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.