Thursday, April 30, 2009

Alt. Thinking

When I first started to experiment with depictions of what the tabloid critics liked to call 'graphic sex' in my paintings, drawings and photographs, a couple of years ago, it was assumed that I'd jumped on the 'sex positive' bandwagon. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was responding to what I saw as an increasingly wayward 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. As for those who were already celebrities, Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, and Kim Kardashian demonstrated that a little homespun porn could help rather than hinder a girl's career. You could even profit from it.
As I wrote at the time, "Porn's creepy sensibility has insinuated itself into every aspect of popular culture, from the fashion photographs of Terry Richardson to the pop star, Rihanna's robotic S&M stage persona. Hardcore porn has achieved legitimacy and through the internet, has found its way into the hands of millions of middle-class suburbanites who might never have risked a foray into an actual 'adult store' to buy it over the counter. With the proliferation of more sophisticated home media and easy-to-use applications, many have experimented with producing it themselves."
As Paris might have said, "Porn is, like, so hot right now." And at this junction of advertising, consumerism and a media-fueled preoccupation with celebrity, millions are already beginning to think of that once most private aspect of our lives as potential product. This sort of 'commercialised' sex intrudes in ways we might never have imagined.
Nowadays, we have a pretty good idea of how Paris, Kim and Pamela fuck – we've seen them, up close and in high def' colour – so we can't help but wonder if we 'do it' better. For many of these new-generation, media-fearless girls, sex is just another way of extending the promise of their brands and despite most of us averting our eyes (after a quick, appraising glance) from the dull brown tendrils fringing Brittany's up-skirt vage pics or Ice-T's missus, Coco's crevasse-like camel-toe, there are plenty of girls who want to emulate the various expressions of Samantha Ronson's hip, young lesbian brand or Amy Winehouse's poletarian metro-omnisexuality (perfect cred' for a louche, urban-Euro label). It's almost like another form of merchandise: never mind the t-shirt, try the sexual preference on for size.
My work has always limned not so much the junction but the collision of identity and sexuality with advertising and entertainment media. It used to be preoccupied with artifice, the facade. Big, colourful, glossy but brittle and ironic paintings have been the backbone of my output for a decade. Cinematic or billboard-like, depending on the subject, their emphasis has shifted in recent years from individual works to series, like my recent Dangerous Career Babes, that are supposed to be experienced as a single conceptual piece, like an advertising campaign. However, I began delving into porn because I saw it as a way of mapping some of media-shaped internal topography, specifically the psychological, emotional and spiritual rifts that had opened up within women of my age and younger as a result of our exposure to the relentless 'message/massage' of multiple media – media in which we have all now been reduced to the status of 'users'.
I opted not to do it at arm's length. After all, I'm an artist not an academic – I'm meant to be subjective. But I'd also found some of my sister artists' dalliances with it – from Sam Taylor-Wood's and Vanessa Beecroft's video performance pieces to Ghada Amer's needlework – just a little too prissy and purse-lipped to be interesting. So I let myself surrender to the 'Hollywood hypnenate' roles of producer, performer and consumer. And as I experimented with ways of transforming my vernacular experience of porn into art (not always succesfully) – subverting the polite conventions of watercolour painting to convey the oiled fleshy rutting of a low res' video shoot or reconceiving the garish saturation of a hardcore print spread as pallid, soft contrast, black and white photographs – I found myself re-thinking what I've been doing in all of my work.
I can't yet articulate the details. But one thing's for sure, I'm not yet done with this idea of 'artist as product, product as art'. Or with 'sex as product, product as sex', for that matter. Even if it isn't explored in broad surfaces of hard, smooth enamel paint.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Just Watch Me

After procrastinating for a couple of years, I've finally gotten around to uploading a little of the several hours of video I have lying around the studio to a new Dooney TV channel on YouTube.
I don't make claims for any of it as art. A lot is just experimental stuff I shot in my late teens and early twenties, during my brief dalliance with art school and the idea that I might work in film rather than painting. However, there are also glimpses of me in Lake Eyre, posing for study photographs that would later become a series of enamel paintings and chatting with other, much better known Australian artists, including David Larwill, Tim Storrier, and John Olsen. Over the next few months, I'll upload more recent material, including footage shot at both my Sydney studios and on my recent travels, as well as interviews and the occasional video artwork.
I'm not sure what it will all amount to but like everything else I do online, it's an attempt to figure out just how to interweave Web 2.0 with the rest of my work as an artist and access a broader audience outside the 'bricks-and-mortar' of the old-school gallery system.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Looking Naked, Part One

The life study has long been an important element in the classical training of artists.
At art schools, large and small, a respect almost verging on reverence surrounds the simple exercise of observing and recording the naked human form. Models are arranged in angular but emphatically unsexy poses. Artists stand awkwardly behind rows of easels and try to reproduce what they see as accurately as possible. It's a purely technical task, devoid of any intellectual or emotional engagement. The figure before them might just as well be a vase of flowers or a bowl of fruit.
Much has been made by feminists about the importance of drawing the face: their argument is that this identifies every human body and discourages us from any inclination to depersonalise it. And yet the enduring tenet of every life study is just this depersonalisation: the body, male or female, is reduced to a malleable sack of meat and bone, mere anatomy to be subjected to the same sort of detached forensic examination that corpses receive from student doctors.
It's a bloodless ritual meant only to enhance technique. Any connection to the persona of the model is discouraged. Nothing is revealed other than the body. The closed, silent rooms in which models pose suppress any stimuli that might provoke a an unwanted physical response from them.
Recently, I read an article online titled The Nude Figure And Christianity. The emphasis of the piece is on drawing the nude in a clinical context, and only as a way to master observation and technique. Curiously, this puritan reasoning is almost the same as in the most experimental art school, or drawing class:
"If you can accurately and expressively draw or paint or sculpt the human form you can draw anything."
In talking about the supposed problems and flaws associated with drawing the nude, the piece actually locates the real issues that should be explored within the drawing:
".. we are required, to a degree, to suffer through overly-sexualized, unrealistically-modified advertising on a ludicrous and unhealthy scale — a fact which distorts our perception of reality and can subsequently wreak havoc in almost all areas of our lives."
Drawing the nude in a sterile setting is not really an attempt to dehumanise the body, to strip it of physical and personal identity. It's an experiment in denial, a conditioning exercise that forces the artist to disregard their own aesthetic, sexual predilection, social prejudice and preconceptions – most of which are forged, these days, by exposure to the codified, largely fictive, popular narrative that unites multiple tiers of media-driven, consumer-oriented culture.
Which leaves us with this to think about: The remote, almost clinical way in which a persona-less body is offered up during a life study not only strips it of humanity but negates students' inclinations to use the real stuff of a contemporary imagination. They might learn to draw beautifully but they'll still be a long way being artists.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Life In The Day

Every morning for eleven years, from Monday to Friday, Andy Warhol phoned his secretary (and unofficial Factory biographer) Pat Hackett to download to her in a gossipy narrative everything he had done the day before. The ritual began because the artist wanted a formal record to justify his income tax deductions, which, every year, were audited by the Internal Revenue Service. Hackett was an attentive listener. Over time, she encouraged Warhol to expand the detail of each day and even dish the dirt on his celebrity pals. By the time he died, the transcribed diary ran to over 20,000 pages. A large-format hardback version published in 1989 ran to a more modest 807 pages.
I originally began uploading brief (limit 140 characters) updates to Twitter to keep my collectors informed about commissioned work moving through my studio, upcoming exhibitions and auctions, as well as relevant press coverage. Within just a couple of weeks, it has evolved into my own version of Warhol's morning phone call: in 10 to 20 short sentences each day, I describe not only work-in-progress but my moods, reading references, meetings – even the odd masturbatory fantasy. And instead of Pat Hackett, I have over a thousand online 'followers' and fellow Tweet-addicts.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lost Thoughts

Days like this, art fails me.
I can’t help thinking,
“What if yesterday was
the last of my imagination?
What if i never have
another idea?”
Days like this, I’m happy.
I don’t have to care
for what’s in my head.
And I can turn my back on
having to pretend
I am a god.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Coming To The Fat Man

The fat man first appeared in my work in early 2006, just as I was finishing the dozen or so watercolours on paper I exhibited under the title Venus In Hell at MARS Gallery in Melbourne, the same year.
He was originally conceived as a houngan, a Voodoo priest, but in works done after the exhibition, he evolved into an impish, priapic Buddha. I loved drawing him in all his forms. He was completely different to the lithe, leggy female figures that populate much of my work. Broad but squat, his large, round belly hung over his waist like an over-stuffed life-jacket. His head was also round and completely bald, his legs short, with thighs that were thick and soft. Between them nestled a long, circumcised cock. His age was indeterminate.
The fat man was probably inspired by a passage I came across, a couple of years before, in a short story by a writer whose name I can't now remember. I copied a paragraph onto a page of one of my sketchbooks.
It read:
I studied myself naked in a full-length mirror behind the bedroom door – a brief physical audit of nearly forty-nine years of self-indulgence and neglect. I was morbidly obese. My skin was still elastic, even where it hung in a fold over my hips, but pale and discoloured with age. My cock was receding into a fattening pubis; I could no longer see it over my stomach, except when it was erect. My ankles and knees were swollen and there were striations of cellulite beneath my buttocks. My hands were misshapen with arthritis. My hair was cropped close to my skull but it had become so grey and patchy that it resembled the mottled flesh of a corpse. The rest of my body was overtaken with hair and benign growths. My teeth were yellowing and there was an after-taste of decay beneath my tongue. My eyes were bloodshot, a combination of tiredness and high blood-pressure, and my sight was failing. I had to wear glasses to read anything smaller than 14-point.
The fat man wasn't a central figure in my pictures. Mostly, he was consigned to the margins, from where he was either a curious observer or a kind of ethically ambivalent conscience with an apparent but undefined connection to whatever was happening. In My Houngan, he's a passive, jade-green gnome whose cock is entwined with a rosary bead. In The Descent he's fucking an ecstatic African woman as he stares from darkened sockets straight at the viewer. In Kelly, The First Time, No. 1, he is an indistinct smear in the upper left-hand corner of the composition, a shadowy observer or maybe just a ghost.
The fat man has re-appeared in a recent batch of small, watercolour sketches. He's older, frailer, more obese and running to seed. No longer a spiritual or demonic figure, he has fallen to earth and into the arms of louche, media-enabled, modern young women for whom he becomes a passive play-thing. I feel for him, so in all my sketches he's mostly prone, a dying whale stranded on a barren beach.
When I was younger, I loved the pale, soft, ample women of Titian and Rubens and their blotchy, corpulent, 20th century sisters depicted by Lucien Freud. But beyond Freud, whose nudes ruthlessly examine the morbidly obese or dessicated flesh of both sexes (rendering even Kate Moss as a pretty but still ropey-looking middle-aged woman), there are few other painters for whom fat aging males are a compelling subject matter.
I'm still not entirely sure why they are for me. I suspect it's because I can better express elements of my own truths within the motley but expansive topography of the fat man's body than that of someone younger, buffer but less lived-in. It's round, swollen contours have, too, something in common with a woman's body – curved in places yet firm, not as soft as a woman's – and I feel the same comfortable flow from eye to my brush or pencil as I draw them.
Oddly, maybe, I also find them just as sensual.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Inventing Our Selves

When I'm asked what my art's about – which is every time I'm interviewed or talking to patrons at one of my openings – I talk about how a contemporary woman's identity (including her sexuality) is defined by advertising, entertainment, and commercial pornography.
My take on it is dystopic: we surrender ourselves to cookie-cutter personae concocted by producers, programmers and marketers and blithely follow the scripts they pen for us. We become actors in a curious reality show they direct in our heads. It makes us more amenable to a relentless, ambient commercial feed. We become more malleable as consumers.
I'm no different – which is why fictive, media-inspired versions of me turn up in nearly all my work. My recent big enamel paintings are produced in series (just like TV shows and ad campaigns) because I'm trying to replicate the experience of mass media.
Let's face it, it's getting
hard to tell art (and artist) from product – something both Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst understood.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Open And Shut Case

As some of you have noticed, I've shut down the Dooney Studio 'catablog'.
It was very short-lived. Online for just a couple of weeks, its limitations as a medium for keeping potential collectors updated about the many, disparate, smaller works currently available from my stock room were almost immediately apparent.
These works, mostly on paper, created as illustrations for this blog or as preliminary sketches for other larger woks in other media, will never be exhibited. Still, they're keenly sought after, both by serious collectors, who like to have examples of my looser drawings and watercolours to round out what they already own of my oeuvre, and by younger buyers who can't yet afford my larger works on paper (such as the Venus In Hell series) nor my PORNO photographs, let alone my enamel paintings.
If you are interested in acquiring one of these smaller works, which are all priced below $A1,000, and want to see what's available, please email my personal assistant, Priya. She will email you images along with measurements and a description of the media used. She can also tell you what catalogs of past exhibitions and auctions, exhibition merchandise, and books are in stock.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Painting Over The Cracks

“I think we should be together,” she said, suddenly. “You know, have a relationship.”
I kept moving the wide paint brush up and down on the canvas, squinting at the surface to make sure the enamel was covering it evenly. I didn't want to talk. I was still having trouble blocking out the pain of my recent past with her.
After a couple of awkward minutes, I said, “Let's just be friends. I don’t think I can be with anyone right now.”
When she and I were together, we never fucked. I wasn't ready, I kept telling her. It got complicated, then it ended. I careened from one man to another in a tangled string of brief, unfulfilling relationships.
I made us both some jasmine tea. Her lips pursed slightly as she sipped the hot liquid. I remembered what it was like to kiss them lightly.
“What are you going to do now?," she asked.
“Make art,” I answered. It was still the only thing I could trust myself to do well.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Who Am I?

For a third consecutive year, I've been included in the Who's Who Of Australian Women, published today by Crown Content.
This year's edition explores the theme, Lessons We Learn. As the publisher explains, "More than 6,000 notable women from all fields of endeavour reflect on their formal educations and the wisdom they have garnered from their unique life experiences." It's been so long since I was approached to contribute a paragraph or two that I can't really remember what I wrote. I'm pretty sure it had nothing to do with the benefits of formal education – I've had little – and I'm still bloody short on wisdom.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Crazy, When I Was Young

“Wanna try on the wig?” the DJ asked me, holding out a mirror.
It was a tired joke between us. A year ago, I had snorted cocaine for the first time. After the first hit, a bunch of us tried to flag a cab to a party. We were laughing, smiling, sucking on cigarettes, chewing gum and swilling water. I was wearing a black Cleopatra-style wig. Weaving down the main street of a petit bourgeois suburb, between customers sitting at sidewalk tables outside cafés and restaurants, I'd declared, loudly, ”I love this wig.” I remember breathing in and feeling a heady rush of pure pleasure. It emanated from my heart to the tingling nerve-endings at the tips of my fingers and toes. I thought, “I feel so good and confident and sexy. Wearing this wig makes me feel alright about everything.” But all I was was high.
Like ecstasy, coke only ever felt really good the first time. I tried a lot of other drugs afterwards to recapture that careless, fleeting, seductive feeling – and never did. I don't do any of them anymore.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Self-Portrait

The fat, old man lay on his back in the middle of the bed. The folds of his large, pale belly spilled over his hips like blancmange. His eyes were closed and he breathed so lightly that for a moment, I wondered if he might be dead.
A small Asian girl, a third of his age, knelt on the bed next to him, her head slightly bowed as if in prayer over his body, her long black hair just touching his chest. One of her hands rested lightly on his thigh, the long, thin fingers spread apart and slightly arched like a bird's claw.
"Keep your fingers away from his cock," I told her. It lay, flaccid, in a patch of thinning pubic hair, just a couple of centimetres from the tip of one of her black-varnished fingernails. She slid her hand back from it cautiously as I framed another shot. The fat man didn't stir.
Twenty or thirty Polaroid prints were scattered around the polished timber floor where I stood. I hadn't bothered to look at any of them. I was absorbed by the scene I was creating, through a series of expressive grunts and hand waves and the occasional, curt command, as I peered through the viewfinder of a plastic Polaroid 600 camera. I moved around the bed slowly, taking a pace or two forward or back as I reframed an image.
My index finger depressed the shutter release and with a loud click and whirr, another self-processing print was ejected from the front of the camera.We had been working together like this, the three of us, for a couple of hours. Bright natural light filled the room and was reflected by the white-painted walls and plain white linen on the bed.
Later, I would shoot half a dozen rolls of black and white 35mm film, over-exposing each frame by a stop to lighten the fat man's skin tones and make him look like even more corpse-like. In contrast, the Asian girl, her faced masked by a fall of straight black hair, turned into a dark but still somehow benign demon come to claim his soul.
I had already done a series of small, fast sketches of details: the girl's fingers and the sinewy contours of her neck, the fat man's gnarled, shrunken cock and the globular folds of flesh around his waist and under his arms. I observed closely and recorded with the clinical detachment of a crime scene investigator or a curious pathologist.
The mismatched couple didn't say a word. They simply did as I asked. They were strangers to each other – and to me – but as the day went on, they became increasingly complicit in the slow, almost prayer-like unwrapping of my ideas. Towards the end of the afternoon, the Asian girl took the fat man's cock in her hand and held it, still, in her open palm. I photographed quickly as it lengthened and hardened, my lens less than half a metre from the head.
That night, I pinned the Polaroids and the sketches at eye level around the walls of my studio. I studied each one closely trying to recall what had caught my eye in that moment. I scribbled notes about colours or additional details on the sketches, to give them context in the picture I was beginning to create in my head. I was still studying the images when the first, reddish sliver of sunrise penetrated the closed curtains of the studio.
I didn't feel like sleep. I wanted to keep on working. I opened the curtains and the large glass doors of my studio. A crisp, saline ocean breeze caused the pinned-up photographs and papers to rustle like Tibetan prayer flags.
I pulled a double-framed, full-length mirror to the centre of the studio floor. I stripped off all my clothes and stood in front of it to examine my own body, stifling a self-negating shudder as I identified where I had stored a little more fat or lost some youthful suppleness. I was, still am, young but these glimpses of inevitable aging and decay were unsettling.
They were also inspiring. I documented them with Polaroids as I angled my limbs and contorted my body to re-trace patterns I had sketched roughly the night before. I imagined myself as a multi-armed Hindu goddess, a delirious rave dancer and a ninja assassin in mortal hand-to-hand combat. I imagined myself as a stoned street whore entangled with a john in an alley. And as I imagined, I photographed, until I was too tired to do anything more.
The eventual works flowed as easily as the expensive English watercolours I used. Fragmented impressions arranged themselves in a coherent, narrative structure as their shapes and colours seeped into the fibre of the paper. In places, I reinforced strong sensations in pen and ink and alternately scribbled and erased passages from my diary or from short poems – scribbled in hard pencil or acryclic paint applied with a fine brush to form a further layer of both texture and back-story. I inserted symbols drawn from childhood (a dead bird, a snake skeleton) and Carribean voodoo vévés as clues to the weird magic that, I believed, haunted each picture.
When they were done, I hid them away for several weeks. I wanted noone to know of them but me. There would be a time when they would belong to others, when I might not see them ever again. But right now, they were mine. Only mine.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Remembering How I Came To Be, Final Part

I dressed in a pale blue top with a plunging, ruche neckline, a dark pencil skirt, and shoes with a soft, spongy platform heel. The rubber was a swirl of ice-cream colours: chocolate, caramel and banana. I painted my lips a dark, Pulp Fiction red, and made them shiny with gloss.
My mother showed me press for the exhibition. A widely distributed street paper had reprinted the press release I'd sent them, along with a small image. The image was also featured in the What’s On section of the art pages in Brisbane's main newspaper, The Courier Mail.
I had an hour and a half until the show opened. I sat for a moment thinking about everything that had brought me to this point. Until a few day's ago, I'd intended to move to Sydney and work as a fashion model. I didn't really think I could be an artist. I'd only sold one painting and that was to make some extra money to travel to Sydney.
Now everything had changed.
“I’ll see you up there,
OK?” I told my mother. “I'll make my own way.” She kissed me on the cheek and smiled. I walked slowly out of the house and up the sloping street towards the hall.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Remembering How I Came To Be, Part Two

I rented a small room in the centre of my brother's house as a studio. The room was so narrow, I could paint only one large work at a time in it.
My brother, a house-painter, tried to show me how to use enamel. As usual I was impatient and only half-listened. I wrecked the first few canvases by not letting each coat dry properly. The heavy paint slid like mud down the surface, trailing gelatinous, lumpy streaks. As it dried, it puckered into deep wrinkles. I called the paint manufacturer's technical department. They gave me the same advice my brother had.
When the work was finished, there was no space to step back and look at it properly, let alone photograph it.
I bought an instant camera and filled every frame of 35mm colour negative film with close-ups. I pressed myself against the wall opposite the painting then, beginning at the top left-hand corner, I photographed it in sections. Snapping a shot, taking a step right, snapping a shot again, shuffling left and starting again, crouching a little lower – I repeated this process until I reached the bottom left-hand corner of the three-metre wide frame.
The next morning, I picked up the 6” x 4” prints from a local two-hour processing kiosk. Sitting in a café, I arranged the disparate prints, overlapping and skewing each like a glossy piece of a mosaic, in order to assemble a coherent image. Using Sellotape, I stuck the pieces together as best I could. It looked terrible but at least it showed the painting in full.
I took the picture to the owner of the hall in which I wanted to hang my first exhibition. He grimaced and sighed as I entered the space and strode up to his desk. I laid the taped-together photographs on the table before he could refuse to look at them.
So he looked – and he smiled.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Remembering How I Came To Be, Part One

Sprawled across a chaise longue in my mother's house, I reached for the 'phone and dialed the model agency in Sydney.
“How're you going with those last two kilos?” the woman who ran the agency asked me. She didn't even bother with 'hello'.
“I’m not coming,” I said. There was silence. Then, before she could complain about all the time and money the agency had invested in me, I told her, “I’m going to be an artist.”
“That’s not a living,” she said.
“That's not the point,” I replied. I apologised for wasting her time.
I called my boyfriend who was waiting for me in Sydney and told him almost exactly the same thing.
“But your first show hasn't even opened yet,” he said.
“I know. I’m sorry,” I told him. “I wish I’d figured it out sooner.”

Friday, April 10, 2009

Wear Me Out

Last year, I curated an exhibition of my own and other photographers' intense, graphically sexual images at Melbourne Art Rooms in Melbourne. Titled PORNO, it was one of my best-attended and most controversial shows.
On opening night, all the gallery staff wore white PORNO t-shirts – the name of the show on the front, my name, web site URL and a butch, Avedon-like portrait of me on the back. They were also available for attendees to buy. I still have a couple of dozen left in medium, large and extra large, all of them signed. I am making them available for $A30, plus delivery.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

I Won't Be Your Give Man No More

More and more galleries are developing websites. So-called virtual galleries are popping up everywhere online.
Some of the dealers behind these efforts are writing about their reasons for getting out of bricks and mortar. They're not exactly a mystery: gallery profits are falling and the sway they used to hold over artists has been undermined by a younger generation of artists (and musicians and film-makers) savvy enough to use the web to manage and promote their own careers.
A gallerist recently wrote on Art News Blog, "Why shouldn't the internet be profitable for both artists and galleries?" Well, for one thing, the whole point of the web is that it disintermediates – in other words, it makes life tough on the middleman.The gallerist tried to argue that collectors discover artists through visiting galleries – so galleries have a right to any and all sales of artists' works: "A collector walks through our doors, falls in love with the artist, goes home and Googles the artist and then commissions directly from the artist." The implication is that it's the gallery that attracts the collector. What nonsense! Collectors seek out a gallery which represents a particular artist in whom they are interested. The gallery then tries to leverage that specific interest to 'introduce' the work of the other artists they represent.
That any artist owes a gallery for the development of their career is also a nonsense. The artist has usually worked hard his or her entire life to achieve recognition – and more often than not, their relationship with a gallery represents just a small percentage of that life. Besides, very few are the galleries or gallerists that have the high-level skills required to develop and manage even a moderately successful career, let alone a stellar one – many are nothing more than self-regarding poseurs lacking the business sense of second-rate shopkeepers.
In 2005, I was represented by one of the best-known gallerists in Australia. Not long after I signed with him, he complained bitterly to me about another female artist who had recently left his stable. He ranted angrily about her, claiming that he had "made her career" and that she was "bloody ungrateful". He was particularly irked because she had left just as her prices were beginning to rise dramatically.
And yet it was obvious from her output and career arc that she'd worked incredibly hard and had earned every part of her success herself. She had always sold well, even before she was represented by this gallery, but the gallerist had also made plenty of money from her over the years. He had also retained a reputation for being hip and contemporary solely through the publicity he gained because of her work.
I suspect that he had refused to increase the price of her work (as he had also refused to increase mine) not just because he was a lazy salesperson but because he just didn't like the idea of an artist "getting above themselves". Her prices increased not as a result of his efforts but because she gained interstate representation and entered more high profile competitions, which drew more attention to her work. Nonetheless, he felt entitled to a percentage of whatever she earned, forever.
The concept that artists owe these people to whom they're often compelled to pay up to 50 per cent of their earnings (oh, plus gallery expenses) is exploitative and debasing. Let's face it, galleries don't do any artist a favour. They take on those who are most likely to be successful or who have already achieved some level of success. The art business is, after all, a business not a charity and it has fuck-all relevance to culture, despite its pretensions.
Artists are traded between galleries like football players between teams – or, worse, like whores between bordellos.
I once schlepped my work and myself seven hours by plane (at my own cost) to exhibit at a gallery interstate. It was sold to me by my gallerist at the time as a 'good strategic move' to build my career. As it turned out, my gallerist just wanted shared some of the success he'd had with me with a business ally. After the gallery's commissions and my travel and accommodation were paid, I was left deeply in debt. Of course, I dumped the gallerist, who was not only peeved but tried to demand a percentage of all my future sales.
The art business is all about petty power plays. Artists, gallerists, institutional and corporate curators, art magazine editors, and critics are all complicit in them.
Art magazines rely on advertising from galleries to fund their publications and in Australia, at least, there is little or no art critique that is independent of the traditional gallery system. It's ironic, really, that so many apparently creative minds are trapped within a system that only works if everyone plays the same sleazy, corrosive game – to rules made up to benefit everyone but the artist.
A younger, more independent-minded generation of artists, of which I am unarguably one of the first, is less inclined to bother with the game at all. We like to think of it as beneath us – along with all the other fakers and percentage-takers that persist in playing it. We're too busy connecting and working with each other and our audience, taking responsibility for our own careers. reclaiming a measure of self-reliance and maybe even a little dignity. Being under someone else's control, being told that you owe them half your income plus expense, being passed around their so-called friends, is demeaning and ultimately unproductive.
A number of years ago, I asked an art dealer who managed a well-known artist why he didn't create a web site for the artist. He laughed and told me the web wouldn't make a difference. I thought he was stupid. But I suspect he may have been better at his own game than I'd realised. Creating a website would have, inevitably, empowered the artist and diluted the influence of the art dealer.
But the power of new media, combined with the accelerating decline of traditional galleries, especially in a drastically deteriorating global economy, is such that even the most persistent and grasping middlemen will lose their grip in the near future. While artists will flourish on the net, only a very few galleries are likely to adapt to it, let alone be able transfer offline success online.
As any geek – or record company – can tell you, the web works against any effort to exert control within it.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Mediating Myself

Despite the five-figure prices for my recent, large enamel paintings and the four-figure price tags on my smaller works, I've created many even smaller pieces – not all of them art – that can be had for a lot less than $A1,000. Scattered around my studio and stored in my stock room are chapbooks of poetry and small drawings, Polaroids, digital and hand-printed enlargements from 35mm negatives, limited edition etchings, clay dolls, and small works in various media on paper, as well as signed postcards, posters, and limited edition t-shirts. I've decided to offer some of these things for sale at a new 'catablog', Dooney Studio, to be managed by my studio assistants.
Of course, my personal writings here will continue and my web site will remain the definitive reference resource for my work. And if all that's not enough, you can get bite-sized bits of me through each day at Twitter.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Limited Edition Print Update

The first 100 of the limited edition of 500 small photographic prints that I've offered free to those who send me their snail mail addresses are being mailed next week. Even with my assistant and I working together on them, it has taken much longer than expected to sign and number them all, wrap them in glassine paper, and address the envelopes. However, as a package, they present well and I hope recipients will be pleased with them. If nothing else, they're a memento of an unique art studio initiative.
As I've written before, everybody who has requested a print will get one – provided they've emailed their address. However, don't expect to get them within a week or even two. Those to overseas destinations will be sent by surface mail.
And yes, there's still time to request one.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Small Rituals Of Self-Examination

I've sketched and photographed a lot of Asian girls and every time, there is this sort of slow, almost ritualistic unravelling of themselves, which comes across as an unsettling hesitancy to unveil not just their bodies but their selves. I've always found it hard to explain.
Then, today, when I came across this passage in a short story. The woman described is a late-20-something, 21st century Japanese, but it conveys very beautifully what I have glimpsed in Koreans, Chinese and Thais.
"She sheds her soiled clothes in front of a mirror in the windowless bathroom, and surveys her body with forensic detachment. It is still brown and thin but to her eyes, it looks, somehow, amorphous. She pokes the unblemished skin on her arms and legs to test its tautness, and pinches her narrow hips and concave pelvis to check for fat. Her palms heft her small breasts and flat buttocks to gauge their subsidence, and her fingertips trace the shallow fissures at the corners of her eyes’ epicanthic folds. Like many Japanese, her lower front teeth are crooked, yellowed by nicotine. She pretends a smile that exposes only the straighter, less damaged enamel of her upper teeth and reminds herself to visit a dentist.
"Her body is the only object of the few disordered rituals she observes. As a child, her grandmother took her to the local public baths and, with an almost spiritual rigour, ensured that she learned not only to bathe with an abrasive efficiency but to look no further than the surface of things, to respect the efficacy of veneer. It was always implicit that her appearance was an asset, and even before she could possibly understand why, she was encouraged to put every effort into improving its longevity and value – a value to be determined later, by others, most of them men.
"She still senses her grandmother’s stern grey eyes every time she bathes. If she were still alive, she would be fretting about her grand-daughter who had failed – she would use that word with bitterness – to find a husband by the time she was 25. Marriage for her grandmother’s and mother’s generations was not about love; it was a practical transaction in which a husband provided a reasonable level of security, comfort and status and, in return, a dutiful wife raised their children, cooked, cleaned and from time to time, serviced his sexual needs. Affection was a happy accident, not a necessary part of the deal."

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Dark Matter

My first studio was a ground floor apartment in a block of Art Deco flats, in Brisbane.
The block was perched high on a hill at the outskirts of the ciity. In front of my windows, a sheer cliff dropped to the edge of a busy road and stairs zig-zagged down it to a narrow footpath. The rumble of heavy trucks and buses reverberated through the timber floors of the studio; I could feel it through my bare feet and through my mattress which lay on the floor. Blue industrial plastic was taped as a protective cover on the walls in the living room where I painted and it reflected a shimmering blue light throughout the space. At night, even the black seemed to glow blue.
The deadline for my first gallery exhibition had been moved forward. Suddenly, it just wasn't possible finish all my paintings in time. It felt like a death sentence – so I decided to work myself to death.
Every few hours I inhaled dexamphetamine, bought from a raver who had conned a gullible doctor into thinking he was
narcoleptic. I stayed awake, buzzing like a ripped high voltage wire, for days on end. If I crashed, I slept a little then just upped the dosage. It was my first real chance and I refused to blow it. After six weeks, the fabric between dream and hallucination was torn. Visions of vindictive angels whispered about me as they hovered at the edge of night-time shadows. Some called my name faintly, as if from a distance.
The day before the exhibition opened, I collapsed. My father carried me away from the gently vibrating floor and the softly glowing blue room. He delivered the paintings to the gallery while I slept.
Today, wide awake, I wanted to paint a little of what I still remember of those savage, dislocated days.

The Secret Of My Success

The day after my very first exhibition at a commercial art gallery, which had sold out, the gallery's director told me, ""Whatever you do, don't change your style."
It wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear.
She went on to tell me about other artists who had become financially successful this way. I recognised the names – and hated their works. They were repetitive, formulaic, and worst of all, stupid. The only reason the gallerist liked them was because they were easier to sell. The repetition had no conceptual reason. In every case, it was just about easy money.
I became an artist because I wanted to explore more deeply the emotional and psychological terrains that intrigued and obsessed me. I never considered making the same thing over and over, with small variations, just for the money – unless, of course, it was part of exploring an idea. Without an underlying concept, the work became meaningless, insulting and exploitative.
And yet for many major artists, the central problem of success remains breaking free of the commercial and popular pressure to do the same sort of works over and over. It affects so many of us, from Australia's painter of outback desolation and burning rope', Tim Storrier, to Vanessa Beecroft, Damien Hirst, and yeah, me.
I think I'm still young, hungry and reckless enough to rid myself of this burden and ignore everybody's expectations. I have done it before and it has paid off. But it has always been touch-and-go.
I just figure I have nothing to lose.
Besides, risk makes my heart beat faster. It turns me on sexually and it engages my mind, even when it frightens the shit out of me. In every instance, I never hesitate to put everything on the line.
Artists only lose when they play it safe. Jeff Koons'
Rabbit is just another floating balloon in a Macy's Parade. Vanessa Beecroft's early installations of naked women have been turned into a branded retail display for Louis Vuitton. Damien Hirst's endless versions of animals in formaldehyde make the stronger works in the series weaker. His most powerful works, such as A Thousand Years, are further undermined with each new pickled carcass, fast-money dot and swirl painting, or high profile diamond-encrusted skull stunt.
I always knew that repeating the same works over and over was a trap. One of the reason's I did all my
Dangerous Career Babes as dress-up Barbie dolls stuck in the same action pose, was to rip the whole idea of repetition to shreds. So this is not a problem I am confronting with any nervousness.
No, my biggest problem is the one I thought I'd never have – embracing my own success.
I fought so hard, and for so long, to have a measures of critical acclaim, celebrity and wealth and yet I never really imagined it would be even a fraction of what has come my way in the last few years.
I'm used to scuffling, scratching, and hustling for any scrap of attention and to make enough money to get me through the next canvas. So it has been unexpectedly confronting to be on the receiving end of so much opportunity, praise, acceptance, and yeah, money. I know I wanted those things – badly – but I still don't know how to handle them with grace, appreciation and satisfaction. They make me uneasy, make me feel like something must be wrong because I feel so damn good. Sometimes, it gets so bad, it drives me crazy and I try to pull it all apart.
It's going to take some time for me to be able to accept my increasing success, let alone enjoy it. It going to take even longer for me to feel like I deserve it.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Out Of Africa

The SeekProject is an art and design brand initiative established in, of all places, Lagos, in Nigeria. It describes itself as "an avenue for us as artists to constantly look at ways to get our art perspective out to the open and to add more art to the world. Its a platform for self initiated and commisioned work, creative independence and growth." Since 2003, it has been a source of ideas, practical information, inspiration and hip product for young, both for and from Nigerian artists and designers. Recently, Seek approached me about republishing my essay, Life Study, first published in the Australian quarterly, Griffith REVIEW, a few years ago, on its site.
It can now be read there in its entirety, along with a couple of other interesting articles on commercial graphic design.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Unschooled

Recently, a student wrote to me to ask about becoming an artist. She told me that she planned to go to art school "to make contacts" and to be around other artists. In my experience, art school doesn't help you to make contacts – unless those contacts are academic. I've made many more simply by exhibting my work and promoting it on- and offline.They are in the 'real world' of commercial galleries, collectors, corporate patrons, curators, critics (and their editors), publishers, as well other artists.
I didn't finish my art degree. I dropped out after only one semester. But I remained friends with many who remained. All complained that the rigid course curriculum leached as much, maybe more, from them than it replenished.
Those who were most passionate about art when they began – and in my opinion, were the promising artists of my year – abandoned art completely after finishing their degrees. They were worn down by the theory-laden criticism of lecturers and tutors and the low marks they got for what was unquestionably intriguing, innovative work. Their imaginations were strangled – not inspired – by the system's hide-bound notions about the sort of work they were 'supposed' to be producing.
The bottom line is, art colleges in Australia just aren't that good. None can claim the rich histories – or famed alumni – of Slade, Goldsmiths, or St. Martins in the U.K. And none of them can offer an aspiring young artist access to a senior tutor as distinguished as Michael Craig-Martin. Originality is elemental to the success of these institutions as well as their sustained influence on the wider culture..
In Australian art colleges, as in Australia generally, originality is actively discouraged – if it's recognised at all.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mixing It Up

I spent the early afternoon peering through a miasma of enamel fumes at an expanse of carefully prepared board. On it, a jigsaw of pencilled outlines marked which angular fragments of red and yellow were to be painted. Even though I knew the fumes were toxic, I couldn't help sniffing to feel the familiar, acetone-tinged fizz at the back of my throat.
Later, Jim, the painter who assists me on my large enamel on board works, helped me prepare paint. I chose and double-checked colours; he mixed them. We daubed a little of each on a small area of the board then let it dry to gauge how much it would darken. If I'd been alone, this process would have been slow and painstaking but with Jim, it moved along quickly. Maybe I was less inclined to be distracted.
Now it's raining. Above our heads, the heavy downpour sounds like rice cascading onto a steel drum. Occasionally, a strong gust of wind rattles the studio's old roller doors.