Hong Kong and studies and small drawings to Australian collectors.
Also, I've been trying to finish another Big Pin-Up and sketch rough studies for a couple of other large enamel paintings. I am short on sleep and patience.
I'm looking forward to the absolute stillness – and with it, time for myself – that I know will descend in a day or two.
My life will be chaotic again soon enough. There are already ominous signs that trouble long-brewing for me in the one part of my working life still entangled with my past might come to a head in early January. Whatever unfolds, I'm determined to be undistracted by it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holiday Retreat

In Australia, the holiday season is a double whammy.
Last week, public schools finished for the year – the first term of the new year begins at the end of January – and this week, businesses and their employees wind down for not only Christmas and New Year celebrations but also a long Summer holiday, comparable to August in Southern Europe.
Many Australians, for whom holidays are something of a religion, enjoy four weeks of paid leave. From now until the middle of January, nothing much happens that isn't leisure-related.
Most art galleries remain closed until the beginning of February.
Predictably, I don't take much of a break. I already live on one of the more fashionable of Sydney's northern beaches so I don't feel the need to 'get away'. Because my phone goes quiet and I have no assistants around, I'm able to focus on neglected projects with fewer interruptions. My working days are longer and more solitary.
When I'm not immersed in my art, I catch up on my reading – and, even better, the backlog of films, documentaries and favorite series on my digital TV recorder.
I will spend Christmas day alone, an expression of my own insistent detachment and the reality of there being very few with whom I'd really want to share it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Art Is Love

I left home at dawn on Friday to deliver an enamel painting to a collector in Bondi, east of Sydney. With the painting double wrapped in Cell-Aire and bubble wrap, and wedged between a duvet and pillows in the back of my van, my assistant and I drove across the city through heavy pre-Christmas, using an iPhone as a GPS.
We carried the five-foot wide work into the collector's house then waited for the picture hanger. I hadn't seen the collector for a year. He made fresh coffee and we sat outside to watch the rain fall onto an unexpectedly green garden.
When the picture hanger arrived, we unwrapped the work together. The collector had to explain to him, three times, that I was the artist. The hanger thought that I was an art dealer and my mute assistant – to whom I had been giving instructions – the artist. When he finally 'got' it, he looked surprised.
As the hanger measured the wall, the collector gazed happily at the painting. I wanted to freeze that moment. The collector and I decided on the final position for the work as the hanger and my assistant held the painting up to the wall.
Before I left, the collector walked me through the rest of the house. An intimate watercolour of mine – commissioned by his wife, as a gift for him – hung on the wall in the main bedroom. A smaller enamel, which I will deliver next week, will be hung at the top of the stairs.
It occurred to me that had I persisted in the traditional gallery system, neither the collector nor I would have met like this. The gallery would have sent a staffer – if they had bothered to send anyone at all. And they, not I, would have gotten to see the work in its new environment and experience (and take credit for) the collector's happiness.
I got back to my studio in the early afternoon to an email from Menzies Art Brands. Having auctioned two of my works, last week, they'd forwarded me (at his request) the email address of the collector who bought Buck. I wrote to thank him for his support of my work and to send him a link to a study Polaroid for his painting.
Later, I called an overseas collector to discuss the details of recently commissioned paintings. We've corresponded and spoken about it regularly for the last two weeks. I also emailed several other collectors about delivery dates. A set of photographs arrived, showing the personal accessories of a high-powered female stockbroker who had asked me to try incorporate a selection into her commission.
Today, my assistant is wrapping coffee-table books which feature my work. I have signed them in hot pink ink tonight and they'll be sent on Monday to collectors who don't yet have a copy. When I am done writing this blog, I'll sprawl across the studio daybed to address postcards wishing everyone in my address book a Happy New Year. (If you'd like to receive one, please send me your snail mail address).
Keeping in touch with collectors and supporters of my work takes time. And yet making their ownership of my work a richer, more enjoyable experience is important to me and justifies my decision not to sell my art through a gallery.
It's about so much more than just 'servicing clients' and 'taking care of business'. I make more personal connections with my collectors and are able to give them a deeper appreciation of my art and ideas. I get to see what happens to my work after it leaves my studio – and witness my collectors' first experience of it.
What surprises me most, as I get to know the people most interested in my work, is just how much they care about it. It gives the lie to a former art dealer's comment that fine art is simply an elite form of interior decoration.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Low Take-Off

It was always going to be a tricky sell. A life-sized glossy painting of a half-naked, female Arab terrorist lobbing a grenade and video recording the result isn't the sort of image most people want on their living room walls. A couple of days before the auction, corporate art adviser who was in the market for one of my larger works told me that she couldn't recommend her clients to bid for it: "I love the work," she said. "But it presents real difficulties for them in the current environment."
Dangerous Career Babes: The Terrorist
is one of my favourite paintings. I took it hard when I heard it was up for sale barely a year after I'd completed it. I was also surprised that the auction house, Menzies Art Brands, agreed to take it on: they usually discourage sales of works less than five years old, no matter who the artist is, largely because canny bidders will tend to "grind the price into dust". Like fine wine, a painting should have a little age and history before it goes under the hammer.
It didn't help that the seller was, in sale-room parlance, 'motivated'. I suspect the reserve for the work was low and this, along with its young age and confronting subject matter, encouraged the auction house to set what I thought was a modest pre-sale estimate of $A10,00 to $A15,000 – not even half what another of the Dangerous Career Babes, The Aviator, achieve a little over a year ago in a sale of Australian art at Christie's in London.
I expected the worst.
In the end, it didn't turn out too badly. My works have established a solid track record at auction over the past couple of years, reflecting a rational, 'organic' growth in the prices achieved. Despite the notable absence of corporate money and a couple of enthusiastic collectors from S.E. Asia and the Gulf states, there were enough interested buyers to drive the price up to within a few hundred dollars of the high end of the pre-sale estimate. It sold for a total price of $A14,640.
An earlier, smaller work of mine, Buck (100cm x 150cm enamel on board) sold at the same session for $A 8,540. This was in the middle of Menzies' pre-sale estimate range – but three times more than the amount paid when the work was first sold through a Brisbane gallery in 2001.
A final note: I was the youngest female artist – by a decade or more – to have works included in the auction. However, I'm pretty sure that's the one thing bidders didn't give a toss about.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Big Pin-Ups

As my disenchantment with the traditional gallery system grows – fueled by acrimonious disputes with a couple of representatives of it that have cost me half a year's income in legal fees – whatever time I have between working on commissioned paintings has been absorbed by unstructured explorations of other media that eliminate the need to hang anything on a wall. I've been experimenting not only with digital video, getting to grips with the idiosyncracies of Final Cut Pro 7, but also sound. I record everything I can, from conversations to the white noise of the surf, on a small Edirol R-09 and use the raw material for aural collages that I might later use as soundtracks.
My focus on these new ideas – and new tools – has loosened up my approach to my painting. For a while now, I've wanted to paint the portraits of a few 'adult' performers I knew. However, I've resisted, mainly because I wanted to do them in a way that was somehow 'credible' – read 'politically correct' – as serious art.
Then a friend lent me a copy of David Bailey's collection of black and white portraits from the early Sixties, A Box Of Pin-Ups, featuring everyone from the infamous Kray brothers to a young Mick Jagger and the world's first supermodel (and Bailey's then girfriend), Jean Shrimpton.
I decided to do my own set of pin-ups. I painted them big, really big, so the larger-than-life-sized girls would loom over the viewer and I painted them pretty,
in high-gloss enamel, with simplified lines and soft, pastel hues. I painted the surface to be as shiney and sexy as each of 12 subjects – and yes, adhering to the convention, there is a Miss for every month.
I could have given the series a title that would offer an ironic wink to those looking for deeper intellectual substance but I resisted. They are simply Big Pin-Ups. Nothing more – but nothing less, either.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Talk, Talk

I woke in the middle of the night.
Without thinking, I climbed out of bed, pulled on a t-shirt and padded down the hallway to the studio. I sat on the teak daybed there and picked up a small digital video camera I keep on the coffee table. I balanced it on my knee, auto-focussed the lens on my face and pressed the record button.
Then I began to talk.
I talked to the camera as if it were my closest friend. I lost track of the time. I just kept talking until I ran out of things to say.
I'll do the same tonight and at other times over the next several days.
These impromptu monologues have nothing to do with emotional or psychological therapy. Rather, they're the seeds of something (as yet undefined) that might grow into a new artwork.
The last time I experimented with low res' digital video – producing a couple of short, clumsy pieces, Self Love and D.I.Y. Obscurity – was nearly a decade and a half ago.
I'm want to immerse myself in it again for a while to see what I can come up with.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Life Is On The Wire

I dropped off the grid for a week. I needed time and space to think.
Things change. Ideas change. I change. It was time to take account of this. It was also time to stop and take some bearings on the trail I've been cutting through a new frontier, far from the brain-numbing hubbub of an art system dominated by commercial galleries and institutional curators.
I've continued to collaborate with this creaky, regurgitative system from time to time but it's left me unhappy. I can't have anything more to do with it except on terms I dictate.
I am realistic enough to recognise that as long as my art is bought and sold by collectors and I depend on its value to make not just a living but more art, I'll never be able to disconnect myself from the 'market'.
My paintings Dangerous Career Babe: The Terrorist and Buck (from Slightly Indecent) will be auctioned at 6:30pm this Wednesday, 16th December, at Menzies Art Brands in Sydney.
The final previews are today and tomorrow. I've been thinking of going – the works above are two of my favourites and I'd like to see them one more time before they disappear.
As usual, I have pre-auction nerves. Unlike some local artists, I don't have a rich husband or a representative gallery to bid secretly for my works and ensure the buoyancy of my prices. I don't bid for it myself, either. In the auction room, as everywhere else, I perform without a net.
I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Sister Army

Now and then, other female artists send me gifts of their own work.
Yesterday, I opened a carefully wrapped set of four dry-point etchings from Emma Kirsopp. Delicate, subtle images of angiograms, an artificial heart, a coronary stent, the finely scratched lines conveyed a tight, frenetic energy. I loved them.
I also received a package of photographs from Rachel Marsden a while ago: female figures frozen in motion and layered with fire, they looked as if they were rising from the flames – or being burned like ecstatic witches. They're now being framed.
Rona Green
sent cool, quirky badges. On each is the face of an animal character adorned with old-school sailor and jail tattoos. She included a card made from part of one of her screen prints. I wrapped them in tissue, individually, and placed them in a box of precious things.
Each gift came with a personal note. I was deeply touched. I haven't had many female friends. I've never beeen described as a 'woman's woman' either (except, sometimes, in bed). And yet these women artists have given me a sense of support and solidarity I haven't felt before.
Like me, they are working steadily, alone, at the margins of the mainstream art world. But because I've shared my struggles openly online – and have been so successful – they've been inspired to reach out.
Maybe they're sowing the seeds for a quiet revolution. Art is war. It is also, just as importantly, love and care.
(Thank you.)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Action Figures

I'm having a bad week. Every one of my best laid plans for this last month of the decade has come unstuck and now I am all but entombed in my studio, working my butt off to clear a backlog of chores and paperwork in between working on studies for a handful of enamel paintings that I've decided will be my last for a while. My bone-tired body aches for relief.
At the end of the day, I flop in front of cable TV and empty my brain by watching a couple of hours of full-bore action flicks. It's no secret that I harbor a deep-seated fantasy about being a slinky, sinewy, gun-toting, fearless über-bitch who can dispatch her enemies with a barbed aside – and if that doesn't work, a swift kick to the face or a hail of hand-loaded bullets. Thankfully, there are plenty of role models.
These are my top ten:
Aeon Flux
is probably my favorite – but in the original, eponymous, avant-garde animation by Peter Chung, not the live-action travesty in which she's played by an altogether unsexy Charlize Theron. Nihilistic, moody, morally ambiguous and mercenary, I love everything about her: from her two-piece, vinyl skin-suit to her provocative acrobatics and improbable guns, she's a role model for 21st century girls.
Trevor Goodchild:
What you truly want, only I can give.

Aeon Flux:
You can't give it. You can't even buy it. And you just don't get it.
Sarah Connor, The Terminator's distaff human nemesis was probably better played by Lena Headey than she was by Linda Hamilton, less neurotic and nervy, more competent and disciplined, even if both defined a new dimension for over-protective mothers.
Then again, give Linda some heavy calibre firepower and she comes into her own – and the frisson of danger causes a younger generation of hard-bodied dykes to cum with her. (Actually, come to think of it,
they probably have a jones for the TV series' female Terminator, played by Summer Glau.)
La Femme Nikita is only Anne Parillaud – and no-one else. She played the junkie murderer turned intense, conflicted but casually chic government assassin in the original French film directed by Luc Besson. Complicated, vulnerable, naive, post-punk, she was a refreshing deconstruction of the little-black-dress-clad material girls of the late '80s.
There have been many
love scenes played out in bathrooms, especially in French films, but none quite so intensely as Nikita's.
GoGo Yubari, O-Ren Ishii's murderous Japanese bodyguard in Quentin Tarentino's Kill Bill was, for a while, the object of some of my most persistent sex fantasies. An ultra-violent, bloodthirsty, perverse kogyaru (high school girl) in a pleated, tartan mini-skirt, long socks and white blouse, what she lacks in age, she makes up for in madness.
She also has balls of steel – literally – and a
bad attitude towards any boy who doesn't take her fancy.
Gogo: Do you want to screw me? Don't laugh! Do you want to screw me, yes or no?

Man: Yes
Gogo: [stabbing him with a sword]: How 'bout now, big boy? Do you still wish to penetrate me... or is it I... who has penetrated you?
Satanico Pandimonio
in Tarantino's and Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk 'Til Dawn – played by a young, flexible and pneumatic Salma Hayek – does (for me) the sexiest movie dance to the coolest film soundtrack ever: "For your viewing pleasure: the mistress of the macabre, the epitome of evil, the most sinister woman to dance on the face of the earth."
She pours Quentin Tarrantino's drink down her leg and gets him to suck it as it runs off her toes. One whiff of blood and her breasts heave with lust and yearning before she turns into a hideous, killer vampire. The boys had it coming.
Selene
, played by Kate Beckinsale in Underworld, is a vampire hit-woman on the side of good and style, in collar-to-toe skin-tight leather bondage gear – and a leather trench-coat that'd make Neo from The Matrix drool with envy.
Like Aeon Flux, her hand-to-hand combat is as sensual (and as rough) as good sex and her guns are as intricate as they are big. She gets the good boy-wolf in the end, despite more obstacles than a Shakespearean romance, and so fulfils the fantasies that still lurk in the hearts of the hardest bitches.
Selene: Lycans are allergic to silver. We have to get the bullets out quickly, or they end up dying on us during questioning.
Michael Corvin: What happens to them afterward?
Selene: We put the bullets back in.
Andrea 'Scarface' Caracortada
from Pedro Almodovar's Kika, doesn't carry a gun or kill anyone but with breasts and an off-kilter fashion sense like hers (amazing outfits by Gaultier), she doesn't have to. Obsessed with morbid footage for her tabloid tv show, she's completely and fabulously crazy.
Mia Wallace
, played by Uma Thurman, in Pulp Fiction, doesn't kill anyone either. She doesn't have to (her husband does enough killing on his own). She's ineffably cool, especially when she dances with an even cooler John Travolta. White shirt, black slacks, blunt haircut and vampish deep red nail polish – if a legion of skinny fashion models weren't already, I'd dress like her every day.
Ripley
, played by Sigourney Weaver in the original and best of the Alien films, directed by Ridley Scott,
is the definitive hard girl. With shaved head, sweat-soaked white singlet and white panties, she doesn't wince when splattered with alien saliva or human blood. Instead, she faces down the queen beast armed, like all the girls who came after her, with an improbably big gun: "Get away from her, you bitch!"
It goes without saying that Ripley has been a hero of mine since I was a little kid.
River Tam
, played by Summer Glau (again) in Joss Whedon's space cowboy fantasy, Serenity, is probably the action girl for whom I feel the most empathy. Hermitic, shy and damaged (from invasive experiments on her brain by un-named evil scientists), she exudes a free-flowing, flower-child spacey-ness that verges on being dissociative until it's punctuated by episodes of incisive, rational, elevated intelligence that come to her in the most unlikely moments.
She's also dangerous, with a suprisingly practised ability not just to kick ass but to kill if the whimsy takes her. Who would have thought – an assassin with the soul of an artist?
So who's your heroine heroin?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Unbound

When I photograph myself, I think only of anatomy, angles and perspective. Any self-consciousness is lost. It's only when I begin to draw that I remember it's me.
My relationship with my body used to be austere and loveless. I suppressed every desire for physical pleasure. I ate like a bird, took drugs to deaden the senses and 'did' sex, when required, with clinical efficiency. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw were flaws – and not just with my body.
Over the past few years, I have, in every sense, let myself go. It's been a wonderful experience. I freed myself from wrapped-too-tight notions about how I should look and act and and threw caution to the wind. I ate for pleasure rather than to "feed the machine", as I used to put it. I responded to the sexual curiosity I'd repressed since I was in puberty and fucked both women and men, setting no boundaries for what I'd do with them. I fell in love, hard.
I even exposed myself in my art, allowing it to express the raw, unrefined tumult of my emotions.
Right now, I am reviewing a sheaf of study photographs of my body. Suddenly, I realise, I'm no longer critical of what I look like, of whom I think I am. My body has become the repository of more good memories than bad and even if it isn't quite as tight or as elastic as it used to be, it's the vessel of a freer, bolder, more imaginative and ultimately more satisfied self.