Sunday, August 11, 2013

Freeze Frame

Thomas: The Moment Before Connecting was the first in a series of enamel paintings inspired by film stills. It was exhibited at my first, self-produced show, Hazed, in Brisbane, in 1997, and argued the idea that episodes from every contemporary, hyper-mediated life are edited and replayed in memory as cinematic fragments. These paintings were the out-takes, the isolated frames, with characters extracted from familiar yet unresolved scripts.

Most of the other works in the Film Stills series were glossy, colourful and sexually suggestive, each unabashed by the inspiration they drew from the clich├ęs of advertising and mass-media entertainment. But Thomas: The Moment Before Connecting was different. It was a unique (in my work) expression of masculine tension, tapping a primal undercurrent of frustration and violence. It was also the first to reveal my own sexual duality. I used my own brother, Thomas, as its model.   

Thomas: The Moment Before Connecting remains an unsettling, atypical work from a decade-long oeuvre that focuses on the way female identity is shaped, sometimes insidiously, by media. Yet it remains at the very core of ideas that still pre-occupy my imagination and for which I am still looking for a coherent – and yes, filmic – ‘edit’. 

(For Lawson-Menzies auction catalogue, 2013)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Direct Connection

I was recently interviewed by Darryn King, an arts writer whose work has appeared in The Guardian, The Economist, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Sun-Herald and Time Out. His resulting article "Outside the frame: Online galleries are drawing visitors in a way their real-world counterparts can only dream about" was published today in Spectrum, the arts lift-out in the weekend edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. It covers opinions by several online only galleries, a traditional gallerist adopting new media, and me.

Often when I am interviewed for an article, only a fraction of my response is used. It's inevitable that a number of key facts are left out. So here are the questions I was asked for "Outside the frame" and my responses in full:

Hazel, some readers will be familiar with your views of the gallery system. Could you describe for us your initial disenchantments about the system, but also how you came to them?
Ever since I dropped out of art school, I'd been sceptical of the entire, rather artificial system that had sprung up around art over the past 100 years, including its increasingly arcane, theory-driven (rather than skills-oriented) educational institutions and its galleries, both state-run and commercially funded. When I began my career as a working artist, I wanted to stay away from this system, convinced that, in an age in which information was increasingly accessible via the web, it wasn't really necessary any more.

Still, for a long time, I was insecure about leaving it completely. I produced my first solo exhibition myself, but although it was a success – good media coverage, great attendance, great response and a sell-out show – I didn't realise the significance of what I had accomplished. I was subsequently approached by the traditional art world and did gallery shows and found myself at the mercy of unscrupulous, manipulative dealers and the inflated egos (and simpering social sensitivities) of institutional curators. I felt increasingly disconnected from those most interested in my work – the people who actually collected it.

From the first time I used the internet at university (around 1996), I knew that it would eventually be a way for me to connect directly with the audience for my work. But I had to wait until it became ubiquitous. In 2004 I had a website built with the ambition to manage my own career and still achieve my various, high-bar ambitions as an artist. I learned how to better understand and utilise the web and use social media to communicate directly and uninhibitedly with the large audience for art that is online.

In 2005 I withdrew from the major galleries that were then representing my work in Melbourne and Sydney and became the first Australian artist of any note to abandon bricks and mortar and middlemen for the web.

What has the journey of your career as an artist been since that time?
I haven't once regretted my decision not to work within the traditional system. The value of my work has risen exceptionally quickly since I got out of the gallery system and with it, my income. But more importantly, I am connected directly not just to my collectors but a huge sea of people who are interested in my art, my life. And I've resolved to be as open and expressive as possible with them, to a level that some commentators now feel has become a deeply truthful, if sometimes uncomfortable kind of performance art, in which nearly every aspect of what I do – even the most intimate moments of my personal life – are displayed. I don't see it that way and I will admit that sometimes I am not altogether happy that I have allowed the level of scrutiny that I have, but I remain committed to it.

How has your approach to representing yourself online evolved? How important is your online presence for what you do?
I think everything I have described above underscores how important my online presence is. I see it as entirely integrated with everything I do as an artist, not just commercially but intellectually, emotionally. In this, I am, ultimately, an artist of this age.

Describe for us your current model for making and selling art.
I don't really need (or have) a 'model' – everything I create is sold, sometimes even before I have created it. The demand for my art outstrips my capacity (and my desire) to make it. In fact, I often retreat to make art just for myself, to experiment, to explore, to play, without the pressure of 'the market' I have created. What's most interesting is my relationship with the secondary market, and the degree to which I have been encouraged by major Australian auction houses to work directly with them in promoting my collectors' sales of my work (and note, I do not sell my art on my own behalf through auctions). It's a unique situation in the Australian market, although major artists in New York and London have long had close contacts with Sotheby's and Christie's and others.

What do you see in the future for 1) the gallery system; and 2) the growing trend of buying art online?
The gallery system is going the way of the record company and the newspaper – it's not a question of whether it will survive but rather when it will finally keel over and die. It's doomed, and already irrelevant. As for what you call a 'trend', it isn't. It is an everyday reality. The audience is now connected directly to the artist and it will at best suspect, but more probably, resent any attempt to filter or control it, or worse, manipulate it. The artist has to welcome this as an opportunity, not just to sell art but to help the audience to better understand and appreciate what they are attempting in their work.