Portraits of the artists…

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A couple of weeks ago I got to hear a great new recording by a duo calling themselves Maniac. They consist of Jake Grigg, erstwhile guitarist and vocalist of Central Coast indie rock band Something With Numbers, and Shawn Harris, former guitarist and vocalist with California band The Matches. I then got had the pleasure of interviewing Jake about their new recording – an excellent five-track EP entitled Extended Play – for Live To Ride magazine. There’ll be a fine interview with the band in the next issue of that publication. But during our chat, we got talking about the band’s art, beginning with the band logo – a kind of sloppily executed rifle sight. I’ll pick up the interview where Jake told me about it. But first, enjoy the clip to ‘Die Rad’. And then appraise the symbol. And then start reading!

 

 

  Symbol

JAKE GRIGG: Yep, it’s similar to that. It looks a bit like an ‘anarchy’ sign as well.

Shawn is an artist. He’s actually a great artist and we’re putting on a show next week. He does all the art for all our stuff. I’m not really an artist but that’s the only thing I’ve ever drawn. For some reason we needed a symbol, and I can draw a circle and an upside down cross. Hang on and I’ll hand you over to Shawn so he can talk about his art.

SHAWN HARRIS: You asked about the symbol? That’s Jake’s masterpiece. But I just want to say that Jake’s the best artist’s subject. I’ve just done a roomful of paintings of his head, seven feet tall. He has the weirdest face. Have you ever looked at Jake’s face? It’s the weirdest thing: he just has all this surface area, and then all his features are in the middle. From painting him, I’ve measured it out, and it’s… wow! You can’t forget it. It breaks all the rules, man.

JAKE GRIGG: I do have the weirdest face.

Dom Romeo: I look forward to you featuring in the Archibald Prize some time soon, but back to the symbol: I suspect it may come to the point where you won’t have to have the name. A t-shirt with just the symbol will say the same thing, kind of like the Radio Birdman symbol.

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JAKE GRIGG: Exactly right. And I’ve been asked before, “What does it mean?” To us, it means the fun that we’re trying to exude out of the music. Every time I look at it, I get that same feeling of fun. We wanted something that people could see and just get that same feeling as hearing the music. But it is just a circle and an upside down cross.


Shawn’s paintings, it turned out, were being exhibited at Blank_Space on Crown Street, beginning Saturday 12th. I turned up for the opening, where I got to interview Shawn and Jake, this time mainly about art.

Dom Romeo: Jake, I know that you designed the Maniac logo, which is the circle and the cross, and there is one artwork that you did, of the circle and the cross…

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JAKE GRIGG: How could you tell?!

Dom Romeo: It’s the one that’s not got any other paint on it…

JAKE GRIGG: Yeah, exactly. It was a very inspirational piece – something I put a lot of time and effort into.

Dom Romeo: I also like the portrait of the two of you nude…

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JAKE GRIGG: Thank you very much. That was actually inspired by both of us naked. It was very inspirational. We stood still in front of a mirror for about 30 minutes and I stroked him.

SHAWN HARRIS: The brush!

JAKE GRIGG: The brush! I stroked the brush…

Dom Romeo: Now, Shawn, what I like is that there’s a painting that you did that has the logo on it, where you’ve gone to great trouble to reproduce the look of it being painted on. It’s a very ‘modern art’ thing1 – tell me about that.

SHAWN HARRIS: I was pretty diligent in recreating the organic brush strokes of Jake’s original, yes. I just got in there with a really fine sable and drew in all of the imperfections if you had done the original logo like Jake did.

Dom Romeo: And along with the logo, the two portraits are… I don’t even know what you call that style…

SHAWN HARRIS: I think the one you’re referring to is probably the most ‘pop art’ of all the pieces. It’s three shades; it’s really almost made straight for silk screen, you know?

JAKE GRIGG: It’s my favourite!

SHAWN HARRIS: Mine too, hey!

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Dom Romeo: Now, I don’t know much about art, but you can clearly paint – and I shouldn’t sound so surprised when I say that – but did you train as an artist?

SHAWN HARRIS: Yeah, until I got completely and wonderfully side-tracked with touring and playing music. I was in art school, en route to being an animator for Walt Disney, which I’d decided I wanted to do when I was about three years old. I wanted to work for Walt Disney. And then I found out he wasn’t alive any more and started playing the guitar and everything changed.

JAKE GRIGG: He’s frozen now!

Dom Romeo: He is frozen!2

SHAWN HARRIS: The only reason I would every leave Maniac is if they thaw Walt Disney and he hires me personally.

JAKE GRIGG: I’ll make sure that never happens. Never happens! I’ll blow up the sun before that happens.

Dom Romeo: Do you paint a lot?

SHAWN HARRIS: I do, yes. I’ve acquired something of a habit of painting to support myself because music pays sometimes and most of the time it really doesn’t. So instead of being a barback or, ah…

JAKE GRIGG: A storage king…

SHAWN HARRIS: … a storage king, or selling coat hangers to old people, like most of my friends do – who also are amazing musicians – I have somehow winged it with my graphic design company.

Dom Romeo: What’s your graphic design company?

SHAWN HARRIS: It’s called Oxen. The website’s www.oxenoxen.com

Dom Romeo: What do you fall back on in hard times, Jake?

JAKE GRIGG: I fall back on…

SHAWN HARRIS: Me!

JAKE GRIGG: Yeah, exactly. I fall back on Shawn, hopefully, selling some art.

Dom Romeo: I assume this series was painted here, in the process of recording the EP and the 31 other tracks that are yet to be released in some other form…

SHAWN HARRIS: Definitely. One of the pieces is basically a ‘remix’ painting of the digital paintings that is our EP cover. So it’s this really sloppy, stoned, crazy, colourful piece based on that one.

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Dom Romeo: I like the drips on that!

SHAWN HARRIS: Yeah, me too. I got right into letting that one be what it was aiming to be. I just kind of moved out of the way for that one; it painted itself.

Dom Romeo: They’re all portraits; did anything abstract come out of the time you were recording?

SHAWN HARRIS: Um… we could play you some tracks that could probably be categorised as ‘abstract’…

Dom Romeo: A lot of musicians come out of the art school milieu – Ian Dury for example was a great British artist who was a musician as well…

SHAWN HARRIS: David Bowie showcases his stuff all the time.

Dom Romeo: Paul McCartney and John Lennon both went to art college. Was music always there in the background when you were a kid, wanting to draw?

SHAWN HARRIS: Music always was, absolutely. This is a weird reference, I don’t know if either of you guys know it, but Harry Nilsson actually did a soundtrack for an animation called The Point. That was actually my favourite record as a kid. Since then, I think Blackalicious has sampled it and made a hip hop song out of it – the song ‘Me And My Arrow’. That was my favourite thing as a kid. Then I come to find out, as I get a bit older, Harry Nilsson was a bit of a protégé of John Lennon, recorded an album with John producing…

Dom Romeo: Pussy Cats

SHAWN HARRIS: Yeah, an amazing album… It’s really funny. The stage that me and Jake are at right now – all roads lead back to Mecca. Whether it’s these paintings or it’s music that we’re creating, all of our references seem to point back to those first records that we heard, before we even knew what was pop, what was rock, what was cool, what was not cool, what our parents listened to or what our neighbours who worked on cars in the garage and had long black hair and tattoos listened to, had no concept of any genre of music or anything – those first songs that connected to us are coming back to be huge influences.

Dom Romeo: What are they? Give me some examples.

SHAWN HARRIS: Like I said…

JAKE GRIGG: Carole King, man…

SHAWN HARRIS: …Harry Nilsson, The Point

JAKE GRIGG: Carole King, Tapestry.

SHAWN HARRIS: Tapestry. I heard that album a million times, and Jake’s been playing it non-stop for the past month and I know every word, like, ‘Damn, man, I was seriously raised on this…,’ you know?

Dom Romeo: Now, you mentioned David Bowie; there’s one track on the EP that the saxophone to me…

Die Rad (Bowiesque sax line)

SHAWN HARRIS: Ha ha!

Dom Romeo: …sounds exactly like David Bowie playing it.           

SHAWN HARRIS: Yes, man, yes!

JAKE GRIGG: Yeah!

SHAWN HARRIS: I’m a flute player myself – that was my first instrument. But it’s actually the same fingering as the sax. So I’ve been working on my chops: I want to play that so bad. I’m not up to speed yet.

JAKE GRIGG: We’ll probably get Bowie to do it.

SHAWN HARRIS: We’ll probably get Bowie.

Dom Romeo: It does sound like it came straight off one of his ’70s albums.

SHAWN HARRIS: That’s the best compliment you could give us, man! A good friend of ours, Matt Appleton, played sax on the EP.

JAKE GRIGG: We said, ‘Sound like Bowie!’ He’s really good at emulating that.

Dom Romeo: I didn’t mention Captain Beefheart when I was listing the musicians who paint. The guy’s a professional artist. He won’t go back to music because it took him too long to be respected as a painter.

SHAWN HARRIS: Really? Well, I’ll always go back to music.

JAKE GRIGG: And if he doesn’t, I’ll always make sure he does, some way or another.

SHAWN HARRIS: Listen, as long as there’s music, there’s visual art. The two will always go hand-in-hand and I will never be in a position where I feel like I have to choose between the two. But if I did, I’d choose music.

Dom Romeo: Now, Jake, I don’t want you to be offended, but I heard someone who was admiring the exhibition say, ‘If I could, I’d have Shawn paint my portrait’.

JAKE GRIGG: I’m offended!

SHAWN HARRIS: Ha ha!

Dom Romeo: Now, Shawn, I don’t want you to be offended.

SHAWN HARRIS: Okay, okay, okay.

Dom Romeo: If I could, I’d have Jake paint my portrait.

SHAWN HARRIS: Yes! It’s like Jake’s got that primal genius, man. He’s just showed up, just figured out how to use a wheel and some fire and taps straight to the source. That’s why I write songs with him, because he does that with music as well.

Dom Romeo: Gentleman, I think that’s an awesome ending for a great interview. Thank you very much!

SHAWN HARRIS: Thank you.

JAKE GRIGG: Thanks heaps, mate. Cheers.

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Footnotes

1) See Lichtenstein's Yellow and Red Brushstrokes, 1966, in which brushstrokes are depicted, but with no actual brush strokes showing… (read Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word for more information).

2) Or is he? Apparently, Disney being cyogenically frozen is an urban legend. Well, that's what Wikipedia says, so who knows?



Glewing personage to the flag

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Pam Glew is an English artist exhibiting in Australia for the first time. Her work frequently consists of portraits, inspired by cinema, executed via non-traditional methods (ie not just paint) on richly textured surfaces.

In between Pam loading a van full of her newly framed artwork, and driving it to the gallery to be hung, I had the pleasure of interviewing her over a coffee.

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Dom Romeo: The first thing that stands out about your work is that it’s mixed media – you use things like flags and you sew things onto them. But you also use ‘traditional art practices’. What do ‘traditional art practices’ entail?

PAM GLEW: The traditional art techniques that I use are painting, and craft techniques like sewing, appliqué and embroidery. Kind of ‘womens’ work’, I guess.

I quite like that whole 1950s ‘women’s work’ idea where you use something very ‘domestic’, but put it in an art context. It’s making craft a little bit sexy. I like the idea of not being a painter, not being a craftsperson, not fitting in any genre, but floating between a few.

My art’s a little bit like sculpture because it is pieces of work in a room; it’s a bit like working with space. But the craft techniques are in there, and they’re used with so many layers – everything’s sewn, dyed, embroidered, bleached, sewn again, then mended and then distressed. I use sandpaper and vintage materials, so it’s kind of wrecked and then mended. Those processes make it like painting, but in a new, contemporary context. By using bleach and dye it’s not easily comparable with paintings that are painted with oil. I think of oil painting as a traditional painting technique, whereas I tend to use so many techniques that it’s like a new style, a new way of painting.

Dom Romeo: What brought you to that? Was there a movement that inspired you, or was it borne of something else? Because you are crossing borders – you are transgressing boundaries and moving into new places.

PAM GLEW: Originally, I studied art, but I also studied theatre. Theatre is inter-disciplinary. You’ve got set design, costume design, prop design; working with actors and directors… I was quite used to being a scene painter one day and a costume dresser the next day. That isn’t a movement – but there’s certainly a movement in Europe with Tracey Emin and people that work on fabric and blankets – Annette Messager and that whole kind of thing. I guess it’s post modernism, but I think of it as pop art in a way. So it has references to the Andy Warhol world of celebrity and representing people in a very ‘clean portrait’ kind of way. My work references 1970s realism as well. There are connections with pop art and contemporary textiles. Although I’m not too comfortable with being thought of as a ‘textile’ artist; it’s a kind of painting that happens to use fabrics.

Dom Romeo: You tend to like to use national flags. In a world that likes to point fingers and find scapegoats and use the flag as something to condemn people as proof of disloyalty or treason… why flags? How flags? And what’s been the reaction to flags?

PAM GLEW: Before I worked on fabrics and flags, I worked on metal – on copper. So I was quite used to using vintage and antique and distressed – ‘old’ – pieces of material before I made a painting. I would never want to work on a white canvas because it hasn’t got any history.

I had a few years of using metal, and September 11th happened, and there was a lot of ‘fear’ culture around America. So I wanted to use American flags because it had a resonance and a real kind of… ‘shock’ value. I guess it’s kind of a ‘shock art’. The ‘American Flag’ series that I did was sort of designed to shock, but it was also a reference to terrorism and fear culture. I did a lot of women looking shocked on American flags – looking numb and disbelieving. I referenced lots of horror films.

I started off using the American flag and then moved to using European flags – French flags, Union Jacks. I realised that there’s something beautiful about using a flag: it’s got history and it’s got resonance that people recognise instantly. Because it’s to do with heritage, it impacts people on their gut instinct, rather than their brain. They don’t really have to pull it apart intellectually, they can see it. It says more to them about their history quickly – it speeds up. Rather than doing a painting of a flag, it’s already there, so there’s quite a lot to work with.

Dom Romeo: The core elements that you’re bringing together will mean different things to different people. To a degree, different people will come and see your work and read different things into it depending on what the flag means to them, and what the images on them – celebrities or otherwise – mean to them as well. What have the reactions been?

PAM GLEW: The first show I did with American flags was in a provincial gallery in England. It was in a window in quite a conservative area but it was an American flag – and I’d burnt it – I use heat guns. Maybe the burning of the American flag had quite a lot of controversy around it because they pelted the window with eggs. The gallery had to take it down every night because they were scared.

Dom Romeo: I would have been photographing the egg-pelted glass as well, and making that an artwork! Do you remember the big concert and celebration after 9/11 – one of the things they did was present a burnt flag retrieved from ground zero. Sometimes a burnt flag is cool – depends who’s burnt it and why. You are opening up a whole lot of area of debate – should people want to pursue it – with your art.

PAM GLEW: That’s one way to see it. A lot of Americans have bought my work on flags and think of it as glorifying the American flag. At the beginning I wanted it to be more of a political statement – not in any way anti-American, but anti-fear culture because I felt that America and Europe were producing quite a lot of fear around this terrorist attack.

It’s grown a lot more general because I’ve started creating flags in a much more loving way. I’ve made a few flags that have a lot of work in them, so it does end up coming full circle, going from subverting it to kind of glorifying it. Especially the Australian flag series – I feel I’ve been a bit more of a worshiper than subverting it. The Kylie flag and the Dannii flag are more of a celebration.

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Dom Romeo: I kind of like what’s going on there, because you’re an English artist, painting ex-pat Aussie artists who have adopted England as home, on the Aussie flag, which began as an English flag and still contains the English flag among its Aussie elements…

PAM GLEW: Yeah, the Union Jack being a big part of the Australian flag. I kind of wanted to explore whether the Union Jack needed to be on the Australian flag, because when I think about Australia, I always think about the night sky and seeing it from the other side of the world. A lot of the flags I made were to do with the star constellations and the Southern Cross and how the stars work. They all ended up being very blue. I use denim a lot because I like vintage denim. It’s got a kind of wealth of history and it references Americana and that kind of work ethic, and Australian lifestyle.

But the Union Jack is a funny one. I’m not sure if Australians like that they’ve got a quarter of their flag taken up by this flippin’ Union Jack. Does it need to be there? I don’t know.

Dom Romeo: That’s a debate that still rages: should it have the Aboriginal flag in it? Should it be the Aboriginal flag?

PAM GLEW: The Aboriginal flag is a beautiful thing as well. Colour-wise, it doesn’t go with the Australian flag. I kept it quite simple. I’ve made quite a few Australian flags. I’ve also made a few flags that are denim, just with stars. They’re sort of ‘shield’ flags, portrait-way around, that have just a few stars on a blue background. They’re quite simple and quite pure. The Dannii Minogue flag has bits of the American flag because of her fame in America. But making a Kylie flag – she’s so massive in England, I had to have the Union Jack on that one.

Dom Romeo: So the American Flag artwork’s been accepted with a different attitude, at the same time as you’ve started making them more out of love. Were you conscious of a change in your approach, and is that what changed the art and the response it receives?

PAM GLEW: I guess maybe it’s public opinion. When George [W.] Bush was in power, there was quite a lot of anger around. A lot of people in Europe couldn’t work out why George Bush was in power. Now with Obama in America, there’s a sort of change – there’s certainly a sea change of public opinion. It’s to do with the current climate. I guess I changed my view of America and changed my view of what I was saying in work – whether I was angry or not. Maybe I’m not quite as angry as I was a few years ago.

Dom Romeo: Your work isn’t all flags, though, is it?

PAM GLEW: I kind of think of it as paintings on flags or textiles or fabric. It’s not all flags. I do printmaking on vintage fabric. But it’s all fabric-based.

Dom Romeo: Tell me about vintage fabric. I wouldn’t know a vintage fabric; I’d know a vintage dress by the shape and print on it. But I wouldn’t recognize vintage fabric. Tell me about it – what constitutes vintage fabric? Where do you find it? What do you do with it?

PAM GLEW: I use anything that’s quite thick, like linen or ticking – which is like stripy linen – and also brocade. I use this brocade that’s very thick – almost like upholstery or curtaining fabric. But it’s got to be – I don’t know – at least twenty or thirty years old in order to not look too chintzy. There’s nothing worse than going to a fabric shop and using new fabrics. It always looks very wrong.

I source them through flea markets, antique shops, second-hand shops… eBay even comes up with good stuff sometimes. And friends give me a lot of things. I use denim. I started off using all my jeans. Then friends donate really interesting old, ripped up denim jeans that they’ve got. It’s good because I’m making work that has a heritage, and also, I can recognise people in it. ‘That’s the pocket of the jeans that I loved, that I used for five years…’ It’s got more humanity to it. It references people in my life.

Dom Romeo: You studied drama as well as art. Where did you study?

PAM GLEW: I went to Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama in England. We call it ‘Rosie B’. It was a drama school, full of actors and musicians and directors and designers. I was a designer for a few years. There were costume makers and prop makers, and it was like working in an in-house theatre. We had three theatre buildings. We used to do productions all the time. That was kind of my training after art school. We were getting an education, but we were working from eight in the morning to 11:00, 12:00 at night. It was good for building up a work ethic. It was a good team, but I did tend to work with so many different materials that I was able to explore how to do set design with fabric and metal, and what happens when you distress different fabrics and metals.

That’s probably part of why I do what I do that isn’t traditional painting. Maybe if I went to traditional painting art school I’d be doing painting in the traditional way, but because I came round about it in a very strange direction, that’s why I do what I do.

Dom Romeo: You said you worked with metal for a while. Why did you move on? Was it just easier to work with fabric? Or was it easier to access fabric?

PAM GLEW: It was easier to work with. I used to go to scrap yards and have to chat up the scrap yard men, to go, ‘can I have this bit of copper?’ or ‘this bit of aluminium?’ or ‘can I have this bit of steel?’ And then, I’d have a taxi waiting, and I’d be like, ‘Do you mind if you carry it in to the taxi, because I can’t lift it’. And then I’d get to the other end and be having to ask my boyfriend and all his mates to carry it into the flat. It was just ridiculous. But it looked great. I did quite a few commissions for public spaces in metal. But in a way, it’s real pain-in-the-arse material to use. My hands were always cut and I’d always bash my toe and stuff.

Dom Romeo: That was my next comment – here you are bare-armed, I don’t see any scars. Are you sure you worked with metal?

PAM GLEW: That was a good few years ago – they’ve healed. It was about nine or ten years ago.

I started exhibiting locally and then nationally, and then I wanted to do shows that were further afield, and shipping a piece of heavy steel or copper hundreds of miles is just insane. I wanted to exhibit internationally, and there was no way I could do a show in America or in Australia, still working with heavy metal. It would have been difficult. Fabric’s great: you either frame it, or you roll it.

Dom Romeo: And needle-stick injuries are as bad as it gets.

PAM GLEW: Mmm. I’ve sewn through my finger a couple of times, but that’s okay, you get over it. You just pull it out.

Dom Romeo: Why are you exhibiting in Australia now? Why now? How?

PAM GLEW: Dom [Dominic Rowswell] from Bicker Gallery organised an exhibition for me when he lived in Bristol. I’d already worked with him there. He did a few pop-up shows in Bristol before that and after that. So I’m kind of used to working with him. And he emigrated to Sydney on the proviso that I could have a show.

Recently I did a few shows in LA; this year I’ve got shows in Paris and London. I exhibit internationally anyway, but I’ve never exhibited south of the equator. So this is my first show in the Southern Hemisphere.

Dom Romeo: Tell me briefly – bleach and dye. You’ve told me why they’re interesting to work with, but did they come out of the process of costuming or set design?

PAM GLEW: No. I used to do quite a lot of theatre designs that would look like an installation. I’d use mud and straw, or I’d use metal. I’d use organic materials. And then when I work on metal, I used to oxidize copper with bleach. So Domestos was always my main art material. Then when I followed on to working with fabric, the first flag I did, I burnt with a heat gun, and it filled my studio with black smoke and I got a lot of complaints so I realised burning flags wasn’t the way forward; the next step for me was to integrate a face into the flag. Dying and bleach seemed like the natural way because painting on fabric is always going to look crap. It has to look like it’s integrated into the fabric like a ghost, rather than painted on top.

Flags have got such hardy chemical dyes that you can dye them black and then bleach them and it doesn’t get rid of the red, white and blue. That’s why I use bleach, because flags are pretty invincible.

Dom Romeo: Part of your work is also inspired by cinema. Tell me about the cinematic side.

PAM GLEW: I started working with the idea of the image of women in film, which is quite a cinematic cliché, but I wrote my dissertation about the images of women in film. I was engrossed in watching films on pause and seeing the times when actors are not really acting – they’re just being themselves. When you slow it down, you can see parts of themselves coming out in the little ways they look at the camera – it might not be acting anymore. From then, the year 2000 – ten years ago – I was photographing women in film on pause, but I didn’t quite know how to make that into an artwork.

I like watching horror films: 1960s, 1970s American horror films and also zombie films – George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead…– and also quite obscure Italian horror films. Horror always appeals to me – especially the way the camera always sees the film through the women’s eyes. It’s always the victim’s eyes. And people always ask me why I always do women. It’s probably because in film, you always see through the male’s gaze. You rarely see a real, extreme close-up of a male looking beautiful and scared. You never see that. But it’s quite seductive, that kind of look. It’s a bit dark. We shouldn’t be seduced by a woman looking scared, but we are. Women looking scared but beautiful is always a winner for me.

For the Australian show I looked at Australian film. I watched Wolf Creek and Rabbit Proof Fence. I’ve also started doing celebrities, but looking like they’re on screen. The Kylie piece for example, looks as though she’s in a horror film because it’s very dark but it has that extreme lighting, extreme contrast. Even if the origins aren’t from a film, they end up looking a bit filmic; cinematic.

Dom Romeo: Now, I’m going to go out on a limb. I haven’t explored this theory since I was a student.

You brought up postmodernism. Part of PoMo theory is about transgressing borders.

There’s the object, ‘A’, and it’s ‘other’ that isn’t the object, ‘not-A’. In horror, the other is different. Rather than it being ‘not-A’ it’s a combination of ‘A’ and ‘not-A’ – that’s what the ‘fantastic’ is, something somewhere in between – a mixture of both that’s not either.

Your art transgresses borders – it’s not this sort of art or that sort of art, it’s somewhere in between. And in horror film – the horrific – is the somewhere in between; and that moment of the actor who’s not quite in character and not quite herself, but is somewhere in between. I’m seeing a through-line here. If I had to write a thesis about you, or if someone had to, some years hence, that might be a starting point.

PAM GLEW: God forbid!


Pam Glew’s exhibition Luminaries runs May 6 - 22 at Bicker Gallery, 443 Oxford Street. Opening night May 6, 6.30-10.00pm; Artist talk May 12, 6.30-8.00pm.


What price art?

Or: Some people just can’t take criticism!
Or: ‘Guess who don’t stew’

I was scrolling through the Facebook ‘home’ page, trolling through friends’ status updates – my comments are where I do some of my best work, quite frankly – when I came across an update from someone I’d obviously friended but didn’t recognise. He’d just started a new endeavour, and was spruiking for a logo. I’ve edited to make it less industry-specific.

Owner of the Facebook: To celebrate the new company, I want to give all of you the chance to help design the new logo. I’m looking for the most talented designers. Remember, your work could be seen by lots of people. The only requirement is that it features the specific figure. GOOD LUCK!!


Now I’m not the cleverest capitalist. In fact, my level of generosity makes me appear more socialist, or possibly just foolish, but I couldn’t help noticing there was no mention of recompense or return for work being requested. So I made a comment.

Me: Wow, you make it sound like by encouraging people to work for free, you’re somehow doing them a favour!


This riled the owner of the Facebook, and even though I consider it justified, in hindsight, I can understand why someone who seemed to want something for nothing might be upset about it (like, if they were in denial that that’s what they wanted; or if they knew full well, but still hoped people were happy to give stuff up).

Owner of the Facebook: There's always got to be one!!!! The reason I'm asking people on MY FACEBOOK is because people here are creative and it’s something I know they would like to do. Thanks for your comment. Very encouraging.


Someone else agreed with my interpretation of the original status update.

Someone else: Dom is right, though.

Call it what it is - a competition, a freebie, a piece of your folio for a young designer, or a paid job.
Making the incentive clear whether it’s design or unpaid crewing is a good idea.

Good luck with the endeavours, though.


See, what I know about copyright is this: if someone’s paying for your creativity, they own what you produce while under their employ, unless a legal agreement states otherwise. If you’re not being paid, you own what you do. So I think it’s messy, working for free, creating a logo for someone to use anywhere and everywhere for ever and ever amen.

But I must also admit, my Stand & Deliver logo was never paid for. My mate Nick O’Sullivan drew it for me. If he ever wants to turn around and demand financial restitution, I have to give it to him. Or possibly face a court battle. I am grateful that when I asked him to draw it, he was happy to do so as a favour. I didn’t attempt to hoodwink him by making it sound like I was doing him the massive favour, when he was clearly doing me one. I will always owe him for it.

For my next reply in this status update thread, I acknowledged that I was addressing the Owner of the Facebook  publicly. And that I’d understand if he felt the need to remove my public replies. But I was addressing  his tone, rather than him personally, and as I was about to go in a bit harder, I would do so privately.

Here is what I mailed to him:

Me: I assure you, there’s more than just one unemployed talented person who'd take issue with creating work of value for nothing.

However, as I pointed out, it’s your tone – which sounds like every shyster who has convinced talented people bereft of an outlet to work for free – which appears disingenuous. (Again, note I wrote ‘every shyster’, not ‘every other shyster’; I'm not saying you are one, only that you sound like one.)

My comment is encouraging you to treat talented people with more respect. You’re asking them to do you a favour. Not the other way around just yet.

But as you point out, this is YOUR FACEBOOK. If my comments are offensive to you, by all means, delete them.


I was expecting a good discussion, one that, if shown the folly of my ways, I’d be forced to publically apologise after. I’ve had to before, I’ll have to again. No shame – feeling strongly about stuff, I argue strongly about stuff and learn important lessons about stuff. May life always be an education.

Instead, I got this response:

Owner of Facebook: Hi Dom, sorry but I have removed you as a friend on my facebook. I like to encourage people on my facebook to be creative. What you didn't know was the fact that there was a reason why I didn’t add any type of payment.... I wanted those people that still believe art is more important. A cash bonus was on the cards as well as some industry junkets, dvds and credit. I’m just not a person who likes any kind of hostile comments towards people who actually want to be involved. I’m sure you can understand.


Understand? ‘Empathy’ is my middle name. Or would be, if I had one. Actually, if I had one, it would probably be Shakespearean, like my Christian name (‘Demetrius’) and surname (‘Romeo’) – so I’d be Demetrius Yorick Romeo or Demetrius Falstaff Romeo or maybe even Demetrius Othello Romeo or if I were very unlucky, Demetrius Bottom Romeo. But whichever way I might be named, I assure you, I’d change it by deed poll to Demetrius Empathy Romeo at my earliest convenience, because yes, I understand.

Me: I do understand, but I hope you understand where I was coming from. You sounded like you were exploiting people. I think I was very balanced in how I let you know that, and I made my very valid, though most pointed, comments to you privately. Heck, we both could have done well if you'd removed my comments rather than friendship status. But I do understand. My mind’s open. And I don’t exploit anyone.

Oh, and re-reading, I’m forced to point out – my hostile comments were to the guy sounding like a shyster, not to the ‘creative people’ he sounded like he was about to exploit.


At this point, the Owner of the Facebook had unfriended me, so I couldn’t access his page any longer, and he had the last word:

His Facebook: hmmmm. exactly my point. ;)

So that’s the point: the guy seeming to do the exploiting won’t be criticised. He’s happy to put creatives to the test, to ‘play god’ as it were, but is beyond reproach. Ironically, he too is a creative. There’ll be a time when the stuff he does will be ‘reviewed’ by the public at large and professional critics. That’ll require a somewhat thicker skin. At least there’ll no doubt be a good, cheap logo in place by then.

Should I fear he may seek legal redress for this blog? Nah, this is my art, my creative outlet. Owner of the Facebook believes in art for art’s sake and would be disappointed if finance came into it. Bless.


ADDENDUM

If he hadn’t blocked me on his Facebook, I’d be sending him this link.


Bosom Buddy

I was shopping in an inner city boutique with a mate, looking at the big, arty books while she was working through the clothing racks, when one weighty tome in particular caught my eye – a big, hardcover book published by Taschen. There was no question as to my immediate course of action – I bounded over to where my friend was comparing skirts and tops on coat hangers, and announced, “I’ve just discovered The Big Book of Breasts, so please, take your time”.

“Okay,” she said, laughing, as she continued to work her way along the clothing rack. I was already back at The Big Book of Breasts, admiring the double-layered dust jacket: the outer-most layer was a clear, thick plastic, upon which was printed a sexy black bra. Beneath, on the thick paper jacket, was the naked body, perfectly positioned so you could remove the bra. Nice.

Before we left the shop, my friend decided to check out the book herself. Its initial pages contained the kind of vintage porn that, nowadays, amazes more than – ahem – titillates, not least of all because of the impressive size and shape of some of the examples of mammalian protuberance so depicted. We’re talking big, but real, so not that carbon copy silicon shape deemed ‘perfect’ by standards of modern media. Impressively, I thought, I was able to contain my base urge to declare how much “I’d love her to shine my shoes, topless,” indicating just about any one of the women depicted. Indeed, I even managed to refrain from the standard warning, that “you could have someone’s eye out with that!”

My friend made an interesting observation, though, when she said, “Gosh! Her nipple’s bigger than my whole breast!” That, I suppose, is the kind of statement best made by one of the women to whom the comparison pertains, although you’re in a privileged position if you are the third party who can get away with making the same and still sound like a perfect gentleman.

Later on I decided that I never, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever, be they via the pages of a great big arty book of vintage porn done up as tasteful social anthropology, the result of a life drawing class, or just a bizarre set of circumstances that leads to a spatial contiguity I would never normally arrive at without imbibing controlled substances, do I ever want to be in a position where I can say – in front of anyone – “gee, that guy’s fireman’s helmet is…”

Well, you know what I’m saying.


Got it covered!


filmink


My buddy Nick O’Sullivan perpetrated this excellent caricature for the cover of FilmInk, which I snapped as a lead sheet on display outside of a newsagent’s in Newtown.

Nick has certainly nailed the Michael Moore caricature as well as that of George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden. However, turning George Dubya and Osama into a composite by making them kiss is excellent. It reminds me of something a friend of mine once said over too many glasses of wine (and as there were too many glasses of wine, I will never remember the series of tangential leaps that could make a reminiscence such as the one that is to follow fit into a conversational context). She said that when she was a little girl, she used to insist on making her cat and dog ‘kiss’ by forcibly bringing their muzzles together. Her pets didn’t particularly like this, but she’d make ’em do it anyway. When she told me about it, she even followed through with a ‘didn’t you used to do that with your pets?’

No. Never.

But I like the fact that Moore seems to be forcing the same indignity upon a fairly deserving pair of performing monkeys.

I was reminded of this caricature over the weekend when I awoke to the news report that some terrorist blogger had named Australian soil as an imminent venue for his or her next religious hoedown.

Could this be an agent provocateur giving our Minister for Foreign Affairs and (Free) Trade, the Right Hon. Alexander Downer, an opportunity to actually publicly intercept a terrorist warning and act upon it openly, so that he can actually look as though he is doing his job before an election?

Or has Paul McCartney foolishly booked himself into another Australian tour that he’s going to want to pull out of because of lack of ticket sales, and then realised that, unless Ringo seriously gets back onto the sauce, there will be no memorial to a former colleague that he will have to use valuable Australian tour schedule time to rehearse in?

Neither, most likely.

I think it’s a reaction to Nick’s great artwork.

I’m just not sure if it’s Bush taking offence, Bin Laden taking offence, or Moore taking the opportunity to create some material for his next flick, given that he’s such a heavy-handed ‘documenter’ of events.


nozzycover


Chris Wyatt’s Myall Creek Series


myallcreek


Artist Chris Wyatt is a mate of Ric, who owns Egg Records, so I got to know him through his occasional visits to the store. In 2000, he had an exhibition of his ‘Myall Creek’ paintings in Newtown. I went along to quaff wine and pretend I knew something about art. My 1980s high school education dealt briefly with pre-invasion history of Australia, so, really, I had no idea about Myall Creek as a place of historical import. Thus, nothing prepared me for the bold, confronatational images hanging in the exhibition. Part of the opening involved members of an indigenous tribe arriving, unannounced, to perform a ritual to declare the event ‘open’ it was quite spectacular. Four years later, I discover that the Newtown exhibition comprised only two thirds of the series, that the entire series is being exhibited at the United Theological College, Charles Sturt University School of Theology, in North Paramatta. This latest hanging is significant: descendants of the massacre happen to be studying at the College, and so will be present for the opening. As fate would have it, I couldn’t be there myself, but was able to chat to Chris about the paintings and the opening, for radio.

According to Chris, the Myall Creek massacre fits in both “emotionally and structurally” with other work he has done – which includes paintings inspired by the brutal Anita Coby murder, and a series on the Sarajevo civil war. He is interested in painting ‘archetypal moments’ in peoples’ lives – those moments such as birth, death, grieving and marriage – that define and change people. Thus, his subject matter has in the past included pregnant woman, and he is currently working on the ‘stolen generation’. “It’s really the same thing,” he says, comparing the act of painting the Myall Creek massacre and the ‘stolen generation’: “I’m reconciling these terrible issues within myself.” With the Myall Creek paintings, he says, he certainly achieved that reconciliation.

Before I had my opportunity to interview him, Chris received great coverage from some other news sources, not least of all Radio 2SER and Stateline, from which the following is transcribed:


The obtuse approach that I’ve taken was on purpose, because I wanted these paintings to relate to all people, so that they spoke to people – they didn’t just shock people, but they saw in them a human compassion, a kind of redemption in the blue of the sky in this big painting.

What I’ve done here compositionally is place the perpetrators in the foreground and the rear.

The foreground figures exclude the viewer from becoming one of the victims.

I’ve done that purposely so that the viewer isn't a victim, but becomes a perpetrator by standing by and watching, becoming a voyeur and, so to speak, a perpetrator.

I’ve also shown no detail.

They’re not didactic, they’re not gory in any way, they’re quite obtuse in the technique I’ve used compositionally.

And that’s so that people, again, feel they can relate to this scene without being horrified by it.

It’s not Goya’s Disasters of War.

It’s about people and everybody is a victim.


The exhibition continues until June 17. The following interview was broadcast on ABC NewsRadio on Saturday 29 May.


Demetrius Romeo: Chris, tell me what inspired the Myall Creek series of paintings.

CHRIS WYATT: Dom, I was living next to the writer Roger Millus. Now Roger Millus had written a book called Waterloo Creek which is about the conquering of New South Wales. Now in that book, there are several chapters on the Myall Creek massacres. I read that book and was profoundly affected by it. I spent the next ten years painting, trying to realise my revulsion at the way New South Wales had been conquered. And it took me really all that time to fully realise the paintings. The Waterloo Creek massacre itself was a government-sanctioned expedition by Major Nunn, in which 300 aboriginals were murdered. The aboriginals murdered at Myall Creek had a special relationship with the overseers of the property. They were living there. In fact, Ipita, the only known woman, was a lover of one of the overseers. So all this combined, inspired me to tackle this really difficult subject. It fitted in really well with my thoughts of where painting should go and what it should do.

Demetrius Romeo: Where should painting go? What is it that painting should do?

CHRIS WYATT: I think that painting in the Twentieth Century got away from what I see as one of its major premises, which is to educate. It should educate on moral and social issues, not only artistic and aesthetic ones. I think in the Twentieth Century, you certainly got away from that. For me, the Myall Creek massacre encapsulated the conquering of Australia. It had all the elements of our subjugation of indigenous people. Also, it's the first time that white men were hanged for the murders, and so not onlydoes it encapsulate the indigenous story, but also, the nature of the white story here in Australia, and I think it's as relevant now as it was then.

Demetrius Romeo: The paintings in the Myall Creek series are very dark, Chris. You use a limited palette of quite muted colours.

CHRIS WYATT: Dom, I'm a symbolic painter, so I use colour symbolically. When I started the Myall creek series, I was inclined to just do them in black and white, and as the series went on, the colour changed to evening shades. The evening shades were earth colours, the earth colours being an association of the indigenous people and their relationship with the earth, but also for me, the fact symbolically, that we are all part of the earth and we all go back to it. And so for me, colour is used in those symbolic ways rather than a representative way.

Demetrius Romeo: What do you hope to achieve with this series of paintings?

CHRIS WYATT: My initial aim was to speak to myself. I was so profoundly affected by Roger's book that I wanted to - within myself - have some reconciliation of the idea of this taking place. I also want to reconcile Australian people with the idea that this is how Australia was conquered. I mean, there is no doubt about this. The holocaust happened. People can deny it, but it did. And the holocaust for indigenous people certainly did happen too, and people in Australia still deny it. And that's exactly what I want these paintings to do: start a dialogue on both sides so that this issue can be laid to rest, so that Australia doesn't repeat its history. Because I think societies who don't come to terms with their past, are destined to repeat it.

Demetrius Romeo: What has the response been to the Myall Creek series?

CHRIS WYATT: It’s been an amazing response. I think people are finally ready to come to terms with this thing. Sue Blacklock, one of the descendants of one of the victims of the Myall Creek massacre looked at a big eight-foot by twelve-foot painting and said, 'this is what it was like' and that, for me, has been a fantastic response from indigenous people. I didn't know what indigenous people would think of these paintings when I painted them, and I felt great trepidation because I didn't know whether they would think this is their story, why am I telling it, they have ownership of this, and a white Australian shouldn't really go there. Well, they didn't feel like that at all. Indigenous people are so inclusive and patient with non-indigenous Australians, that I feel privileged to be able to tackle this subject and have them appreciate me for it.


421p29b


Postscript:

As of 1 July 2004 the Myall Creek exhibition continues to hang. Interest, a result of the media coverage, has led to the artist selling work. There is a tone of amazement in his voice when he tells me this. More amazing for him is the fact that people who had initially expressed dismay and even dislike had come around to understanding and appreciating the work, the result of being able to get a handle on it through hearing the meaning and significance that the artist and other cultural and political commentators attribute to the work.

Which is always the way it should be.

In the song ‘Keep Undercover’ (from the 1983 album Pipes of Peace), that intellectual giant and philosopher Sir Paul McCartney posed the essential question,


What good is butter when you haven’t got bread?
What good is art when it hurts your head?
You might as well stay in bed!

The fact is, art that makes you think a little bit to appreciate it enables you to learn more and thus to appreciate more. And indeed, to dismiss more – but only the ‘more’ that consists of that which is artistically ‘less’.

So that’s why art that ‘hurts your head’ is good. As for butter in the time of no bread? Amongst its myriad uses, I recommend you take a tip from Marlon Brando’s character Paul in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris. (Hint: You may not have bread, but you’ll always have buns.)


Fingerprints


fingerprintsposter


When I first met the enchanting Johanna Featherstone I was amused to discover that she was responsible for the ‘Spit or Swallow’ advice column in that esteemed satirical publication The Chaser. I’d known that she was a writer and had worked in book shops, but was most impressed to discover that she is also the Artistic Director of The Red Room Company, an entity devised, she says, in order to “create, produce and distribute” all manner of projects inspired by poetry, utilising the talents of “the most unusual, talented people” that she can find in the process. The ‘Fingerprints’ exhibition, mounted as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, is one of those projects. It seemed a worthy topic of conversation, and and so an interview ensued. During the course of it, I discovered that I was responsible – somehow – for introducing Johanna to her partner, composer Elliott Wheeler. But that’s a whole other story. He figures in this story, however, as providing the sonic landscape of songs that will feature at the launch, as does Timothy Brunero, who collaborated on the satirical room notes with Johanna. The interview that follows was broadcast Saturday 15 May.


Soundbite: ‘Bicycle’ – David Malouf, from the album David Malouf reads from Poems 1959-89

Demetrius Romeo: Johanna, tell me a bit about this ‘Fingerprints’ exhibition which is part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

JOHANNA FEATHERSTONE: The ‘Fingerprints’ exhibition is a collection of ten hand-written poems by Australian poets – a variety of very new poets who haven’t published anything before, such as a ten year-old poet who is coming down from Tamworth, who has written a fantastic bush ballad about a wolf, and then, from esteemed poets we all know about, such as Dimitris Tsaloumas and David Malouf.

They were asked to submit me on an A4 sheet of paper a hand-written poem. I gave them a few ideas of my favourite poems which they had written, and then they turned up to me – the most amazing experience and one of the most beautiful was Dimitris Tsaloumas’s submission, which is this divine calligraphy with a little note attached, saying,


You asked me to submit something on an A4 piece of paper, but I have no idea what an A4 piece of paper is, so I have just taken the closest piece of paper at hand and hope that fits.

And of course, it did.

Demetrius Romeo: In addition to the exhibition of the hand-written poems, you have an exhibition of art, as well as readings on the day.

JOHANNA FEATHERSTONE: That’s right. Tonee Messiah is a student at Sydney College of the Arts and she was asked to create ‘a civilization of poets’, in terms of the visual interpretation of poets’ heads. This has luckily been supported by NAVA, which is the National Association of Visual Arts, and there are nine separate little heads that hang in between the poems to emphasise the idea of the poet as a person – just like the handwriting – rather than the poet being something only on a computer screen now.

Demetrius Romeo: Have we lost touch with poets in the modern age?

JOHANNA FEATHERSTONE: I don’t think we’ve lost touch with them, but I think perhaps we forget how powerful and exciting poetry can be, in that a poem doesn’t just have to be something that you can read, although a great poem gives you everything in just that experience. Poems can bring about an entire cultural community; they can take people from the school halls into professional careers.

Demetrius Romeo: Who are the poets represented in the ‘Fingerprints’ exhibition?

JOHANNA FEATHERSTONE: Well, there are ten all up, but to give you an example of a few, there’s a girl called Lucy Holt from Melbourne and another girl called Mia Dyson who’s an Australian blues singer who recently won an ARIA award. She’s submitted a blues lyric for us to decide whether it’s a poem or not.

Soundbite: ‘Roll On’ – Mia Dyson, from the album Cold Water

JOHANNA FEATHERSTONE: John Clarke contributed a fabulous satirical poem called ‘The Hunting of the Smirk’, that’s a satire on one of Lewis Carroll’s poems. John Clarke is really appropriate for another aspect of the exhibition – a series of room notes that I have written, that talk about, in a fun way, the idea of how poetry is valued and financed in our society. On the back of these room notes are some absurdist price tags which actually stand, because if someone can produce the price that we say on these absurdist price tags, they can take away the poem. But I do warn the listeners that they range from a vial of imagination, to a cornfield of Cypriot corn.

Demetrius Romeo: So if I wanted the John Clarke poem, for example, what would that cost me?

JOHANNA FEATHERSTONE: I think something like John Howard’s fiscal policy on a plate.

Soundbite: ‘The Hunting of the Smirk’ – John Clarke, listed as the track ‘Carol Lewis’ on the album The CD of The Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse


First Impressions…

My friend Nos was on the phone doing his David Bowie impression. Having heard Mr Bowie speak for the duration of a press conference, come away with a recording of it, listened to it several times and then re-edited chunks of it for broadcast, I can say that Nos’s impression is pretty spot-on. In fact I did say it. Nos explained that he’d essentially ‘cracked’ the impression by imitating the way Phil Cornwell does David Bowie on Stella Street. It’s interesting, he noted, how it’s often easier to do an impression of someone when you’ve heard someone else’s impression of that person.

Opera director and occasional brain surgeon Dr Jonathan Miller, pointed out some time after helping launch the 60s satire boom with Beyond the Fringe that no one in Britain ever really did an Indian accent, but rather did their impression of Peter Sellers doing an Indian accent. This was probably mostly true, at least until the dawn of Goodness Gracious Me.

In a similar way, Nos says, he sometimes finds it helpful to see how someone else has caricatured a person, in order to work out how he’ll go about drawing a caricature. It would seem that the process is about working out what particular features communicate the essential nature of the face you’re trying to draw or the voice you’re trying to imitate. Sometimes it’s easier once you’ve seen what features someone else has latched onto – then doing it your way.

I often find myself doing the same thing as a writer, especially when I have to review a film or an album that I don’t particularly care about, and I haven’t yet worked out what exactly I think about it, or why. It helps to read what someone else has thought – what bits of the film or the music stood out for them. Usually I disagree with them, either on what they’ve latched onto, or what they’ve concluded from it, which is a good thing. When you agree, it’s much easier to paraphrase, rather than to construct your own set of arguments and conclusions.

Sadly, rather than constructing their own set of arguments and conclusions, or even paraphrasing, some people find it easier still just to change the byline at the top of the article, their only original input being their own name. What is most annoying, however, is that this level of plagiarism is nowadays an accepted mode of journalism. Particularly in a country like Australia, that has, per capita, more print media than any other nation, readers don’t appear so keen on reading anything original or in-depth; it just has to cover the bases. Journalists, therefore, don’t have to be particularly original or in-depth – they just need to submit something by deadline that covers the bases. Which is why you can browse through the arts pages of even the respected news dailies, and find that an underpaid staff writer has re-jigged the same press releases with only slightly more flair than the barely paid scribes at the free entertainment weeklies.

It’s probably worth noting that both Phil Cornwell and Nos ‘do’ Bowie by half singing everything in a heavily vibrato’d cockney tenor. That’s not how Bowie speaks, of course, but it’s quite often the way he sings. So if Bowie rings you and starts ‘singing’ his side of the conversation, rather than merely speaking it in a cockney accent, it’s probably Phil Cornwell or Nos on the phone and not the Dame himself.