Last week, I drove from Brisbane to Queensland's Gold Coast to visit an art gallery. The route took me past all the theme parks I went to in my early teens – my favourite was Wet 'n' Wild, even before I understood the sexual connotation – but it wasn't until I reached the faux-Miami high-rise apartment blocks and hotels strewn along the wide, bleached-white beaches that I realised just how much influence the place had exerted on my young imagination. In summer, big-titted 'meter maids' in gold bikinis, stilettoed shoes and cowboy hats wandered the streets topping up parking meters while buff, blonde surfer boys and improbably tanned young girls in ass-clutching cut-off jeans flirted across the hoods of custom-painted panel vans. Everywhere was clean, glossy and shiney, as if air-brushed or enamelled. All the old people had age-indeterminate hair-pieces or dye-jobs and wore gleaming gold chains and store-bought skin tones. 19 Karen was the address as well as the name of the gallery. It was at the end of a cul-de-sac off the main street of Surfer's Paradise, just two blocks from the beach, nestled between a mechanic's workshop, a surfboard shaper, a dance school and a biker gang's HQ. The concrete facade was non-descript and factory-like, the entrance defended by a wide, grey alumunium roller-door.Inside, the gallery was large uncluttered and well lit, with high ceilings and exposed metal beams. An open, loft-style office overlooked the polished concrete floor of the exhibition space, which was divided by simple white partitions into areas that could accommodate two or three different shows at once. 19Karen's owner and director, Terri Lew, had designed the conversion of the former industrial space herself. As we walked through it, she described what she'd envisaged within the space in addition to thousands of square feet of hanging space: film and video projections, live performances, large-scale installations, even sculptures hung from the ceiling. My most recent encounter with a commercial gallerist turned ugly early. But Terri didn't try to talk me into a representation deal: she had taken to time to read my blog and to get a handle on what sort of deal I expected. She was open to – and excited by – what I proposed. We shook hands on the simple agreement that I would take over the entire gallery for a month from 15th October, 2011.The exhibition at 19Karen will be the first time I've shown in Queensland for more than a decade – despite (or maybe because of) the fact that my first solo gallery show in a commercial gallery took place there. This time, it will will kick off a series of solo exhibitions, lectures and 'performances' I will present along the south-eastern seaboard of Australia, in the latter half of next year.
Almost a year ago, I wrote, in a blog entry titled Rock 'n' Rolla, "I think of galleries the same way a rock 'n' roll band thinks of venues: there are good and bad ones, there are ones that have a bit of history or a better weekday crowd, but you pretty much play them all when you're on the road. And as long as the crowd gets into what you're playing, a cramped, smokey chicken-wire bar at a truck-stop in the middle of nowhere can be as much fun as a slick 'big room' or a swanky theatre in the heart of a city." I went on: "Of course, late 20th and 21st century artists have long been encouraged (by gallerists, mostly) to think of exhibitions as being more occasional, elitist and, well, reverent than a music gig. It's a residue of a 19th century Romantic notion about so-called fine art that I just can't stomach."Since then, I've been exploring new ways to take my work 'on the road' in a variety of media and to exhibit it in galleries and other, less formal spaces in different parts of the country. I've begun thinking of it as my own kind of rock 'n' roll tour. Originally, I'd intended to do this first in the USA, working with actual rock 'n' roll producers and impresarios. It might yet happen but my breakdown, followed by my father hospitalisation with cancer, have forced me to rethink my plan. Thankfully, a new breed of gallerists in Australia has encouraged me to try to pull it off closer to home – and to be even more ambitious about it. Pictured above, in bottom right of frame, 19Karen Gallery