Month: May 2014

being (an artist)

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious – the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” – Albert Einstein

“To be an artist you have to give up everything, including the desire to be a good artist.”
- Jasper Johns

Combine these two statements and you have a sense of what it is to be an artist later in life. A young artist needs the energy and ambition to prosper in a very difficult professional environment. Later, you’re consolidating; the aim is just to be. Advancement becomes an internal thing, not an external progress.

Art sometimes provides a gateway to the mysterious. Sometimes you look at a painting, read something, or hear some music that seems to pull back a screen somewhere deep within you, giving access to an infinity of space and time. It is a place where things have no material form – they are sensed, and known, but not articulated. In this place, which exists within oneself, but where the boundaries of self are dissolved, some quality or content in the art is recognised. Maybe when one is older, this place has been visited more often and so is easier to find.

For me, making art is like following an invisible thread, in much the same way that this metaphor occurs in mythologies throughout the world, from the Greek story in which Ariadne’s thread leads Theseus out of the labyrinth to the Chinese red string of fate. This thread joins me to other people, past and present, and to that place of infinity.

some personal history

For thirteen years after I graduated from art school in 1991 I worked at the coalface of Australian cultural development, designing and building the central imagery for large-scale theatre rituals and celebrations. In the course of this work I built images ranging from tiny shadow puppets to towering, highly decorated structures that were ignited in climactic bonfires. I also guided others in the making of imagery, which it was hoped would be personally meaningful for the maker while fitting within a coherent theatrical whole. I worked with children, young adults, the elderly, university students, teachers, lecturers, professional artists highly trained in their fields; with indigenous communities and among people who identified with many different cultures from around the world; in cities and suburbs, in country towns and far-flung rural areas, in the temporary communities of large festivals, with people in a state of trauma and people in a state of celebration.

My partnership with theatre director Neil Cameron afforded me not only the joy of successful collaboration but also a unique context in which to explore the morphosis of Australian culture. It is hard to imagine a richer learning environment for the study of culture and the practice of art. As principal artist within our company, I had the privileged opportunity to explore light, colour, scale, materials and techniques, the language of sign and symbol, and the response to my work of audiences of tens of thousands. I am proud of the work produced during this period.

In 2004 I felt that the time had come to develop my work in a more solitary way. My painting is governed by the same spirit that drove my earlier work, but of necessity demands the evolution of a different visual language. While the materials are conventional, the exploration of both conceptual and visual language continues to be experimental.

My underlying concerns are to do with the cultural translation of the physical existence; of our ideas of who we are and how we relate, societally, culturally and within the biosphere.

I believe that artists must work with the integrity of being. There is no replacement for this, and no disguise. Art is not an industry; it is material evidence of the evolution of human thought and must not be economically rationalised.

Perplexity is both the ancestor and the descendant of enlightenment. In the sense that art seeks understanding through sometimes irrational means, in today’s society art is the inheritor of the sacred.