Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Off The Grid

I am going to be on the road, revisiting my chidlhood in rural northern New South Wales, until the middle of the first week of January. As mobile connection to the web is, to say the least, unpredictable in those parts, I'll be tweeting rather than blogging updates, so check here regularly.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

End Of The Line

It always surprises me when other artists ask me: How do you know when a painting is finished?
I've always known it exactly. My works in enamel are so carefully planned in the study phase that when it comes to the painting itself, there is a logical and quite precise structure to the line-work and application of coats.
The discipline and analysis this requires flows into my looser, more improvisatory ink drawings and watercolours. In these, I allow my thoughts to stray and form random attachments which, in turn, inspire anarchic reactions in my pen or brush-work. And yet I rarely lose track of the picture's essential 'narrative' which manages always to suggest – to me, anyway – a clear-cut beginning and end.
If only it was as easy in my life outside of art.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Eye Of The Storm

I have been striving to get as much work as possible out of the studio ahead of Australia's long shut down from Christmas Eve to the middle of January.
I've been cleaning, re-touching and wrapping the last few enamels being consigned this year and in between, inspecting the last of the The Yes/No Stencils for flaws as each coat of enamel dries so that these, too, can also be readied for shipment. I have sent books and t-shirts to collectors and friends in the U.S. and Hong Kong and studies and small drawings to Australian collectors.
Also, I've been trying to finish another Big Pin-Up and sketch rough studies for a couple of other large enamel paintings. I am short on sleep and patience.
I'm looking forward to the absolute stillness – and with it, time for myself – that I know will descend in a day or two.
My life will be chaotic again soon enough. There are already ominous signs that trouble long-brewing for me in the one part of my working life still entangled with my past might come to a head in early January. Whatever unfolds, I'm determined to be undistracted by it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holiday Retreat

In Australia, the holiday season is a double whammy.
Last week, public schools finished for the year – the first term of the new year begins at the end of January – and this week, businesses and their employees wind down for not only Christmas and New Year celebrations but also a long Summer holiday, comparable to August in Southern Europe.
Many Australians, for whom holidays are something of a religion, enjoy four weeks of paid leave. From now until the middle of January, nothing much happens that isn't leisure-related.
Most art galleries remain closed until the beginning of February.
Predictably, I don't take much of a break. I already live on one of the more fashionable of Sydney's northern beaches so I don't feel the need to 'get away'. Because my phone goes quiet and I have no assistants around, I'm able to focus on neglected projects with fewer interruptions. My working days are longer and more solitary.
When I'm not immersed in my art, I catch up on my reading – and, even better, the backlog of films, documentaries and favorite series on my digital TV recorder.
I will spend Christmas day alone, an expression of my own insistent detachment and the reality of there being very few with whom I'd really want to share it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Art Is Love

I left home at dawn on Friday to deliver an enamel painting to a collector in Bondi, east of Sydney. With the painting double wrapped in Cell-Aire and bubble wrap, and wedged between a duvet and pillows in the back of my van, my assistant and I drove across the city through heavy pre-Christmas, using an iPhone as a GPS.
We carried the five-foot wide work into the collector's house then waited for the picture hanger. I hadn't seen the collector for a year. He made fresh coffee and we sat outside to watch the rain fall onto an unexpectedly green garden.
When the picture hanger arrived, we unwrapped the work together. The collector had to explain to him, three times, that I was the artist. The hanger thought that I was an art dealer and my mute assistant – to whom I had been giving instructions – the artist. When he finally 'got' it, he looked surprised.
As the hanger measured the wall, the collector gazed happily at the painting. I wanted to freeze that moment. The collector and I decided on the final position for the work as the hanger and my assistant held the painting up to the wall.
Before I left, the collector walked me through the rest of the house. An intimate watercolour of mine – commissioned by his wife, as a gift for him – hung on the wall in the main bedroom. A smaller enamel, which I will deliver next week, will be hung at the top of the stairs.
It occurred to me that had I persisted in the traditional gallery system, neither the collector nor I would have met like this. The gallery would have sent a staffer – if they had bothered to send anyone at all. And they, not I, would have gotten to see the work in its new environment and experience (and take credit for) the collector's happiness.
I got back to my studio in the early afternoon to an email from Menzies Art Brands. Having auctioned two of my works, last week, they'd forwarded me (at his request) the email address of the collector who bought Buck. I wrote to thank him for his support of my work and to send him a link to a study Polaroid for his painting.
Later, I called an overseas collector to discuss the details of recently commissioned paintings. We've corresponded and spoken about it regularly for the last two weeks. I also emailed several other collectors about delivery dates. A set of photographs arrived, showing the personal accessories of a high-powered female stockbroker who had asked me to try incorporate a selection into her commission.
Today, my assistant is wrapping coffee-table books which feature my work. I have signed them in hot pink ink tonight and they'll be sent on Monday to collectors who don't yet have a copy. When I am done writing this blog, I'll sprawl across the studio daybed to address postcards wishing everyone in my address book a Happy New Year. (If you'd like to receive one, please send me your snail mail address).
Keeping in touch with collectors and supporters of my work takes time. And yet making their ownership of my work a richer, more enjoyable experience is important to me and justifies my decision not to sell my art through a gallery.
It's about so much more than just 'servicing clients' and 'taking care of business'. I make more personal connections with my collectors and are able to give them a deeper appreciation of my art and ideas. I get to see what happens to my work after it leaves my studio – and witness my collectors' first experience of it.
What surprises me most, as I get to know the people most interested in my work, is just how much they care about it. It gives the lie to a former art dealer's comment that fine art is simply an elite form of interior decoration.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Low Take-Off

It was always going to be a tricky sell. A life-sized glossy painting of a half-naked, female Arab terrorist lobbing a grenade and video recording the result isn't the sort of image most people want on their living room walls. A couple of days before the auction, corporate art adviser who was in the market for one of my larger works told me that she couldn't recommend her clients to bid for it: "I love the work," she said. "But it presents real difficulties for them in the current environment."
Dangerous Career Babes: The Terrorist
is one of my favourite paintings. I took it hard when I heard it was up for sale barely a year after I'd completed it. I was also surprised that the auction house, Menzies Art Brands, agreed to take it on: they usually discourage sales of works less than five years old, no matter who the artist is, largely because canny bidders will tend to "grind the price into dust". Like fine wine, a painting should have a little age and history before it goes under the hammer.
It didn't help that the seller was, in sale-room parlance, 'motivated'. I suspect the reserve for the work was low and this, along with its young age and confronting subject matter, encouraged the auction house to set what I thought was a modest pre-sale estimate of $A10,00 to $A15,000 – not even half what another of the Dangerous Career Babes, The Aviator, achieve a little over a year ago in a sale of Australian art at Christie's in London.
I expected the worst.
In the end, it didn't turn out too badly. My works have established a solid track record at auction over the past couple of years, reflecting a rational, 'organic' growth in the prices achieved. Despite the notable absence of corporate money and a couple of enthusiastic collectors from S.E. Asia and the Gulf states, there were enough interested buyers to drive the price up to within a few hundred dollars of the high end of the pre-sale estimate. It sold for a total price of $A14,640.
An earlier, smaller work of mine, Buck (100cm x 150cm enamel on board) sold at the same session for $A 8,540. This was in the middle of Menzies' pre-sale estimate range – but three times more than the amount paid when the work was first sold through a Brisbane gallery in 2001.
A final note: I was the youngest female artist – by a decade or more – to have works included in the auction. However, I'm pretty sure that's the one thing bidders didn't give a toss about.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Big Pin-Ups

As my disenchantment with the traditional gallery system grows – fueled by acrimonious disputes with a couple of representatives of it that have cost me half a year's income in legal fees – whatever time I have between working on commissioned paintings has been absorbed by unstructured explorations of other media that eliminate the need to hang anything on a wall. I've been experimenting not only with digital video, getting to grips with the idiosyncracies of Final Cut Pro 7, but also sound. I record everything I can, from conversations to the white noise of the surf, on a small Edirol R-09 and use the raw material for aural collages that I might later use as soundtracks.
My focus on these new ideas – and new tools – has loosened up my approach to my painting. For a while now, I've wanted to paint the portraits of a few 'adult' performers I knew. However, I've resisted, mainly because I wanted to do them in a way that was somehow 'credible' – read 'politically correct' – as serious art.
Then a friend lent me a copy of David Bailey's collection of black and white portraits from the early Sixties, A Box Of Pin-Ups, featuring everyone from the infamous Kray brothers to a young Mick Jagger and the world's first supermodel (and Bailey's then girfriend), Jean Shrimpton.
I decided to do my own set of pin-ups. I painted them big, really big, so the larger-than-life-sized girls would loom over the viewer and I painted them pretty,
in high-gloss enamel, with simplified lines and soft, pastel hues. I painted the surface to be as shiney and sexy as each of 12 subjects – and yes, adhering to the convention, there is a Miss for every month.
I could have given the series a title that would offer an ironic wink to those looking for deeper intellectual substance but I resisted. They are simply Big Pin-Ups. Nothing more – but nothing less, either.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Talk, Talk

I woke in the middle of the night.
Without thinking, I climbed out of bed, pulled on a t-shirt and padded down the hallway to the studio. I sat on the teak daybed there and picked up a small digital video camera I keep on the coffee table. I balanced it on my knee, auto-focussed the lens on my face and pressed the record button.
Then I began to talk.
I talked to the camera as if it were my closest friend. I lost track of the time. I just kept talking until I ran out of things to say.
I'll do the same tonight and at other times over the next several days.
These impromptu monologues have nothing to do with emotional or psychological therapy. Rather, they're the seeds of something (as yet undefined) that might grow into a new artwork.
The last time I experimented with low res' digital video – producing a couple of short, clumsy pieces, Self Love and D.I.Y. Obscurity – was nearly a decade and a half ago.
I'm want to immerse myself in it again for a while to see what I can come up with.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Life Is On The Wire

I dropped off the grid for a week. I needed time and space to think.
Things change. Ideas change. I change. It was time to take account of this. It was also time to stop and take some bearings on the trail I've been cutting through a new frontier, far from the brain-numbing hubbub of an art system dominated by commercial galleries and institutional curators.
I've continued to collaborate with this creaky, regurgitative system from time to time but it's left me unhappy. I can't have anything more to do with it except on terms I dictate.
I am realistic enough to recognise that as long as my art is bought and sold by collectors and I depend on its value to make not just a living but more art, I'll never be able to disconnect myself from the 'market'.
My paintings Dangerous Career Babe: The Terrorist and Buck (from Slightly Indecent) will be auctioned at 6:30pm this Wednesday, 16th December, at Menzies Art Brands in Sydney.
The final previews are today and tomorrow. I've been thinking of going – the works above are two of my favourites and I'd like to see them one more time before they disappear.
As usual, I have pre-auction nerves. Unlike some local artists, I don't have a rich husband or a representative gallery to bid secretly for my works and ensure the buoyancy of my prices. I don't bid for it myself, either. In the auction room, as everywhere else, I perform without a net.
I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Sister Army

Now and then, other female artists send me gifts of their own work.
Yesterday, I opened a carefully wrapped set of four dry-point etchings from Emma Kirsopp. Delicate, subtle images of angiograms, an artificial heart, a coronary stent, the finely scratched lines conveyed a tight, frenetic energy. I loved them.
I also received a package of photographs from Rachel Marsden a while ago: female figures frozen in motion and layered with fire, they looked as if they were rising from the flames – or being burned like ecstatic witches. They're now being framed.
Rona Green
sent cool, quirky badges. On each is the face of an animal character adorned with old-school sailor and jail tattoos. She included a card made from part of one of her screen prints. I wrapped them in tissue, individually, and placed them in a box of precious things.
Each gift came with a personal note. I was deeply touched. I haven't had many female friends. I've never beeen described as a 'woman's woman' either (except, sometimes, in bed). And yet these women artists have given me a sense of support and solidarity I haven't felt before.
Like me, they are working steadily, alone, at the margins of the mainstream art world. But because I've shared my struggles openly online – and have been so successful – they've been inspired to reach out.
Maybe they're sowing the seeds for a quiet revolution. Art is war. It is also, just as importantly, love and care.
(Thank you.)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Action Figures

I'm having a bad week. Every one of my best laid plans for this last month of the decade has come unstuck and now I am all but entombed in my studio, working my butt off to clear a backlog of chores and paperwork in between working on studies for a handful of enamel paintings that I've decided will be my last for a while. My bone-tired body aches for relief.
At the end of the day, I flop in front of cable TV and empty my brain by watching a couple of hours of full-bore action flicks. It's no secret that I harbor a deep-seated fantasy about being a slinky, sinewy, gun-toting, fearless über-bitch who can dispatch her enemies with a barbed aside – and if that doesn't work, a swift kick to the face or a hail of hand-loaded bullets. Thankfully, there are plenty of role models.
These are my top ten:
Aeon Flux
is probably my favorite – but in the original, eponymous, avant-garde animation by Peter Chung, not the live-action travesty in which she's played by an altogether unsexy Charlize Theron. Nihilistic, moody, morally ambiguous and mercenary, I love everything about her: from her two-piece, vinyl skin-suit to her provocative acrobatics and improbable guns, she's a role model for 21st century girls.
Trevor Goodchild:
What you truly want, only I can give.

Aeon Flux:
You can't give it. You can't even buy it. And you just don't get it.
Sarah Connor, The Terminator's distaff human nemesis was probably better played by Lena Headey than she was by Linda Hamilton, less neurotic and nervy, more competent and disciplined, even if both defined a new dimension for over-protective mothers.
Then again, give Linda some heavy calibre firepower and she comes into her own – and the frisson of danger causes a younger generation of hard-bodied dykes to cum with her. (Actually, come to think of it,
they probably have a jones for the TV series' female Terminator, played by Summer Glau.)
La Femme Nikita is only Anne Parillaud – and no-one else. She played the junkie murderer turned intense, conflicted but casually chic government assassin in the original French film directed by Luc Besson. Complicated, vulnerable, naive, post-punk, she was a refreshing deconstruction of the little-black-dress-clad material girls of the late '80s.
There have been many
love scenes played out in bathrooms, especially in French films, but none quite so intensely as Nikita's.
GoGo Yubari, O-Ren Ishii's murderous Japanese bodyguard in Quentin Tarentino's Kill Bill was, for a while, the object of some of my most persistent sex fantasies. An ultra-violent, bloodthirsty, perverse kogyaru (high school girl) in a pleated, tartan mini-skirt, long socks and white blouse, what she lacks in age, she makes up for in madness.
She also has balls of steel – literally – and a
bad attitude towards any boy who doesn't take her fancy.
Gogo: Do you want to screw me? Don't laugh! Do you want to screw me, yes or no?

Man: Yes
Gogo: [stabbing him with a sword]: How 'bout now, big boy? Do you still wish to penetrate me... or is it I... who has penetrated you?
Satanico Pandimonio
in Tarantino's and Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk 'Til Dawn – played by a young, flexible and pneumatic Salma Hayek – does (for me) the sexiest movie dance to the coolest film soundtrack ever: "For your viewing pleasure: the mistress of the macabre, the epitome of evil, the most sinister woman to dance on the face of the earth."
She pours Quentin Tarrantino's drink down her leg and gets him to suck it as it runs off her toes. One whiff of blood and her breasts heave with lust and yearning before she turns into a hideous, killer vampire. The boys had it coming.
Selene
, played by Kate Beckinsale in Underworld, is a vampire hit-woman on the side of good and style, in collar-to-toe skin-tight leather bondage gear – and a leather trench-coat that'd make Neo from The Matrix drool with envy.
Like Aeon Flux, her hand-to-hand combat is as sensual (and as rough) as good sex and her guns are as intricate as they are big. She gets the good boy-wolf in the end, despite more obstacles than a Shakespearean romance, and so fulfils the fantasies that still lurk in the hearts of the hardest bitches.
Selene: Lycans are allergic to silver. We have to get the bullets out quickly, or they end up dying on us during questioning.
Michael Corvin: What happens to them afterward?
Selene: We put the bullets back in.
Andrea 'Scarface' Caracortada
from Pedro Almodovar's Kika, doesn't carry a gun or kill anyone but with breasts and an off-kilter fashion sense like hers (amazing outfits by Gaultier), she doesn't have to. Obsessed with morbid footage for her tabloid tv show, she's completely and fabulously crazy.
Mia Wallace
, played by Uma Thurman, in Pulp Fiction, doesn't kill anyone either. She doesn't have to (her husband does enough killing on his own). She's ineffably cool, especially when she dances with an even cooler John Travolta. White shirt, black slacks, blunt haircut and vampish deep red nail polish – if a legion of skinny fashion models weren't already, I'd dress like her every day.
Ripley
, played by Sigourney Weaver in the original and best of the Alien films, directed by Ridley Scott,
is the definitive hard girl. With shaved head, sweat-soaked white singlet and white panties, she doesn't wince when splattered with alien saliva or human blood. Instead, she faces down the queen beast armed, like all the girls who came after her, with an improbably big gun: "Get away from her, you bitch!"
It goes without saying that Ripley has been a hero of mine since I was a little kid.
River Tam
, played by Summer Glau (again) in Joss Whedon's space cowboy fantasy, Serenity, is probably the action girl for whom I feel the most empathy. Hermitic, shy and damaged (from invasive experiments on her brain by un-named evil scientists), she exudes a free-flowing, flower-child spacey-ness that verges on being dissociative until it's punctuated by episodes of incisive, rational, elevated intelligence that come to her in the most unlikely moments.
She's also dangerous, with a suprisingly practised ability not just to kick ass but to kill if the whimsy takes her. Who would have thought – an assassin with the soul of an artist?
So who's your heroine heroin?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Unbound

When I photograph myself, I think only of anatomy, angles and perspective. Any self-consciousness is lost. It's only when I begin to draw that I remember it's me.
My relationship with my body used to be austere and loveless. I suppressed every desire for physical pleasure. I ate like a bird, took drugs to deaden the senses and 'did' sex, when required, with clinical efficiency. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw were flaws – and not just with my body.
Over the past few years, I have, in every sense, let myself go. It's been a wonderful experience. I freed myself from wrapped-too-tight notions about how I should look and act and and threw caution to the wind. I ate for pleasure rather than to "feed the machine", as I used to put it. I responded to the sexual curiosity I'd repressed since I was in puberty and fucked both women and men, setting no boundaries for what I'd do with them. I fell in love, hard.
I even exposed myself in my art, allowing it to express the raw, unrefined tumult of my emotions.
Right now, I am reviewing a sheaf of study photographs of my body. Suddenly, I realise, I'm no longer critical of what I look like, of whom I think I am. My body has become the repository of more good memories than bad and even if it isn't quite as tight or as elastic as it used to be, it's the vessel of a freer, bolder, more imaginative and ultimately more satisfied self.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Anatomy Mash-Up

I strip off my clothes as I walk down the hallway of my studio. A full length mirror is attached to the store-room door. I tape to it a photograph of a painted study for a new large enamel work. In the study, an Asian woman stands topless, a lime green slip slid down to her waist.
I don't have an Asian woman available to model for me so I have to do it myself. I'm tall, broad shouldered, with an African-like ass and wide hips, so I'm hardly an ideal alternative. I stare at the reflection of myself, half-naked, as I twist and turn – replicating the pose in the study as it might be seen from different angles, imagining a camera moving in a slow circle around me.
Every so often, I stoop to a sketchbook on the floor, in which I draw bits of what I see – and of what I can't.
I also photograph myself with a small Canon digital camera: countless images, each capturing small variations in my pose or the framing.
Later, I'll load them onto my computer and draw from the screen. I'll ignore my fleshy Caucasian curves and and imagine the skeletal frame beneath as the basic form for a finer boned Asian body.
This is very different from the sort of life study I was taught in art school. It combines sketching my own reflection (a form of study as old as portraiture itself), new and past photography, collaged elements of downloads from the web, close examination of line drawings in anatomy text books and of course, memory (I stare at people a lot, making mental notes of their bodies and features). The 'life' I draw exists only in disparate parts but the results of these reconstructions from various source materials are no less 'real'.
I think of the process as a 21st century mash-up of a life study: at once hand-crafted and
tech-enabled, modular, sampled, reconfigured, individualised, and yes, a little solitary and remote.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Layers Of Experience

I lay each stencil on a thick cotton mattboard and measure the distance between the edges of each. The board is larger than necessary to allow for a generous border as well as a few extra centimetres to be trimmed in the unlikely event that the edges are crumpled during consignment.
I'm particular about my work being received by my collectors in perfect condition.
I paint the image through the stencil. I let it dry for 24 hours. Each stencil is painted three times, with 24 hours between coats. When the third layer is touch-dry, I peel away the stencil from the cotton mattboard – very slowly. Using my fingers, tweezers and a fine blade, I remove it piece by piece.
I ruin the first two attempts: I'm impatient and pull the stencil away carelessly. The surface of the multi-ply mattboard lifts and tears; the brittle enamel paint peels off with the stencil. On the third, I smudge a crisply painted edge and leave a fingerprint in the middle of a face.
Mistakes like these can't be corrected. The materials ruined are expensive and a lot of valuable time is wasted. I force myself to work at a snail's pace.
It's not until the final piece of stencil has been removed that I can see if the image is any good. Like most things, if I narrow my focus not on the end result but each step of the process, it always turns out better than I dare hope.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Homage To Lindsay Anderson

I wasn't born when Lindsay Anderson's disturbing and still influential film, If..., was released in 1968 and launched a very young Malcolm McDowell to stardom. I didn't get to see it for the first time until I was 30 – which was probably a good thing because had I been any younger, its simmering rage and final, nihilistic violence might have gained an even tighter grip on my imagination.
If... was the first thing that came to mind when I thought about creating a third in a series of limited edition stencils based on my earliest enamel paintings. The first two were The Yes/No Stencils, conceived at the end of September, this year.
The If... Stencils (Homage To Lindsay Anderson)
are three editions of just 10 signed and numbered (on front) stencils – in funerary black, bone ash grey and virginal white. Each image is 40cm x 65.5cm (or 15.7” x 25.8”), hand-stencilled in high gloss enamel on 76cm x 100cm (or 29.9" x 39.4") 100% cotton, museum-quality, white Alpharag 4ply archival board.
Until 15th December, each is priced at $A750.00 – or $A2,000 for a set of the three colours – including post and packaging. After 15th December, the price will rise to $A1,000 each, with no discount for a set of three.
To order or request further information, please email dooneystudio@gol.com. Payment can be accepted via PayPal, Western Union, and national/international bank transfer.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Glass Half Empty

I'm in a melancholy frame of mind today.
It's nothing to do with my art – as you might have gathered from my recent notes here, the new studio layout has encouraged me to be even more productive – but rather with the business I have to deal with in order to sustain my art.
Don't get me wrong: I have no regrets at all about abandoning the commercial gallery system. I have greater freedom and a much higher income. I am also entirely responsible for myself.
No, what's getting me down are those parts of my life that are still encumbered by the old system – and the spite and greed of a few, inimical individuals who resent that I chose a path independent of them.
I've not written much about the bitter financial and legal fights that, over the past couple of years, have threatened to overwhelm me. Instead, I've 'been there' for some artists who have found their art and their livelihoods under attack from care-less, rapacious exploiters and I've saddled up my high horse to harass the inequities imposed on others by the outmoded thinking and business models of old-school art intermediaries.
I've been let down by many on whom I should have been able to depend.
Now, I'm waist-deep in the blood 'n' guts of my own battles. The once sturdy defenses of my bank account have been flattened under the weight of legal and accounting fees.
Some days, it all bears down on me hard. I get fed up with the intrusion of this shit into my imagination and the toll it exerts on my energy. I long to be rid of it all. To be somewhere (anywhere) else, naked, unknown, with nothing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Space For Myself

The changes I've made to the way my studio works has given me more time for myself.
I could go on and on about all the productive or self-improving disciplines I've adopted, like daily exercise, but I'm also loosening up a little and enjoying stuff that's just plain, unproductive fun.
At the end of a long day, I send my assistants home then strip-off my paint-stained clothes to wander round the studio naked, checking works-in-progress. I sit and warm my body in the last of the sun. I surrender to cable TV: big-budget action, Asian gore, 'art house films, erudite English series on travel, architecture, and history, and sporadic doses of high-end fashion. I read books. I take long baths. I sprawl across my wide bed and get myself off.
Sometimes a girl just needs the right space and some solitude to really indulge herself.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Home Ergonomics

It says something about the utility of my new home and studio set-up that I can now move seamlessly between writing, painting and administration during my working day.
Instead of driving two hours – each way – to paint in enamel, I step into another room. The materials are arranged properly. I don't have to wander around trying to find what I need – or rely on others to find it for me. I can control the temperature (and drying times) in any weather and I've sealed the room so the fumes are contained. Although I can't work on several paintings at once, as I used to, I can work on them more frequently. I don't make the sort of mistakes my assistants used to, eliminating the need to re-do large sections.
I paint small watercolours leaning over my coffee table. Another table, made up of trestles and a sheet of white-painted timber, is set up for larger works on paper. The carpet is covered with a heavy canvas drop sheet. I can fling paint or ink around without care. When my assistant and I wrap packages for collectors, the table is covered with double layers of canvas so the surface is clean and dry.
I even write more easily. I don't have to sit cross-legged on a concrete floor, as I did at the 'enamel factory', but on a cushioned stool at my desk. A glass 'white board' for random jottings is bolted on the wall above it. Diaries, sketchbooks, reference books and idea workbooks are all within reach. I can also lie on the daybed, propped up by pillows.

I feel calmer and happier about my work than I have for several years. If good decisions tend to feel good, then my recent decision to do more of my work myself at home has been one of the best I've ever made.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Relief Plan

Moving my enamel work to my home studio has meant that I've had to revise an already complicated schedule. There's less space now. Instead of an open-plan 'factory', I'm using three rooms of my beachside house and my garden (for preparation work like sanding and undercoating).
I've also reconsidered how I handle the actual painting. Apart from a young assistant who will wash brushes and help me move large, heavy frames, I'll paint alone.
I prefer it this way. I get to stay at home by the sea as well as set – and maintain control – over a tight schedule to which I know I can adhere. One of the problems with having an assistant working on a painting unsupervised at a different location was that they didn't stick to my well-proven, strictly ordered process. It dissolved my planning and timings and made delveries unpredictable.
I'm spending today devising a new schedule. I break down the production of every enamel painting I'm working on day-by-day. Referring to detailed studied drawings, every colour is listed in order of application and number of coats. Some colours need two coats, others five. I paint large areas of colours – I call them 'blocks' – first, leaving 48 hours between each re-coat. When they're completely finished, I draw on and paint details.
As I paint, I record the time each task takes. This highlights any potential time blow-outs early on, so I can make adjustments. I don't need to do so often, not anymore. But I like to know, just in case.
As the schedule for each work is finalised, I feel less anxious. The amount of work doesn't phase me. I just need to know when each will be done, so I can give collectors an accurate delivery date – and make space for the rest of my life.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sweat Equanimity

I woke slowly to a hot, humid room and the sweet-sour scent of sweat and stale perfume. My eyelids were heavy, my tongue dry and lightly abrased.
I made coffee before she left, just after sunrise. She kissed me on the cheek, a sweet, fleeting familiarity, as I leant on the front door frame and said goodbye. We made no promises to see each other again.
I flopped onto the daybed in the studio and stared out to sea. A whiff of freshly ground coffee mingled with the acrid enamel vapours. My head throbbed – red wine and psychotropic medications don't mix – but more pleasurably, so did other parts of my body.

I decided to take the rest of the day off. The lack of tension in my muscles was almost sensual.
I padded down the hall to my bedroom: white sheets, the smell of freesias and a Moroccan bowl full of sex toys welcomed me back.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

No! An Artist's Defence

Earlier this year, an unscrupulous operator filed a suit against my friend, the American artist, John T. Unger, in a federal court. They sought to overturn John's copyrights on a series of his works in order to sell unauthorised, unlicensed, mass-produced knockoffs of them.
John has spent over $50,000 in legal fees but because he was not the instigator of the suit, he now faces the risk of a default judgment being entered against him unless he is able to finance a full defence in court.
He cannot afford not to: the case poses the risk of a dangerous precedent being established that could be used by other imitators to strip artists of the rights which protect their original work.
You can read the full story on John's website.
To help John finance his defence, I've donated five, different coloured NO! images, each valued at $US1,000, from my limited edition series, the Yes/No Stencils for John to sell. As these are now hard to obtain even through my studio, John's edition, specially inscribed on the verso by both John and me, represents an opportunity to own an unique edition of the NO! images as well as help an artist locked in a desperate battle to protect his work and his income.
I would urge other artists to donate their work to help John's fight.
For further information, visit John's blog – or just place an order.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Take Another Piece Of My Art

One of the best – and certainly the most provocative – of my 2008 Dangerous Career Babes series, The Terrorist, a 160cm x 210cm enamel painting on custom-built timber board, is to be auctioned on 16th December by Menzies Art Brands, in Sydney.
A smaller, 100cm x 150cm enamel on board work, Buck, one of the first Cowboy Babes, painted in 2001, is in the same sale.
Another 100cm x 150cm painting from 2001, Career Babe: The Firefighter, was also to have been offered but this will now be auctioned by Menzies Art Brands in March, 2010.

The last time a Dangerous Career Babe turned up in the secondary market was at Christie's sale of Modern And Contemporary Australian And South African Art in London, in December, last year. The Aviatrix sold for $A32,701, exceeding the low-end of Christie's pre-sale estimate and setting a new record for my work at auction.
It's unlikely that the conservative Australian market will match this price, especially in an unsettled economic climate. I understand that Menzies has been very conservative in its estimate. However, The Terrorist is an excellent and widely recognised example not only of my recent enamel work but also my increasingly provocative intellectual engagement with the role media plays in defining (and undermining) modern female identities. I'm very proud of it.
Both paintings can be viewed at Menzies Art Brands' Melbourne gallery, 1 Darling St., South Yarra, Tel: 03 9832 8700, from 3rd to 6th December, 11am to 6pm, and at their Sydney gallery, 12 Todman Avenue, Kensington, Tel: 02 8344 5404, from 10th to 15th December, 11am to 6pm.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Paper Weightless

I always overwork my drawings when I'm getting used to a new medium but I'm at my worst with ink. It's new to me so I keep adding detail to a picture until it looks like a botched illustration or a frame from a bad graphic novel.
When I try to fix it, I overwork it some more. I'll black out whole areas to try to obliterate elements I don't need or to regain some sense of space. It doesn't help. Eventually, dense curtains of smeary ink obscure whatever it was I was working towards. The picture is an incoherent, irreparable mess.
I'm trying to pare down my drawings, to eliminate from them everything unnecessary. I resist the urge to 'fill' the page.
What I love most about working on paper is the paper itself. Between its porousness and unpredictable texture, a single good line can alight upon all kinds of subtleties in weight, shadow, movement and perspective. Make too many marks, allow too little space, and you can suffocate it.
One of my favourite works is The Bull, a series of 11 lithographs by Picasso. In the first three, the bull of the title is rendered realistically. In the fourth, the contours of the bull's solid body are traced, forming irregular but still three-dimensional shapes. As the series progresses, each unnecessary piece of line is removed until the bull becomes beautifully simple, if almost unrecogniseable. There is no shading, just an uneven, horizontal line.
To me, the last version is much more engaging to look at than the others. It's as if the animal has been reduced to its essence.
I'm not planning to deconstruct my ink drawings in quite the same way. But Picasso's stark reductions have inspired me to recover the purity of line, emotion and texture that I've too often smothered with clutter.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Going Gets Weird, The Weird Go To Texas

In March, next year, I'm traveling to the USA for the first time.
I've been invited to participate on a panel titled Millionaire Or Artist, How About Both?, convened by Amrita Chandra, of the Toronto-based Tinku Gallery and chaired by Hugh Macleod, at the SxSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. As well as being a renowned breeding ground and forum for new media ideas and technologies, the even better-known festival component of SxSW offers some kick-ass music.
I don't know much about Austin but any city with an Independent Business Alliance that promotes the slogan "Keep Austin Weird" sounds promising. I booked a room for a week at a cool boutique inn some distance from the chain-hotel headquarters for the event. The über-professional house manager added a personal touch to the confirmation email she sent me:
"I checked out your website. Nice work. Very Queer. We like that here. I like the Self Vs Self. I wish fighting myself would look that sexy."
I'm not even there yet but my first impressions of Austin are funny, geeky, weird, sexy, and queer. I think I'm going to love it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

If Art Is War, I'm An Army

Just when I was desperate for it, tonight, I found inspiration in an old song by Björk. Written by the Icelandic singer with Graham Massey, in 1995, Army of Me was the first single released from her second CD, Post. It was also included on the soundtrack of the ill-fated movie, Tank Girl.
stand up

you've got to manage
i won't sympathize
anymore
and if you complain once more

you'll meet an army of me
you're alright

there's nothing wrong
self-sufficience please!
and get to work
and if you complain once more

you'll meet an army of me
you're on your own now

we won't save you
your rescue-squad
is too exhausted
and if you complain once more

you'll meet an army of me

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

L'Anno Che Verrá

After writing yesterday's entry, I decided to let my imagination run wild with some ideas about what might unfold for art and artists over the next ten years. These are the outtakes:
Artists will be the new pop stars. They'll have to tour constantly to promote their work as well as be subjected to the same sort of intrusive coverage by
paparazzi as Kid Rock or P. Diddy.
Bi-sexuality will continue to be trendy and Sam Taylor-Wood will dump her young husband to take up with an aging Megan Fox, whom she'll cast in a re-make of
The Hours.
After subjecting myself to Orlan-esque body modifications, I will become art's answer to Pamela Anderson – or Kim Kardashian, whichever.
In a reversal of a trend begun by Julian Schnabel and less successfully, Robert Longo, in the '80s and sustained by Sam Taylor-Wood until this year, film directors will aspire to become artists rather than the other way around (come on down, Tim Burton).
The mainstream audience will become increasingly art-savvy and Kevin McCloud will switch his attention from architects' and home-owners'
Grand Designs to their aspirations as collectors. Unfortunately for artists, they'll be more discerning and demand more depth, development and relevancy in the work they actually buy.
Due to the loss of rudimentary artisan skills, a tragic by-product of a thirty year emphasis on post-modern theory rather than traditional, centuries-old practice, art schools will become irrelevant and be replaced by free, widely distributed, web-based, autonomous learning resources. Artists will re-learn 15th century skills and techniques through [gasp!] experimentation, practise, online research, and by viewing work by fellow artists.
Artspeak
will only exist in academic libraries. The language died when a wider audience learned to translate it and discovered the banality of its messages. It will be studied by ethnologists as an anachronistic but doomed fad that owed its existence exclusively to conceptual art.
What used to be regarded as conceptual art will now be mainstream and the exclusive domain of advertising agencies desperate to try anything to reach mass audiences after the death of broadcast TV and newspapers.
Glossy art magazines will have replaced interior design magazines as the 'pornography' of the middle class, who will pay a premium to display them as paper editions on their Marc-Newson-for-Target coffee tables.
Takashi Murakami will become increasingly jaded as his ideas about democratising work are reduced to soul-less, auto-industry-style production lines. He will commit public
seppuku in the foyer of the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi (Tokyo) in a bid to restore his honour as an artist.
Damien Hirst will pre-sell by auction a range of artworks to be manufactured after his death. One of the works will be his dead, dissected body preserved in formaldehyde. He will organise a world-wide, touring retrospective exhibition featuring his decaying corpse as its centre-piece – to be launched immediately after he passes away.
E-Bay rather than Sotheby's will handle the Hirst auction and in conjunction with Matthew Freud and Jay Jopling, will hype the event to drive up prices: indeed, the works will be auctioned several times over, for massively increasing amounts, even before Hirst dies. He will retain ownership of a small percentage of each work so his estate might participate in the rising value forever.
Dames Tracey Emin and Germaine Greer will establish an arcane cult that worships and sexually enslaves young men. Neither will see any irony in this. An ancient Jeffrey Smart will be invited to preside as High Priest over annual rites at an undisclosed location in Tuscany.
(Thanks to Italian singer-songwriter, Lucio Dalla, for the title.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Decade Done

"A new decade is a time in which to declare everything you know is wrong. A fresh decade is a time to jettison secure old knowledge and grope around for new."
So writes Scottish musician and polymath, Nick Currie (better known as Momus) on his always thought-provoking 'blog, Click Opera. He offers some Eno-esque advice about where and how to look for the new. B
efore "groping around" myself, I thought I'd cast my eye over the "old" one last time – specifically, the ten year span of my professional career as a painter.
When I finally committed to the idea of myself as an artist, in late 1999, my ambitions were tempered by a lot of self-doubt. I had mounted three solo exhibitions – two at a commercial gallery. All of them had sold out. And yet I hadn't made enough money to cover the cost of materials. I was still living and working at my father's house. I held down a part-time job to make ends meet.
Then: My art dealer told me I had to chose between being commercially successful
and critically admired. When I insisted that I intended to be both, she burst out laughing. I burst into tears. Secretly, I dreamed of my work hanging in major institutional collections.
Now: I choose
not to be represented by any gallery or dealer. I produce my own exhibitions. My work enjoys commercial and critical success but I've also helped drive a global revolution in art marketing and communications. My work has been exhibited in a number of institutional galleries but it has yet to feel as good as I'd imagined. I have a great home and studio of my own, a couple of good assistants, and my earnings during the past four years add up to over a million dollars. Unfortunately, so have my outgoings – but that will change.
Then: I dreamed of being able to work full-time on art, and of making only bold art about which I was passionate. I wanted to be travel regularly and exhibit overseas but I wanted to live on a cliff facing the sea. I thought I might achieve one of these things within 20 years, if I was lucky.
Now: I work only on my art. I would still like it to be bolder, more experimental. I've travelled as much as I've wanted during the last couple of years and I've been in a handful of solo and group shows in the USA, the UK and Japan. I live on a cliff-top above the Pacific Ocean, in a fashionable suburb north of Sydney.
Then: I believed that the internet might become quite useful for artists, even if I wasn't quite sure how.
Now: The internet still hasn't been used in a groundbreaking way to make new forms of art. But it has liberated artists from an oppressive, male-dominated, commercial and institutional gallery system and given us greater control over the way we communicate the ideas and intentions of our work and how and where it is sold. It has also enabled direct, unmediated dialogue with all those who take an interest in it, wherever they happen to be.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Pain And Penance

This morning, I dragged my ever-widening ass to the gym.
I don't like gyms. They make me feel like a lab rat running on an exercise wheel. The pumping music, punctuated by the neanderthal grunts and parade ground barks of class instructors (in between their patrons' inane chatter about fat loss ) get on my nerves.
I turn up my iPod and tune into the rhythm of constant motion and long steady breaths. As long as I can block everything out, it's like a form of meditation. My shaved head and austere, asexual, dark clothing make me look like a six-foot monk amongst a room of Ken and Barbie dolls.
After a couple of hours, the fog and white noise that cloud my mind have cleared. Serotonin levels upped, the anxiety that every morning wakes me with clenched fists and grinding teeth has dissipated. I'm calm, maybe even happy.
Ever obsessive-compulsive, I weigh myself, measure my waist and hips, and take note of my heart-rate.
I'm already looking forward to fitting the high-priced clothes hanging in my wardrobe again but aesthetic changes aren't my goal. I do this to stay sane, to be productive. Nothing else works as well.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Opening Another Vein

I took some time out to untangle my thoughts about where I want to go next with my work. The last time I did this in earnest was in early 2006. The result: the works that became Venus In Hell. I don't have any sense yet of what might come of this, although I suspect it'll be messy, violent, dark and different to what I've done before.
I started by writing down all the things I've tried not to think about for a long time: things that have made me angry or ashamed, things I've tried to forget. Not all of them make sense now although sometimes I stumbled upon clues that helped me resolve puzzles that have bothered me for years. I tried to stay detached and unemotional – it wasn't easy – so I could mine as much unrefined data as possible. I didn't stop to think or reflect. If I couldn't find the right words, I drew small pictures to come back to later.
Truth is, I was afraid to stop. If I did, I might have felt I was losing my grip. My head was (still is) full of random images – like fragments of raw film footage – snatches of dialogue and faint, half-forgotten tastes and smells, all jumbled together. The key was not to try to sort them out, to edit them, but to keep going, to let it all spill out in one, purging stream-of-consciousness.
I still have no idea whether I can make art out of any of it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Nowhere To Hide

Hey! Said my name is called disturbance.
I'll shout and scream, I'll kill the king, I'll rail at all his servants.
– Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Street Fighting Man
Let me restate a basic policy for this blog. I am open to critical remarks about my work or me. I've published many here over the past three years and I will continue to do so. But if you're not willing to identify yourself, if you do it anonymously, I'll just trash what you have to say.
I used to to publish everything, including anonymous insults and slander. I figured my readers would notice that the vilest comments come from three distinct groups:the first are mostly fellow artists or art dealers who are envious or resentful of the public 'me' or who just hate my art – interestingly, this angry, misogynistic group is made up almost entirely of middle-aged, white Australian males; the second are spiteful former acquaintances (or jilted lovers) who have an axe to grind; finally, there are those geekish, dull-witted trolls who get a kick out of spilling vitriol over anyone with any 'surface' in the blogosphere.
It's easy enough to identify posters, even when they use different aliases. If they're really nasty or threatening, I run their IP address and keep a note of where they route to. Mostly, I know who they are from their own words. For example, there's the guy about whom I wrote recently here: he was pissed off that I addressed his sexism in public – after all, he is, as he kept reminding me, one of my 'collectors'. Before I wrote the blog, I emailed him privately and he didn't respond. He continues to make snarky, ill-informed, anonymous critiques of me on others' blogs.
If someone says something stupid or insulting to me, they're not entitled to my silence. Ditto if they try to take advantage of me.
A number of late middle-aged, white male art dealers are livid that I unwrap the exploitative and often (again) misogynistic business practices I've experienced with them. In their eyes, I am only an artist – and a female one at that.
Unfortunately for them, I am also a successful woman who won't abide by the accepted, "be-seen-but-not-heard-and-be-bloody-grateful-you've-got-it" conventions of female success. The art world is traditionally dominated by men but I'm not grateful to them or eager-to-please. I'm not meek, modest, obsequiously deferent either. I don't give in or dumb myself down. I haven't slept with anyone to advance my career and I've never been supported by a man, other than my father.
Instead, every day, I live and work in the open. I expose my art, my self, my work practice and the worst of me online, where everyone can see. And I don't give a toss whom it pisses off.
The over-emotional, often obsessive, confused and enraged responses of those who attack me anonymously acknowledges a radical shift in power. The privilege they once took for granted suddenly doesn't apply any more. Race, gender, social standing and age are of no relevance to the new, web-based world, which empowers and equalises in ways early feminists could never have imagined. At last, women – and everyone else who has been disadvantaged by patriarchal systems – can play on the same, level playing field.
The anonymous posting of a spiteful, slanderous, vitriolic attack is just a desperate, ill-fated attempt to regain some of that lost power. The anonymous ranter can criticise (and slander) without exposing their motives to close examination or their ideas to detailed counter-argument or criticism. They also think they don't have to take responsibility for their own words, assuming (wrongly) that their legal identities and liabilities are obscured. Their's is a last, desperate attempt to influence, to exert a power they don't have anymore (if they ever had it), without responsibility.
Enough is enough. From now on, I won't publish any more unpleasant crap from anonymous posters. I will continue to publish reasoned, critical comments by those who display their real identity. I'm not bothered by those who disagree with me or who find my art disasteful or even just plain bad. I relish conflicting ideas about art and everything else (well, almost everything else).
As those who've followed this blog for a few years know, I don't run from a fight. Actually, I like to fight.
But I've got too little time to indulge those impotent dullards and wankers who are too cowardly to 'own' their own words. They can just fuck off.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Shortening The Supply Chain

When it comes to paint and painting supplies, I prefer to order well in advance – preferably in bulk – and be assured of specific delivery times. I always check on the minimum quantity the supplier will deliver for free and the minimum spend required for an ongoing trade discount. I want to track orders and check them as they arrive so that any mistakes can be rectified immediately.
I spent all day, today, driving through the monotonous sprawl of Sydney's far western suburbs to a paint distributor that stocked a particular brand of enamel I wanted. I got lost. I got stuck on traffic-clogged freeways with no exits for miles. Hot, sweaty and pissed off, I finally found the operation. It was a well-organised, air conditioned oasis set among hundreds of others catering to building trades.
A competent-looking woman set up an account for me, She emailed me a password to a website so I could check the store's inventory before making future orders online. I made sure I got her name so I could deal with her again.
I used to order my materials through art stores until it began to remind me of working with art dealers. Having a 'middle man' is supposed to save time but it only makes the process more difficult. Communication works best when it's direct, not relying on other people. Having made the effort to visit the distributor and set up a relationship, I can now manage this crucial part of my logistics online and yet still have the comfort of personal contact if its needed.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Uncringing

One of the most widely distributed articles about me online, last year, was a critical perspective of my marketing efforts titled Art Vs. Marketing: Making Hazel Dooney Cringe by Barney Davey. For several months, I kept tripping over excerpts of it on nearly every art-related blog I visited. It prompted me to write a brief response here.
Against all odds, Barney and I have remained cordial. Now he has published a long profile of me, Hazel Dooney: A Courageous Uncompromising And Successful Visual Artist on his widely read blog, Art Print Issues. In it, he attempts to distill the lessons to be learnt from my career but warns those who might be tempted to follow them, "While the international success she has achieved undoubtedly is the envy of lots of other artists, it is unlikely many are willing to follow her example. Study her blog and career and you will find her art, life and career inextricably entwined in a most deeply personal consumptive manner. For many, if not most, the price she pays to be the artist she wants to be is too dear."
I suspect regular readers of this blog will have already made up their own minds about that.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Letting Me Be Myself

How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something, but to be someone.
– Gabrielle Bonheur 'Coco' Chanel
If we are told something again and again, it can become true. It can seep into our subconscious and take hold there as an indisputable fact. It doesn't even matter if we know it's not true.
I was bullied in high school by people who were close to me: not physical violence just harsh, twisted whispers. I heard them so often I took them to heart.
Repetition in advertising and political propaganda works the same way. Even if we see through the manipulative messages, it's hard not to be affected by them. Inventions and interpretations become fact, as immutable as the sun rising in the east.
I once believed a whole gamut of 'truths' about myself, most of them instilled in me by my family from childhood. Some were good, some weren't. As I grew up and became an adult, I realised there were no such truths.
I still struggle to rid myself of some of them.
People often cite their family as a reason for not pursuing their dreams. If we turn our back on our families, if we reject their comments and criticisms we risk being rejected ourselves. It's hard to confront – let alone argue with – people whom we love and who have nurtured us. It's even harder to comprehend that they don't always have our best interests at heart but rather their own.
Too often, what we are told by our parents, siblings and closest friends – again and again – becomes what we tell ourselves. Over time, it also becomes the way others define us and how we define ourselves.
Re-defining oneself can be hard. In my case, it felt impossible.
In the end, it was utterly liberating. Living only on my own terms turned my world upside down. The woeful, discouraging, critical voices continued to harp on – even louder when I started to ignore them completely – but they were countered by an intoxicating rush of happiness and freedom, a real sense that I could do and be anything.
The relief was absolute.