Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fall To Grace

Artists have always been intrigued by women at (and on) the edge.
William Hunt, of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood , fell in love with Annie Miller, a prostitute, after painting her – despite his religious anxiety. Picasso visited brothels from the time he was thirteen and one of his most famous paintings, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, is of five prostitutes.
Picasso was also one of several writers and artists – among the others were Jean Cocteau, Alexander Calder, and Pablo Gargallo – who were fascinated with the wild and uninhibited Kiki de Montparnasse. She was the woman-as-cello in one of Man Ray's most famous images. Ernest Hemingway and the artist Tsuguharu Foujita wrote introductions to her autobiography.
The beautiful Lee Miller (one of her photographs is above) was Man Ray's lover, assistant, and muse. She was a sought-after fashion model until a photograph advertising a menstrual napkin (scandalous at the time) ended her career. Miller was troubled – traumatized by childhood rape – but bold. She arrived uninvited on Man Ray's doorstep to offer herself as his apprentice and left an accomplished photographer herself.
De Montparnasse and Miller were less inhibited, less conformist, and more at ease with themselves than other women of their time. It made them compelling muses for the men who painted, photographed and wrote about them and why we remember them even today.
I am no less interested in wild, uninhibited women who live outside the mainstream. The difference is that I'm a woman too, in a time when women with desires can be in control of both their lives and bodies.
The women who've modelled for me have come from various backgrounds, a few of them troubled. But their decisions to be porn stars, escorts, bar girls, strippers, or simply to live unfettered by 'straight' conventions, were freely made rather than the result of coercion. None are victims. If they once were, they wrested power from those who oppressed them (men, always men) and now live as they choose. They are refreshingly frank. They have nothing to hide – at least, not from me. They are women who are genuinely uninhibited and sexy. They're playful, curious and open to new ideas. Their emotions – good and bad – are usually at the surface, not suppressed. One model who sat for me had a PhD and worked as a humanitarian. Another was a stay-at-home mother who stripped naked in front of me, not once looking away, just moments after we'd met.
Art using uninhibited women isn't always – or even often – about sex. The qualities that make a woman sexually intriguing make her a perfect subject for a portrait. There is something deeper and more confronting in their posture and gaze.
Helmut Newton
, whose works were inspired by a mid-century view of powerful, sexy (and kinky) women, was also a great portraitist. His work with women who were willing to go further than others allowed him to be bold and original in his photography. I suspect that their openness and willingness helped to develop his ability to push deeper into his subject's psyche.
I have yet to see women painted by a woman with the same level of insight. Instead, portraits of women by women are too often glib. 'fan girl' mimickry, like Elizabeth Peyton's substance-lacking daubs. I prefer the bold, bruised paintings of British artist Jenny Saville, who portrays women as slabs of meat, even if her work is about about her own body rather than another woman's, and it fits too neatly with an oppressive view of women as objects to be devoured.
Art about strong, uninhibited, unusual women is discomforting, especially when it's created by a woman. Other women and post-feminist men are often unsettled when there is no element of political correctness. It's easy to understand and dismiss a fantasy female figure. After all, these are a staple of pop' culture. But it's more confronting and complicated if porn stars are given heroic, sympathetic dimensions – as in my Big Pin-Ups. The cages of post-feminist professional women are rattled by a series of empowered-but-glamorous Dangerous Career Babes. Or when a female art collector is stripped naked and objectified.
I am not an erotic painter. I am a painter of women. I started with self-portraits, exploring my own identity and the roles thrust on me as a woman. Over the years, more and more of my work is about other women. I'm interested in their complexities and contradictions. I'm a feminist, but I hate the dry, mainstream feminist view of how a woman should behave. I'm a modern woman who is open about her sexuality and her sexual experimentation.
My first portraits of other women were of them fucking. My early photographic portraits were equally intimate. I was included in many of them.
Now, my portraits of other women don't include me. But through prising myself open, seeing other women at their most intimate, and experiencing the responses of other women, I've become more adept at reading them as an artist. I have a better idea of other women's fears, desires, insecurities, internal conflicts and ambitions – the parts of themselves that are very rarely shown to anyone else, not even their lovers or friends. These hidden parts are what I'm interested in capturing in my portraits, whether they're sex workers, TV actresses, housewives, career women or trust fund junkies.
Each of my portraits offers an interior glimpse of an individual, but I suspect that, over time, it will be the body of work that is most revealing.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Show And Tell

Last week I posted a black and white photograph on tumblr of my hands stroking a cock. It provoked a flood of critical emails – unusually, a lot of them from fans of my work.
I've been accused before of using my sexuality to sell my work and myself. Such assertions are easily dismissed: my work sold well long before anyone knew even what I looked like, let alone anything about my life. But this time several men and women whom I know care about my work have expressed 'discomfort' and 'uncertainty' about the degree to which I've 'exposed' myself in this photograph. (Oddly, they didn't say a word when I wrote about my childhood sexual abuse.)
The 450 or so photographs I have posted to In The Studio are an ongoing exploration of one contemporary woman's life as an artist, without the usual fey, girlish jitters. They are unflinchingly candid (and not just in their occasional depiction of sex), reflecting a life-long refusal to draw a line between the personal and the professional. The most explicit images are meant to disturb, to make one pause and think. At the same time, they consciously reference the media-saturated, reality-based, gossip-obsessed age in which we all live and work. Their frankness is what lifts them above mundane documentary and makes them, collectively, a kind of perfomance art.
But there's more to it than that.
Being transparent about my life and work liberates me: it unchains my psyche and my self-expression and enables me to create without boundaries. At the basest level, if I'm willing to show myself fucking or masturbating in life, you can be sure I won't hold anything back when depicting myself – or anyone else – in my art. The photographs enable the viewer to understand what goes into my art, and why. They can glimpse the raw experiences that form the ideas for individual pieces.
Too often, it's mistaken for exhibitionism or narcissism. In every artist, there is an element of both. As I've written before, making art is elementally, egocentric. But I expose myself not to receive flattery (to achieve what psychiatrists term 'narcissistic supply') but to create a connection with those who view my work that's as intimate and as open as possible. Even if, sometimes, it unsettles or upsets them.
Do I still have secrets? Yes. And no, I won't reveal them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Buying Me

Yesterday, on Twitter, I was asked how, if I don't have traditional gallery representation, people might acquire my work.
I resisted the impulse to be glib. After all, it's simply a matter of emailing me. And yet in this age of 'click-to-buy' and next day delivery, this might be, for many people, counter-intutive.
I don't have an online catalogue. I don't even have a stockroom of available works to browse offline. Nearly all my works are commissioned (some a few years before I begin them) and those that aren't are being held for exhibitions planned over the next couple of years. My website has been designed as an archive not a shop front, a research resource for collectors, curators, auction houses, students, media and anyone else with an interest in my work or me.
Maybe surprisingly, I am very approachable and 'user-friendly'. I am a temperamental artist, sure. But I am also a competent business woman. I answer every enquiry personally – and immediately, if I am online. If I'm not, if I'm travelling or I'm busy in the studio, it might take up to 12 hours (but no more).
Most people write to ask what works are available. Sometimes they refer to a work they have seen on my web site or elsewhere and ask if I have anything else like it. I provide details about what works I do have available, as well as new works I'm developing. I also pass on any information I might have about works being sold by in the secondary market, through auction houses with whom I have good relations. Very occasionally, I will sell works on behalf of collectors wanting to 'trade up' to a bigger work of mine. Prices for my work range from a few hundred dollars for a small drawing to upwards of $A35,000 for a very large enamel on canvas.
If a collector is interested in commissioning a work, I outline very clearly the steps of the process, providing as much information as possible so that they feel able to make a decision. I answer any and all questions they have collector by email or 'phone. I give my number to genuine enquirers and answer my phone to them at any hour. Calls from the USA and Europe in the middle of the night are common.
I don't have a gallery and only collectors and dealers with whom I have a close relationship are welcome at my studio. I'm not interested in operating as a shop. However, I do believe in providing a good buying experience: I email (or, less frequently these days) snail-mail color-accurate photographs, dimensions and technical descriptions ahead of a sale and ongoing updates after it.
I give a watertight guarantee that the finished work will be delivered in pristine condition (otherwise, I will fly to wherever it is to repair it). I meticulously wrap and pack small works in layers of archival tissue or breathable foam and bubble wrap. Larger works are wrapped and packed in my studio by professional art couriers. I often organise transport on behalf of collectors: I don't charge extra for this service and I don't take a commission from the companies I recommend.
When a work is delivered, I advise on how to handle and hang the work, including, if appropriate, archival framing. I provide a signed artist's valuation and provenance for insurance and future sale purposes. And I remain available to all my collectors, at whatever time they want to contact to me.
If you're interested in buying my work, or would like to be contacted when new work is available, just email me. My address is listed on the contact page of my website.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Going Limp

Everyone's jumping on the porn' bandwagon.
Sex always sells and graphic sex, it turns out, sells even better. It even sells us better. We mimic the porn' aesthetic endlessly in social media – all these suburban women in their Calin Klein bikini bottoms puckering up to their iPhones or fake-frotting their girlfriends in drunken holiday snaps, all these steroidal young men with their cocks out in front of wardrobe mirrors.
I prefer my pornography done by pros. It takes skill and a degree of no-holes-barred bravado to pull it off (and, more rarely, get it off). The bodies are fantasy-like, with an unblemished (although often tattooed) plastic sheen, even when they haven't been altered by surgery. The money shots glisten like luxury products.
Good porn' is insidious: it seeps from sets in LA's inland suburbs to pop videos and haute couture. In this sense, it's subversive and transgressive. It encourages a degree of daring in the best creative minds: Tom Ford's Forever Love – described by many as 'geriatric porn' – is one of the coolest fashion editorials I've seen.
When it finally filters down to the suburban mainstream, it becomes high street fashion: platformed hooker heels and long, square-tipped French manicured gel-nails.
Amateur porn is lame. It's usually acted out with timidity – all implication and no action – and takes no courage at all. Pasteurised, flaccid versions of self-made porn have long been turning up in mainstream media – especially women's magzines and prime-time TV advertising. Unfortunately, now it's also turning up in once-hip style magazines. Wallpaper* recently launched the first of what might well become a series of 'erotic' films. It's as dull as the Swedish modern furniture the magazine always praises – the porn equivalent of a '50s mid-Western tract home.
According to Wallpaper*, this "first move into erotic movie-making" is "a complex tale of mistaken identity, passions reignited and good old girl-on-girl action." Actually, it's just dark shadows, ugly hotels and bad acting. Models gaze longing at their own reflections. Gauzy curtains float in a fan-driven breeze. Women fake-kiss in front of a man. God forbid, no tongues. High heels are slipped off, a dress unzipped. The soft-focussed action is too tiresome and corny to be tittilating. Even the tits seem deflated. The outfits, shoes and jewellery are listed below the clip, just like a mall catalogue.
It's not the first time mainstream brands have toyed with purpose-made porn. Nicola Formichetti created a better film-as-lifestyle-advertisement for fashion designer Thierry Mugler. Titled Brothers Of Arcadia, the company cleverly positioned it on the free pornographic website X-Tube.
The difference between the two shorts is that Formichetti's was a fashion ad' informed by pornography. It's well-executed high camp, a gay fantasy with lingering glimpses of cock. When it ends, the screen is filled with ten tiny clips of real porn – explicit sucking, fucking and fisting – the genuine content of X-Tube.
The Wallpaper* short is an earnest but ultimately uncommitted mainstream trash: a sloppy suck of lollypop, maybe, not of cock or cunt. It betrays the magazine's blandness.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Everyday Pleasure

"My son has followed fashion since he was a punk. He and I agree that fashion is about sex."
– Vivienne Westwood
I have always loved clothes, shoes, and 'accessories'. Even when I was young and broke, I cut my outgoings to the bone so that I could save for a few pairs of beautiful shoes. I swapped some of my very first enamels for several thousand dollars-worth of clothes at a boutique that stocked Karen Walker and other designers before they became well known (and less interesting).
And yet, for the past five years, I've worn the same thing nearly every day. Black, always black. Like an old-school nun. Now my 'office' clothes are plain white, cotton men's shirts, blue Levi jeans, and a pair of grey suede, paint-splattered, rubber-soled Tods loafers that I bought fifteen years ago.
My modest collection of classic clothes and shoes is still in storage in Sydney. It includes black, knee-high boots in soft leather by Robert Clergerie, a hot pink, high waisted knee-high pencil skirt that I found in a small-town charity shop during a road trip, a sexually explicit manga t-shirt in clashing colours, a handbag from Thailand made of cobra skin – with the head still attached (fangs bared), a chocolate brown leather jacket by Alexander McQueen, a white, fluffy, short-sleeved angora sweater, a woven leather hobo bag by Bottega Veneta, and a backless evening dress with sheer silk 'apron' by Nicola Finetti.
I'm not into novelty and I couldn't care less about being 'on trend'. I long for the sensual experience of different fabrics, different textures, on my skin, especially if they're beautifully cut and sewn. I want what I wear to turn me on.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Regaining Momentum

I've spent the last couple of weeks sleeping off a respiratory infection.I got careless about my health, working long hours in my enamel studio and not getting enough fresh air or sleep. But there has been some good news.
Last week, a gouache on paper of mine, Study for Saint Shaniqua of Compton, sold at Lawson Menzies' Quarterly Fine Art Auction in Sydney for a total price of $A4,000. This exceeded Lawson-Menzies' pre-sale estimate of $A2,000 to $A3,000 and set a new high for the sale of my works on paper at auction. Last year, my works on paper were selling in the secondary market for around $A2,000.
The price reflects an increase in demand for my paintings, large and small, in watercolour, gouache and enamel, most of which are closely held by a core of avid collectors.
The study wasn't the best example of my works on paper. It's little more than a sketch, raw and unrefined, from a series I abandoned after trying out a couple of ideas. It was never intended to be seen, let alone sold. The high price paid for it bodes well for the value of pieces that are better examples of my work, although the study still represents a pretty good investment.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Multiple Exposures

Photography has always been elemental to my self-expression. When I was young, I used Polaroid snapshots of myself as studies for my early paintings. I drew on them, tracing some parts and inventing others. I cut them up, enlarged them with a photocopier and glued them back together in collages. It wasn't until later that I realised these images documented not only my creative process but my life.
I started to photograph my self, my work and my surroundings with more intent, resulting in more intimate images of my life when I wasn't painting – where I slept, what I ate, where I went, who I fucked (as I fucked them). The line between life and work has always been blurry for me but when I started posting this visual narrative online, I realised I was closely interrogating the meaning (and necessity) of privacy in an age in which we habitually, compulsively share our lives online – while incautiously opening ourselves up to forensic examination by individuals, corporations andd governments.
I took the idea of transparency to its extreme in my first (and, so far, only) photographic exhibition, four years ago. Titled PORNO, I curated a few dozen black and white and colour images, made by myself and others, of random sexual partners and sex acts. The exhibition was widely misunderstood: some thought I was turning my hand to porn, while others thought it was a sort of feminist confession. Either way, it was thought by many that I had laid myself too bare.
I had – but also, I had not. Apparent candour can be a way to misdirect, to conceal. Photographs mislead becasue we assume they are 'real' and in the case of PORNO, there was unquestionably the sense of me sharing more of myself than many thought possible or acceptable. And yet nearly every assumption made by those who viewed (and bought) the PORNO images was wrong.
Nowadays, my photographic efforts are curated for an online audience, in different collections.
In The Studio
is intended simply as a candid, fragmented, and not always (hardly ever) chronological documentary of my life, which, as the title suggests, revolves around my work. As my work and life are entangled, it is also (not always intentionally) revelatory and intimate. There are neither dates nor captions and the viewer is left to piece together clues about what, and sometimes where and with whom, I am up to.
Venus In Hell
is an attempt to create a film noir in a series of still lives, resulting in a disjointed and disorienting narrative that mashes reality with fiction. All the images were shot with an iPhone, using a popular two-dollar app'. I posted one image a day for a hundred days, without any editorial plan or 'script'. I just shot what happened to be around me, wherever I happened to be, not thinking too deeply about the result.
Magdalene's Lament
is still developing. I'm not sure yet what it's 'about'. I've used words in my watercolour paintings for around six years. Now I have excerpted passages from my diaries and transcribed them on my own and others' bodies (or on prosthetic versions of them) to create a 'static' but sexually graphic and violent performance piece that maps the messy, obsessive neediness and violent longing that lurk in the shadowy recesses of female desire.
I am not a photographer. However, as an artist, I use whatever media best suit what I have to express. And in a world in which random series of photographic images are curated by hundreds of thousands of individuals online and in a sense are codified to become not just a new language but the structure of an alternative identity, it's important that I continue to experiment with my cameras.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Art Matters

"The new job of art is to sit on the wall and get more expensive."
Robert Hughes
Art doesn't matter as much as it used to.
Once, art was used as a way to record the every day of life and to share (and later, map) experiences. It became elemental to ritual, spiritual beliefs and sometimes superstition. It even offered the illusion of immortality.
Nowadays, art is viewed mainly as a commodity. Big collectors sometimes buy for love but they always have one eye on its value as an investment. Art's value being determined by its ROI is an idea embraced by the art world's middlemen, for whom dealing in art is like punting on the stock market, with fewer restrictions and more opportunities for insider trading and price-rigging.
For the public, art is just another form of easy-to-consume entertainment. Besides, by and large, public art has has been replaced by advertising. Our so-called visual culture is really about consumerism. It's littered with signs, billboards, television, infomercials, product placement, branded clothing, and celebrity snapshots. Art has been ghetto-ed inside galleries, instead of spaces that are a part of everyday life. And as gallerists delight in reminding artists, the primary purpose of a commercial gallery is to sell art, not display it.
Funding for public or insitutional galleries is sparse. In Australia, many public galleries operate with a skeleton staff of professionals, aided by a few stalwart volunteers. In Italy, the director of the Contemporary Art Museum of Casoria, Antonio Manfredi, is currently burning the museum's collection piece by piece, in a bid to draw attention to a funding crisis. Without urgent intervention, the museum will close: "It’s simple,” Manfredi said, “If nobody cares about the art that’s inside the museum, then I’ll burn it."
Recently, while organising a touring exhibition of my work through rural Australia, I offered to paint murals for free. So far, none have been approved. The idea is liked by galleries, but public space is controlled by local government and access to it stifled by tedious, disinterested bureaucratic processes. It's not surprising that anarchic street art has taken off.
For art to matter again, it has to be seen everywhere, every day. And artists have to be prepared to do the hard work themselves to make that happen (ironically, street artists are probably the ones who best understand this). Yes, many are trying to make their work more accessible – more apparent – to those who care about it. But I think we also have to regain a public fascination for it, maybe even an awe of it, without it being mere 'entertainment' – or worse, entertainment polluted by branding – and associated with a shabby cult of celebrity.
Maybe this idea doesn't jibe with the social, professional and financial aspirations of those to whom we have charged the care and maintenance of our visual culture: it's so much easier and more profitable for curators and administrators to deal with governments, corporations and the well-helled one percent. But artists need to begin to relish a fight which, when it comes down to it, might be a fight for our very existence.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Ego Is Always At the Wheel

A few months ago I had a conversation with an art collector who is, by profession, a doctor. We got to talking about ego. She said that doctors don't regard themselves as superior to their patients. They are simply humanists who, having acquired specific knowledge of how humans 'work', regard everyone as equal.
She was somewhat shocked when I told her few artists were like that.
Art is about ego. So are artists. We don't hold much truck with science (even if we're intrigued by it). We're smart but sometimes not very educated. And yet we presume that our ideas, emotional perspectives, and above all, our expressions of these, are of interest to others – that others will want to experience them repeatedly, and even possess them through the objects we make. Artists want their work to linger with us long after their deaths. It's a quest not just for immortality but reverence.
An artist who uses their self in their work, as I do, pick through everything they have – their memories, desires, fears and so on – to transmit very subjective insights. There may be references to 'fact' (which should never be mistaking for knowledge) but they are, in every instance, filtered through the artist's own, egocentric 'interpretation'. I'm arrogant enough to believe that I'm able to do this with a modicum of originality, even when I'm developing the ideas of artists who have gone before me.
My work has been called self-absorbed. It is, but it also has meaning to others. My focus on the self reflects a facet of a contemporary social and cultural environment: social media has taught us to document our own lives in public – and to believe we are nothing if we are not seen and heard almost constantly.
But the deeper effect of sharing myself in my work is that I connect with the viewer through their interpretation of my experiences, even if these are merely fragments interpreted by the viewer as being 'shared'. At worst, for a moment, it enables the viewer to feel less alone.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Out Of The Shadows

This is my story of the past three years:
I went mad. I went bankrupt. My father died from a particularly aggressive cancer. I went mad again, and not just from grief. I stopped painting. I fell ill. I recovered. I started painting again.
Inevitably, I am different. So is my art.
For nearly a decade, my slick, glossy, colorful enamels have mimicked advertising and mass-market entertainment. They explored how modern women's personalities and ambitions are shaped by pervasiveness of both. In recent years, my work has also experimented with the idea of self-objectification, and the insidious influence of social media on the way we portray the most intimate aspects of our lives to others. This has since led me to try to understand how personal experiences – like illness, death, grief, and love – become the core of a narrative that we try, every day, to edit or re-write.
I have been working on a series of paintings which feature silhouettes of objects that have personal meaning to me. I think of them as shadows from my past. The objects are easily recogniseable – an old motorbike, a horse, a shotgun – and each is captioned by a hand-painted text that is a fragment of memory. Theres is no color and there is very little detail. The studies are matt black gouache on bare, unpainted paper. The finished pieces have a high-gloss, reflective white enamel background surrounding unreflective, matt black. I want the silhouettes to look like a void, as if the objects have been removed.
These are not ironic works. They are the opposite. There's a purity in the lack of colour, the clean lines and pared back imagery. There is a measure of sentimentality, too. The words are thoughtful and intimate.
When we read a good book, we form the characters in our imaginations from the simplest descriptions or exchanges of dialogue. We build our own version of their world. I want the experience of looking at these paintings to be similar: for the words and image to become highly personalised within the viewer's mind: experiences shared with me, then individualised to the viewer's own perspectives.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Reading To Myself

I haven't read much during the last couple of years. As my mental health deteriorated, I found it hard to concentrate. Now I'm well, I find myself craving books. The fragmentary pieces I skim online aren't enough anymore.
I have a long list of books I want to buy. These are just a few:
Groovy Bob: The life and times of Robert Fraser
, by Harriet Vyner
Fraser was an infamous and influential art dealer, responsible for introducing the London artworld of the 60s to Peter Blake, Jim Dine, Richard Hamilton, Bridget Riley and Andy Warhol. Described as a "taste-maker, hedonist, lousy businessman, promiscuous homosexual", he lived large, with little caution and brought sex and glamour to the usual art hustle.
Virginia Woolf
, by Alexandra Harris

I am come from a long line of neurotic, insane, creative (and suicidal) women so it makes me feel just a little less alone to read about Virginia Woolfe, who was brilliant, charming, abominable, and utterly mad.
To The River: A Journey Beneath the Surface
, by Olivia Laing

Olivia Laing walked the short length of the Ouse River, in which Virginia Woolfe suicided by drowning in 1941, from its source to the sea. What she brought back was a "passionate investigation into how history resides in a landscape", combining memoir with mythical and historical journeys."
The Book Of Symbols: Reflections On Archetypal Images
, by the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism

The latest series of paintings I'm developing uses silhouettes of generic objects with intimately personal text describing my own memories and experiences of them. This book offers deeper insight into the purpose and meaning of symbols – and our need for them.
A Road Trip Journal
, by Stephen Shore

In the 70s, the famed photographer took a road trip from New York to California and back again. Along the way, he made postcards of his own photographs of the towns he passed through and inserted them among the other tourist postcards. He documented his journey with American Psycho-like detachment – itemisations of where he stayed, what he ate, how many postcards he distributed.
It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image + Text Work by Women Artists and Writers, edited by Lisa Pearson
The work of poets Bernadette Mayer and the late Hannah Weiner developed in part from their involvement with New York conceptual art during the Seventies. This book includes a work by Mayer called Memory, a thirty-day record of her life at age 26, documented in snapshots and taped narration – what she called an "emotional science project.". Also included in the book is a piece by Weiner called In Pictures and Early Words. It's a recording of her clairvoyant-schizophrenic experiences, transcribing the words that began to appear before her eyes as contorted typography.
Vali Myers: A memoir
, by Gianni Menichetti

Vali Myers was wild. I visited her studio when I lived in Melbourne, and I saw her often around my neighbourhood: a flurry of orange red hair, a tattooed face. Originally named Ann Rappold, she danced for the Melbourne Modern Ballet at seventeen. She then spent ten years in Paris, followed by forty years in semi-seclusion in a wild canyon in Italy, living with wolves and other wild animals (some of them human). I'm not actually a fan of her work but I envy her life and the boldness with which she lived it.
Andy Warhol Portraits
, by Tony Shafrazi, Carter Ratcliff and Robert Rosenblum

My recent portraits are clearly infuenced by Andy Warhol, Alex Katz and other Sixties' artists. Surprisingly, this book is the first comprehensive survey of Warhol's portraits, with more than 300 works from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England, by Keith Thomas
I've always been fascinated by the belief in, and fear of, alchemy, magic and witchcraft in England and the rest of Europe. I half hope it might make a comeback in the twenty-first century.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Muse, Me

When I was younger, I used myself as a model and noone else. In the last few years, others have begun to populate my work.
I am looking for a model now. I find myself studying each person I meet – especially if they're Asian or African – assessing the angularity of their faces and the proportions of their bodies (I don't really care about height or weight). I have an aversion to conventional. 'white bread' prettiness: I like faces with flaws. More than anything, I look for an attitude. I'm drawn most to women who are strong, smart, curious, experimental, and yes, sexual, but who are not yet fully 'resolved'. Painting someone is a process of self-exploration and many of my most successeful sitters have used their time with me in the studio as an opportunity to explore themselves. The best results happen when the assumptions of both subject and artist are tested.
Needles to say, that can be too much for most people.
Sometimes, I approach women on the street or in cafés or bars. Sometimes I put up a poster. Mostly, I get emails from people who have seen my work. I'm always explicit about what I might expect of them. I don't ever use the word 'fun'. I ask a lot of questions. If I like the answers, I'll organise a face-to-face, usually somewhere other than my studio. I take a few snapshots, I write copious notes. If I think someone has what I'm looking for – and they're game (many lose their nerve very quickly ) – I ask them to visit my studio.
Potential sitters pose clothed and naked for me. I photograph them with both digital and Polaroid cameras and make quick sketches. I'm interested in the different ways people bare themselves, so I photograph them as they undress. I used to be hesitant about touching their bodies, but these days, I impose myself without hesitation – to reposition a limb, twist a torso, or tilt a head. Physical contact connects me to the would-be sitter, closing the cautious distance that new subjects often cling to for a sense of security. It also agitates any suppressed feelings the woman might have about being objectified. Sometimes, it can also create a sexual tension.
The more intense the experience, the better the result. By the end of a shoot, most are exhausted. Then I make lunch and we talk about the experience – it's a conversation that sometimes continues by phone or email for a couple of days afterwards. This is also part of their contribution to the work, and in many ways, its even more intimate than the actual posing.
Sometimes a session fails. Someone who might have been bold and eager when we first met becomes suddenly nervous and rigid, as if the reality of the moment is more than they can handle. Some blanche when they see my drawing table littered with drawings of body parts or graphic Polaroids of other models. Some find the process too discomforting and want to stop. A few misinterpret my intentions and assume that we're going to fuck – or worse, think it's an opportunity for platonic female bonding, of sharing secrets and giggling. Many back out before they even get to the studio.
Occasionally, I come across women who make the whole thing a breeze.
Several years ago, I had a studio close to the infamous Walking Street, in Pattaya, Thailand. Of all the women I have painted, the local bar girls (and transexuals) were the most curious about how I went about it. They asked smart questions, looked through my work and offered their opinions as they flicked through the many art books I had lying around. A handful passed by several times a week, sometimes late at night, to cook spicey dishes, talk, and to pose. None ever asked for payment.
A young Korean woman who agreed to model for me at my beachside studio in Sydney moved (and talked) like a laid-back Californian surfer. Deeply tanned, with dyed blonde hair, she'd gaze longingly at the waves just outside the studio's floor-to-ceiling windows as she contorted her petite muscled body for me. In the pictures, it came across as a sexy languour. At the same studio, a boney, bird-featured, saxophone-playing Japanese who posed several times (albeit with cooperative but utterly vacant detachment) somehow became, for a time, the third point in an odd sexual triangle with my boyfriend and me.
Like male artists in the past, I've had my share of tangled relationships with the females who have posed for me. The process of photographing, drawing or painting someone is intimate and revelatory. It can also be unnerving (and yes, seductive) for the subject. My focus flicks without warning between them to the 'object' I am making. I imagine that for the other person it might be like being adored one moment, ignored the next. It can forge a bond – but just as easily fester with resentment. At its most successful, it can be a liberating experience for the subject: they get to see themselves through the eyes of someone else, and often, discover more (not less) than they had expected.
What I want out of it is much simpler: I want to make good art.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Thank You, Lisa

Like everyone else, I love surprises. This morning, I was delivered a package from the American professional artists' model, Lisa B. Byrne. Inside the brown box were various presents wrapped individually in contrasting shades of pink tissue paper.
I opened the card first. It was a candid and touching personal note. Then I unwrapped the first present to find a couple of cool hand made stickers: one urged me to 'Fuck Racism' in Southern Gothic script. Others contained a hot pink 'To Do' list (pictured above) designed by Lisa and printed on thick card, a cool Montana paint pen in Dooney pink, and a beautiful monochrome print of Lisa herself, posing nude.
I saved the best for last. It was shaped like an oversized bon-bon, wrapped in tissue and tied at each end with glossy black ribbon. Inside, I discovered a roll of shiny black bondage tape by Booty Parlor. According to the product description, it's a "strong, non-sticky cling film". I tried it. It was soft and smooth, like silk, and adhered to itself. I'm going to use it with my boyfriend when I see him next. Of course, Lisa will be invited.

Location, Location

It's no secret that I hate Brisbane.
I hate its torrid weather. I hate the angular drawl of its inhabitants and their near-enough-is-good-enough attitude. I hate their overwhelming sense of self-entitlement. Everyone harbours the smug certainty that Brisbane – and nowhere else – is the real embodiment of the Australian Dream.
Oh, and I hate the lack of art supply shops (and the lack of art).
I'm itching to leave but for the next few months, I can't. I have several commissions to finish and a series of new works to get started. I have to rebuild my health. As badly as I want to be eslewhere, my best course of action is to stick it out here.
My life right now is monk-like, an extended period of solitude and confinement. I sleep in a single bed, in a room in my late father's house where I also work. I don't go out. I don't fuck. I don't even speak to anyone often. When I do, it's to collectors who are scattered around the world. Every evening, I walk to and from a women-only gym. Four days a week, I walk to and from my enamel studio, a few miles away. Walking rests my eyes and clears my lungs. Twenty-four hours a week is the most I can handle of my studio's carcinogenic, acrid fumes.
I have enough supplies (ordered from wholesalers in the USA) to finish my commissions. By the time I run out, I'll have accomplished enough to be able to take the time I need to move overseas. In the coming weeks – when work at my studio has progressed further – I'll begin travelling again and interacting with the art world.
I miss the life I used to lead but I am reasonably content. My work is progressing and that's the most important thing to me. I long to live in a place I might love – just as I long for a (ir)regular sex life – but in the end, what I'm doing with my art is a lot more compelling than where I'm doing it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ties That Bind

I have few friends. I have acquaintances in the art world – curators, auctioneers, dealers, other artists – but they know little about me outside of art. Few have met me in person. None has been to my studio or home.
I keep most people at a distance.
My relationships with my collectors are different. I have known some since my first self-produced exhibition in 1997. Most I have met since 2005, when I turned my back on the traditional gallery system and set about developing direct contact with those who had a genuine interest in my work.
All my collectors have my home phone number. I take calls from them any time between 6am to midnight, seven days a week. I call most of them myself at least once a month. When I lived in Sydney, on a high cliff top directly above the Pacific Ocean, I opened my home and studio to them, prepared sumptious lunches, and hung out for hours with them and talked. I've visited many in their own homes.
My largest collectors know as much about me as my own family – and I trust them more. When I was in a psychiatric hospital in Sydney, collectors were among my few visitors. At my lowest ebbs (and there have been too many these past couple of years), their belief in me sustained me and helped me to re-build. Most have a good understanding of what I am doing, and why. Even when they don't, they have faith in my choices.
I make art as a way to process my perceptions and experiences. However, I have learned that the artwork itself – and the experience of it – belong to s
omeone else. And that can bind me closer to them than any conventional friendship.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Second Act

I have been painting in high gloss enamel for seventeen years now, nearly half my life.
My first works in the medium, undertaken when I was just a teenager, were intended as 'anti-paintings', their smooth, seamless surfaces devoid of brush strokes or any other apparent evidence of human touch. My signature was stamped on them like a brand, as if to emphasise their 'roles' as products. As an artist, I viewed myself as both producer and product. I happily objectified myself in my work.
For a time, when I was in my early 20s, the women in my enamels (or, rather, the women I pretended to be in them) were unlikely ideals, hyper-stylised and unencumbered by imperfections. They were always pretty, their poses frozen in 'perfect moments'. The 'contexts', such as they were, were intentionally superficial, the surfaces shiny and ever-new, like advertising images or fashion layouts in glossy magazines.
This was intentional. For much of the past 100 years, advertising has shaped female identity, defining they way they should be seen and desired: women have learned to acquire power from their appearance. My early enamels reflected my contradictory responses when such power (in the form of good looks and desirability) were pressed upon me as a young woman.
My earliest paintings were designed to be reproduced in the fashion and lifestyle publications they mimicked – the proportions of the frames matched those of a double-paged spread in an A4-format magazine (or a billboard). Which is to say, they were intended to work themselves as advertising. As I noted above, both they and I were 'product'. They were also designed to be easily consumable. Brightly colored, candy-coated, and glib, they were 'pop' in all the obvious ways.
But they were also troubling. Easy to access and absorb, to a point, looking at them too long could make one uncomfortable. Men always looked away from them before women, maybe because they recognised that they were being played – that what they were really looking at was a lot more critical and political than they'd bargained for. They had been encouraged to look without self-awareness or shame through decades of all the wrong messages from mass media and advertising but now they could see themselves reflected in these brittle, glass-like surfaces, too-vividly-tinted mirrors held up to their prurience and smug assumptions.
Two later series played on this further. Dangerous Career Babes was an unsubtle throw-down to the post-feminist Noughties, taking hyper-mediated, hyper-productised, power-dressing, but ultimately play-acting 'independent' women to task for the shallow depth of commitment to their own progress. The Big Pin-Ups that followed a year or so later were my last gasp of frustration: portraits conceived at a remove from their subjects, who were all idealised, larger-than-life-sized, slightly-too-obtainable playthings, smooth-skinned, sexually pliant, and pretty vacant.
For years, I kept my work impersonal, even if it included my own image: the art as product, devoid of meaning, available to any (or no) interpretation. But now I have grown up. No longer a teenager or an angsty twenty-something, I care less about how identity can be 'coerced' by media and advertising (maybe I know, too well, who and why I am). I like ambiguity but I've grown out of saccahrine prettiness, even when its suffused with irony.
I am not abandoning my hard-edged painting style – even if I am, increasingly, doing other things in other media. I still like its crispness and craftsmanship. But I want it to change as radically as I have changed in these past several months. I want it to deliver more – from less.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Home Is Where My Art Is (Made)

I returned to work in my enamel studio, today, for the first time in three or four months. I had missed it more than I expected.
I've moved often in my adult life, but since my late teens, a studio has been one of my few constants.
There have been several of them but they've all been set up the same way: aluminium trestles, industrial metal shelving, heavy canvas drop sheets, house painter's brushes. And frames, lots of frames.
No matter the location – whether it's underneath a house or in an industrial facility – they've always looked similar. They've also
smelled similar. Most of the time, it's the sickly sweet, acrid reek of enamel fumes but once that's dissipated, there's the pleasant, almost rural whiff of canvas and cedar.
It doesn't take long to slip back into routines I've been practising for more than two-thirds of my life: sanding surfaces with fine paper; wiping with a tack cloth to pick up the dust; mixing paint, then applying it in long even strokes; washing brushes and re-shaping the wet bristles so they dry as if new. They're more familiar to me than sex.
I've adjusted my weekly schedule so that I spend four days painting in enamel, then three days working away from the fumes. This more reasonable level of exposure means I can continue using the medium while remaining well. I'm still finishing a number of commissions, which will take me until the end of this year.
A handful of portrait commissions renewed my interest in enamel after I'd decided to give it up completely, a couple of years ago. Maybe, just maybe, I'll continue with it once these works have been delivered.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Girl, Working

One of my study paintings is to be sold at Lawson Menzies Quarterly Fine Art Auction in Sydney on Thursday, 16th August, at 6:30pm. Titled Study for Saint Shaniqua of Compton, the 59.6cm x 49.5cm image is in gouache on 100 per cent cotton paper. The pre-sale estimate is $A2,000 to $A3,000.
Study for Saint Shaniqua of Compton
is one of a small number of similar works I painted in Thailand, in 2008, during a period I had a studio in the heart of the seaside capitol of sex tourism, Pattaya. I abandoned the series but kept the studies for reference purposes. The only reason this one found its way into the secondary market was because I was bankrupted and the Insolvency Trust auctioned all my studies and sketches to pay creditors.
Seeing this painting again after a few years, I can see how the ideas within it evolved to become the
Big Pin-Up series . However, it's raw and unrefined and if it had not been seized, I might have destroyed it. I'm glad I didn't get the chance. It's fun, sexy, and offers a glimpse into my creative process at the time.
Study for Saint Shaniqua of Compton can be viewed at Menzies Gallery, 12 Todman Avenue Kensington, NSW, Tel: 02 8344 5404, from Thursday 9th to Thursday 16th August, 10.00am to 5.30pm daily.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Seven Year Bitch

I've been out of the traditional gallery system for seven years now. However, I've still sold a small percentage of my output to – but not through – a handful of established art dealers. Sometimes they've bought for their own collections. Most times, they've bought to resell.
My feelings about this are mixed. I like money as much as the next person but too many art dealers I know are inclined to undervalue their relationships with – and over-estimate their importance to – the artists they represent. So I've always dealt with them at arms length: when they called me, I accepted that, unlike collectors, they weren't really interested in what I was doing. They were all about what they could make off me. I was careful not to step into their bear traps or to provide them with too much fodder for gossip. I took as much of their money off them as I could.
I looked on it as an uneasy truce.
And then I got a call from an art dealer right after I'd posted a blog entry about being admitted to a private psychiatric clinic. He wasn't calling to tell me to get well soon. He just wanted to cut a deal.
"Would you be interested in doing an edition of prints of your early work?"
He had approached me with this proposition before. It was not his idea, he said, but an anonymous business partner's. Together, they'd produce cheap giclée prints in large editions of all my early work. I'd be paid a small fee in exchange for the high resolution print-files and my time signing all the prints. He refused to tell me how they intended to market the prints. As he saw it, it wasn't my concern.
I refused: "You've asked me this before and I said no. Nothing's changed."
"I just thought you might have changed your mind," he said.
It was only much later, I realised that the dealer had just read that I was in a psych' ward. He'd figured he'd try on this rancid, fast buck' idea again in the hope I'd commit to it while I was out of my mind.
I should have seen it at the time. Whenever I've been ill or down or my luck, an art dealer has always appeared, as magically as a twisted fairy godmother, and tried to take advantage of the situation. Not long after I was first diagnosed with bipolar, I was offered a contract for long-term representation that would have made everyone except me a fast buck, while screwing my reputation and the collectors who supported me. You can read about it here. I've always said no to these kinds of deals. It's part of why my career has lasted this long. But I admit I have let such people continue to scavenge at the perimeter of my 'business'.
Not anymore. Maybe it's my new-found sanity. Maybe it's a renewed care for my self and my art. But I am not taking calls from fuckwits like this ever again. I will save my energy – and limited resources of good grace – for the serious collectors who value my art (and me) beyond their estimate of its investment value.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Mirror, Mirror

I unpacked a portrait of myself today. It's a painting by an American artist named Phoinix. He created the work for the Dreaming Hazel Dooney group exhibition in Victoria, last year. I've hung it on the wall of my office.
I don't know Phoinix well. We've never met, never spoke spoken in person. We've only connected online, and even then, not often or in great depth. And yet, in this portrait, he has unquestionably located a hidden me, and re-interpreted it within the context of a simple tattoo of I have on the inside of my left arm. It's a text, written in Latin: the translation reads, In front is a precipice, behind are wolves. She flies on her own wings.
Looking at Phoinix's portrait makes my skin itch. It's like catching a glimpse of my reflection unexpectedly. It reveals more about who I am than I'm comfortable with.
As Phoinix sees it, I've painted myself into existence. It's a bold thing to assert about someone you don't know well – that they've completely invented themselves. The pack of wolves of my imagination have become, in his, a lone wolf with my face, a metaphor for an outsider. In the central figure, the eye colours are exact. So are their shapes, right down to one being slightly more open than the other. The bones of my face are accurate in ways that I at once like and dislike. The halo recalls those used in old religious icons and my own early paintings.
Phoinix titled the work, Icon. Having painted me as someone – something – brashly self-created, he suggests that all icons are self-made (even if part of the deal is to behave as though it's a recognition bestowed by others).
I relish the immodesty of hanging this painting in my office. I stare at it often, curiously studying how a stranger sees me. Inevitably, the parts that make me want to look away are the same that make me want to look again and again. They are the parts that reveal something about me despite myself.
Joan Didion once wrote, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live". Our stories are fabrications about ourselves, based on who we want to be, rather than who we are. Phoinix's portrait is an antidote to these. Created without any direct contact with me, no sitting, no conversation, it is an external view, uninflected by the stories I tell myself and others. It is a picture of the self that I haven't been able to dress up or conceal.
I realise, all of a sudden, that a portrait is an opportunity to be confronted by the reality of oneself. In viewing it, the reality can be studied and over time, accepted. Which is to say, some truth can enter the fiction we tell of ourselves.

Sunday, June 03, 2012


Four years ago, almost to the day, I was approached by a small Australian company, Legends Rubbers, to adapt images from my Cowboy Babes series to the quirky tin boxes Legends used to package their condoms. The deal didn't work out, even if it did gain the company a degree of attention, thanks to a piece on Gawker.
This month, the tins will be seen, finally, in an exhibition at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, in Victoria, Australia. Curated by Dr. Vivien Gaston, Controversy: The Power Of Art is intended to "explore the social and cultural impact of art through examples that have provoked intense response and controversy", from the late 19th century to the present day, by Australian and international artists working in painting, photography, print-making, video, sculpture, installation and video.
One of my original Cowboy Babes paintings, All Tied Up!, in high gloss enamel on canvas, 100cm x 150 cm, will also be loaned by a private collector to the museum for the period of the show.
Controversy: The Power Of Art
will open on 21st June and runn until 12th August. The Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery can be found at Civic Reserve, Dunns Road, Mornington, Victoria. For further information, 'phone + 61 3 5975 4395.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Galloping, Falling

"Look I probably should have told you this before, but you see.. well.. insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops."
Cary Grant as Mortimer Brewster, Arsenic and Old Lace
I had expected to be well by now. I am no longer depressed. The mood stabiliser they prescribed while I was hospitalised has stilled the chaos and rage of mania without leaving me numb. Yet my mind is still not functioning properly. And it's making it almost impossible for me to live, let alone make a living.
Last week, during a regular consultation, my psychiatrist took a typed form from his desk drawer. Reading from it, he asked me several long, detailed questions relating to anxieties, fears, phobias, family history, irrational beliefs, physical ailments, obsessions, dreams and nightmares, and responses to various types of social interactions.
They were questions I'd never been asked before. And yet they interrogated experiences I've had daily – and intensely – since my mid teens. I had assumed they were symptoms of my bipolar disorder. Or, more simply, flaws in my personality. It turns out that they're something more than that.

Co-morbidities – additional psychiatric or medical disorders – are not uncommon among those diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But I've felt for a while that, when it came to my head, something else was wrong. I just couldn't figure out what it was. My psychiatrist now believes it's a type of severe anxiety disorder, if not a cluster of several. It is probably inherited, genetic, just as my bipolar is.
Frankly, I don't care what it is. I am desperate to get well.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a basic treatment strategy. But my psychiatrist believes that medication will have the most significant effect for me. The drug he has prescribed has potent side effects. As I write this , I feel like shit: nauseous, indolent, unable to think straight. It will take several weeks for any positive effects to become apparent.
At first, the prognosis of a slow, unreliable recovery depressed me so much I was immobilised. But I refuse to let madness overwhelm my life any more than it has. I want to get back to work.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Wrapping Fish

A brief Q&A, published last year in Brisbane's
Courier Mail weekend magazine, QWeekend.

Friday, May 18, 2012

About Face(book)

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
Leo Tolstoy
This week, I read an article by Sean Bonner, titled On Leaving Facebook. Bonner was an active user of the social networking site for close to five years but recently, he decided to 'delete' his presence there when a friend, Peter Rojas, co-founder of several technology blogs and the website site gdgt, wrote on Twitter, “Most people disagree, but I think it’s important to not use services that you have issues with, even if they are free.”
I've always been open about my dislike and distrust of FaceBook. But I persisted with a presence there since 2010. After all, it was a good way to connect with new people. I never thought of myself as 'supporting' FaceBook.
Then I began to see a darker side to it. My first account was removed without warning after I posted a photograph of myself embracing another female artist. We were both naked but the image wasn't particularly explicit. I figured that if Playboy was allowed to post photos of non-explicit nudity, so was I. I didn't realise that the company enforced a 'code of conduct' without warning and without a process of appeal. (Later I learned that partial nudity was fine, as long as it wasn't between members of the same sex.) I re-registered using a different email address and begrudgingly self-censored the words and photographs I posted. I couldn't help but despise myself for being so compliant.
The company's ethics have been called into question several times in the wider public arena. They were never a company that held much truck with trust or privacy. FaceBook not only gathers users' private information but also tracks their internet usage after they leave the site. Unsurprisingly, the company also publicly supports CISPA, a bill which threatens individual privacy and freedom online. Bonner notes the company's other dubious actions in his blog entry, with links that substantiate the claims. On a personal, visceral level, everything I've ever read about the company's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, makes my flesh crawl.
After reading Bonner's article, I realised I couldn't ignore the uncomfortable fact that I walk my talk in every area of my life, except when it comes to Facebook. I no longer wanted anything to do with a corporation – which, today, made an Initial Public Offering to investors, valuing its 500-million-strong user base at more than $US100 billion – that represents (and imposes) ideas I believe are elementally anti-social, oppressive, philistine and unethical.
So, like Bonner, I have abandoned FaceBook. I made my last post there last night. It contained an explanation and a link to Bonner's blog post. In 48 hours, my Facebook account will be deactivated and go 'dark'. It will be deleted. I will continue to update my website, as well as post to Twitter, Tumblr, and this blog. I will look forward to remaining in contact with everyone I've met on FaceBook. Just not via FaceBook. Not anymore.
I'm reassessing how I want to use social media. I'm also re-examining the way I manage my independent career online. The internet has changed radically since my website went live in 2004. I started blogging here six years ago and a couple of years after that I became the first artist in Australia (and one of the very few in the world) to walk away from representation by major galleries to manage my own marketing and sales via the net.
Doing the same thing for a long time gets old and these days, other artists – thousands, in fact – do much of what I pioneered (and a lot more). I still maintain a website and I blog, Tweet, network (on LinkedIn), and archive video on Youtube. I just want to do things – maybe more things – differently.
I began a visual diary, In The Studio, last year to document my work and rather more intimately, the life from which it derives. It was an ambitious, open-ended project that has now accumulated nearly 400 images. This year, I expanded my use of the platform to include art projects that people could watch as they evolved. The first of these was Venus In Hell, a series of 100 photographs taken using an iPhone 3G and $1.99 app'. More recently, I've published The Sex Cantos, a book-like mixture of drawing and sexually explicit prose (with a forward by the famed No Wave film-maker, Amos Poe).
The web has evolved in a way that supports my wildest dreams.There are countless platforms – all more ethical and liberal than Facebook – in which to evolve and communicate new ideas, share information, tell stories, sell work and raise funds for new projects. In other words, there are newer and more exciting ways an artist can fuck with the old ways of making, promoting and selling art – and that's something that never gets old.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Auction Update

My enamel on canvas painting, Fashion Targets Breasts, sold tonight at Lawson-Menzies' Quarterly Fine Art Auction for $A12,810, including the buyer's premium. This was above the auctioneer's pre-sale estimate of $A8,000 to $A12,000.
The 105cm x 148cm work was created as the 'headline' piece for the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer auction in Queensland, way back in 1998. It originally sold for $A1,500, a record for my work at the time. I donated the entire proceeds to the charity. You can see the painting and the original invitation for the event (featuring the image) here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I was discharged from from the psychiatric clinic this morning. Thirty-two days of continuous, intense treatment – including Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), mood stabilising drugs and various types of psycho-therapy – are at an end.
Has it made any difference? Yes.
For a time, I didn't think it had. I had only glimpses of sanity that quickly receded. Then, during the last week, there was a consistent mood, a stability, that I eventually recognised as 'being well'. It's a state I've not known since my teens.
The huge dark void within me has filled. I'm no longer overwhelmed with sadness. My experience of the world isn't filtered through anger and self-loathing. When I look in the mirror I see the reflection of a woman, not a damaged monster. I don't hear ugly voices in my head.
I am cheerful and pleasant. To me, this is profound. And no, I am not simply numbed by medication. I still experience a range of emotions. I am not yet at ease with the new ways I've learned to handle them but I feel much more in control. If I am upset, the feeling dissipates. It doesn't fester within me.
If I am not quite 'well', I feel confident that I can be. I am tired from the drugs and the TMS treatment and I am still adjusting to a different way of seeing the world and myself. I'm cautious about how my mind processes experiences but everything looks and feels slightly different now – familiar, yet unfamiliar, like a William Gibson-esque 'mirror-world'.
I recognise that my sanity is new-found and tenuous. It makes me nervous. Madness might return. I keep expecting it – like a player of Russian Roullette always expects the bullet. My psychiatrist tells me this is reasonable but he predicts that my residual anxiety will disappear within a few weeks. If it doesn't, the symptom will be noted in my treatment plan.
This plan is designed to flag and treat any symptoms as soon as they begin to appear – instead of after they've ground my life to a halt or created a trail of wreckage. Every day, I fill in a mood chart. Every week I will show it to my psychiatrist. If I am travelling, my appointment with him will be via Skype instead of in person. I'll see a psychologist as well, so I continue to learn more coping skills. If (or, rather, when) depression returns, I will return to hospital for a short, 'maintenance' course of TMS.
With luck, this time I might cling to sanity. Even in the worst moments. I'm determined it won't get away from me.

Sunday, May 06, 2012


I have just published, via Tumblr, an online version of The Sex Cantos, a limited edition book project I began working on more than a year ago. To quote the Artist's Note accompanying the images and texts:
"At the end of January, 2011, I took to my bedroom with a sketchbook, several dip pens and a bottle of black ink. For two weeks, I did nothing else but draw fragments of my sexual history. What I couldn’t draw accurately enough, I wrote, in a spidery cursive script on the backs of discarded pages. I had no references, no photographs, no preliminary sketches. I wanted to work from memory, from the residue of sensation imbedded in my skin.
"I didn’t want to think at all. My father had just died after a short but dreadful illness. I was prepared for his loss but not for the ragged chasm of sorrow that opened up within me. Always solitary, I found no comfort among my remaining family. Over the ensuing days, I was overwhelmed by an insidious, numbing grief.

"I don’t remember what prompted me to pick up a pen and begin to draw except that I wanted feel something again. I didn’t want any sex in my life then but it emerged as a raw impetus in the first few marks I made. Within a couple of hours, I had finished half a dozen drawings. I lay on the bare timber floor of my room, amid torn or crumpled paper and broken nibs, and masturbated for the first time in a few months.
"The thirty or more drawings that make up
The Flesh Eaters, the original title I gave the drawings, describe experiences with just one man, whom I shared with several women for nearly a decade. Needless to say, I love this man. Despite long periods apart from each other, I have remained faithful to him. And yet, from the outset of our relationship, I was able to admit and act upon a sexuality – and a sexual curiosity – that I had long suppressed. As I wrote, three years ago, in a post on this blog, 'When I asked him how he might feel if I wanted to have sex with a woman, it didn’t faze him. He’d lived enough that little surprised or shocked him… '
"Inevitably, this unbound intimacy insinuated itself into my art but never with quite the same urgency or explicitness as in
The Flesh Eaters. These intricate, close-ups of sex, which are everything but lubricious, might have been drawn from a futile impulse to deny death but they are unquestionably also an insistent affirmation of life.
"As for the words, the
Cantos, they fill in the gaps between the drawings. The fifteen twisted prose-poems (I am no writer) convey a little of the context and intense sensuality of the best-remembered moments. And, it has to be said, the uncertainty."
The talented writer and director, Amos Poe, once a leading light of New York's short-lived but influential No Wave movement, has contributed a wonderful foreword that offers an alternative but no less imaginative perspective of both the drawings and the texts.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Nothing To Say

“The new punk is about raw skill and having something powerful to say.”
– Hazel Dooney, from the essay Life Study, 2006.
I’ve stopped and restarted this blog a few times since the middle of 2011. This year, I stopped updating my all my online presences, including Facebook and Twitter. I felt I had nothing to say. My deteriorating mental health and backlog of commissions didn't help. Even offline, I didn't have much to say to anyone.

I tried to ignore it for a while. I kept posting online. I felt I had to articulate ideas and points of view, even if I felt empty of them. After all, it's part of what an artist does. I wanted to sustain some of the connections – personal and professional – that I’d made but more, I needed to retain
the attention of my online audience. As anyone who earns (or wants to earn) a living through the internet knows, if you don't update your presence regularly with meaningful ‘content’, you risk being subsumed by the vastness of the internet itself. When that happens, you lose your tenuous hold on the fleeting attention of all who connect to it.
In the absence of anything to say, I rehashed my own and others' content. I posted links to other people’s posts and made benign comments about other people's ideas. I answered dumb questions. Worst of all, I started to make small-talk.
It was vapid, pointless and faintly embarassing: after all, wasn't the whole point of my being online to evolve and share ideas (well, that and not devolve control of my work to middle men). It certainly wasn't to entertain or distract myself – and others – with meaningless updates, to fill the emptier moments of my everyday. I never wanted to be another fucking 'content distributor'.
But I kept writing. And over time, I became everything about the internet I despised. So I stopped.
In ‘net-speak', artists are among the great hordes of "content makers, who distribute content independently". Oh and note, that's different to being a consumer, content distributor or an entertainer. People who like art (or anything else), consume, curate and distribute their preferred selections online. It’s a great way to express individuality and connect with others. But it doesn’t make anyone who does so an artist, even within the parameters of the loosest post-modern definition.
If artists don’t have anything to contribute other than rehashed content or bids for attention, we should shut the fuck up and go offline – and only post when we have something to say. And I mean something real to say, not just an update about what we’re making. I have over 300 images on my tumblr, In The Studio, but they're intended as an impressionistic and not chronologically precise visual documentary, recording for myself my own output – which is to say, it's there to remind me of what I get done when I begin to doubt my own talent or productivity. It is also a simple record of my life (including, unashamedly, sex and illness).There are no words, because there’s nothing to say that isn't already described in the images
When I search the internet for original content, I find a lot of people with little to say. But they're saying it anyway. Everyone’s so consumed with gaining each others' attention (the only currency that counts online) that the internet has become little else other than intensely personalised sales and marketing tool, the new medium of narcissistic supply (attention or validation from others that we seek out in order to feel alright about ourselves). The only good news is that the internet is an organic, infinitely mutable thing, so this can change – but only if more of the people whose role it is to generate original ideas step up. Or step back when they can’t.
Whenever I’ve think about this, the song Nothing To Say, by the Australian band Regurgitator, is the soundtrack playing in my head. It was written in pre-internet years (it was recorded in the mid '90s), when both the band and I were starting out in Brisbane. At the time, the lyrics – quoted, in part, below – were a commentary on feel-good pulp-pop music that was designed to sell but said nothing. Now it's become an unintentional but biting critique of the way many artists (including musicians) use the internet. It reminds us that the medium is not the message and that the message is not just about selling something. We must have something original to say.
have you any requests my fine feathered guests?

what will you pay to hear me say?
that it's alright that it's all wrong
that the sun's come up and it's a beautiful dawn
that i'm just a hypocrite
with another brand of shit
what the fuck as long as it rhymes
i'll shut the fuck up and sing in time sing in time
cos i have nothing to say (nothing to say)

i have nothing to say (nothing to say)
except did you come to get down?

did you come to fuck up?
did you come to fill your ears up with this muck?
did you come to speak shit just for the taste of it?
i came to speak shit and i'm up the loudest
so thanks for your lives
and thanks for your time
and thanks for your shite
you'll thank me for mine
cos i have nothing to say

i have nothing to say
i have nothing to say
‘cos there is nothing to say