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.

Surviving The Storm

If yesterday's post, written in the early hours of the morning, ended on a plaintive, self-pitying note, today's post, written just before midnight, reflects a rather different mood.
Let me couch it in the vernacular of my rural upbringing: right now, I feel meaner than a cut snake.
This year has been the worst of my life: annus horribilis doesn't even begin to describe it. A manic break drove me to destroy the works of half a life-time as the new year began. A few weeks later, I was committed to a psychiatric clinic. With no income and no sign of my being able to generate one for a while, my accountants filed a petition for bankruptcy. Whatever I hadn't already destroyed was seized by the state-appointed trustees handling my insolvency: books, photographs, small sculptures, unsigned studies and sketches, and half-finished paintings went under the hammer at a series of low-key auctions, to be cherry-picked at fire sale, 'no reserve' prices by savvy punters. For a time, the value of all my work in the secondary market was affected.
I was discharged from the clinic after three months of largely ineffective medication and therapy. Still fragile, I was able to support myself only because of generous commissions from a handful of loyal collectors. I had just got back into a productive routine in a new Sydney studio when I found out that my father's cancer, diagnosed six months before, had metastasized and he was unlikely to survive the year. I decided to return to Brisbane to be closer to him. I have remained there ever since.
I could have kept all this stuff to myself. I chose not to because a raw, unedited, ongoing narrative of my life is elemental to my identity as an artist. If I began editing those parts of it I find embarrassing, discomforting or painful, it might undermine my credibility. Too bad if the narrative occasionally provokes a delicious rush of schadenfreude among the many who dislike my art and my public persona.
I have pissed off a great number of people – my decision not to take the traditional route when it comes to marketing and selling my art has put me at loggerheads with well-known dealers, curators, critics, and big money collectors and let's face it, I don't suffer fools, bullshitters or misogynists gladly. The last few months have been grist to a relentless mill of ill-informed and sometimes downright malicious gossip at the margins of the local art world.
I expected it. The last eight months have been something of a 'perfect storm', an untimely convergence of a handful of intense 'lows' that might yet drive my career onto a reef. And while I think I might have weathered the worst of it, there is still enough uncertainty to make me prickly with fear – and to have my detractors rubbing their hands in gleeful anticipation of a chance to pick through the wreckage.
The mere thought of that has pissed me off and galvanised a determination not to come to grief. I'm not going to heave to and let the tempest rage around me. I'm strong enough – and talented enough – to survive, to remain intact. I'm going to throw caution to the wind, set more canvas and sail my way off the looming shore. There's no way I'm not going to raise those far-flung ports to which I set a course when I was still a teenager.
As André Gide put it, "One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." And new lands are where not only reputations and fortunes are made but legends as well.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

No Happy Ending

This week, I drove south from Brisbane to Sydney in my father's borrowed truck, a distance of almost a thousand kilometres.
When I left Sydney to be by my father's bedside, a couple of months ago, when it became apparent that his cancer was spreading, I hadn't intended to be away very long. But having decided to live near to him for a while, there were a number of things to resolve.
I had to give up the lease on my studio in the centre of the city. I reclaimed my dog, a small terrier/poodle cross that had been left in the care of friends of friends. I re-organised and down-sized my storage facility and picked up from it a lot of much-needed art materials, including several hundred dollars worth of paints, brushes and paper stock. I delivered art to impatient collectors.
When I wasn't been humping stuff down flights of steps from the studio, I rummaged through scores of cardboard boxes, looking for art materials, personal effects and other items packed hurriedly by my mother and an assistant when they had to empty my house, an hour's drive north of Sydney, shortly after I was admitted to a psychiatric clinic at the beginning of the year. Nothing was labelled – there was little time then – and they had no idea of what was most useful or important to me. Old clothes, back issues of art magazines and valuable working drawings were packed together, as were books, stationery, tax files and a collection of sex toys. It took two full days to find half of what I was looking for.
I can't pretend that unravelling my ties with Sydney has been easy for me. I think of it as my home and if were not for my sick father, Brisbane would be the last place on earth I'd choose to live and work, even temporarily. My work-load is still very heavy and if anything, I find it even harder to get through when I'm there. I have become more rigorously disciplined, more focussed, but it has been at a cost: lonelier and more isolated than I've ever been, I risk losing sight of what I really want from my life.

Monday, August 23, 2010

100 Things You Still Don't Know About Me, Final

76. I was born on the same date as Alain Robbe-Grillet, Roman Polanski, Aphex Twin and Frances Bean Cobain. Honoré de Balzac died on this date.
77. I collect modern sexual aids. I have over 50. I've used them all, often, and not just on myself.
78. I loathe ball-point pens and biros. I use a dip-pen and Noodler's Shah's Rose ink to sign legal and business documents and autographs.
79. I have a phobia of dying in a car that someone else is driving. Being a passenger scares me so much that I throw up (I say I'm carsick).
80. I bake amazing vanilla cupcakes with icing made from fresh raspberries, sugar and butter. My favourite taste is fresh raspberry pulp, strained so there are no seeds. I hate to admit it but I have a sweet tooth.
81. My favourite winter fabric is very fine cashmere; in summer, raw silk.
82. I don't believe in psychiatry or psychology anymore. I don't take prescription medication for my bipolar disorder or undergo 'holistic' therapy. I just exercise hard and make art to stay sane.
83. My body is hard-wired to my emotions. I don't so much blush as break out in a livid rash when I'm impassioned, upset or angry. My skin blanches and becomes almost transparent when I'm in shock. I throw up when I'm anxious and faint when it all gets too much. My pupils dilate to the size of a 50-cent coin when I'm happy, excited or aroused. I tremble visibly when I'm upset or I'm about to orgasm or assault someone. Occasionally, all these happen at once.
84. The only contemporary artwork that moves me is Hirst's A Thousand Years. (Hirsts's titles are better than his art. My favourites are The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now.)
85. Now matter where I am, I sleep holding a pillow.
86. I had my tongue pierced when I was in my teens. I thought it'd be sexy but it made kissing and licking clumsy and gave me a lisp. After I removed it, the first thing I did was buy an icecream.
87. I am a spelling snob. It irks me when people don't appear to know the difference between 'you're'/'your', 'then'/'than' and 'lose'/'loose' or when to insert an apostrophe in 'its'.
88. I don't have a single favourite colour but several – and very particular hues of each: hot pink, sage green, powder blue, pure orange, faded red, camel and mid grey are among them.
89. The one place in the world to which I would be happy never to return is Slacks Creek, a suburb of Brisbane (and yes, the name says it all). I wasn't just a misfit there; I was hated for all of the things I liked about myself. I can't think of a single positive thing to say about the place.
90. I am very self-conscious about my skin. My chest is covered in tiny white scars where I've compulsively scratched and picked at the skin over the years. I'm embarrassed that the problem is psychological, not dermalogical.
91. If pressed for a favorite among all my works, it would be one of my earliest watercolours, The Descent. It's the one work I feel is in a language entirely my own.
92. I have a good knowledge of the history of torture. I'm amazed and appalled by our imaginative capacity, untempered throughout history, for horrific cruelty.
93. The first hardcore porn' flick I ever watched starred Jenna Jameson. The first porn' to turn me on was of women squirting during orgasm. They looked genuinely aroused. I used to think female ejaculation was a myth – or faked. It was fun to discover for myself, later, that it was just down to technique. I also used to think that anal sex, fisting and double penetration looked excruciating. Now I know they aren't.
94. I've had sex with seventeen people, five of whom were women. My first experience with a man was so bad that I couldn't kiss or touch anyone else for three years. My first experience with a woman was an entirely different matter.
95. If I fantasize about anyone it's the original Aeon Flux: sexy, amoral (yet with convictions), complex, intelligent, dangerous and vulnerable
96. I dislike adult men wearing shorts. They look like overgrown schoolboys. The older they are, the worse they look.
97. I love music television. My favourite clips are Busta Rhymes' Gimme Some Mo, Christopher Walken dancing to Fatboy Slim's Weapon Of Choice, Aphex Twin's full length Window Licker, Liar by the Rollins Band and all those featuring big-bootied black women dancing – as in Outkast's The Way You Move (MTV Version). Music videos are like Andy Warhol's movies: best when played in the background as you're doing something else.
98. I never travel without watercolour paints, cold-pressed paper, lead pencils, sharpener, eraser, a bound journal, fountain pen, a 15" Apple MacBook Pro with a USB wireless modem, and a tethered iPhone. I also pack my favorite cosmetics, skin and hair care products, and a small bottle of Chanel Cristalle eau de parfum.
99. My constant companion is a very small, shaggy, black dog (I think it's a silky terrier crossed with poodle). And yes, there's a metaphor in there somewhere.
100. I never wanted to be an artist. I simply discovered I was.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

100 Things You Still Don't Know About Me, Part Three

51. The one item that's always in my medicine cabinet is Lucas' Paw Paw ointment. It's the only alternative remedy I use.
52. I love gorey, emotionally wrought Asian horror films.
53. All of my employees and suppliers sign confidentiality agreements. I have only one confidante. If someone says they know something about me that noone else does, they're either making it up or they're in breach of contract.
54. My emotions are unruly and unpredictable in all things – even business. I have to apologise often to those few I care about.
55. I'd rather make art than own it. But if I did own it, I'd like watercolours by Francesco Clemente, paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Frida Kahlo, erotic line drawings by Picasso, pages from Peter Beard's diaries, an artist book by Billy Childish, Andy Warhol's Electric Chair, a set of bondaged-women-as-furniture by Allen Jones comprising a chair, table and hat stand, a massive steel scullpture by Richard Serra, and a garden full of soft sculptures by Claes Oldenburg which I could jump on like inflatable castles.
56. I'm really good at the limbo, even if I'm not as limber as I used to be.
57. I've never had sex with an art dealer or a gallerist – and I won't – but being arrogant, middle-aged and male, they always fancy their chances. I had sex with another artist once and he sucked at it (you know who you are).
58. My tattoos were inked by an ex-boyfriend who dismissed them as typically girlie. But he got a kick out of having my ass near his face while he worked.
59. Sometimes I pretend I'm La Femme Nikita, the original one played by Anne Parillaud, directed by Luc Besson. The one thing I would have loved to be more than an artist is a hired assassin.
60. The last time I got drunk was on cheap, sweet cocktails at a club on Walking Street in Pattaya, Thailand. Back at my hotel I fell asleep, fully clothed, with a tattooed, bouffant-haired, leather-jacketed bar girl named Poy.
61. I've never loved any of the women I've had sex with.
62. I told a boyfriend that I wanted to be a nudist and live by the sea. He turned my words into a song played in heavy rotation on MTV. Ten years later, I'd stopped talking to him but by then I actually did live by the sea and spent most of my time in the nude. Go figure.
63. The same boyfriend once suggested, good-naturedly, "How about you make dinner for us both?". "How does 'get fucked' sound?" I asked. "A little harsh," he replied.
64. I didn't taste lobster until I was 30 years old
.
65. I fell in love with a woman at 18 but I was too uptight then to have sex with her. I was 28 when I finally fucked with a woman and love had nothing to do with it.
65. I finally got the hang of oral sex, to and from both genders, at age 30. I figured it out while bending backwards during the limbo (see no. 56).
66. I used to be neurotic about junk food. The first time I was invited to taste a burger from a suburban drive-thru I burst into tears and fled the car. (Several years later, I ate a burger and chips from the same drive-thru. It was one of the best meals I've ever had.)
67. My maternal grandmother committed suicide. Her body was found by a co-founder of the infamous counter-culture magazine, Oz – he now works with one of Australia's largest publishing houses.
68. The same publishing company turned down my first-ever book proposal.
69. I took Polaroid photos of myself as studies for my early paintings. I tossed them in a grubby plastic garbage bag and for a decade, stored them with my paints. Now, the original prints sell for between $US500-800 each in the secondary market.
70. The former premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, owns my early enamel painting Career Babe: The Policewoman. He once emailed me to tell me that a guy I'd dated had cornered him on an inter-state flight to regale him a pitiful story of how I'd broken his heart. I was too embarrassed to reply.
71. Dangerous Career Babe: The Trophy Wife was created for the cover of a prominent Australian literary quarterly. It was pulled because the editor thought my highly publicised PORNO show was pornographic and as a well-known academic, she didn't want to be associated with it. The promotional postcards she had printed and withdrew are now collectors' items.
72. The first serious essay I ever published was in the same literary magazine.
73. A frank account I wrote about the 2001 artists' expedition to Lake Eyre in which I took part was spiked. The publication's lawyer thought it defamatory. But every word was true.
74. Against all feminist rationales, I love Pamela Anderson. She might not be too bright but she's fearless, funny, and irreverent.
75. I often get intimate notes from women I've never met, with photographs of themselves naked. I love it.
(To be continued)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

100 Things You Still Don't Know About Me, Part Two

26. My natural hair colour is dirty, sun-bleached blonde. I've dyed it black since my late teens – to match my usual mood.
27. If I could have one conspicuous indulgence in my life, it would be either a Japanese female sex slave or a personal chef.
28. My favourite novel as a teenager was The Good Terrorist, by Doris Lessing. My favourite novel for the last five years has been Play It As It Lays, by Joan Didion.
29. I hate conspicuous branding. I black out logos on the clothing I buy with a permanent marker. Like a good Gen X-er, I refuse to be a walking advertisement.
30. I cut out the labels from all my clothes. They make my skin itch.
31. My high school art teacher couldn't be bothered to write a reference for my application to study art at university.
32. I dropped out of three degree courses. The first was a BA in Anthropology, English, Japanese and French, the second a degree in Visual Arts and the last a degree in Communication Design. I attended less than 6 months of each.
33. I've tried every drug except heroin. Every experience was a waste of time and energy.
34. I used to go to raves with an arts student who's now a senior academic at one of Australia's leading universities. When we did drugs together, he wore a cap with text on it by Jenny Holzer. It read: Protect Me From What I Want.
35. I once shafted ecstasy up my ass. It didn't get me high. It just made my ass tingle uncomfortably.
36. I was 19 when I found my first 'steady' boyfriend. On one of our first dates, I took him to a Russ Meyer double feature at the local cinema. I'm not sure he knew what to make of it.
37. I kept my head shaved from 1993 to 1995, from 2001 to 2003 and from 2008 to 2010. I can't explain why.
38. I prefer the hair on my head long and everywhere else bare. I pay grim Vietnamese women to wax my limbs, pussy and ass once a month.
39. I love the scent of freshly picked lychees, when they've just been peeled
40. I've never applied for an artists' grant. I have no interest in artist's residencies or retreats.
41. I used to wear a badge that read, "Looking for a good man to treat bad". For a while, it was true. The trouble was, I fell for men who were looking for a good woman for the same reason.
42. I put on my first exhibition with a shop-owner who traded Indonesian furniture in a church hall. I had to talk him into it. It had a bigger attendance and earned a greater percentage of profit than my subsequent sell-out shows at commercial galleries. One of my few regrets was turning my back on that sort of independence between 1997 and 2004.
43. I have a blacklist of people I won't deal with – ever. There are several well-known collectors and art dealers on it.
44. I recently declined an invitation to be on a European art reality TV show. I told the producers that artists journeying up the Amazon or into the Arctic were becoming something of a cliché.
45. The man who taught me how to use the net and social media as an artist – and to have confidence in myself – was once rich and notorious enough for his misdeeds to have made the front page of the national press.
46. A publisher asked me if I would help with a biography of the man above. I decided not to.
47. I find exhibition openings extremely boring. I spend a lot of money on my own to make them more enjoyable.
48. My great grandfather's signature is on the rare, bank-circulation-only Australian 1924 George V one thousand pound banknote. His signature appeared on other denominations while he was Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. Unfortunately, I don't own any.
49. Most of my shoes are by Robert Clergerie or Tod's and have been since my early 20s (even when I was broke). I wear not-so-cheap canvas sneakers or skate shoes only when I can't find (or afford) footwear that I really like.
50. When sex isn't an option, I unwind alone by browsing couture and accessories online and reading racey biographies about fashion designers. I secretly wish I was Karl Lagerfeld.
(To be continued)

Friday, August 20, 2010

100 Things You Still Don't Know About Me, Part One

I realised only this morning that this blog will soon reach its fourth anniversary.
The first entry was on 23rd August, 2006. The most recent entry, a week ago, was the 750th. In between, its monthly readership has increased from a couple of dozen regulars, most of them friends or collectors, to several thousand. Aspects of its narrative have seeped onto Facebook, Twitter (in more than 7,250 'tweets') and YouTube, where it has found many more new 'friends' – and foes. In 2006, I had barely 200 subscribers to my monthly email newsletter, Studio Notes; now there are more than 8,500.
It's hard to imagine, given the candour with which I've written about – and illustrated and photographed – myself during the past four years that there can be anything about me left unrevealed. "True realism consists in revealing the surprising things which habit keeps covered and prevents us from seeing," Jean Cocteau wrote. I have taken his words to heart. The following list of random facts about me, which I'll post in four parts, might not be surprising but all of them are true. They might help some to 'see' better what my art, my writing and my life are really about.
1. I was baptised under a watering can, with the words, "If there's a God, please take care of this child."
2. During my early childhood my family was self-sufficient in a practical, bohemian, non-hippy-commune way. We owned a milk-cow named Germaine, after Germaine Greer.
3. As a child, I kissed flower buds thinking that it would encourage them to open.
4. I always have fresh cut flowers in my room. I prefer old fashioned roses, freesias, gardenias, jonquils or orange blossom. When I was young and broke, I'd pick flowering weeds.
5. I learned to ride a motorbike at aged six. My father still wants me to ride his custom-built Harley Davidson.
6. I masturbated for the first time at age seven, by accident, sliding down the pole of a jungle gym. The frottage of pussy on pony saddle was a joy discovered just a year or so later.
7. My earliest sexual fantasies – long before I understood sex itself – were extremely weird. I have yet to tell anyone about them.
8. My first crush was on Ming The Merciless, in the Flash Gordon comic; my second was the androgynous monk, Tripitaka, from the TV show, Monkey.
9. By the time I was 11, I knew how to drive. Being a country girl, I also had a rifle and shotgun license.
10. I skipped seventh grade at school.
11. I went as the devil to
my first kids' dress up party. I wore black leggings, black pointed leather shoes and a red velvet jacket. I made a tail out of an old black power cord with the three-pronged plug at the end. I stuck cut-out horns onto a headband.
12. I remember events based on the layout of the places where they happened. they're like maps or architectural drawings in my imagination.
13. The first film I ever saw on the big screen was Ghandi (at a drive-in)
.
14. The first play I saw was Emerald City, a satire by David Williamson about Sydney's film and publishing businesses, at the Sydney Opera House.
15. I am a good horse-rider but I hurt my back badly when I fell off a donkey (I'm not sure I'll live this down).
16. As a kid, I didn't believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. I didn't use 'pet' words for penis or vagina.
17. I had to beg my feminist mother for a Barbie doll. Eventually, she gave in but I was furious that she bought my brother one at the same time.
18. I've worked since I was 15. My first job was at an ice-cream shop. My uniform was a short skirt and t-shirt, which I hated. I had to stand in a display window and make waffle cones or worse, walk around offering sample flavours to passers-by. I included the job in my series of Career Babes paintings.
19. I was bullied in high school by other girls. (After about two years I snapped. I was excessively cruel to the instigator. She never seemed to understand why. I stopped because it didn't solve anything or make me feel better.)
20.I had sex for the first time with an English teacher of mine when I was just 16. He should have known better but instead he boasted of taking my virginity. I knew enough even then to know that both the sex and he were awful. (I'd wanted to be a writer. After him, I stopped reading for pleasure and didn't write another word for a decade.)
21. I dislike my Australian accent. Still, like many Australians, I swear. A lot. 'Motherfucker' is a favorite. So is 'dick'.
22. I have a fetish for lingerie made of extremely fine matte silk. And yes, I really do wear pink panties – when I wear panties.
23. I rarely wear hosiery but when I do, it's stockings with a garter belt. I hate tights.
24. At 17, I ran away with a girlfriend to London on a one-way ticket, via Japan. I told my father I was going to Japan to teach English and that I'd be back in a month. I wasn't.
25. I've been fired from most of the menial jobs I've had, usually for what was described as "a bad attitude". There are some who'd fire me from art, if they could – for the same reason.
(To be continued)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Master With Class, Part Two

When I visited Graham Reynolds, I couldn't help but take lots of low res' iPhone photos of the frame designs, mouldings, lengths of timber and metal, and pots of paints and stains that were everywhere in his Brisbane workshop. I decided to upload a few here because I think they convey so much more of Graham and his craftsmanship than mere words.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Master With Class, Part One

For most of my career, the timber frames on which I paint in enamel have been constructed by a Brisbane-based master artisan, Graham Reynolds. He began hand-crafting them for me in 2002, when I sought a smoother surface than canvas. I have written briefly about him in this blog before.
I've known Graham and his wife, Katrina, since the beginning of my career and our friendship has endured despite a couple of storms. It's among the few I've maintained within the art world.
When I visited him, this week,
Graham was dressed like a country gentleman: tucked-in chambray shirt, pressed moleskin trousers and leather boots polished to a rich, burnished shine. He took me through his large workshop to show me some of the more intriguing projects he had in hand. A huge pane of glass, made 150 years ago, was being buffed of scratches and re-mirrored. As his fingers trailed through the oxide dust, he explained how the glass had been made. Nearby, an aproned craftsman was sanding smooth a frame before spending the next six weeks hand-carving intricate patterns into it.
Other rooms accommodated spray painting booths, imposing mechanical devices and more craftspeople working at benches. Some were hand-gilding frames before tinting them with a specially mixed, hand-painted stain. Around them, ornate antique frames leaned against walls, awaiting repair or refurbishment.
Many of Australia's best-known artists have their work framed here, including Jeffrey Smart, Ray Crooke, Lawrence Daws, and Margaret Olley.
As Graham noted, somewhat ruefully, they're about the only artists who can afford his work nowadays. Most of his clients are museums, national or international galleries, and wealthy private collectors.
You can't just walk into the workshop off the street. The few clients that visit are greeted by a locked door and an intercom. There's no shopfront – the building is non-descript and anonymous – and the business isn't listed in the Yellow Pages. It has no web presence. Its reputation is such it doesn't need any of them.
Sadly, Graham will be retiring in a year's time. His workshop will be sold and no-one will continue the tradition of highly regarded craftsmanship and specialisation that he has established. He will keep his archives – in themselves, a trove of Australian art history – and specialised materials and continue to make frames, but probably only for himself and a few favoured clients.
Over the past couple of years, I have tried to have frames constructed in Sydney, closer to my studios. I've used professional carpenters and joiners but by and large, the results were useless. Nevertheless, I've still wanted to work out a reliable methodology for myself, one I could teach others, wherever I happened to be. Being entirely reliant on one person in one location to supply an essential component of my work was expensive, inconvenient and when I'm travelling, entirely unworkable. Graham offered to teach me how to do it.
Upstairs, above his workshop, Graham offered me coffee in a cup with a saucer and we sat at a table strewn with books on framing and art. It's more like a parlour than a shop. In a fatherly manner, he described the basics of how I might go about building a standard frame for my work that would, as he put it, last longer than I would. He advised on the best types of woods and joins and gave me the name of the glue I should use, where to buy it and how it should be applied and clamped while drying. Heavy duty glue is preferable as eventually, nails and staples either dissolve or show through. We discussed how to strengthen corners and prevent warping.
As Graham saw it, the work was simple, really. It just needed the correct materials and a formula to put them together. His instruction was generous and empowering.
I want to be responsible for all aspects of my work – and not just because it's easier, more efficient and less stressful. It enhances what I do, as well as who I am, as an artist and connects me directly to a centuries-old tradition of the artist as consummate craftsman, a master of all the elements of their 'trade', from the assemblage of the frame to the fabric of the brushes and the chemistry of the paint.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Under The Hammer

The inexorable press of the internet has wrought radical changes to the way the art world does business, not least because it has educated – and enabled – artists to have a better grip on their rights. Nevertheless, the mind-set of the ancien régime persists: too many who handle the business of art regard artists as naive, clueless and incapable of looking after themselves.
The better auction houses email to request my written permission to reproduce images of my works in their print and web catalogues. No matter who buys one of my works – and no matter how many times it is resold – I retain the copyright of my images.
My work is distributed online under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. This means, in practice, that my images can be reproduced and shared as long as they are unaltered, attributed to me and used for non-commercial purposes only. An auction house's advertising and catalogue are unarguably commercial. Neither an auctioneer nor an owner of one of my works should assume they can proceed without my input.
Recently, I found out that three of my works would be sold later this month through a Melbourne auction house. The images were reproduced in its online catalogue without my permission. Worse, the descriptions for two were wrong: the media were noted as "acrylic on card" instead of acrylic on 100% cotton museum board. As I'd never paint on a non-archival material such as card, this incorrect record stating that I had risked devaluing the work as well as my hard-won reputation for high quality craftsmanship.
To add insult to injury, the pre-sale estimates were adrift from the actual sales results achieved in other, larger auction houses by nearly 50 per cent.
My work has been sold through this Melbourne auction house once before, in 2007. I was not asked for permission to use an image of the work then, either, and didn't find out about the sale until a collector called to tell me they'd picked up one of my paintings at a bargain price ("Cheap," was the word they used).
This time, I called the auction house to assert my copyright and correct their mistake about the medium. Unfortunately, the 'hard copy' of the catalogue had already been printed and mailed to clients. Like the online catalogue, it included unauthorised reproductions of my work and incorrect descriptions.
The woman I spoke to was responsive and apologetic. She corrected the information on the website immediately. I explained that it was in the auction house's interest to contact me – as Menzies Art Brands in Sydney and Christie's in London always do – as it was an early opportunity to ensure that the works were genuine and that the information they had on them was correct. The way I see it, we – the auction house, the buyer, the seller, and I – are all on the same side.
I suspect some still regard the role of the artist in a possible sale as at best, an inconvenience, at worst, an irrelevance (only the artwork, the seller and the potential buyers really matter), but over the past couple of years, I have witnessed attitudes shifting.
The best auction houses do pay attention to artists. They know collectors tend to look to us first for information, even about upcoming secondary market sales. I add details of auctions to my website and I write about the works offered on this blog and in my monthly newsletter, Studio Notes, which reaches over 8,500 subscribers.
I've developed a personal rapport with key senior staff at Menzies Art Brands (which include Deutscher Menzies and Lawson Menzies) as well as Christie's in London, which, between them, have sold the majority of my work at auction. They always ensure the sales information is correct and sometimes, we even collaborate to market works: last year, I provided a small, limited edition print free to every buyer attending a Sydney auction of one of my paintings and I wrote a personal statement for the auction catalogue. I recommend both Menzies and Christie's to collectors of my work.
It's now four years since the first time I had contact with an auction house. Since then, I've watched the bigger, more progressive (and aggressive) auction houses evolve to incorporate direct, regular contact with artists into their sales strategies. Of course, it's driven by self-interested and profits. They recognise that the artist's input and public support have a positive effect on prices. They also recognise that artists themselves – not their representative galleries – are the primary and best source of information about the work and themselves. It's a simple, obvious concept but markedly at odds with the archaic, dealer-controlled system.
The pace of change in the art world is glacially slow. Except when it comes down to money. Then it adapts fast.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Woman My Father Made

These are the worst of days.
My father's cancer has not responded to a range of different treatments. His doctors now talk of palliative care rather than recovery and are non-committal about its duration. There's nothing I can do but spend as much time as I can with him. He remains resolute, strong and dignified and whenever I'm around him, I've tried to be too. The rest of the time, I'm gutted with grief and fear.
Art is the only way I know to process any of it but I have no desire to share with anyone the notes and sketches I make each day. What my father's going through is too damn hard to be anything but private.
He is an unconventional man. He is often described as intense – and whether that's a compliment or criticism is, well, uncertain. We've had our differences, especially over the past few years, but when I was younger, he offered me boundless encouragement and support, both as an artist and as a woman. He taught me to be strong-willed, independent and unfazed by risk and instilled in me a healthy disregard for convention (even if I took it a little further than he'd intended). He turned me on to fierce, unyielding female role models, starting with comic-book super-heroines and villainesses and archetypal 'bad girls' like Vampirella.
My father loves my art most when it is, as he puts it, "in your face" – which is to say he loves it when it's big, bold, aggressive, and sexy (less so when it's frankly sexual).
When I first thought about the 'rock 'n' roll' art tour I'm planning for next year, it occurred to me that it might be a perfect opportunity to pay homage to the peripatetic, eccentric, yet über-feminist upbringing that was my father's best gift to me. My mind was – still is – inundated with unrestrained scenes played out by the provocative, larger-than-life women he urged me to emulate even before I reached puberty. If he lives to see it, I think he will savour the exhibitions, even if there's an inevitable frisson of shock.
I've used myself as a model for my own works since I was in my twenties but for a long time, it was just role-playing. My father used to tell me that he thought it wasn't enough for me to paint these women, that I needed to become them. And over time, I have. My art's the better for it. No longer simply playing at dress-up, I've begun to delve deeper into what this transformation has wrought.
So what can one expect of the shows themselves?
It's too early to say but I'm leaving myself plenty of scope. A couple of years ago, I was upbraided by a well-known Australian art critic for coming up with exhibition titles that didn't communicate what he regarded as a 'proper' seriousness about my work. But fuck him. I'm calling next year's tour Fame, Sex, Money + Madness.
I'm sure my father would approve.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Self Vs. Self Vs. Salesroom

I have written before about my disappointment when early works of mine go to auction in poor condition. I have also written about the inflated expectations of those who try to sell my earliest and least accomplished works at prices that represent more than 1,000 per cent profit in less than a decade.
The Self Vs. Self paintings were exhibited at John Buckley Gallery in Melbourne, in 2004. Large (each 100cm by 150cm), aggressive, in high gloss and reflective vinyl on board, they sold slowly but were well received by critics. More importantly, they represented the first time in my work in which an intensely felt (if a little obvious) psycho-social 'high concept' managed to break through the brittle surface appeal of the proto-Pop images to arrest the viewer's attention and make them to think twice about what they were seeing.
I am still proud enough of the series to have named this blog after it, even if the show itself almost broke me.
The individual works, which are all in private collections, have been closely held for half a decade and hard to come by. Before my bankruptcy, I tried to buy one back but my offer of $A15,000 was rebuffed.
Which only made it all the more frustrating when, this week, Leonard Joel, a Melbourne auction house, accepted Self Vs Self No. 3 for sale and advertised a pre-sale valuation of $A7,000 to $A10,000. As an American collector of my work joked, "It's one thing to offer a bit of a come-on, quite another to invite buyers to steal."
In March, this year, a smaller, older enamel on canvas, Every-Ready (Fresh Out Of Bed), 105cm x 147cm, was sold at auction at Menzies Art Brands in Sydney and for $A16,800.
Self Vs. Self No. 3 will go under the hammer at 2pm, on Sunday, 29th August, at 333 Malvern Road, South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria. For further information, 'phone 03 9826 4333. It can be viewed at the same address on: Wednesday, 25th August, 9am - 8pm; Thursday, 26th and Friday, 27th August, 9am - 5pm; Saturday 28th August, 10am - 5pm; Sunday 29th August, from 10am until the auction starts.
Two other works of mine from the mid-2000s, both acrylic on 100 percent cotton museum board, 40cm x 60cm, are also in the catalogue: Jump and Lick, Sip, Suck. Their pre-sale estimates compare well with the values of my most recent studies: $A2,000 to $A3,000.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Off With My Head

"It's not enough to succeed. Others must fail."
– Gore Vidal
Australians don't like success.
We're proud of our tall poppy syndrome, "a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers." Which is to say those who make it big can expect no plaudits. Compliments and congratulations will always be conditional: "Don't get too big for your boots," high achievers are warned. And if they show any satisfaction about their accomplishments, they're reprimanded: "So you think you're too good for us now, do ya?".

It's argued that the lopping of tall poppies is an expression of egalitarianism: it promotes a classless society, one in which everyone has the same opportunities and a right to a "fair go". Anything that's seen as being unfair – though by whom is always a little muddy – is deemed un-Australian. Our sense of entitlement to what politicians refer to as
the-same-amount-of-fairness-for-everyone is accompanied by a distrust of excellence. Excellence isn't fair. It is seen as "taking advantage".
Ironically, the origin of the tall poppy metaphor, found in pre-Christian Roman history, is entirely about ensuring advantage. According to Livy, lopping tall poppies expressed a fundamental strategy of war. Remove or undermine an enemies' political and cultural leaders and they would be demoralised and weakened, their capacity for achievement diminished.
Trust Australians to get it wrong.
If there's one thing Australians dislike more than success, it's to see someone recover from failure. It is, again, an affront to their somewhat twisted take on what's fair: it's not done to refuse to stay down and take what's coming to you – for getting "above yourself", for wanting to be more or better.
In other parts of the world, the experience of failure – and overcoming it – is seen as essential to growth.
More than a decade ago, during an Australian trade mission to northern California's Silicon Valley, Australia's deputy prime minister, Richard Alston, asked the Indian-American venture capitalist (and co-founder of Sun Microsystems), Vinod Khosla, what he looked for in the tech' entrepreneurs in whom he chose to invest. "Failure," Khosla replied. "If he or she has crashed and burned, lost millions of dollar, and still has the guts to get back on their feet, they're likely to have gained the attributes needed to make a success of it a second time around."
My recent bankruptcy was a significant failure. I could blame it on a lot of problems – from a badly managed studio and work having to be re-done, sometimes more than once, to long-trusted suppliers delivering sub-standard materials. But the fatal flaw was in how I dealt with them.
I paid for work that wasn't good enough; I paid too much for work that was barely adequate. I paid for materials that suppliers had ordered wrongly rather than making them order the right ones. I persisted in business relationships from which I should have just walked away. In trying to be understanding and tolerant, I undermined my first attempt at managing a business.
I paid a high price. I ended up owing more than I had. I owed my bank. I owed tax. I owed work. But in turn, I was owed – and not just money. I took responsibility for other people's mistakes and covered their losses. I supported them when they really didn't deserve it.
Bankruptcy put an end to that. Those who had gotten used to me paying them, no matter what, had their accounts disputed, not just by me but by a state-appointed trustee. Of all my creditors, they were the most spiteful and angry.
Today, I stumbled across a blog entry with a bitter tirade about me by a former art materials supplier. She accuses me of being self-indulgent, flippant and "pretending to be a tormented artist living abroad". She tenders a pseudo-maternal "genuine hope" that I will "get well and find some path through life" – but expresses her doubts that I will. She admonishes me to "pull my socks up and get on with it". Oh, and "pay me". Of course, nowhere is there any indication that our brief brief relationship was unsatisfactory from the start.
A couple of months after I began ordering art materials from her, this woman used our new acquaintance to get coverage of her business in a major 'glossy' magazine. The high-profile, front-of-book plug relied heavily on my name but I wasn't asked or told about it – let alone thanked. I found out via the magazine's features editor, who called to say they'd done "that friend of yours a favour".
And what did I get in return? Over the next few months, large orders were filled incorrectly. I had to accept delivery of – and pay for – the wrong materials because she was unable or, rather, unwilling to acknowledge her mistakes. My mistake was to keep doing business with her. Instead I took responsibility for her mistakes and allowed her to continue serving me badly – in effect, to transfer not only financial and but also some kind of weird moral responsibility for this to me.
I have learned from my failure. Moreover, I'm paying for it within the prolonged, restrictive terms of personal bankruptcy. Those terms do not include putting up with shit from people who are pissed that I'm no longer their meal ticket: under the law, I don't have to.
I'm not letting the bastards keep me down. I have dragged myself to my knees and now I'm intent on standing up and walking tall again. I'm not going to apologise for pursuing success again. My breakdown and bankruptcy provoked delicious schadenfreude among many in the art world and provided an opportunity for others outside it to blame me for their own incompetence and bad faith.
From here on, I'm taking a more classical view of tall poppy syndrome: try lopping me again and I'll regard it as an act of war.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Radio, Radio

I will be interviewed today at 3:35pm local time in Adelaide, South Australia on ABC Adelaide Radio 891 by former leader of the Australian Democrats, Natasha Stott-Despoja, who was elected to the Senate when she was just 26 years old. I will be talking for the first time about my so-called 'rock'n'roll tour' of exhibitions planned for late 2011.
You can listen live online via
RealPlayer or Windows Media Player (Version 11 or later versions). For the radio frequency, click here, search the right hand column for Internet Radio, and select 891 ABC Adelaide.
You can find the current time in Adelaide
here.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A Date With Coloured Girls

I am often surprised by the works of mine that find their way to auction.
I am not always happy about them. Some have been poorly cared for and are accepted for sale looking scuffed, chipped or scraped (the worst are referred to me for an opinion on the likely cost of repair but I'm rarely amenable to doing it myself). Others reveal too starkly my early immaturity as a painter and while I'm curious to see them again, especially more than a decade later, I'm embarrassed when they're hung alongside much more accomplished works consigned to the auction house.
I don't think Coloured Girls (Homage to Modi), a 1998 enamel on canvas, 127cm x 208cm, is one of my best but I've grown fond of it if only because of its unusual subject matter. The work was originally commissioned by the owner of the fashionable Brisbane boutique, Bessie Head, where it hung for many years. I once made an offer to buy it back but the owner never responded.
Now it's to be auctioned by Lawson Menzies on Monday, 30th August, at Menzies Art Brands' Sydney gallery, 12 Todman Avenue, Kensington, NSW 2033.The pre-sale estimate for the work is $A8,000 to $A10,000 and it can be viewed in Sydney from Wednesday, 15th August, to Monday, 30th August.
In March, this year, a smaller painting of mine, an enamel on canvas of similar age, Every-Ready (Fresh Out Of Bed), 105cm x 147cm, sold for $A16,800 at Menzies Art Brands, exceeding its pre-sale estimate.