Over the years I’ve made a lot of paintings of houses as well as cut-outs and wall paintings. Some are based on real houses that I’ve lived in, others on dolls houses that I’ve imagined, or seen in shops and online. Unlike ordinary dolls houses these have inaccessible interiors, there are no doors and the blackened windows suggest that you can’t get in or that the inhabitants might be sleeping. They are idealised dolls houses, dream houses, stereotypical and vacant, inviting an imagined child’s game or adult’s desire. The simple geometry of these paintings presents the house as minimal and formal.
Growing up in Melbourne in the 1960s, my parents both worked for manufacturing companies around Melbourne. My mother had the job of toy designer at Joy Toys in Stephenson Street Richmond. Those were the days before manufacturing moved off shore and designers and crafts people still had great skills. It was wonderful as a small child, during school holidays to groom the samples and arrange them in the showroom where I marvelled at the gorgeous plush toys. I roamed the factory floor watching the Italian ladies use the stuffing machine to fill the bears and other animals. On a huge table, men used tailors’ scissors to slide through the fabric, carefully cutting only the fabric base and not the fur. When I tired of all of this I would hide out in the crates filled with big toy eyes that blinked and voice boxes that mooed with animal noises.
The faces on the toys that my mother made were more expressive than the average teddy. They had a sort of spunk that impressed me as a small child and imprinted a kind of graphic style in my mind that formed the way I see things. The fur of these toy animals was brightly colored and made of materials that hadn’t been available before and they were softer than most other stuffed toys.
I’ve still got a few of the prototypes of toys that my mother made. They’re a bit batted and old looking now.
The original sketches for these flowers were drawn in Flash, an early computer software for drawing simple lines and animations. I used only my finger on the keypad of my first laptop and came up with simple shapes filled with flat areas of colour. Flash allowed for layering of images where photos can float under graphics as in old-fashioned animation layering.
In 2003 I was in Germany and playing with this new drawing tool when the U.S. invaded Iraq. Der Speigel magazine published an article on the invasion that compared the Baghdad bombing to that of Dresden in 1945, showing photos of the destruction. These images clearly compared the awful consequences of the past to what was happening right then in Iraq.
The photo from der Speigel became the background for my Flowers. These flowers are cute and cartoon like but they also remind me of war.
Later I made these flowers into installations of cut-outs that have been shown in various places. The cutouts are part painting and part object, 3D but flattened.
I’ve been going through old CD ROMS, looking at archives of works from the 1990’s.
Back then a friend suggested I should try the Flash animation software for drawing. The software was very basic and had a more limited interface than other drawing programs. I liked the fact that there were limited options. Later versions of Flash became more sophisticated, which I found too complicated. The native platform for Flash is the computer screen and it seemed an interesting tool to draw with at that time as we entered the digital era.
Flash seemed to be a very intuitive interface and as I was already playing around with making a website and had a basic idea of drawing on screen and how links worked, somehow I took to Flash easily. Vector lines meant that the lines and shapes could be scaled infinitely and retain amazingly perfect edges. Flash allowed me to play around with simple drawings that move a bit. They are not quite still and not quite animated, hardly doing anything except wink and wiggle. Later some of these images became large prints and were also painted on canvas.
Most of these drawings were made on my first laptop and were drawn using my finger on the keypad. This meant that I had very little control. Having such constraint meant that I was often surprised with what appeared, and I let the medium do what it wanted. I submitted to the medium. It was a bit like making a thumbnail sketch with a big piece of charcoal on a tiny matchbox to jot down essentials.
During lockdown I’ve had time to sort out some of the boxes crammed in the attic so I’ve been going through old works dating back to the 1980’s.
Some of the smaller works have been unwrapped, dusted off and hung in my studio. Most of them are remnants of larger bodies of works. Many of the larger paintings are still rolled up and stacked in the attic for another time.
I’ve been using the lockdown time to take stock of what I’ve made and to think about what to do next.
I thought it might be interesting to hang all of these works together, with old works alongside recent ones.
The Paperworks are collections of hundreds of original individual ink drawings pasted one on top of the other and covering entire surfaces from edge to edge. The drawings are done with felt tip pen or brush on paper in black ink and then cut out and pasted with wallpaper paste creating a seamless surface of images – portraits, landscapes, still lives, and other art historical references.
My work has mostly involved painting and drawing, and out of these the Paperworkhas evolved. They are a way of making a lot of images culminating in one very large work without taking up too much space and without a lot of material. I think of this work as a storage system for all the art that I would like to make, or want to look at, or that has stuck in my mind. I always feel like there is never enough, and I have to make just a few more. It’s the drive that makes an artist keep on producing.
The latest Paperworks, compared to the earlier ones, have become more dense and the amount of material is more layered, also, the references are a bit more specific. Earlier works from this series had more imaginary imagery, and the latest ones have more references to other artworks and studied images.
Recurring themes are art historical genres and the history of representation, as well as the way that we accumulate images, gestures and styles to tell our stories in a culture already saturated with images.
Things that I’m interested in looking at are paintings of all sorts, but mostly figurative, classical Greek sculptures, reclining nudes, images of women. Studies of works by the old masters and contemporary artists are found among the doodles with recognisable references, from Renaissance art to abstract paintings, portraits, disasters from the newspaper and all the paintings that were once popular that now stack up under the stairs.
The really good reference images are easy to draw. My jotting is a test of sorts. If it translates well in a quick sketch, then I think that it has got more chance of being an image that stands the test. The quick ink drawings are each an examination of an idea, gesture or composition, intensely scrutinized if for only a minute or two.
Framework is a sort of filing system or archive of all the art works from all the museums at once — a massive and immersive collection. The ink on paper sketches are based on framed historical artworks, pasted one on top of the other, creating a simultaneous view. The eye wanders from one image to the next as if the whole of the history of art could be there, coded and compressed, icons reinvented as signs. In a way, that’s how the images are stored in my mind. I can recall them without much detail, just the outlines of their general components as economical thumbnail sketches.
I’ve spent years looking at collections in art museums, thinking about how we’re caught in a circuit of image reception and reproduction. It’s impossible not to be influenced by these selections and presentations. I’m aware of being trapped but also propelled by these images and histories.
In making these studies, I’m engrossed in them for a few intense minutes without focusing for long on a particular piece — as if playing the role of the tourist, moving through collections of ‘great’ art works, immersed in the context of the museum and its arrangement of objects and images, including plinths and frames in grand crowded galleries. This is the experience of the spectacle that informs my work.