Painting. More Painting: Creators versus Producers. Silence kills culture
If you don’t believe in God, it’s difficult to believe in painting. Most painters self identify as Creators, just like God. Yawn. But what did God ever do for women? Except hold us back. Me, I identify as an artistic Producer, like Mel Brooks. Creators and Producers don’t see eye to eye, their philosophies are diagnostically opposed. You can walk round a room full of painters and tell the creators from the producers just by looking at their hairstyles – painting is hairdressing. But flat. There are a few fancy techniques involved in both hairdressing and painting, but you don’t need a license to do either. Creators and Producers are always battling it out, they know they threaten each others livelihoods. Creators are born to it they are. They couldn’t hope to do anything else they couldn’t. Painting is a calling from above. The creator painter has no a choice but to capture the magic of how they see life and channel it onto the canvas before them. Then they must share it with their devoted followers. Just as God intended them to do.
Painters are a precious bunch, can’t take a joke they can’t. You don’t joke with God, he doesn’t have a sense of humour, (though the platypus is funny). Painters are like those irritatingly anal guitarists; the ones who labour over their tunes, loving the life out of them. Loving the hell out of ‘em. Rehearsals every other night but no gigs, it’s not ready yet. They’re takers, from their badmates, I men, I mean, bandmates. And not good sharers. Can’t jam for shit, they’re scaredy cats. They’re scared of the mistakes they might make, but awfully quick to point out the mistakes of everyone else. Lots of painters, just like lots of guitarists, prefer doing it on their own and maybe that’s just as well. Whatever it takes to lighten the hell up and drop the pretentiousness, I mean, earnestness.
Straight white male painters are to the art world what rich straight white men are to society at large. They’ve got it all right stitched up. Straight white male painters are the art market, plain and simple, and if you don’t believe me grab an Auction cattledog, I mean catalogue and take a look at what’s selling out. Painting. More paintings, by straight white men. But that’s not enough for straight white male painters, they still find shit to whinge about. Never bloody satisfied, the straight white male painters need is a dark abyss. Like a sinkhole. They like to wax lyrical down the pub: ‘Biennales and Triennales and Documentas don’t include paintings. They love video artists. We’re being discriminated against. Painting is dying. Do you guys want to kill the paintings of straight white men? ’ There’s a pregnant pause, they continue quickly, they’re like, ‘God, I didn’t ask to be born a painter, creating products that the mega wealthy can adorn their walls with. Like spice racks.’
‘The canvas makes a comeback’ declares the infomercial writing about the Painting. More Painting show at ACCA, the first major survey of contemporary painting in over a decade. And you want to scream. Because canvas never went anywhere. Paintings have always been front and centre. Painters have always enjoyed top billing over the range and scope of artistic genres and that doesn’t look set to change anytime soon.
Painters are the market and the market loves competition. Winners and losers. Oh, and Highly Commendededs. That’s when the judges, gods themselves, mess with the heads of one or two lucky souls each art comp by letting them know they came close to winning the hundred large prize money, but not close enough to bank the hundred large prize money. There’s no prize money for almost, the Highly Commendededs win the head fuck that is ‘nearly’.
The Australian punters favourite painting prize is the Archibald. Art lovers line up round the block, just to glimpse the likenesses of the famous people betrayed, I mean portrayed inside. An Archibald Prize Win is the basis of more than a few dubious art careers, but luckily (every now and again) someone good wins and then we all cheer. Every year my inbox is full of artists hoping to immortalize my likeness for this competition. They want to paint ‘tiny nattysolo’, or ‘fleshy nattysolo’, or ‘spatula nat (Spat Nat)’ aka ‘trowled nat’. That’s where you don’t even use a paint brush, you just trowl the paint round, smear the pretty colours together and pray to jesus that the poetry survives before it turns to mud. The poor painters, they want to paint ‘cartoon nat,’ ‘big red angry Nat’, ‘Hyper-real natty solo’, ‘expressionistic nat’, ‘ye oldey worldy nat,’ ‘Too much woman nat’, or feminist nat. ‘Feminism is trending, Elvis Richardson through her CoUNTess Report http://thecountessreport.com.au has put gender equity in galleries and prizes firmly on the table, it’s finally time for women to shine. This is a new dawn, it’s the level playing field we’ve always dreamed of!’ gushes the ambitious young portrait painter, French polished fist punching the air with the ferocity of a nike model. ‘Germaine turned me down, so grab your kid Nat, lose the blouse and stand still till I say when. This is money in the bank babe, money in the bank.’
It’s a shame, but the art market is as sexist as all get out. It’s a complex problem, a problem so complex nobody can do anything about it no matter how hard they don’t try. Here’s a list of the 100 most expensive artworks of all time. There are just 2 female artists on this list out of a hundred artworks, with loads of paintings by straight white Western European men. But calm the hell down you hysterics, it doesn’t mean anything, honest to god it doesn’t. And it most certainly has nothing to do with government-funded museums pushing these same Masters down our throats till the cows come home. Our money is not being used to perpetuate this glaring injustice, so don’t worry.
‘It will come as no surprise that painting dominates the most expensive works sold at auction. The medium represents nearly three-quarters of the works that set the 100 most expensive artists at auction’s records. That 18% of the pieces in our data set are works on paper, however, is slightly surprising (note to artists, keep drawing, keep scribbling):
‘Experts have also placed the blame on the way wealth is distributed between the genders. That is to say, the richest people in the world, those able to bid on eight- and nine-figure lots, are overwhelmingly male.’
White men’s paintings are worth more than everyone else’s paintings are worth. White men’s paintings are more valued; they retain more value than everyone else’s paintings. White men like to think about white men, talk about white men, elevate the reputations of white men, and buy the art of white men. Plain and simple.
https://dailyreview.com.au/john-kelly/49209/ It’s just business, don’t take it seriously. ‘Oh the agony of being undervalued by the chance of your gender at birth. No matter what you do. And everyone pointing at each other and shrugging that it’s not their fault. What to do, what to do?’
Whenever big money and big power turn up together, that’s when you witness the full carnage of gender inequity and the whitening out of what we see and hear. That’s when women and people representing the full diversity of our society are left knocking at the door. White men love hogging the limelight. Blockbuster movie’s, rarely a female director up to the job, Museum Directors, Genius Artists, Heart-throb Musos, Conductors, Best selling Writers, Highest paid Actors, Heads of State, Company Directors, Sports Stars, STARchitects. White men keep the best jobs for themselves. And their mates. Women are hobbyists.
‘Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for’
Virginia Woolf A Room of One’s Own
What’s going on closer to home? According to the Australian Art Sales Digest (2012) http://www.aasd.com.au of the 86 paintings that have sold for more than $1 million at auction in Australia, the works of Brett Whiteley account for 18 of the $1 million plus sales, ahead of Russell Drysdale, 11, Fred Williams, 9, John Brack, 8, McCubbin, 7, Arthur Boyd, 5, and Sidney Nolan, the best painter amongst them, at 4. Sidney Nolan woz robbed! And oh look! What have we here? Surprise surprise! It’s one great big wealthy white boys club, everyone else barely figures within the high sales. The art of women is not valued by society. For women, you may as well stay the hot muse to the male genius artist. It pays better.
Speaking of valuable art and giving it and the sexist-as-all-get-out market that supports it a bit of a nudge, don’t you just think the idea of art forgery pretty conceptually hot? Let’s consider art forgery for a minute:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wokue4bZYuU 5 mins. Speaking of straight white men, Beltracchi is a good one. He’s a Master Forger. He doesn’t bother forging female artists or art made by anyone not a white man. There’s no money in it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TZppXXsLUw 13.35mins. CBS 60 Minutes, Beltracchi again. We meet his wife, and get into the story behind shifting so many ‘units’, her Grandpa was apparently an art collector who hid his collection from the Nazi’s and when he died, she inherited them. I love how the couple even produce fake archival photos using an old camera and some dress ups to authenticate their story, such devious genius. It worked a treat too until one paint tube didn’t properly list titanium white on its list of contents. That was bad luck right there.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jKbbajb5pE 45 Mins. Eric Hebborn- Portrait of a Master Forger. Eric was a wonderful man, he tells great stories in this beautiful doco. It’s long but worth watching. Eric wrote a book on Art Forgery that has become ‘the’ textbook for forgery’. Eric won all the drawing awards as a student at London’s Royal Academy, and went on to fool the experts with his ‘Old Master’ drawings, the paper he used sourced from blank pages found in old antiquity books. The devil is in the detail. He added rudimentary false collector’s marks too, and noted that once a false attribution is made, the mistake has a tendency to become ‘incorrectible’. One night he almost became the lover of Sir Anthony Blunt, the expert responsible for cataloguing the Royal Art Collection, but Brewers droop prevented them from doing anything other than sleeping. Blunt was spying for the Russians at the time. Like all good forgery, Eric’s work undermines notions surrounding ‘expertise’, ‘attribution’, ‘authorship’, and ‘value’, but he must have pissed off the wrong person, because he was murdered in Rome.
Speaking of God, back in the day at the VCA I witnessed Amanda Marburg paint the anamorphic skull from Hans Holbein painting The Ambassadors (1533). The one that looks like an alien till you stand in just the right pozzie, and then it slides into a perfectly focused three dimensional skull. I have no clue what magic Marburg tapped in to to pull that feat off, (maybe she’s a Witch. A White Witch) but if you’re talking about using a paintbrush to make paint do weird shit, you can’t go past Amanda Marburg. Like Old Master shit, the really, really accomplished, skilful shit that keeps art historians talking about you from 1533 to the present day. Amanda Marburg paints as well as Hans Holbein ever did.
If the measure of an art show is how much talk it generates, then ACCA’s Painting. More Painting has been a resounding success. If though, you listen more closely to exactly what is being said about the show, then it quickly turns to shit. Word on the street is that the wall mural by Sam Songailo Sorry to kill the vibe but time does exist 2016, that decorated the entire great hall of ACCA, was too big an ask for the other painters, who had been hung on top of it, to contend with. Curated by Max Delany, Hannah Matthews and Annika Kristensen, to say the exhibition received mixed reviews is an understatement. This, from Geoff Harrison, who wrote about the show on the platform on which all honest-to-god art criticism now resides. Facebook:
I saw the Not Fair exhibition in Melbourne followed by ‘Painting-More Painting’ show at ACCA yesterday. The highlight of the day was the train being on time getting me home. The paintings at ACCA were fighting against the wall painting covering the entire exhibition area. I didn’t get it. If this is where painting is meant to be today – God help us.
In the show, there’s a 50/50 gender split (one that does not represent recent visual arts graduate numbers). Pattern is everywhere, some painters fully indulging their tendency toward obsessive-compulsive disorder, unabated, (the market loves looking at the time repetition takes, then they know what they’re paying for. In the show colour is big, in a more is more palette that confronts the constant background noise of contemporary life. ‘Look at me’ scream the lurid hues; Zombie Abstraction continues to be huge, why commit to the representational when you can leave shit up to the viewer to decide. It’s the ‘what’s not there is as important as what’s there thing’. You know, get the audience working for a change, they’re so hypnotized starring into their phones you’ve got to cut them a bit of slack, poor sods; moves toward the abject march forward, even when we keep forgetting to ask someone smart what the hell it even means. And then judge whether or not we believe them.
For me, stand out works in the form of something wet being skillfully applied to something flat, came from Colleen Ahern, whose paintings you can always hear; Jenny Watson, who is a punk who’s paintings are startling to see each and every time, Nyapanyapa Yunipingu whose art is intriguing in the push and pull between control and abandon and strangely, I get these feelings from Elizabeth Pulie too. Lisa Radford presented a series of small paintings of the fabric designs from the seats of public transport, familiar, political and egalitarian in that the designs have withstood the asses of the public at large. Kate Smiths paintings perplex me and I keep wanting to look at them and work out what Kate is on about and I think Kate should go hang out with Jenny Watson; Angela Brennan throws colour round with the best of them; Nadine Christensen paints weird, flat mis en scenes that keep you wondering what the hell is going on round here; Moya McKenna commits to creating works in one go, while the paint is wet, and then that’s it, a commitment that is brave and risky and I imagine really liberating. Louise Hearman’s paintings seem to have been light from within; Esther Stewart is producing work that shows a relationship to some of Howard Arkley’s studies; Helen Maudsley has so clearly got what it takes to be an artstar, but she isn’t an artstar and we’re the poorer for it; Helen Johnson loves and hates painting at the same time, she gets stuck right in to the theorizing thingo bit trying to work through the conflict, which is fun. And so nobody can accuse me of being a man basher, I’ll concede that it’s always difficult to walk past anything David Jolly does on the back of glass, Juan Davila always brings it and Mitch Cairns painted a panadol and you’ll need one by the time I’m finished with you.
For years now, I’ve been a keen and committed observer of Melbourne art world power dynamics. The push and pull of influence and clout that plays out between artists and those who represent, curate and collect some of us for both public and private sectors. All these egos in the one room, jostling for position. It’s a heady drama that never fails to entertain and one of the best places to observe the Secret Handshake set has been at ACCA.
The Monash University construct that is ACCA has been much discussed by artists, ever since Jenepher Duncan and Stuart Koop left in rapid succession, to be replaced by self-titled maverick Artistic Director Juliana Engberg. Juliana’s partner Kay Campbell was appointed Executive Director, second in charge. They went through a period of pretending they weren’t together, but by the time we all cottoned on to what was going down, we were complicit in professional behaviour that is impossible to justify as Industry best practice. If you feel me. Hence a certain air of secrecy and mystique surrounding ACCA. Don’t get me wrong, I love dangerous public precedents, I grew up under Joh Bjelke Peterson for christ’s sake. I’m always trying to get my Morgi a well-positioned position as second in charge to me, his Big Boss (Morgi, the hot Portia de Rossi to my talented Ellen) but that’s a task that’s harder to orchestrate than others have managed to make it look.
Steven Skala AO was Chair of the Board of ACCA when the above noted kerfuffle went down. Funny thing was, even people not included in the programme at ACCA didn’t say a word about the appointments. Speaking up hadn’t become a ‘thing’ yet. There was just an empty silence. Here Steven Skala AO, thinks deeply about silence for the ABC ‘big idea’. This is great because I’d gotten myself confused into thinking transparency was ‘on trend’. Steven says:
’To me, the great challenge in seeking to live a good life is that quest for understanding. Silences and omissions, covert and overt, occur around us and cause us, positively or negatively, to shape our own experience, and most significantly, our understanding of the nature of things that are often most important to us. We listen and respond to what is said. My hypothesis is that what is not said has a huge amount of meaning and merits deep reflection.’ http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/5733594 Be suspicious of people who would prefer you to remain silent.
Around art, there’s a lot left unsaid and following Steven Skala AO’s advice, I did some deep reflection about what I love, art, I thought to myself I thought: “Natty, use Steven’s words against him”. I googled up Steven Skala AO and I can tell you, this man has been on more Boards than most of you have had hot dinners. He’s a serial offender, if that’s an appropriate term to use in the circumstances? Let’s just say Steven Skala likes to put his fingers in a lot of pies. I’d certainly give Steven ‘A’ for effort, his iCalender must experience some serious congestion issues. Steven is a former Chairman of Film Australia and of ACCA and a former Director of The Australian Ballet too. Don’t you just love Ballet? (very relevant it is to contemporary society) it really does deserve to be allocated more and more of the public purse each year. Oh, and the ABC. Steven Skala was installed by the Howard Government as Director of those poor sods over at the National Broadcaster, in 2005. For 10 long years, Steven and Howard’s other captain’s picks infiltrated the entire ABC team. That’s a really big business, the ABC yeah? Huge clout and under constant siege from Rupert and his mates, who want to help us all out by decimating all his competition with his Fox News take on the world of everything.
Steven must really, really love being on Boards, because in January ’16 Steven became Chair of the Board of Heide Museum of Modern Art too. See, I told you he was a repeat offender! Following his appointment, Steven said: “Heide is an iconic Australian cultural institution, rich in history and possibility. I am looking forward to working with the Board, management team and staff to help shape the next stage of Heide’s development.” I don’t know what the next stage for Heide’s development is, put on another art show I guess, but unfortunately for the entire arts community, it is going to be without highly respected arts professional Kirsty Grant, who has resigned after an all too brief stint as Heide Director and CEO.
Steven Skala doesn’t just really really like being on the Boards of loads of different cultural organisations, he’s on the Board of a think tank too. I’m intrigued by think tanks (even as a pacifist), and if I wasn’t so busy trying to pay the rent each month, I might even sniff round and see if I could get myself on one. For the contacts, and the free muffins at meetings, and as a performance art work. The think tank Steven Skala AO likes, because let’s get this straight, all the tanks think remarkably differently to each other, well its called the CIS, The Centre for Independent Studies. That sounds good doesn’t it, I like the word Independence, to me it means you’re not compromised, you think whatever you like because you’ve no vested interests, you’re not working to any secret, hidden agenda’s like control and domination from within. The CIS brainstorms ideas for a better Australia, and that sounds great too, because I’m sure as fuck Australia could do much better than where we’re at right now. I kept digging round CIS because I’d noted diversity issues on their website too, they really needed some people involved who weren’t rich white men. In fact, there were more white men involved than the Winter Masterpieces shows at the NGV. https://www.cis.org.au/about/board-of-directors
On Wikipedia, it says CIS is an Australian libertarian think tank. I like language, but this word ‘libertarian’ well it’s had me stumped for a while now, so I thought I’d clear it up. I asked my Morgi what being a libertarian meant. Just because Morgi’s hot, doesn’t mean he’s not as smart as all get out. Morgi said: ‘Libertarians love free will so much, they want to free us of our wills. They want to increase their own liberty by helping us lose ours’. I didn’t understand, so Morgi continued. ‘It’s like a snatch and grab Nat. Everyone loses except the dude who stole your purse, and that dude is the Libertarian. Once he’s got hold of your purse he’s mighty hard to catch up with.’ That I understood. CIS believe in free market economics and reducing the size and scope of government too (that whole trickle down thing). The one doesn’t never has trickled down, since the 80’s, that’s what Steven Skala’s Think Tank of choice, CIS, they’re the lies he believes in. So you see, as an artist, I’m just wondering whether me and Steven Skala are going to see eye to eye about what is good art, and what isn’t good art. Art for me is about ideas, not money and in a nutshell, libertarians want to tell us what to sell. Like your house because of your lack of Superannuation. That money’ll come in handy when they do away our Pensions and the Public health sector.
On Wikipedia, it says that according to the 2014 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report (Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania), CIS is number 101 (of 150) in the “Top Think Tanks Worldwide” and number 11 (of 60) in the “Top Think Tanks in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.” And this really cracked me up, there’s League Tables for think tanks. Isn’t that perverse. Someone is out there ranking how good all the tanks are thinking. I wondered what kind of criteria might be used to rank think tanks. Steven Skala AO being on so many arts boards all these years, and being Vice Chairman, Australia and New Zealand of Deutsche Bank as well, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutsche_Bank Well I bet that scores the Centre for Independent Studies plenty of brownie points for power and influence. That wiped the smile off my dial, nothing seemed so funny anymore.
We need to consider who sits on the Boards of our Cultural Organizations and why, what outside interests they bring with them, and what they offer the organizations they help manage. Let’s even ask how do you get on a Board? Surely loads of different people having a go is a better model than the same names cropping up over and over again. Culture is diverse and this diversity needs to be reflected by the dudes running the Board. It does seem like you need to be a rich white investment banker, or a Murdoch or a Packer to get on the board of a major arts organization. Is anyone on a Board broke? Or could I be like a World first Broke Broad on a Board.
Me, I don’t care what art is made of, I care what it means. I don’t care for mediums, I care for ideas. I don’t care for silence. I like loud noise, I like integrity and I like real support for art. Not pretend support for art. Can we graduate from these limiting categories, based on genre, and get more into Good Art and/or Bad Art. Figuring out, or at least having a conversation about what that might be. You can make cheap jokes about how some painters think they’re God, but the real Gods in the Art world are the Curators who choose who sinks and who swims. The real Gods are the Directors of the Boards of the organizations for whom, if all goes swimmingly, we work to present art. And if we look to auction results, for what are the concluding remarks if you like, about what art is worth, once it’s travelled through the entire art scene, you cannot deny that female artists are being robbed. That anyone who is not a straight white man is being robbed. Both literally and metaphorically. We’re failing to trend and unless there’s systemic shifts at every level of the game, this huge injustice will continue for a while yet. Many of us are experiencing a crisis of belief in the gallery systems in which we work to hopefully, if all goes well, exhibit art. That’s what we artists have been trained to do, to question the shit out of things. And make art and culture about it.