Time to say a few words

Dear Visual Arts people… (That means you!) In doing research on the Arts, websites, Artists and various other resources. I have come to the conclusion things are not as easy or simple as they seem.

Lets look at it this way, I have tried (and very carefully thought about) how I would set up my sites so the user could get the info they wanted in what I hope is reasonably effective ways. However in flipping about websites and searching, I find others seem to not have the same thought in mind with their sites.

Now I ask, what’s going on here, wouldn’t you want people to find your site or information on you (Artists especially) easily, and then be able to navigate it readily… Ok some are clearly not “offay” with the idea of being found, in fact many seem to want to bury themselves so deep no one can find them or their works.

Some sites have minimal contact details, some have an email login system that does not work “Type in the security code…” When that does not work, what then? (Simple I give up and go elsewhere…)

Many of the artists I have contacted regarding an interview are ones with websites, (I want to be able to send people somewhere and not just a gallery that represents the artist.) and what do I find, many don’t have one, but the USA artists (many with multiple gallery representation) have them, so guess what, they get contacted. and hey most are very accepting of my approach. On the other hand some of the Aussie artists seem somehow “Non-plussed” by the idea and don’t jump on the idea.

Commercial websites for various art organisations I have looked at, some of them have been woeful in being able to navigate and figure out their forums, send them info on linking to us etc…

In short in these times of “let’s be user friendly” I am left to wonder about the state of play…

Artists, get a web site, and make it simple, sharp and to the point, I want to see your work and find out what’s up.

Galleries, thanks to those that make it easy to get in contact with their artists, you are a blessing.

Art resource sites, please, if you offer contact details for an artist via a link, don’t give me an error page saying I need to be a member… I just take the artists name and google them directly so thanks for the barrier… (What were they thinking?) And while I’m at it, organisations handling taxpayer funded $$, cut the fat and the crap and give the money to artists in easily accessible ways, your admin costs are funds that could make a world of difference, instead the barriers and hassles in making application for funds are simply to hard to bother with (go check out some art forums to validate that!).

It comes down to good old customer service folks, sometimes you don’t know what the customer wants, how they want it and what they will do next… end of story.

Interesting resources

I came across a couple of resources which may be of value, can anyone tell me if they are? esp if you are a member…



I found things a little difficult to navigate but the potential seems to be there.

Ok when I sign up to something I expect it to be useable, hell I am reasonably web savvy… So when I get lost in a site trying to figure things out surely others might too, is that good? short answer… no.

Carol Es

Carol Es from Los Angeles, California and is represented by; George Billis Gallery in Los Angeles; Kolesch Gallery in Houston, Texas; Gallerie Urbane in Marfa, Texas.  Her web site is http://esart.com and her blog is http://esart.com/blog

Carol says she has been making art all her life and lists other interests as; Music, Anthropology, genetics, biology, books.

What are the main medium/s you work in… I use manila pattern paper from the garment manufacturing industry with oil paint, pencil, thread and sewing pins.

Your work seems very personal in it’s approach… My work is very personal and dives into childhood trauma. I use lots of Hebrew texts, narratives, personal disclosure, and my background from working in the apparel industry with my family.

What are you currently working on? I am finishing up a handmade Artists’ book entitled “Horsebucket.” It is an edition of 50 books with gouache drawings, hand typed pages and letterpress covers.

Why are you an artist? I really can’t be anything else. Trust me, I’ve tried.

How did you get into art? This remains a mystery to me to this day.

What is your earliest memory of art? The artwork in the waiting rooms of psychiatrist’s offices.

Was art a “thing” that was encouraged in your family? Not at all. I do not come from a family of artists of any sort, which is why I cannot really understand what drove me to forcefully towards art. My family had not seen my work or attended my exhibits until this last year. And it was surreal. They have never really made any comments about my work and I really don’t know if they know what to make of it. I think they think it’s a 30 year “phase” and one day I’ll come to my senses.

What can you tell us about your planning and making process for making art, and has that altered over the years? There came a point around 2002 where I changed my process completely after a psychological art experiment. I started to glean my pattern making background into my work and it just began to make sense: “Paint what you know.” My practice then became a methodical ritual, where I could master a process, while still allowing room for the spontaneous. I think it was because I was becoming self-aware and began to understand what my own art was about after so many years of naive painting. I got to a place where I could not move forward and be genuine and honest unless I made a drastic change.

Does the “creative process” happen easily for you? It does, but I’m always worried it won’t.

How important do you think craftsmanship is to artistic creation? Very. I have a very anal work ethic and don’t half-ass anything and truly appreciate craftsmanship in everything, not just art.

Do you get to other artists exhibitions, openings etc? I do, but it is really difficult to see as many as I would like to or should. I prefer to stay home and/or work. I detest crowds and rather catch the shows on quiet weekdays instead of receptions.

Do you have much contact with other artists?
Thank God for email.

Any upcoming or completely new projects you want to talk about? I am hoping 2009 will bring me some time to work on more soft sculpture projects.

Working towards an exhibition, is it a daunting task? It is a lot of work and it takes everything out of me and about a year of planning and working, if not longer, to do it right. In my mind it seems simple, but it winds up being very daunting. Everything has to work together. The space needs to be considered. The scheme, the craftsmanship and details, documentation, lead time for images and press packs, advertising, curator feedback. The time it takes to do so many pieces. Ideas on how to make your show stick out above the dozens of others going on that month. Getting people to come. It winds up being a lot more work than one would think, and at the end of your 4 weeks – that’s it. It doesn’t happen again for a long time and a lot of non-art people may not understand that.

Can you name a favourite artist or three… and why? Paul Klee: for his connection to childlike dreams; Amy Sillman: for her freedom to just paint; Van Gogh: for his visionary outlook on nature.

Do you keep an Art Journal or Visual Diary of some kind? I keep a small notebook on my nightstand to jot down my weird half-asleep thoughts. I also have been working on an on-going journal project where I draw and write on a manila patterns. It could be a sleeve, a collar, a pocket, or a paint leg. They are not planned, they are just my thoughts and feelings that day which come out in words and/or drawings.

What happens to works that “don’t work out”? It rarely happens because I try to salvage everything I start. I can count on one hand how many pieces I have destroyed in the last 800. I probably have 5-10 unfinished things that are still hanging around that I’ll get back to one day.

Do you aim to break the rules of basic composition, layout etc or do you ignore the “rules” and just create? There are never any rules in art.

Do you hope the viewer will “get” what you are trying to communicate or do you feel compelled to spell it out to them? I believe that once I am finished making a work of art, it is now out of my hands and not up to me anymore. I do not control how it is interpreted because I have had a totally different relationship with it than the viewer does. It means something to me, but I send it off to sea and let others have it in their own way.

How important is it to you that your work communicates something to the viewer? It is important to me that the work touches someone in someway that is meaningful to them.

What can you say about your work that might not be evident to the viewer? I did not paint this. I do not know who or what did. Yet, I made this. And maybe we have never met, but I love you.

About significant moments in your life, the sort of things that changed things for you forever… perhaps altered your Art… Who how why what and where…? So much that I can’t know how or where to start, but I have been very unfortunate and I have been lucky beyond belief.

If you stopped doing art right now would you miss it? It would be the death of me.

What discourages you from doing art? Deep, dark, dripping, scary, scratchy, freezing, echoing depression.

Have you had much connection post sale with purchasers of your works? Yes, I have a lot of repeat collectors and I would call them friends because it is a relationship we build on.

Name a book or books, which may have inspired your work as an artist? “Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Suess.

Is your work process fast or slow? Very slow. Not a great thing in time crunches.

Some artists are more “at home” isolated in their creative process, while others revel in being part of a group to bounce “ideas off” how about you? I much prefer to be alone in a quiet space. I’m isolated for the most part, although I will meet up with friends when I can, but it takes a lot out of me.

What moves you most in life, either to inspire or upset you that might be connect to your art? What inspires me most is seeing lots and lots and lots of art.

What advice would you give to an artist just starting out? Listen to your heart, not your parents or your boyfriend, or your teachers, or some poser. You really want to do this? Then take all the risks you need to even if it’s not the easy road (because it’s not going to be.) Be original – don’t copy people, and if you must steal, make it your own somehow, don’t flat out hijack it. Commit yourself to the work, get used to being alone, love yourself – or, at least believe in the part that wants to make art and allow it to. If it’s fame and fortune you seek, look into acting or high-stakes poker.

Interview compiled and edited by Steve Gray ©2008+


An amazing “chronicle” of Alisons life thus far… by Jack Radcliffe, for me this is a photographic delight, great moments captured in real life and handed to us to see… perplexing…

If you are into photographing people, check this out, if not, take a look from the development of life side of things… So much said without words.

Auction result in a down market

This just in from one of our early interviewees Hazel Dooney. A great result!

Dooney Painting Exceeds High Estimate At Deutscher-Menzies Contemporary Art Auction

Hazel Dooney’s ten-year-old enamel painting, Drowned Ophelia, was sold last night in Sydney, at Deutscher-Menzies’ high profile auction of contemporary art, for over $A13,000. It was an astonishing result during a deep economic downturn that has impacted heavily on the global art market. With buyers premium and taxes added, this far exceeds Deutscher-Menzies’ ambitious pre-sale estimate of $A10,000 to $A14,000 and represents a strong argument for the enduring investment value of Dooney’s work as one of Australia’s top young female artists. The painting was first sold for around $A1,200.

Of the 300 works by local and international artists that went under the hammer at Deutscher-Menzies, last night, 70 per cent found buyers. The Dooney work was offered for sale by a prominent Sydney collector.

“I have to admit, I was really nervous before the sale,” Dooney said. “There’s been very little good news coming out of auctions overseas, with work by modern masters being passed in or sold at prices well below what they might have been a year ago. I figured my work would also be revalued sharply downwards but as it turned out, this value has demonstrated remarkable robustness.”

The result is even more remarkable when it is considered that Dooney abandoned the traditional gallery system two years ago, quitting major galleries representing her work in Sydney and Melbourne, Instead, she took on the challenge of marketing and selling her work worldwide herself, as well as promoting her own art events, mainly using the web. She is widely acknowledged as the first Australian artist to manage her own career in this way and she has established a wide collector base in Australia, Asia, the USA and the UK.

The next test of Dooney’s success will be at Christie’s auction rooms in London, in less than a week, when her large (2.10m x 1.6m) enamel on board painting, Dangerous Career Babe: The Aviatrix, (below), is included in the sale of Modern And Contemporary Australian Art And South African Art on 16th December, 2008. The renowned auction house’s pre-sale estimate for what is the first of Dooney’s most recent paintings to be offered in the open market is between $A32,000 and $A37,500!


This just in… 17/12/08

“The Aviatrix Sets New Record At Auction For Hazel Dooney’s Work

Hazel Dooney’s large enamel on board painting, Dangerous Career Babe: The Aviatrix, commissioned earlier this year by a major Australian collector, was sold last night for $A32,701 at Christie’s sale of Modern And Contemporary Australian And South African Art in London. This exceeded the low-end of Christie’s pre-sale estimate and represents a new record for Dooney’s work at auction – an extraordinary achievement during a global economic downturn, especially for a 30-year-old artist who has yet to exhibit in Europe.

Last December, at another Christie’s sale in London, two of Dooney’s early enamel Sports Career Babes, set a new high for her work of over $A23,000.

This is Dooney’s second remarkable auction result in less than a week, this time in one of the world’s most important art market. However, it is an increasingly volatile market, in which the biggest names in Australian and international art are suffering significant revaluations downwards and many works are not selling at all.”

Great result!

Ursula’s exhibition…

Hello Everyone,

Ursula Theinert, one of our interviewed artists is having a Solo Exhibition – Forest Management  on 14th of December, 2008 to 25th of January, 2009   Abi Edwards Gallery at Jinks Creek Winery, Tonimbuk Road, Tonimbuk, Victoria.  It is a beautiful destination about 55 minutes from Melbourne.  It is open on Sundays 12-5 pm or by Appointment Ph: (03)56298502.  This Sunday the 14th of December is the “Afternoon with the Artist”.  She looks forward to meeting you.


Artist: Ghostpatrol

Is from Melbourne Vic
web: www.ghostpatrol.net

What are the main medium/s you work in…
Ink, gouache, acrylic, paper , wood and spraypaint.

How do you describe your work, realistic, stylised, abstract, narrative, symbolic, other?

Does your work have social, political, cultural and or personal messages?
F#%k, if it didn’t have any of the above, what would it be?

What are you currently working on?
Just setting up the 2nd drawing machine show that I help curate. then iIm taking a break before a sewing show in February at Gorker gallery with cat-rabbit

What fascinates you?
80’s cartoons, comics, animals, cutlery, computer games and olives

One word or statement to describe your current works?
Neat, neat, neat.

Now give us a more descriptive outline on your current works?
I’ve been mainly working on paper with inks etc. I’ve also finished a large set of work in pencil.

Why are you an artist?
Because i do art

How did you get into art?

How important is art for you?
Strange question – yes – important

Your art education was…?

Have you always been interested in art?
Bad question.

What did you do before or during becoming an artist?
Played video games.

Is there any one thing that has given you a big buzz in your art career so far?
I have had plenty of nice experiences. Releasing a book was nice, travelling is neat, drawing and painting with nice people is a real highlight, I’d rather not drop names etc.

What is your earliest memory of art?

Did the place where you grew up have an influence?
Bad question, how could anybody say no.

What or who inspires your art?
My contemporaries and vintage children’s illustration, video games, cartoons.

Was there a big turning point in your art journey that caused you to think that “it’s all worthwhile”, or “oh yeah I get it…”?

Has your work changed much since your early efforts? (e.g. as a student).
Bad question, you’d like to think so.

Have your artistic influences altered over time (e.g. artists.)
Bad question, you’d like to think so.

You know you are successful in Visual Arts when…

Does the “creative process” happen easily for you?

Do you have a personal description of “Art”?
Who cares.

Have you had any commissions?

How important do you think craftsmanship is to artistic creation?
Bad question, it’s everything, how could you be an artist without being a craftsman?

Does the sale of your work support you?
Yep, full time Artist.

Creative streaks do they come in waves for you?
3-4 minute intervals.

Any upcoming or completely new projects you want to talk about?
Shhhhh secret

Working towards an exhibition, is it a daunting task?
No, otherwise I wouldn’t do it

Some say the lifespan of an “artist” post educationally is about five years, any thoughts on that?
That sounds f#%king awful and depressing, I’m glad I didn’t go to art school

What has been a turning point in your career thus far and why?
Moving to Melbourne and doing art full time, having a great studio etc allowed me to do more and better art.

If you could have any piece of artwork in your personal collection, what would it be and why?
The Laputa robot from the roof of the miyazaki museum, it’s super great.

Can you name a favourite artist or three… and why?
David Byrne, David Shrigley, Marcel Dzama. They are unique, adaptive, exciting, inspirational.

Have you had any “big breaks” in your career?
I’ve broken a lot of pencils and a few printers

All artists seem to have struggles, tell us about any you have had.
Once I had a dream a hamburger was eating me.

Do you keep an Art Journal or Visual Diary of some kind?
Yep, this is a big deal.

What happens to works that “don’t work out”?
A weekly garbage collection is organised by my local city council…

One thing you wish you had listened to from an art teacher or lecturer?
No f#%king way.

Do you have a personal philosophy that underpins your work?
Draw, draw, draw.

Do you aim to break the rules of basic composition, layout etc or do you ignore the “rules” and just create?
Oh yeah, I’m a maverick (sarcasm).

What sort of research and or reference material do you do for current works and has that changed over time?
ffffound.com, video libraries.

Musical influences…
David Byrne, Dan Deacon etc

Do you hope the viewer will “get” what you are trying to communicate or do you feel compelled to spell it out to them?
I hope the viewer doesn’t feel like they have to understand or read into every piece of art.

How important is it to you that your work communicates something to the viewer?
That doesn’t bother me.

What can you say about your work that might not be evident to the viewer?
I’d hate to give away secrets.

What discourages you from doing art?
The news, I feel like I should go back to university and become a scientist to fight against ignorance and stupidity in the world.

Stewart Macfarlane

Since he was 16 years old Stewart Macfarlane has been making Art, he is a mature contemporary artist with many career credits to his name, numerous solo shows, residencies overseas, some teaching and a lot of painting. Currently in Hobart Tasmania, Stewart is represented by Charles Nodrum, Michael Reid, Philip Bacon, United Galleries (Perth).

You can find out more about Stewart from his website here.

Interests you have other than art? Music (check out the website for Stew Lane and you will see JUST how important!)

What are the main medium/s you work in… Painting, Drawing, Lino prints

How do you describe your work? Narrative realism

What are you currently working on? I have 2 exhibitions coming up in the next few months, Brisbane and Sydney.

What fascinates you? People, their vulnerabilities, their beauty and their ugliness.

One word or statement to describe your current works? Urban.

Now give us a more descriptive outline on your current works? My Sydney show will be night paintings. This is one of the few times I have themed an exhibition.

Why are you an artist? I was encouraged as a young teen by my art teacher, (a real artist) who I still see. I imagined that after a struggle, fame and fortune would await.

How did you get into art? I went straight to art school at 16. I then went to NYC to persue my art.

How important is art for you? It is all I seem to be capable of doing with any success.

Your art education was…? Four years in Adelaide at the S.A. School of Art. 2 years in NYC at the School of Visual Arts and 1 year in Melbourne at the Victorian College of the Arts, post graduate.

Have you always been interested in art? Ever since I was about 12 years old.

What did you do before or during becoming an artist? I was a child.

Is there any one thing that has given you a big buzz in your art career so far? My residencies at the Roswell Artist in Residence Program (New Mexico, 1987-1991-2007) would be the most significant buzzes of my career.

What is your earliest memory of art? Seeing the Van Gogh paintings in a book my Mother had.

Do you remember your first painting or art work? I remember the first one that got good reaction from my art teacher. It was a baby with a ball. I was 12, perhaps 13.

Was art encouraged in your family? Not really.

Did the place where you grew up have an influence? Yes, because of the galleries I went to.

What or who inspires your art? Capturing heightened images from the everyday.

Was there a big turning point in your art journey that caused you to think that “it’s all worthwhile”, or “oh yeah I get it…”? I am not sure if it is all worthwhile.

What caused you to work in oils? My teacher got me using them when I was 12/13. Later, I tried acrylics. They seemed plastic and cold.

Has your work changed much since your early efforts? I hope all the years and experience has changed the work for the better. I began by working from photos. From the early 1980’s, I worked from life.

Have your artistic influences altered over time (e.g. artists)? I have moved away from influences. I had several influences when I was young: Nolan, Van Gogh, Drysdale, Hockney, Alex Katz, Edward Hopper

You know you are successful in Visual Arts when… You have enough sales on a regular basis to take an annual holiday overseas, for several weeks and have no worries about the bills.

What can you tell us about your planning and making process for making art, and has that altered over the years? It has remained fairly constant. I see something that jumps out at me. I go back and do a drawing or painting of it. I take this to the studio and develop a large work.

Does creativity flow for you? It is not usually easy.

Do you have a personal description of “Art”? Art has been so debased in the past 40 years. Art for me needs to excite me visually, be beautiful and show skills.

Have you had any commissions? Yes, not a lot but several.

How important do you think craftsmanship is to artistic creation? Very important to me, not important to the art world.

Does the sale of your work support you? Yes, I live on my sales.

Creative streaks do they come in waves for you? I work, whether I am inspired or not.

Working towards an exhibition, is it a daunting task? It piles on the pressure, but that is what it takes to keep afloat.

Some say the lifespan of an “artist” post educationally is about five years, any thoughts on that? That seems about right. It is very tough.

Tell us about your connection to your subject matter, way of working, concepts etc? I look a lot at life at people’s relationships and their images.

What has been a turning point in your career thus far and why? I do not know about turning points. It seems to be a straight ahead slug.

If you could have any piece of artwork in your personal collection, what would it be and why? An Edward Hopper, ,”Western Motel”, 1957. It describes the contemporary life so well. It achieves so much of what I strive for in a painting., simplicity, story, description, light.

Have you had any “big breaks” in your career? I have several breaks in my career: having a book published on my work: having a survey exhibition at the Brisbane City Gallery: being collected by State Galleries: having great residencies.

All artists seem to have struggles, tell us about any you have had? Being an artist is a long struggle. The art world is not a loyal one. It is ruled by fashion and favouritism. There is no real security. The struggles are on going with occasional periods of reward.

Do you keep an Art Journal or Visual Diary of some kind? Yes.

What happens to works that “don’t work out”? I used to cut them up. These days, I work them into submission.

One thing you wish you had listened to from an art teacher or lecturer? “Don’t be an artist” from David Dridan, my first art teacher.

Do you have a personal philosophy that underpins your work? Do the best I can and keep it singing.

Do you aim to break the rules of basic composition, layout etc or do you ignore the “rules” and just create? I hope I have been instilled with a strong set of rules that come out in my work without effort.

Musical influences? Music is very important to me. I listen to crooners, to rock, to country, to R&B, to jazz, to classical.

What sort of depth or meaning is there behind the work you do? I hope depth and meaning come through in my work. I am not the one to say. I do not purposely put symbols into my work.

How important is it to you that your work communicates something to the viewer? I just want the viewer to connect to the work. The meaning is something that can be individual.

What can you say about your work that might not be evident to the viewer? It is from live subjects and actual places I have lived in or been to.

Has being involved in the arts proven to be a millstone or a point of elation? A millstone in many ways and a point of elation occasionally.

Art is about entertainment, experiment, inventiveness or shock for you? Inventiveness and skill.

If you stopped doing art right now would you miss it? Yes.

What discourages you from doing art? Lack of discretion in the art world.

Is motivation to work an issue for you and how do you overcome it? Yes, I should really be working now, instead of answering this, really! I just cut off a lot of stuff. I don’t have a mobile.

Do you have a challenge knowing when a work is finished? Not really. It seems obvious.

You know you have “made it as an artist” when… You have a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

The value of Visual Arts to you is… I am not sure.

Your first “decent” gallery representation, how did it come about? I was asked.

Your first show at a “gallery” you thought was of value, how was the whole thing for you? Disappointing. My first show was in NYC in 1979. Sales were nil and press nil too.

The business or marketing side of Art can be a challenge to some, what are your thoughts? It needs to be done but it is a time drain.

What is the most unexpected response you’ve received from a viewer of your work? A brick through the gallery window as protest.

Have you had much connection post sale with purchasers of your works? Yes, not a great deal though.

Tell us about getting caught in a creative “slump” and how you got out of it? Just go to the studio as if it were your job and do something.

Is your art, “art for art sake…” or a matter of “art for commercial viability?” It has to be a mix of both.

If you have been working as an artist for a while, how do you feel about earlier works that are in people’s collections / ownership? I always enjoy seeing them after a few years.

Name a book or books, which may have inspired your work as an artist? The Short Stories of John Cheever and the Bible.

If someone says to you “Oh your work is decorative and lacks any meaning…” your response would be…? That’s fine. It is hard to be decorative.

Tell us about your studio environment? It has grown too small and plans are now to double it. It is at home.

Otto Dix the German artist said (in part)… “All art is exorcism…” Is that the case for you? If so how… No, it is sometimes celebration and sometimes many other things.

Do the seasons affect your work or work habits? Yes, I like perfect weather to paint. Mild, sunny and no wind.

People around you (family friends etc.) what would they say about the way you work, the moods you have, your life as an artist etc? I get moody before a show and when I am not working.

Some artists are more “at home” isolated in their creative process, while others revel in being part of a group to bounce “ideas off” how about you? Isolated, mostly.

When you get the urge to create art because something has “pushed your button/s” how compelling is it for you? Very.

What is one thing you need to have in your studio before you work? Materials.

Do you prefer a perfect smooth technique or a more energetic expressive technique and why? More energetic, I like to see the surface as a part of the enjoyment of a painting.

How important is society, culture and or history to your work? Culture and society are important. I want some reflection of these in my work.

From your early beginnings at art school to now, how have things altered for you? I have grown up.

Is the making of art all it was “cracked up to be”? No.

How do you think art can change people or their perceptions? I don’t think it can.

Have you won any awards? Yes, a few.

Do you go into any contemporary art prizes, if so why? Not often but sometimes. It is not easy to stop other projects and focus on a subject for a prize. The chances of winning are slim and the time and cost are great.

Are you the sort of artist that seeks out promotional opportunities or one that shuns the limelight? To survive, one needs to seek out a certain amount of limelight, whether one likes it or not.

Technology (websites and social networking sites to name a few) seems to be an important marketing too,l is that the same for you? They seem to be necessary now, but they consume a lot of creative time, so they are a bit of a curse.

Do you aim to make “masterpieces”? No, I just slog on.

What is your working routine? I do not work late at night. I work from 10 am till 6.00 pm.

What do you love/hate about being an artist? I hate the art world and the people in it generally.

What advice would you give to an artist just starting out? Choose another career, or if you are callous enough, go right ahead.

Have you ever made an artistic pilgrimage? Yes, to Washington to see the Edward Hopper retrospective in 2007.

What do you think sets you apart from other artists in your approach to work etc… My sense of light and my consistency.

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Compiled and edited by Steve Gray © 2011+

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Check out our other Art Site http://artstuff.net.au Loaded with creativity boosters, professional development strategies, investing/collecting art and activities for Artists and Students…

An Archibald Journey

The following article is By Victorian Artist Peter Biram chronicling some of his “Archibald Journey” thanks Pete for your fascinating look at the Archibald Portrait Prize (An Australian Artistic Institution), this is a fantastic chance to see behind the scenes from an artists perspective… Take it away Pete…

Steve Gray

There is something special about the magic and frustration of the big prize known as the ‘Archibald Prize – My journey concerning entering the Prize over the past couple of years, has been a ‘double edged sword’. A story of joy and reward, and of disappointment. I feel with this statement I have just summed up the art world. But first let me take you back to the beginning, why enter the Archibald? Some say it’s “Nothing more than a chook raffle”, while other say “It’s the dunny of Australian art… attracting entries like odor attracts flies”.

I don’t share this view point, however a can see some strength in their argument. At the end of the day I feel the true strength of the argument lies in the fact we are opening up a wider avenue of dialogue, this in turn has to be good for Art.

Before I share my story with you it may be valuable to underpin this essay with a little background on the history of the Archibald…

The Archibald Prize originated with a charitable bequest endowed by Jules Francois Archibald in 1916. His will stipulates a portrait painted by any artist resident in Australasia, preferably of some one distinguished in Art, Letters, Science or Politics.

Jules François Archibald (1856 – 1919),

The Archibald Prize has a litigious history with many of its defining moments in the Courtroom. The most significant of these was the 1943 Dobell case in which artists challenged the winner on the grounds the work by Dobell was a caricature rather than a portrait. Less famous but possibly more importantly, the Bloomfield case, in which the Art Gallery Trustees took an artist to court when they found he had not painted the portrait from life.

Their position appeared to be in the interests of fairness and their legal obligations under the terms of the bequest the matter required Court action. No award in history has caused so much controversy as the Dobell case in 1943 over the Joshua Smith portrait, since then a lot of brave attempts have been made to be controversial, the Brett Whiteley Portrait, Self – Portrait in Studio, I felt hits the mark.

Each year the entry form is headed by an invitation by the Art Gallery of New South Wales trust to artists to ‘submit paintings in competition for the Archibald Prize’. They then quote the words of Archibald in which he mentions ‘painted’ and then they quote from the Bloomfield case judgement and state that ‘For the purposes of this Prize, the Trustees apply the definition of a portrait as determined in the judgement of 1983: “a picture of a person painted from life”.’ So each year the hunt is on sitters of note wanted to be painted and artists searching for the sitter “of note” hoping that the choice of sitter will give the artist an edge and will catch the judges eye.

Many Archibald contenders go to a great deal of trouble to seek out their sitters; some subjects being closely guarded secrets. There is no doubt a famous and well-liked public figure may increase an artist’s chances of being hung. As a challenge to myself some years I selected a worthy yet generally unknown subject, In  2007 I painted a good friend I have known more than 20 years. We moved into our house about 20 years ago and that’s when I met Robyn who lived next door.

Portrait of Dr Robyn Arianrhod 2007 Oil on Canvas

The background of the portrait was born out of our long-term friendship and the professional respect I have for Robyn – this is my fourth year of entering the Archibald portrait competition, and being both a writer and a scientist, Robyn is a perfect subject under the Archibald rules.

Both Robyn and I have a love and concern for the environment and I’ve tried to convey this in the painting. Robyn is sitting in a ‘personal space’ (being in a private garden). The garden represents a ‘micro’ response to ‘land use’ and this is contrasted with the ‘macro’ response in the right hand panel.

The composition is broken into two halves, in order to symbolize “mathematical balance”. There is also contrast between strength and femininity and an interesting juxtaposition of sensuality and the stereotypically male-dominated environment of mathematics.

The right side of the portrait contains a landscape, on one level it is juxtaposed against the portrait offering an extension as a narrative to the portrait; on the other hand it operates as a ‘stand alone’ landscape in its own right, the landscape reads as on the following layers –

  1. Mark making – On this level the viewer processes the work on a surface level, that is to say the paint texture and colour of the work. The work at this level can be read in decorative terms.
  2. Subject – At this level the viewer reads the work as a landscape, within this framework the observer can interpret the geometric forms as pure decoration.
  3. Conceptual Narrative – The current  body of work exploring the theme of ‘land ownership’ and ‘usage’ within an environmental framework. This relationship includes traditional and non-traditional interaction with the land. For example, within this theme of land ownership I am exploring the pressure placed on the land in an environmental sense both in a western/ European standpoint (the ‘Triangle’) and the koorie perspective, (the dots).

Within this theme I am exploring the fine balance that exists in the natural environment. This is to say “Order & Chaos” found within nature and the balance of power shifting between the two states.
The composition is deliberately broken into two sections symbolizing the two states of  chaos & order, the fine balance of nature is placed under pressure re land “caretakership”.

Within this framework I have explored both contemporary ownership symbolized by the triangle in the bottom half of the composition.(from a European standpoint)

The ‘hard edged’ nature of the triangle also represents past civilizations (the pyramids of Egypt) this presents a symbol of ‘land ownership’ in the sense of ‘branding’ the land.
I choose the triangle/pyramid shape because of its direct contrast to the soft organic nature of the bush motif. This also symbolizes human kind’s influence on the natural landscape.

The two triangles “together” also read as a symbol for a ‘black hole’ within the context of a universe the top triangle is a symbol for Steve Hawking’s theory on the ‘Dual Universe’. I use this as a metaphor for “Order & Chaos” and how one juxtaposes one against another, that is to say, as human beings our nature is to explore, from a ‘micro’ level, our backyard, to a ‘macro’ level our universe.

Myself & Robyn in front of the Portrait in the studio Above: the 2007 Archibald entry

Part of entering the Archibald, I believe, is the opportunity to raise ones profile, this seems to be a sticking point for many artists, and the question of how many hours in the week do I devote to the quest of building ones profile. Some say 50/50, others put aside one day a week others two, at this point I am not going to explore this question as this topic would produce another essay to do it justice. However I have found on the question of raising ones profile, the Archibald gives quite an advantage, to date I have not been successful as being selected as a finalist for the Archibald, but I have been selected as a finalist (five times) for the Salon Des Refuses. (Melbourne)

The Artists who submit for the Archibald and are not hung, are invited to submit the rejected work for the Salon des Refuses, which is in the tradition of the French impressionists of the 1860’s who held a breakaway exhibition from the French Academy.

In 2007 I was very fortunate, as not only was my portrait of Robyn selected for the Salon Des Refuses but also a portrait of myself painted by one of my students and now dear friend and artist Ursula Theinert

Myself & Ursula at the opening of “The Hidden Faces of the Archibald” Exhibition 2007

This was indeed special as I was able to share good fortune with my friends and family returning to the question of increasing ones profile, such is the power of the Archibald as one can tap into publicity even by absence of success in being a finalist in the big prize. I suppose at the end of the day the Archibald enables the emerging Artist to “make it” within certain circles of the art world.

Opening night of ‘The hidden Faces of the Archibald’

In 2009 I wanted to draw an analogy between sport and art, so I picked a sports star who had reached the top of his profession but I also wanted to pick someone who experiences the same frustration as I do.

Nathan’s broken records but hardly anyone knows about him. Despite holding the world record for the 50km walk, Nathan has been starved of the lucrative sponsorship and advertising opportunities that so many Australian sports people are afforded. If he was a swimmer of a footballer he’d have no problem. But he’s gone into debt and had to sell his car to keep himself going. I just think it’s tragic.

Nathan has seemingly been blocked out of the Australian sporting mainstream, emerging artists face a similar battle to have their work taken seriously among a host of perennial Archibald finalists.

I think a lot of people have been locked out of the Archibald, because by the time you get all the leading portrait painters together, there might only be room for one or two wildcards (in the final exhibition).

2008 Archibald entry “Nathan Deakes, Race Walker”

Myself standing in front of my painting of Nathan at the Salon Des Refuses, (the hidden of the Archibald)
and in the studio.

In 2006 the entry contained a little political bite, I painted  Channel Ten newsreader Mal Walden, kicking back after a bit of gardening, still resplendent in gumboots and shorts, holding a shovel with his fluffy little dog Gypsy to the side. Down next to the dog, is a seemingly innocuous rabbit, painted by Jessica, my daughter. Well, that rabbit has extra political bite, it was a comment on – level playing field, it’s not.

I entered the Archibald Prize before, but my portrait of media personality Roland Rocchiccioli was rejected.
The rabbit was my comment on the Archibald Prize entry process, where seemingly artists outside a certain circle of regular entrants are often “locked out”. A few years ago an artist entered a painting of a rabbit into the Archibald Prize, which is for portraits of a man or woman distinguished in art, letters, science or politics.

The Archibald is for paintings of distinguished people so how could a rabbit be in the Archibald? If the rabbit was used as a direct metaphor connected to the sitter I could understand, however at the time I thought the conceptual content regarding the choice of motif was a little ambiguous.

I think it’s the same every year, the same old names; Kerrie Lester, Jenny Sage, Robert Hannaford, Gary Shead. Their work is good but it’s the same artist’s every year.  What is this saying? That there’s no new talent in portrait painting in this country?  However I don’t want to be seen as having sour grapes about being rejected last year. It is simply saying “Try to open up a critical discourse and dialogue”. I like to describe the criticism as a “double edged sword”.

The Archibald is about controversy and I love the Archibald because we can criticise it. That’s what I love about being Australian, we like having a go at the establishment and while I worship the Archibald – and would worship it even more if I won it – it should be able to stand up to criticism. An artist’s job is to act as a commentator on what’s happening.

I think most artists probably feel the same way as I do (about the Archibald Prize) but if they feel they’re being gagged then they’re not doing their job. However my entry is not simply a criticism of the Archibald Prize, It’s multi-layered, it’s basically about Mal’s passion which is gardening.  Secondly, it’s about personal space and changing. The painting is about how nothing stays the same on a personal level, in a changing garden.

Then on a macro-level things are changing. In Australia there’s environmental change, pressure on land created by how we use it, as well as issues such as salinity and clear felling. And as for that little rabbit, the innocent little bunny that represents criticism of the Archibald Prize, there is another story behind it. When I knocked on Mal’s door, this cute little dog came bounding down the hallway. I straight away thought I wanted to paint the dog. The dog had a toy rabbit in its mouth.

An article from the Melbourne Age 2006 with the portrait of Mal Walden

At the end of the day I believe it’s about giving it a go, its like theatre, the stage, performing to an audience, putting all on the line and waiting for feedback, if any.

As you can see in the above article, Peter encourages his students to be involved in the Archibald prize, to see more evidence of this take a look at this link. Scroll down on that page to see the articles and learn more about artists and students at work. Particularly of interest is this from a Gippsland Victoria Regional TV station.