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.