Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pictures In Space

My new studio was created from adjoining units in a large industrial storage facility on the outskirts of Brisbane. Sparse but functional – plain, corrugated steel walls, concrete floors and and shadeless overhead lights – it suits the sterile assembly line process that working on several high-gloss enamel paintings at once requires.
The photographs below were taken at random over the past few months but they could have all been taken in the same hour: there's a tedium, a sameness, about my days here that I find reassuring.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Want To Spend The Rest Of My Life Everywhere, With Everyone, One To One, Always, Forever, Now.

These days everyone is at ease with the ideas of conceptual and post-modern art. This is not necessarily a good thing.
The argument that art is whatever the artist decides it is – which parallels the much-vaunted 'death of the author' (in which which art is whatever the viewer decides it is) – has been manipulated to suit even the basest talent. The actor James Franco and porn star Sasha Grey now blithely position their perfomances in soap operas and porn' movies as 'performance art' and themselves as 'serious' artists. The rest of us feel free to refer to anything we consider 'creative' or special (from a kitchen herb garden to a figurine collection) as a work of art. Buying vintage clothing and clinging to childhood toys have been re-classified as 'curating' a personal collection.
The once rigorous interpretation of art has been reduced to mere reflection, the art a mirror for the viewer's psyche. The viewer's own experiences, fears, biases, expectations, neuroses, morality, guilt or yearning for a deeper meaning ovewhelm the artist's intentions.
Lady GaGa (Stephanie Germanotta), currently listed by Forbes magazine as a singer/performance artist and the seventh most powerful woman in the world , is the ultimate example of post modernism. She intentionally references, creates homages to and reconfigures not just previous music but also previous performances and performers, including their interviews, on-stage personas and ideas. Product placement and marketing are embraced and integrated without irony into her music videos (which provides a further mash up of popular culture). Her first two albums and tour were titled, respectively, The Fame, The Fame Monster and The Fame Monster Ball. Their singular creative concept was simultaneously the objective as the products were used to both explore and build fame.
Germanotta's stage persona insinuates itself into her off-stage (but rarely off-media) presence, inferring that her entire life is a work of performance art. Instead of only producing and promoting a product which can be consumed, Germanotta has become a ubiquitous piece of pop culture. In the same way that art interpretation is now based on individual interpretation, her audience and fans are encouraged to mimic and reinterpret her persona, as expressed in her products, in their quest to find (and then reinvent) themselves. Which is to say, the ideas of post modernism have been embraced by the mass audience – or the "million-fold audience of just one," as one writer put it – and even if they don't really understand them, they've become a means of self-empowerment, enabling individuals to re-invent aspects of their own lives as works of art and become, themselves, artists.
What does all this really mean? I'm not entirely sure. But clearly, it's important that those of us who have dedicated our lives to a deeper idea of art push boundaries beyond post modernism and post-post-modernism and [gasp] try to come up with work that's more than just another, reference-littered mash-up.
Photo above: The artist at the beginning of her self-invention? Me, finishing works for my first solo exhibition, Hazed, in Brisbane, 1997.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I As Another

When I was a patient in a psychiatric clinic, a year ago, I knew an elderly woman who was having electro-shock therapy. She had experienced temporary memory loss, one of its common side effects, and couldn't recall anything.
One night, we sat facing each other over dinner in the large dining room. Around us, addicts, manic depressives, schizophrenics and anorexics were talking about their experiences, about what had brought them to this place (and what they hoped would get them out of it).
Suddenly, in an urgent whisper, the elderly woman asked me, "Who am I if I do not have my memories? How will I know who I am?"
We define ourselves by what we remember. Although we experience a vast amount, most of it is forgotten. It's what we hold onto – or what is burned involuntarily in our psyches – that defines how we see ourselves and who and what we believe we are. We repeat these memories as stories to ourselves and each other.
Change is threatening because it replaces the past with something new. New experiences also change the context of the memories we've retained. We perceive them differently because we have something else to compare them to. For a while, we don't know who we are anymore. Other people don't know us either. We no longer match up with the old stories that connected us not just to our past (and our sense of identity) but to the people in it.
Maybe that's why it's easier to change in a new environment. There are no old stories, old personas, to compete – or cope – with as we try to become someone new.
When my father died, I wanted to make my life stand still so I could pretend it wasn't going on without him. I didn't want my memories of him or our time together to be lost or replaced. More significantly, his existence had played such a huge part in my life – even when we were, for a while, estranged – that I defined most of my self by whom I was in relation to him. With him gone, there was no-one else whom I wanted to impress, intrigue, surprise – or defy – in quite the same way.
My father's death has given me the opportunity to reinvent myself in a way that would have been much harder if he were alive. There is an end to the stories of who I was – if only because he, as the person with whom I'd spent most of my life, right up until my early twenties, was the keeper of those stories, those memories. I still wish he wasn't gone but I'm not sad his stories are. It's been a long time since I recognised the person I was in any of them.
Now I get to start the second act of my life. I also get to re-define and re-invent myself in earnest.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dreaming Later

The opening date of Dreaming Hazel Dooney, a group exhibition of works inspired by my persona as it's perceived in my art and online, has changed – from the 6th May to 10th September, this year.
Organised by Latrobe Contemporary Gallery, in Victoria (Australia), the event has attracted a large number of local and international artists. However, the logistics of coordinating the delivery of so many works, in media ranging from works on paper and photographs to large paintings and video installations, have proved more challenging than expected, as have regular communications with artists – and media outlets – in different parts of the world.
I have agreed to lend my own studio team to assist the gallery. The additional manpower and time will ensure that the event is rewarding – in every sense of the word – for all the participating artists.
Dreaming Hazel Dooney
will still run for two weeks, but from the 10th to the 24th September (with an opening night party planned for Saturday, the 10th), at Latrobe Contemporary Gallery, 209 Commercial Road, Morwell, Victoria 3840.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Keep It Simple (Not Stupid)

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
– Albert Einstein
A couple of months ago, I realised that I was stunting my development – as an artist and as a woman – by not embracing change. I was clinging to the familiar, persisting with ways of thinking, working and being that I'd evolved when I was in my early twenties. None of them was working for me anymore.
My father's long illness and death were a wake-up call. I was forced to accept that nothing remains the same – nor is it supposed to. Change is inevitable. To live fully, it has to be embraced. I decided to approach everything I did differently.
I started with my art.
I've been using the same techniques for my hard-edged enamel paintings for more than a decade: the same paint, the same types of brushes and the same, long, physically tedious process. The work on each has always been excruciatingly slow. So, over the past few months, I deconstructed and analysed how I do them. Then I researched new techniques and tools.
I bought specialist brushes traditionally used by pinstripers for fine linework in enamel on motorbikes, hotrods and trucks. They're referred to as swords (after their shape) and are made of extremely soft squirrel hair. I taught myself how to use them by watching instructional videos on YouTube. I didn't practise, just observed. The first time I used them was on a new painting, a week ago. The linework took a few days rather than a couple of weeks. More importantly, it was enjoyable – not a muscle-wracking grind – and because I spent less time with the enamel fumes, it didn't make me sick.
Maybe because I'm largely self-taught as an artist, I've often discounted my skills. I've always worked slowly and painstakingly but byy persisting for so long with outmoded techniques, I undermined my own confidence. It turns out I'm better at learning new things than I'd thought.
I've also changed how I run the business of my art. My
income has grown 1,000 per cent in just four years. However, the more successful I've become, the more complicated it has been for me to keep track of everything.
At the beginning of this year, I found a book-keeper who specialises in accounting for artists and musicians. She agreed to work with my very wise tax accountant in Sydney to
over-haul the bankrupt mess I refer to as my personal finances – on one condition: I had to spend several days filing several hundred receipts and matching them to bank and credit card account statements. Mind-numbingly dull, it forced me to confront how deeply the lack of a few, simple disciplines had impacted my time, earnings and efficiency.
Albert Einstein once said, "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction."
In every aspect of my working life, I thought I needed more: more space, more staff, more equipment, more time. But what I really needed was less. Unencumbered by outmoded, inefficient ways of doing things, I've begun to enjoy both my art and my life again. It doesn't take genius to understand that's a good thing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Standing In The Shadows

I've just finishing reading yet another biography of the late style icon and muse, Isabella Blow.
During her lifetime, Blow received little serious recognition or money. Now she's dead, three biographies have been published and there's talk of a feature film. Still, her real achievements are under-estimated, perhaps because the products of her imagination were largely realised by others and we were all too easily distracted by her short, intense life. Even she herself used to ask, "What is it that I do?"
She was a catalyst, whose indefinable occupation was not just that of muse but of of an impresario of ideas. She was often the first to recognise an individual's talent and help them find an outlet for it, usually by connecting it with like-minded others and nurturing it with her own inspired input. The reputations and relationships she helped create became fashion revolutions.
In much the same way as the influence of punk and the Sex Pistols would have been a lot less without the Situationist-like, media-savvy marketing of Malcolm McLaren, the upset caused by the induction of the late Alexander McQueen into the ranks Parisian haute couture designers would have been a deal more muted without Blow.
McQueen was well-rewarded. Blow wasn't. "The role of a muse is changing," she observed. "Traditionally, we haven't been paid, but as Bryan Ferry once said to me, one should be paid for ideas as well as the physical manifestation of them. If Alexander uses some of my ideas in his show, and he has, I don't get paid; he does."
Several years ago, I met someone who turned my life and my career upside down. Without their ideas, I would have had much less success and found none of the courage necessary to create it in the way I have outside the traditional commercial and institutional gallery system – a novel, even dangerous notion just half a decade ago. He, not I, was the architect who first devised (as far back as 1996) how an artist might achieve a serious reputation – and significant sales – using the web. His blueprint was intricate, somewhat mind-boggling and the product of unarguable genius.
I have always wanted to write about him but he has forbidden it. Maybe the time has come to do it anyway – and to beg his forgiveness afterwards. Apart from wanting to give credit where it's due, I think it's important to identify such truly gifted, original imaginations to a wider audience. Like Isabella Blow and possibly even the egotistical McLaren, they might not fully understand what it is they do, but whether muse, mentor, or manipulator (and they're often all of these, as well as being a little mad), they're responsible for re-conceiving and revolutionising societies and cultures in fundamental, irreversible ways.
The past year has taught me that a life, even when fully lived, is too short. It can also be too soon forgotten. Having lost our oral traditions, our culture's memories are keyed to material evidence, to things, and it can be difficult, if not impossible, to sustain recognition of those 'originals' whose greatest ideas reside in the accomplishments of others. Nevertheless, those of us who have been lucky enough to have been around them – and more, who have derived substantial benefit as a result – have an obligation to try. Especially while they're still alive.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lost In Translation (Solo Un Po')

Today, Dagheisha, a self-described 'metal hardcore punk webzine', published an Italian translation of an interview with me conducted by a young writer (and one of my Facebook friends), Lorenzo Becciani. The translation is somewhat inexact so I thought I would re-publish the original English version here.
How did you become one of the Asia-Pacific region's most controversial female artists?
By rejecting the traditional gallery system and creating an independent, unconstrained career using the internet to distribute my art, ideas and opinons. The internet has also enabled people to gain a better understanding of what I am trying to achieve in my art and as a result, it is taken a great deal more seriously.
What's the most difficult aspect of being a photographer?
I don't really have a firm grasp of the technical aspects. Even when using 35mm film, I point and shoot on auto'. I don't regard my work in the medium as central to my art: it's primarily a means to explore ideas, to record, to document. I'm rarely conscious of formal composition. I just try to fit information within the frame.
What about painting?
Painting is an emotional process. I always reach a point where I want to destroy each work, but I've learned to put it aside so I don't. The ones I hate the most often turn out to be the best. That said, I am very confident of my technical skills, especially when it comes to enamel.
What's your relationship with censorship?
I think it's the role of the artist to question, test and challenge boundaries, to upset the status quo. Which means I am always at odds with censorship.
What do you aim to create with your images?
I aim to create images to which there is a duality, a conflict, in the viewer's response. They're accessible – and even, at first, reassuring or titillating – but they also cause one to question, to feel some discomfort.
What kind of role does religion play for you and for your art?
I am not religious at all but I'm fascinated by the way ritual is used – and abused – to create meaning and emotion. I am also fascinated by the way iconography is used a little like brand communication by various religions.
What is your definition of success as an artist?
Making art consistently and taking risks, while rigorously exploring ideas – and developing skills. That said, I'm happy to make very good money as an artist and I no longer have to struggle to gain attention for my work.
Please introduce the Flesh Eaters and PORNO projects for our readers.
The Flesh Eaters are a recent series of diaristic pen-and-ink drawings that describe, in pared-down but explicit line-work, intense sexual encounters wthin which 'normal' genderal roles are obscured or transgressed and a hunger for more sensation veers towards violence. I can't help but see the drawings as fragments of a horror story: sex as it might be for predatory, devouring zombies – sex as it has been for me.
PORNO was driven by a perspective that 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. Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian have proved that, these days, homespun porn can help rather than hinder a girl's career and if you have a celebrity partner, you can even profit from it. With the proliferation of more sophisticated home media and easy-to-use applications, many have experimented with producing it themselves.
PORNO was a series of photographs others and I took of themselves and me having sex. I 'curated' these images, refining and reprinting them, 'appropriating' them to form part of my own critical experience of the new porno’ aesthetic. The intention wasn't to pander to prurience but rather to explore contemporary socio-sexual impulses.
We're a music webzine and your attitude is really dark and punk. We're curious about your musical tastes.
My tastes are pretty broad but my favourites are industrial, hip hop and rap, Ali Farka Touré, some of the recent African collaborations of drummer Jack DeJohnette and, less predictably, the music of film director Vincent Gallo.
Who's your favourite model to work with?
Oh, me, by far. Everyone has a line they won't cross as I am photographing or drawing them. I don't. I'll do almost anything.
How would you introduce Australia to someone who has never visited it?
It's vast. The cities are mostly suburbs. Sport is valued highly, culture is not.
Australians are increasingly conservative. Our internet censorship laws are among the most restrictive in the Western world, but no-one's bothered to enforce them (yet). Australians are unreasonably suspicious of sex and sexual desire: pornographic photographs of women with an A breast cup size – even if they're in their late 20s – are banned for "encouraging pedophilia".
You've a simply lovely blog. How do you judge the obscure world of internet?
I think the internet is a way to reach people directly by bypassing traditional systems and power structures. However we have to strenuously guard and defend the freedoms it has given us artists.
What do you want to express with An Artist's Notebook on Tumblr?
I want to fuck with my online persona as well as the commonplace notions of who and what an artist is. I'm interested in the way we read images online and interpret our version of 'truth' from them. You can read more about the ideas behind it here.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Food, Sex, Art

An unexpected lunch invitation roused me from four weeks of bed rest, the debilitating by-product of a persistent kidney infection. Eager for any excuse to escape Brisbane, even just for a day, I booked a cheap flight to Sydney.
I rented a small car at the airport and drove, just as dawn broke, to a beachside suburb at the eastern edge of the city. I came across a park atop a cliff overlooking the ocean, where I sat to drink take-away coffee and suck salt air deep into my lungs.
At noon, I headed to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I met Nicholas Lambourne, Director of Modern and Contemporary Australian Art at Christie's, in London, for the first time last year, when he was visiting Australia to meet with a handful of prominent dealers. Now, I was to meet him again over lunch at the Gallery's restaurant. I lingered for a moment in front of Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe (Faith, Hope, Love), a painting-sculpture by Anselm Kiefer (one of my favourite artists), and Brett Whiteley's Woman In Bath.
I used to loathe art business lunches. They were just excuses for portly, grey-skinned, late middle-aged dealers to try to get me drunk, make unsubtle sexual advances and press me to agree to exhibitions I had no interest in. They always ended badlly. These days, I'm a lot more successful and the highly accomplished non-Australian visitors I meet with, like Nick, are interesting and fun.
Nick brought along a glamorous, intense colleague, Julia Delves Broughton, Christie's London Director of Valuations. I recognised her immediately as the sister of the late Isabella Blow, one of my few heroes.
Dressed in a beautifully cut suit the colour of red poppies, Julia was petite and I loomed over her like an ungainly giant when I stood to shake her hand. She immediately began to ask me intimate questions.
Lunch overflowed with talk of art, draughtsmanship, censorship, French films and America – and questions from Julia about sex, love, my relationship, whether Australian men are any good in bed (most aren't, mine is), the suicides of my grandmother and her sister, cancer and mental illness. Sometimes her probings made me blush. Usually, I deflect personal questions; this time, I didn't. Her candour was refreshing, her conversation a fun, unpredictable ride.
Around us, other diners listened in, smiling uncertainly at us during the ruder bits.
Elementally English and refined, Nick was nonplussed. I envied the beautiful thin silk scarf he wore, the same colour, a dense indigo, used by Brett Whitely in the backgrounds of his shower scenes.
It was a relief to be in Sydney, even more so because I was in the company of two smart people who were not from there. I have a lot of collectors – and opportunities – overseas but too often I feel remote from them, as if they don't really exist at all. The lunch with Nick and Julia reminded me that in spirit, if not yet in fact, I'm already very far from Australia.
Photo above: Isabella Blow and her sister Julia Delves Broughton (right), 1988

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Under The Hammer Again

Three of my works are to be included in the Sydney auction house Lawson–Menzies' quarterly auction of fine art under $20,000, on 19th May:
Career Babe: The Icecreamist
(Resized for Easy Consumption), pictured above, painted in high gloss enamel on board, 40cm x 50cm. Pre-sale estimate: $A5,000 to $A7,000.
Dreams As Vivid As Waking Life
(from the Sex Tourist Sketchbook), a small, quickly executed study in watercolour, coloured pencil and lead pencil on cold pressed paper, 27cm x 19cm, from 2007. Pre-sale estimate: $A800 to $A1,200.
Rave Doll with Bubble Gun
, painted in high gloss enamel on canvas, 150cm x 300cm (and sold in 1997 from my first solo exhibition, Hazed, at Agent 029 Gallery, in Brisbane). Pre-sale estimate: $15,000 to $20,000.
All can be viewed in Sydney from 11th May at Lawson-Menzies, 12 Todman Avenue, Kensington. The gallery will be open from 10.00am to 5.30pm, daily.