Monday, August 30, 2010
Not Yet In The Toilet
"I heard the wheels have come off your career and all your work is being sold," the dealer told me. He didn't bother to mask the sardonic, 'told-you-so' tone.I've had a week of local art world middle-men calling to gloat over stories they've heard about my hard times. They pretend concern for my well-being just long enough to slither into a gleeful recounting of all the gossip they've picked up about me. Very little of it is true. One of the more persistent strains of bullshit is that I was forced in bankruptcy by a well-known Melbourne gallery to which I owed work and money. As if. My bankruptcy was voluntary and the result of my income being curtailed by serious illness. During the insolvency process managed by my accountants, none of my large enamels or watercolours were claimed by the state-appointed trustee because all such works were – and are – sold long before they leave my studio and thus were no longer mine. Some unfinished paintings, a number of sketches, photographs and lesser quality works on paper, along with works by other artists (including Billy Childish) were consigned by the trustee to the Australian auction house, Lawson's, to be sold at regular general sales. The good news was that Lawson's reckoned the interest in my work and me would support the sale of these ephemera to defray my debt. And they were right: an Hong Kong collector I know picked up one of my large-ish black and white photographs, an hallucinatory nude self-portrait printed by hand in 2006 from multiple panoramic 35mm negatives, for $A600. Of course, the impression that there is a sell-off of my work has also been reinforced by no less than four of my works turning up in two auction rooms over the weekend. This is hardly a large number, especially in comparison to other established artists whose works were included in the same sales, but my output has been tightly held by collectors for almost a decade. None turned up at auction until 2006 and since 2008, less than a dozen have been sold – at prices up to 1000 per cent over their original sale prices.Still, my recent woes were bound to have a temporary impact on my prices. At an auction held on Sunday by Leonard Joel, in Melbourne, one of my favorite enamel works, Self Vs Self No. 3, 150cm x 100cm, from 2004, sold for $8,540, well within the auction house's cautious pre-sale estimate. It was a bargain a keen Italian-Australian collector of my work couldn't resist. Two acrylic studies on paper studies, Jump and Lip, Sip, Suck, sold for $A2,196 each. It should be noted that auction houses are often cautious about handling such recent works because they rarely do as well as their owners expect.On Monday, Colored Girls, a 1998 enamel on canvas, 127cm x 208cm, was sold at a Lawson-Menzies auction in Sydney, for $A8,540. This was an extraordinary price for an appealing but unaccomplished work originally commissioned for a Brisbane boutique, Bessie Head, for around $A1,200. It, too, was within what I regarded as a generous pre-sale estimate.It would be disingenuous, if not downright stupid, to deny that my current woes are not having some impact on the market's confidence in my work and my reputation. But at 32, I am young enough – not to mention still wildly ambitious and productive – to overcome much worse. My base of collectors is broad and international. Available works are still thin on the ground in the secondary market. There are no dealers with a stash of unsold Dooneys to dump. As long as I fulfill all my current commitments and deliver works that continue to exceed the expectations of my collectors and challenge the ideas and assumptions of those who view them, these bad days will be remembered as no more than a couple of speed bumps on the long road of my life and career.