Monday, November 28, 2016

Young Women To the Front

Since I re-engaged with social media this year, I've noticed young women are taking photographs of themselves (and each other) in front of Ten Dicta For Young Women Who Are Artists. Sometimes they tag me on Instagram and Twitter. Or I stumble on the photographs by accident. It means a lot to me that my words continue to resonate with the audience for my work – especially the next generation of women.

Above: photograph courtesy of Jessie Norman

Sunday, November 27, 2016

He's The Man

With Robert Doyle, the Right Honourable Lord Mayor of Melbourne, after the completion of Ten Dicta For Young Women Who Are Artists in 2013.

The Lord Mayor contacted me after reading Art Matters, a blog entry about the importance of public art, critiquing the "tedious, disinterested bureaucratic processes" of local government and urging a direct connection between artists and officials.

I cannot speak highly enough about my experience of working with the Lord Mayor on my first public artwork. The administration for the project was comprehensive yet efficient. He trusted my creative decisions absolutely, he seems to have an innate understanding of artists and was engaging, respectful and gracious – including to my very young, punk, somewhat starstruck Project Assistant, Kirsten. He even had the good humour to pose for this photo.

In short, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle made Ten Dicta happen, and he ensured that the process of creating and installing a public artwork for the City of Melbourne a great experience.

Ten Dicta For Young Women Who Are Artists
is at Royal Lane, 231 – 233 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Women Behind Ten Dicta

It may seem that Ten Dicta For Young Women Who Are Artists was installed with only two painters and my assistant Kirsten. But there are always people working hard behind the scenes. Without them, pulling off any project of significant size would be impossible.

In this instance, everyone working behind the scenes was a woman – each of them
intelligent, talented, experienced, efficient, passionate and dedicated. They resolved every issue with grit and grace so the project could be pulled off flawlessly, on a tight schedule.

After I left Melbourne I printed a photograph of us onto watercolour paper, made it into thank you cards and sent one to each woman.
I was never sure how to publicly credit and adequately thank the women behind Ten Dicta For Young Women Who Are Artists because their roles are discrete. I remain unsure of the protocols but I am keen to create a record of their work on this project.

Above, from left to right: Sarah Ritchie,
artist and Public Art Program Project Coordinator, ‎Arts and Culture, City of Melbourne; Jane Crawley, Manager of Arts Melbourne, City of Melbourne; Shelley Blake, Marketing Manager, Arts House, City of Melbourne; me; Kirsten George, artist and Project Assistant; and Shona Johnson, Team Leader, Arts Programs, Arts and Culture Branch, City of Melbourne. Not pictured, camera-averse Brock Brocklesby, Project Manager, Megafun; and Michaela Coventry, then General Manager of Megafun. It was a pleasure to work with you all. Thank you for your unwavering commitment, enthusiasm and tolerance while I learned on my feet. And thank you for showing me by example how to work together as a team – especially as a team of women.

Ten Dicta For Young Women Who Are Artists
is at
Royal Lane, 231 – 233 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Three Years of Ten Dicta....

This month marks the third anniversary of the installation of
Ten Dicta For Young Women Who Are Artists
at Royal Lane, 231 – 233 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD. Ten Dicta... is the first large-scale public artwork I have ever undertaken, as well as the first derived directly from my own published non-fiction writing. It was commissioned for the City of Melbourne by Robert Doyle, the Right Honourable Lord Mayor.

During the installation of the artwork I used Twitter to create an abbreviated diary of the process. The following is a lightly edited collation of my 140-character-notes.

30 October, Melbourne

I met Robert Doyle, Melbourne's Lord Mayor, yesterday. We sat and talked in his office. Before I left I signed his guest book. Boris Johnson's signature was at the top of the page.

1 November, Brisbane
I always wanted to make big artworks the size of external walls. Permanent art, not street art. Finally, I'm getting my chance. I wake at 6am to work on logistics for my mural and do more research. A few intense hours later and I've solved the potential problems. I'm less fazed by them than I used to be. I guess it's an upside of my perfect storm of madness, bankruptcy and the death of my father.

5 November, Brisbane
I book flights and a hotel for my two-week stay in Melbourne. I'm bringing Kirsten. It's her first time in the city. When I met the councillors I told them my assistant is a petite punk. They were silent but looked pleased. I suspect that deep down everyone loves rebellion.

6 November, Brisbane
Late at night I exchange texts with Kirsten about work. My studio has never had standard hours and everyone who works with me understands.

9 November, Brisbane
I buy more test pots of paint to work out an exact shade of grey for the mural. A paint company's description of grey: Trojan, Stack, Gunsmoke, Scarpa Flow and Silver Chalice.

18 November, Brisbane
Doris Lessing died yesterday. No other writer affected and shaped me like her. My favourite collection of short stories by Doris Lessing is A Man and Two Women. I read an essay by Suzuko Mamoto on sexual freedom and psychological independence in Doris Lessing's short stories. It's titled Doris Lessing: A Review of Four Key Short Stories from the 1960s. This sentence resonates with me: "If women seek psychological independence, it is more important for them to establish their own identity than to have sexual freedom."

Later, I print out full size letters for my mural. They'll be used as templates during the layout. My elderly whippet, Cairo, has had enough of being my companion on late nights at the studio. He retreats to sleep in the car.

19 November, Brisbane / Melbourne
Sleep eludes me. I catch a few hours between tweaking the layout of my mural and poring over logistics. Then it's time to go to the airport. I travel light: a North Face duffel full of lots of equipment and a few clothes, my laptop bag stuffed with the same. Early morning in the transit lounge, I'm still refining the mural layout. I seat Kirsten between me and other people and spend the flight making notes.

On the way from the airport to the city, the taxi drives under Melbourne International Gateway. It's a sculpture made up of a row of 39 red steel beams and a 70 metre yellow beam at a 30 degree angle over the road like a boom gate frozen at half open. We check into the serviced apartment and immediately set up for work.

In the afternoon we walk to the site and I check the wall. It's clean, with a fresh tag. I like an opportunist. Besides, my primer-sealer-undercoat-stainblocker covers everything. My very early work was influenced by graffiti writing, among other things. But nothing I do could be considered graffiti or street art.

20 November, Melbourne
We arrive on site early. Night workers ending their shifts drive past, singing along to Don't Worry Be Happy, by Bobby McFeririn.

I want to make bigger works, faster. So instead of painting I focus on managing the mural project. I'm fortunate to have found a great crew. Between them, Martin Boyle and Bernard Heuvel have 85 years experience in traditional sign writing. They will paint most of the mural. Carla Gottgens films the mural progress from across the street as the undercoat-primer-stain blocker is applied.

I set up a contemporary artist's portable office: milk crate and laptop. I write while the first coat of black is painted. I can tell by the way Martin holds a brush that he knows how to paint well. It's like an extension of his fingers.

21 November, Melbourne
At Council House I take the elevator to the arts section so I can recharge my computer and smartphone. The councillors find me a desk and power points, show me the kitchen and bathrooms and return to their work. The soundtrack to the arts floor of Council House is a soft cacophony of voices, phones and email alerts. Kirsten sends me photo updates of the mural progress while I'm not on site.

The painters leave for the day and we hang around after the first coat of black is finished so that no-one touches the wet paint.

Back at the serviced apartment I work for a couple of hours
. We walk a block away to eat home-style Italian and drink granitas at a long table in the kitchen of Pellegrini's on Bourke Street. I've missed being around Italians. I love their hot-blooded way of doing everything, including making food.

Late at night
Kirsten files receipts at her desk as I finally abandon mine.

22 November, Melbourne
I've spent the last few days focussing on nothing but the mural. All key decisions about executing it are made during this stage of production. Three coats of black later, the surface of the wall is ready. Martin and Bernie mark the wall with chalk lines for more text.

Painting the words for my mural has begun, but it's only the first coat. The shape of the letters will be further refined during final stages of painting. In the evening I read the City of Melbourne's Press Release for my mural, titled Art as advice: Ten Dicta for Young Women Who Are Artists. I came to Melbourne as a young artist to prove myself. It's fitting to return here to install the first of my mature works.

24 November, Melbourne
The painters Martin and Bernie joke that my mural is titled Ten Dicta... because I am a dictator. We laugh because it's true. My studio is never a democracy. It's a benign dictatorship. Making all of the decisions (especially creative decisions) is my job.

A few people have asked why I don't have women painting my mural. Feminism doesn't mean excluding men. I wanted the best, most experienced painters to work with me on this project. Not many women would have begun sign writing 40 years ago. I am mercenary when it comes to my work. I care only that artisans have the fine skills needed and will work to my requirements. The most experienced artisans are primarily men. It's up to women to change that, now that we have the opportunities to do so.

I lean on the gutter, adapting my layout drawings as the install progresses. Through the day I talk often with Martin, who's leading the paint team. We discuss all potential changes before painting.

It starts raining. Martin holds a sheet of corrugated plastic above the lettering he just finished to protect the paint as it dries. Kirsten takes refuge from the Melbourne weather in the back of the painting van.

The first two of my Ten Dicta For Young Women Who Are Artists are up. I walk to a bookstore and pick up a copy of The Best Australian Essays 2013, published by Black Inc. It features my essay, Broken. It's strange to see my name on the Contents page alongside authors I studied at school.

25 November, Melbourne
More of my Ten Dicta For Young Women Who Are Artists are up. Women are beginning to respond to my mural. They stop and smile or call out to me. We are bonded, even at a distance, by shared experience. Young men also stop. A musician tells me which dicta resonate with him and why. He looks visibly moved. I don't know why I am surprised. Others stop to exclaim at Martin and Bernie's painting technique. It's smooth and fast with crisp hard edges. I'm asked if I will paint my signature. No. I don't need to claim my own work or prove my painting skills. I've done both already.

The painters and I are still adapting my mural design for the surface of the wall. For now, I need to focus on the last section of text.

Each day more people come to watch the mural in progress. I'm trying to keep the crowd to a minimum while we work.

30 November, Melbourne
I work on the layout with Martin, adjusting spacing so the text won't be intersected by gaps where windows used to be. We use pre-cut letters (kept in a bucket), white chinagraph and a tape measure. I love watching Martin and Bernie's brush skills in action.

The final text and my signature – based on my handwriting – are laid out by tracing using chalk. I like the residue it leaves behind. Bernie paints the first coat of the signature. I paint the top coat and nuances. My name is painted hard-edged and pseudo-loose with painstakingly applied drip-marks.

We wash the guiding lines of chalk and chinagraph of the wall with mild, soapy water. Then rinse. It's taken ten days of solid work by the whole crew to install the mural. I could never have done it alone.

Late at night, anti-graffiti coating is applied to the finished artwork. It's milky when wet but dries clear. I fool around taking photos with a slow shutter speed while the clear top-coat dries.

1 December, Melbourne
My sincere thanks to Robert Doyle, the Right Honourable Lord Mayor of Melbourne, and everyone involved in organising and installing Ten Dicta For Young Women Artists. You were the perfect crew. Special thanks to Martin Boyle of Flair For Signs and Bernard Heuvel for their highly skilled work on my mural. You can see more examples of Martin hand-painted signwriting at @flairforsigns on Instagram. My entire mural was hand painted. No stencils, no spray paint. Just rollers for the background and brushes for the text.

All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.
― Jean-Luc Godard (But a girl with a paint brush is better.)

Women should take note - the writing's on the wall, an article by Chris Johnston, is on page three of The Sunday Age, with a photo by Angela Wylie. I'm thrilled that the article was printed among "news" rather than the art pages. It means it will reach more readers. It was also published in the Canberra Times and Brisbane Times.

2 December, Melbourne
I walked by the mural this morning to see fresh tags. I'm unfazed. It's protected with anti-graffiti coating and will be cleaned regularly. After having instructed others to "break the rules" I can't complain when they do, even if it's by tagging my mural.

3 December, Melbourne
My mural is now pristine again (thanks to Melbourne City Council, who will be maintaining it). We see a mother taking a photograph of her son in front of "Break the rules." I love it.

For our last afternoon I am Kirsten's assistant as she adds to Melbourne's laneway street art. I don't want to leave. But we pack our bags and catch a taxi to the airport anyway. I pick up a copy of Keith Richard's biography, Life. Kirsten reads and I work as we wait for our flight. The end of one journey, beginning of another.

In memory of Bernard Heuvel, 1942 - 2016. I only knew Bernie for ten days but I remember him vividly. He was smart, funny, intense, hot-tempered, kind and an extraordinarily skilled painter. It was a privilege to work with him.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Not Quite Instant

Sweet pea flower, Wednesday 23 November, 2016. Photograph taken with a Panasonic Lumix GF1

Over the last month I've refined the idea of adding 'instant' photos to my Dooney Lives series.

Instead of using a camera designed for instant film, I prefer taking photos with a digital camera or smartphone. I print them as instant photographs using an early version of the Impossible Instant Lab. The final result looks like a Polaroid but the approach allows more freedom.

For now, I'm collecting images and making mock-up examples of how they'll fit with the series. I share some of them on Twitter or Instagram (I'm using each social media platform as a kind of diary). When I've earned enough money to buy film
I'll print them – only one instant photograph of each image.

Below: Self portrait with insomnia, Thursday 17 November, 2016. Photograph taken in the early hours of the morning using an iPhone 4 and Hipstamatic app.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Idealised Self Portrait (pre-Instagram)

I painted this work in 2006 – four years before Instagram was released. It's based on a Polaroid self-portrait I took in 2000 (below – image cropped, enlarged and home-printed). Titled Idealised Self Portrait, with a custom-made frame that I painted to match the metallic gold eyeshadow, it's one of my favourite works in high gloss enamel. When I look at it now I am reminded of the millions of pseudo-perfect, idealised selfies that have come to define Instagram and other social media sites. A decade ago my enamels were often dismissed by art critics. Yet over time their relevance – and prescience – has become more obvious.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The New Breed

Last fortnight I caught up with Cameron Menzies, Managing Director of Australian auction house Menzies Art Brands. We've known each other for around seven years now. For the first few years we emailed about copyright – the auction house contacts me for copyright permission before they reproduce my work online and in their printed catalogues. Back then most of my conversations were with the managing directors at the time, Chris Cullity and before him John Keats (now Senior Executive Officer at Sotheby's Australia). As Cameron progressed within the company he and I spoke more often. In 2013 I invited him to visit my enamel studio while he was in town.

This time we sat across the table from each other at a cafe, sipping coffee and talking candidly about art and the artworld. Among other things, we discussed the end of the enamel period of my oeuvre; new paintings I'm developing (watercolour studies and large works in oil on canvas or linen); oil paint as it ages; how are my enamels aging (very well – as long as they're hung properly and handled with care); how prints effect the market for an artist's major works; whether giclée reproductions have any value as an investment (we agree that they don't); art fraud; corruption within the artworld; the difference between generations; social media; privacy and the value of accomplishments that are unrelated to money. It was relaxed and unguarded. We know each other well enough now to speak frankly and in confidence.

Above: With Cameron Menzies at my enamel studio in 2013.