Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Art Of Mobile Home Living

I'm becoming more used to working on the move. At first, I couldn't do it. I didn't like working in unfamiliar places and I got frustrated by never having what I needed to hand. Now I carry my office and studio around with me.
I pack an inexpensive, reliable Epson colour printer/copier in a small,industrial-looking, hard shell case, just big enough to hold it snugly. A black, vinyl-coated canvas, expedition-style duffel contains reams of paper, printer ink, various cords, a rugged, portable hard drive, folders filled with project information and schedules, DVD-Roms containing images of my work, a Tupperware box of watercolour paints, and my clothes. Large watercolour and drawing papers are rolled inside a large, hard, cylindrical case, covered in black nylon. Finally, I carry an Oakley laptop bag in which are my MacBook, folders of images and notes for works-in-progress, a small Canon digital and an 'analogue' Leica CM automatic camera, various leads and adaptors, reference and other books, my journal, and a large, very fine scarf of black cashmere and wool.
I always take a couple of highly personal items, so I feel at home wherever I am: among them, is a tiny, leather-bound book with blank pages. I'm gradually filling it with fine ink drawings and love-notes for my boyfriend. I only work on it when I'm traveling and we're apart. He usually gives me something precious of his to travel with and I keep it near me while I draw and hold it as I sleep. Almost everything else I take with me is work-related purpose and it's all replaceable.
The personal items are different. No matter where I am, they remind me I am loved. They keep me positive – and sane.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Landing Elsewhere At Night

Maybe the only part of flying long-distance I look forward to anymore – except, maybe, over-indulging my unseemly taste for Hollywood blockbuster movies – is the possibility of an approach in darkness over the edges of a city. Los Angeles and Tokyo look like the underbodies of massive alien spaceships, their luminescent exoskeletons dotted with flashing antennae. On the outskirts of less developed South-East Asian cities, where there's less money to burn on acres of halogen and neon, the intricate, asymmetrical filaments of light resemble the delicate complexity of microprocessors.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Off The Clock

I worked for over eighteen hours straight on the last of a commission of four Dangerous Career Babes. Three are already drying in a corner of the studio and within a few days, they will be packed and consigned to him. I hope to have the fourth ready to leave with them. I am tired and a little fed-up with my production-line approach to this series – an approach in keeping with its intellectual concept but tedious and enervating to keep up for months at a time. I need a break.
I woke up late this morning. I'd collapsed on the edge of my bed, still clothed. My dress was rucked up above my knees, my t-shirt twisted tight around my chest. I looked like a blousey old tart after a busy night on the street – hmm, which famous female artist does that sound like? – except I still had a pencil gripped tightly in one hand. My mouth was parched and my eyes were scratchy and sore.
In another 48 hours I have to be on a plane. Now all I have to do is remember where I'm meant to be going.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Art Full Of Sole

Every time I draw a new Dangerous Career Babe, I get stuck on the shoe. I make all sorts of excuses for it. I tell myself (and anyone who'll listen) that it's an odd angle or an awkward shape. But it never is. I've been drawing feet well, shod and unshod, for over a decade now.
I have a shoe fetish. Each shoe I draw has to be perfect. In the Dangerous Career Babe series, the costumes signify the careers but in my superficial heart, the shoes are central to each babe's personality.
Of the recent Dangerous Career Babes, The Art Dealer is wearing is Fendi, circa Spring 2000, with pale pink napa upper and laquered green undersoles. The boot worn by The Outlaw is based on a pair of Italian designer-cowboy boots I have, although mine are a paler cream and trimmed with snake-skin. I used a stretch fabric boot by Robert Clergerie as the basis for The Cat Burglar's footwear.
I wasted a lot of time looking for the perfect boot for The Wrestler. I finally settled on a combination of ugly, archetypal, lace-up Mexican wrestling boots and a pair of pleated silk, hi-top Converse Chuck Taylors which I was thinking of buying for myself.
I am currently working on The Trapeze Artist. I've been driving myself and everyone around me crazy by wasting two days rendering a pair of fucking ballet slippers. Or, rather, that's what everyone else calls them. To me, the slippers are inspired by a pair of black satin Calvin Klein flats (with a molded rubber sole), that I lost a couple of years ago. I still miss them. But not for long. I know they're going to look fabulous with the footless lycra tights my trapeze artist is wearing.
I'm not going to try and justify my fetish in any artistic terms. I don't buy into that shit about fashion being a form of wearable art. I just get hot for designer shoes. It's as simple as that.
Deep down, I'm remorselessly shallow.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Grief Work

Yesterday, I managed to track down one of my favourite enamel-on-canvas paintings. I wanted to buy it back. Its first owner, a good friend of mine, had sold it a year or so ago. He had kept it in flawless condition since I painted it, in 1999, even through various, long-distance moves to homes around the world.
I rang a snippy-sounding, part-time art consultant, whom I'd seen in a photograph with the painting. She told me she had only posed in front of it for the newspaper article about her. She referred me to the gallerist who was selling the work, on consignment, for the current owners. He told me it was scratched. I was immediately upset. I've yet to see photographs of the damage that he has promised to email me, but the damage must be significant enough for him to feel he had to advise me of it.
I'm a working artist. I sell nearly everything I create. I'm happy for other people to buy and trade my works, even though each is a part of me. I just don't understand how people can buy an artwork and not take care of it. It's not as if it's difficult to do. If they're buying for investment, then keeping it in good condition is common sense. And if they buy it because they like it – again, why wouldn't they take care of it?
Especially my enamel paintings. They have a brittle, ever-new, glossy surface that's difficult, nearly impossible, to repair. Yet I've seen many carelessly scratched, dropped and dinged. A friend who's a highly respected framer told me of one to which some idiot had nailed an external frame – directly onto the painted wood surface – completely ruining the piece. Yet the same people who damage these now valuable works want to be able to sell them for the maximum-possible price – which is in the tens of thousands of dollars for a large work.
I don't know if I'll buy back the work I miss so much. I want to, if only because I want to protect it. Then again, maybe I should just try to forget it. I can't change what's been done to it. I can't temper the disrespect it has already suffered.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Auction Update

I am breathing a little easier today. My smallest-ever enamel-on-board work, Sports Babe: Tennis (Resized for Easy Consumption), just 40cm x 50 cm, exceeded the pre-sale estimate by $1,710 when it was auctioned for $6,710 (including the buyer's premium) at Lawson Menzies in Sydney, last night. This represents an increase of over 400 per cent on the price for which it was first sold by a Melbourne gallery, back in 2002.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Heavenly Gates

Today I watched The Gates, a documentary about the evolution and execution of the famed installation by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude in New York's Central Park, in 2005. I'd seen prints, photographs and working drawings of the saffron-coloured fabric hung from several thousand rectangular steel archways (the 'gates') – the drawings alone were beautiful – but they didn't prepare me for the magnificence of the final work I saw in this film.
I wish I could have seen it in person. The installation drew everything else in the park and the surrounding city into the artwork. The symmetry of the gates echoed the shapes of the surrounding buildings, and the fabric looked – to me, at least – like stage curtains in a theatre that had no beginning, no end, and no barrier between the audience and those involved. Everyone walking through the gates became an integral part of the installation.
The season chosen for installation was perfect. The afternoon sun made the orange fabric glow in the dull grey winter twilight. In the clear of the day, large spashes of orange were reflected in the lake, and even small puddles of water. When fresh snow covered the park it became a primed white canvas, accentuating the orange, blues, and greys of the work. The shapes and pattern of the gates made me look at everything surrounding them with fresh eyes. Bare trees looked like sculptures, the dark paths made by ducks as they swam through a soft layer of pale ice became abstract line drawings. The fabric of the gates made the wind visible as it moved through the park.
I've always admired Christo and Jeanne-Claude and their philosophy of not accepting corporate sponsorship or donations. They finance their enormous installations solely by the sale of plans, working drawings and photographs and public talks. It is an ideal way not to compromise. Their approach and their sheer determination and clarity of vision inspired me even more to reinforce and cherish my own independence from the traditional 'system'.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Unlimiting Myself, Again

Three years ago, I began creating unlimited editions of some of my line drawings and monochrome sketches to be distributed via my web site. I first got the idea from the American sculptor, Robert Graham, who talked of doing the same thing with some of his line drawings (but never got around to it) in the late '90s. It has since become relatively commonplace among artists, although I'm still one of the very few who offer to sign and date the printed work if it's sent to me in a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
I've just uploaded the latest of these unlimited editions, a sexually charged rendering titled Study for Unsated (only partial image above). It is, emphatically, NSFW. Anyone can download it free-of-charge and print it themselves, on a paper stock of their choice, or they can share it in some other way with others for non-commercial use under a limited Creative Commons license. If my original signature on the work is wanted, in addition to the one incorporated into the work, the print can be emailed to me along with the s.a.s.e described above – my postal address is on my site, along with the high resolution file and download instructions.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Fear Of Rejection

The 13th March edition of the widely circulated Melbourne newspaper, The Sun-Herald, included an article that referred in detail to the inclusion of my work in the upcoming Lawson Menzies auction of contemporary Australian art. I can't help but feel nervous about the degree of expectation it encouraged: if the enamel-on-board, which is quite small, doesn't exceed the sale room's modest estimate, I'll feel terrible.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Dress Sense

"A society whose material needs are met is one that turns its focus to individuation."
– Tom Wolfe, The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening, 1976.
As I work on the Dangerous Career Babe studies, the concept of the series continues to evolve. The paintings work individually but they have much more meaning as a collection.
When I first drew the figure, I planned for the torso and legs to remain the same and to adapt the arms according to the props. But with each new study, I have been able to use exactly the same pose. The images are a lot stronger this way. I've realised that it's because it makes the figure seem more like a combination of a boy's action figure and a barbie doll. One hand is designed for holding, and props can be slid into it. The other is gestural, indicating some kind of communication or action that can be interpreted according to the qualities associated with each costume the figure wears Mostly, the props are barely necessary. I just think it's fun to include them.
The costumes are the key. The figure is a dress-up doll. The career the figure assumes in each painting is identifiable because of the clothes.
As female children, we create an extension of ourselves by dressing up dolls. In a similar way, I think women dress for different roles now as adults. It's different to actually pursuing the career. No skills are needed, and the career can change every day. Feminism made a broader range of female career characters believable. Post-feminism, we not only see imagery of women posing in various uniforms and career-outfits. We watch them enacted in mainstream films – Angelina Jolie as tomb-raider Lara Croft or a sexy assassin in Mr & Mrs Smith, Charlize Theron as Aeon Flux, or Salma Hayek as vampire Santanico Pandemonium in From Dusk Till Dawn.
Seeing a real woman embody a fantasy that had previously only been imagined makes the role-playing of dress-up more enticing. We know how to act as the character – we have a whole narrative, including a soundtrack, to accompany the fantasy and bring it into the 'real world'. Even better, other people recognise the character that our outfits makes us. Their conditioned responses make the experience more real, more fun, more stimulating. But it's not real. It's just a costume. We are playing make-believe.
I've often wondered why some women dress in outfits befitting careers they don't have instead of just pursuing the careers – as if for them, dressing the part is as important (maybe more so) than developing the skills. I think it's because social reaction creates such a satisfying experience, without demanding any hard work or commitment. Maybe it's a form of escapism. Maybe it's about a lack of self-confidence. Maybe, like wearing the visible labels of luxury brands, the outfit can take the aspirational wearer to a place they’ve never been, a place where they perhaps feel they don’t belong, but of which they still want to pretend they're part.
I don't really have a problem with women playing dress-up. But it only really works when one's young. What happens when a woman is older and still hasn't developed the skills of any of the career babes she has been playing? No longer able to carry off the act, she dooms herself to desperate disappointment and very little sense of her real self.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Haunted By Hesse

I recently received as a gift the biography of Eva Hesse, Encountering Eva Hesse, edited by Griselda Pollock and Vanessa Corby. It's a collection of writing about – and images of – this somewhat forgotten German Jewish artist's paintings, drawings, and sculptures.
I'm often haunted by Hesse. She died in 1970 when she was not much older I am now yet she made a significant, original body of work during her short life. Hesse is known mostly as a sculptor but to me, her sculptures are line drawings and delicately washed paintings somehow rendered in 3D. Through fearless experimentation and the use of unusual materials, they retain the delicate qualities of her two dimensional work. Just compare one sculpture, Repetition Nineteen III, 1968 with a drawing, No Title, 1966
I've yet to make a fraction of the work I hope to. As I inch toward the age Hesse was when she died, I'm uncomfortably aware of all the work I have yet to make. If I died this month, this year, what I've completed wouldn't be nearly enough to embody everything I'm trying to express. What I create lies at the heart of how I value my life. As an artist, I am what I have made. Reading about Hesse reminds me that there is a sense of urgency – and that nothing must be taken for granted.
Maybe Hesse felt it too. She continued to push forward even as she was dying from a brain tumor. I wish she'd lived longer. The work she managed to create during her short life is one of my few sources of real inspiration.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Back In The Game

Just three months after two of my early works sold for over $23,000 at an important sale of Australian art at Christie's, in London, one of my few small, high gloss enamel-on-board paintings, Sports Babe: Tennis (Resized for Easy Consumption), 40cm x 50cm, from 2002, is to be auctioned on March 19th at Lawson Menzies' sale of Modern, Contemporary Australian And Important Aboriginal Art.
The work is not particularly ambitious but it is, even I say so myself, beautifully executed and worth a lot more than the modest estimate of $5,000 published in the catalogue. Then again, recent auction results in both Sydney and London have exceeded pre-sale estimates by as much 40 per cent.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Time After Time

I took time out from painting today to re-organise my schedule of commissioned works. It's complicated. I hardly ever have any works 'in stock', so anyone who wants one of my works outside of a show has to commission it. That is to say, they make a deposit on a work I've already planned. I don't paint to order.
Several of the works have been delayed. They were the last of my paintings in enamel. As my allergy to this medium has increased, I've been unable to spend much time at all using it. I have to spend too much time recovering from it as the symptoms worsen. Each work delayed creates a 'knock-on' effect, delaying all my work.
My collectors have been understanding but I feel terrible about it. I sometimes send small gifts to them to apologise but I know they just want their paintings as soon as possible. Now I've enlisted more help to run my everyday life and I've re-drafted a schedule for all the works to be finalised and delivered. I'm calling everyone on my commission list tomorrow morning to give them firm dates. Then I'll do whatever it takes to deliver them.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The (de)Meaning Of Mass Production

It's ironic that, given the advertising-inflected, anti-consumerism stance within the large-scale (in every sense) Dangerous Career Babes concept, painting the series feels more and more like mass production. I don't use assistants for creative work, so every step in the process, from the initial drawing to the application of the paint, is down to me. However, it was key to my intellectual proposal for the series that there be as many different versions as possible to replicate the sense of 'mass' and ubiquity so essential to the modern 'market-driven' economy.
I've made a rod for my own back. As much as I like conceiving and drawing the individual characters in the series – outlaw (see below), cat burglar (above), terrorist, spy, and so on – doing so many of them one after the after has proved to be a feat of endurance and concentration. I finish each day exhausted and even – dare I say it? – a little bored.
Which also explains why I've been so remiss about updating this blog recently.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Eye Candy To Rot Your Brain

I've been working without a break on the studies for my Dangerous Career Babes series. One is done, two are nearing completion, and I am about to begin a fourth.
As I've written before, the entire Career Babe series has always been more conceptual, objective rather than subjective. In the early versions, the proportions, which were the same for all the paintings, referred to magazine spreads and billboards; the paint was enamel: lustrous and hard, to mimic the appearance of glossy pages. The Dangerous Career Babes are bigger – 2.0m x 1.7m– with proportions mimicking a computer screen or those giant LCD screens that are everywhere above the streets in Tokyo. They're painted in oil, an oblique reference to a shift in cultural values: once, owning a unique oil painting was considered aspirational, a measure of social standing, culture and wealth. Now, aspirational objects are ubiquitous, branded, mass produced and are simply a measure of how much money you've made. Art is still an aspirational object, but it has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with recognisable brands (Koons, Hirst, Warhol, and so on).
The Dangerous Career Babes are deliberately repetitive. The poses are identical and sexually provocative. The only changes are the costumes – clothing and props – and the background colours, which imply context. Our reaction to each painting is predicated on how we perceive the costume and the colours, and the ethical and social values we associate with them. They define our perception of each Dangerous Career Babe's deeper identity.
The initial figure was drawn from life – I sketched myself from a mirror, and used photographs which were then adjusted to give idealised proportions – but the final image is, well, a blank. It is 'no woman'. It has no real personality, no trace of individuality. With each new painting, with each repetition, the subject that was once me, the artist, becomes more and more detached from me.
Each work is an object that is designed to be easily consumed. Dark outlines create boundaries for, and reinforce the flat simplicity of, each colour. They make the overall image seem familiar, because the format is recognisably cartoon-like and closer to advertising than art, with its calculated, deliberately clichéd, easy-to-remember message. The colours are triggers, and psychologically symbolic.
I know the works are finished when I can look at them and nothing in their execution is abrasive, nothing stands out. Everything must be refined so that it's easy to 'get'. Nothing must jar. The viewer must be transformed into a consumer without the transaction being recognised. A dark, cynical idea to be digested easily, immediately, unquestionably, just like candy.
And like candy, I hope, too much of them will be bad for you.