Thursday, August 25, 2016

Libraries and Liberation

...it isn't just a library. It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.

― Isaac Asimov


Recently I was invited to send a postcard to the Embry Hills Library in Atlanta, USA. The branch manager, Deborah Stone, asked people of different professions around the world to write about where we’re from, what we do and what libraries mean to us. It's a smart, engaging way to encourage children's curiosity about the world and to broaden their ideas about the possibilities they can pursue in life. Of course, it's also a fun way to encourage travel – another kind of education. 


When I was young and didn’t have the money to access great education I dropped out of uni’ (several times). Instead of receiving a formal tertiary education I went to the state library five days a week for around eight months. I arrived when it opened and stayed until it closed. I read about art, semiotics, sex, history, critical theory, strategy and so on. After that I held my first exhibition. I returned to libraries often over the years. I don’t know what I would have done without a way to further educate myself for free.

Above: Mrs. Stone holding my postcard after it arrived (photograph courtesy of her daughter – thank you both for inviting me to participate).

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Fine Motor Skills, Test One

My fine motor skills are slowly returning after medication induced dystonia that began in October 2015. It was so severe I couldn't walk for months, hold cutlery or speak without stuttering. I often retreated into involuntary silence as my brain misfired: thoughts blanked and limbs either froze or spasmed violently, uncontrollably. These days I can move and speak almost fluidly. I can perform everyday tasks. However my ability to control very fine movements is still recovering. I let it be for a while, in part so I didn't focus on what I couldn't do – a coping mechanism to prevent despair. But it’s time to test the range of movement in my hands. If you click on each photograph you can see a larger, higher quality image.




Preparing to paint a hard-edged gouache study. I drew the first, small version last year, before the dystonic reaction.
Custom mixing gouache paint to match the colours of my digital study.
Speeding up the drying process between coats by gentle blow-drying. Years ago I saw Howard Arkley do it in a documentary. It works on goauche and acrylics, not so well on other types of paint.
The only time I use masking tape for hard-edged paintings is on the border of gouache studies.
After several coats of each colour, the work is ready for a fine black outline. I'm pleased with the result but more tired than I expected. I'll take a break before the next stage, to rest my eyes as well as my body.

Rebuilding my psyche and physical self over the last few years has been exhausting. But with persistence – and reluctant periods of rest – my stamina has increased in each area.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Direct Delivery

Wrapping a mounted work from my Dooney Lives series in archival tissue paper. I wear cotton gloves to protect it from the natural oils, dirt, salt and moisture of my skin.
Dooney Lives No. 5 mounted and wrapped in archival tissue, with corners secured using folded paper so the artwork doesn't move in transit. Then it's flat-packed between sheets of corrugated plastic with the grain in opposing directions for strength. I include cotton gloves for handling the artwork when it arrives, a personal note and a label with the title, date, media, size and my signature (for the back, when the work has been framed). The label was suggested to me by collectors of my work, several years ago. It is for provenance and an attempt to ensure the details of the artwork are correctly documented when it eventually reaches the secondary market. This is how I wrap and pack all of my works on paper – before sealing the package in plastic.
A pair of artworks from a different series, packed together. I also wrap my note and the artwork label/s in archival tissue and secure them with paper corners. When it comes to my career I'm into big-picture planning. But I also care about details.
After packages are picked up by the courier I email collectors with an estimated arrival date and tracking details. The FRAGILE tape is probably unnecessary – but I am partial to excess. Besides, I like the way it looks. These artworks are going to Sydney, Canada and the USA.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Slash and Burn

The petite, heavily inked young woman greets me at the counter. She says something but I can't hear it above the music and buzz of tattoo guns. I take
the form and sit down to fill it out.

Tattoo parlours are familiar to me. In my early 20s, I used to visit a friend when he did his apprenticeship at a biker's tattoo shop. When he opened a place of
his own I painted a mural on the front wall and he bought one of my first
enamel paintings to hang inside. He has a successful business in Europe now – people travel to him to add one of his works to the collection on their skin. I don't remember the last time we spoke.

The young woman leads me through a long corridor to a small room at the back of the shop. She hands me tinted glasses to protect my eyes from the light of the laser. I lay on a medical table, shifting position as she moves from one
tattoo to another. Each time I feel a blast of cool air then the pain of the laser, accompanied by a loud clicking sound like a sped up metronome. My body shakes involuntarily and I can smell my skin burning. When she does my lower back I cry out. She hands me a chuppa chup. I suck on it, then bite down until the candy splinters in my mouth.

It is over quickly. The lasered ink has bubbled into white patches. In a few seconds it becomes red – swollen and raw, bleeding underneath the surface of my skin. Tiny pinpricks of blood escape. She smoothes the area with aloe vera, wraps it in cling film and then a pressure bandage to reduce the swelling.

My friends with tattoos like to have reminders of people, places, experiences, ideals and stages of life etched into their skin. But the marks on my skin have long felt foreign to me. When I look at them now, all I see are words and drawings I have outgrown. I am only interested in watching them fade as the
ink disintegrates and is removed by my body as it heals.