Friday, August 09, 2013

43) The Artist As Outsider.

To feed his rock'n'roll addiction he went out into the chill rain to the Gladstone Pub in Chippendale, the grungiest music pub in all of Sydney, like some worn down Goth-Metal venue, tatty black interior with vampire crypt chandeliers, only this night they’re hosting “Country Music”. His good mate, Paul, was playing slide-guitar, so mellifluous it made Arthur's eyes roll back in his head in bliss, worth the hard trudge down several city blocks on a wintry Sunday night. 

And while he marched he cogitated upon his brilliant non-career as an “Artist”. What a failure! Such ignominy! It sure didn’t pay to be on the edge of the herd and act the smart-ass as an outlandish outlaw! Pondering the injustices long dealt out to him caused tears to spill down his cheeks with the rain, he was broken, sad and, for the ‘Akashic record’, he sang into the wind the artists’ oft repeated lament, "Woe is me."

He'd just come from the Internet where he'd been informed he was excluded from yet another group show of artists, this time from the gallery where he'd had his one-man show the year before, where he'd begged to be included in anything that was happening in future. No god help him, what the fuck had he done this time around to piss everybody off?  Told he'd positioned himself as an outsider, in reality he felt it was ruthless competition that had pushed him out of the way. Oh yeah, and he liked to rock the boat with Cassandra-like political forebodings, very unsettling for the majority who preferred luxury tour cruises through a robopathic status quo.

 Bloody hell, was he just being a paranoid  loser? Oh what a rat-race the Art World was, with money and fame the cheese in the maze. He might have another heart attack any minute, then all would be lost, he had to tell his story to someone, even if it was just the empty sky, or the silent expanse of cyber-space.

The support act at the Gladstone Pub was a frumpy blond, about 40, dressed like an old granny and playing guitar, singing her own sad songs, much like Patsie Cline, and she was very, very good, country soul, with a wan smile and a  look of disappointment shadowing her eyes. And Arthur surmised she’d once had hopes of being a world famous artist, she really did have a voice that could’ve conquered all hearts, but here she was singing to seven lone punters in the ass-hole of the planet. Millions of artists have gone before her, shouting out into a blind, infinite universe, “We were here!” Then disappearing into the deep black hole of anonymous, ordinary life, of scraping together a living and hustling whoever to get a break; only a very few lucky souls became super-stars.

Reading the credits to video-hits and movies, he had seen the names of countless hopefuls, “A Film by…”, “Starring…”, “Music by…”, “Art by…” and wondered where they had all gone as most were never heard from again. From his experience he knew “the Arts” industry was voracious, venal, mean, conservative, shallow, cruel, THEY chewed the masses of wannabes into Big Mac hamburger meat and then spat them out into some back-alley garbage can. It was the Quick or the Dead, smooth upper-caste businessmen and bureaucats being the Quickest, they laughed in their mansions while the armies of desperate artists ran restlessly around and around in the streets, gnawing on their own tails.

Arthur had grown up inspired by the fantasy that one day he would be a famous artist, in spite of being from the backwoods of working class Victoria where the Arts were viewed as the peccadilloes of moneyed wastrels. To Arthur, art as a way of life seemed a ticket to boundless indulgence and artists were the hippest of dudes, the quintessence of romantic drollery worthy of strenuous emulation. He had doodled and drawn since the age of four, compulsively, exuberantly, repetitively, as though it was a secret, magic power with which he could make his way in the world. He knew nothing of entrepreneurs, collectors, investors, critics, academics, curators, bureaucats or any of the other beasties from the vast menagerie of Art parasites sucking the vital juices from the plethora of toiling artists. He was oblivious to the battle fought between Low and High Art, between kitsch popular culture and ‘king’s ransom’ masterpieces, and he didn’t realize the era he labored within, post-post-modernism, was all about the packaging, conservative values and the hard-sell, not information and spirit.

He adored the romantic ideal of ‘the artist’ as if it were a pagan religion and naively thought it was open to all comers, to create whatever they felt to and even make a living from it. He hoped to get colorful notoriety, laughing in the face of the Beast, throwing a spanner in the works, shocking everybody, anybody, for he was a wannabe pop-culture iconoclast in his masturbatory pipe-dreams. What a dill he was! He’d done it the ancient, pagan way and played sorcerer's apprentice, assisting the activities of daily living of his Master, Compassion, instead of going to art school. He should’ve taken more seriously what his old art and yoga mentor, Swami Compassion, had once said to him, “People will only like your work if they like you”.

 This had infuriated Arthur at the time for he felt that art should be looked upon objectively, for its own merit, the artist being virtually invisible. He didn’t realize he’d have to sell himself, to beg at the door of powerful 'experts' to get his work considered, to be nice to bureacat wankers who always play it safe. He didn’t know that in the ruling “structuralist” philosophy of the times, the artist WAS the art; in yuppie eyes he was a bald, working class fag with a smart mouth who wore non-designer, shabby clothes, and had the effrontery to tread on precious middle-class territory.

Most gronky Art careerists hated Arthur, the freak, on sight and when he opened his mouth their antipathy quadrupled. He tried to be the nice guy, cool friend to everyone, mediator of quarrels and savior of the downtrodden, but he was stridently opinionated, a deluded revolutionary try-hard and, as well as wild art, he created annoyance in all the pretentious, leftie artist and activist circles he was attracted to. He had overlooked that he was operating in a competitive, capitalist world and, in the small, provincial pond of barracudas that was Australia, no mercy would be shown in the race for the dollars and the immortality acceded to the “Great Artist”. Some arts-holes would sell their grandmothers to the glue-factory for such fame, though nice middle class people pretend it isn’t so. Arthur was ignorant and ingenuous, incorporating both Hansel and Gretel in his fey soul, wandering in the wilderness, unconscious of the greedy witches lurking in their candy sheds willing to fry the nuts off of any guy dumb enough to crash their domain.

In early ‘77 Arthur was still fresh from his rambunctious, mind-bending experiences of India. He was stranded in Sydney and his phantom soul-mate of the moment, Zac, held sway over his emotions, his anarcho-Maoist influence getting Arthur’s righteous indignation boiled up to fever pitch. Thus incited, full of rainbow verve and revolutionary zeal, he attended an exhibition of political posters at Fly Swatter’s Gallery in Darlinghurst. It was a show put on by the Lead Sheds Art Workshop mob whose base was at Sydney University and Arthur was in awe of their radical, post-modern, social-realist precociousness. He tried to approach one of their leading lights, a feminist dyke named Bobby Stoner, to tell her how wonderfully daring he thought the Group’s art was. Clutching her wine-glass tightly, she grimaced as he moved towards her and hurriedly turned her back to him, aghast at the balls of a ‘nobody’ street-person importuning someone of her celestial talent, Arthur’s first taste of the “blow-off” in what would become a long history of them.

He plodded on regardless and persuaded the Lead Sheds crew to allow him to silk-screen print his “Blood On The Streets” poster, which advertised the benefit gig for the White Bay anti-uranium riots and helped pay the fines of all those arrested. The poster used news-paper photos of cops dragging protesters along by their hair, with blood dripping, like the title of a horror movie, announcing “Blood on the Streets”, and it grabbed much attention. The whole event was a blood-curdling success and mightily impressed his fellow revolutionary artists at The Lead Sheds, encouraging them to allow him further access to their precious Art Workshop, a purported public access-space but in reality a tightly controlled private fiefdom. He was bursting with passion, color and psychedelic hallucinatory madness from his sojourn in magical India, clashing art flashed from his third eye and splattered upon an unsuspecting world; like “Carrie”, he couldn’t help himself.

He noticed some cans of fleuro paint and asked his comrade artists, "Who is using them?" and they replied, “No one. It’s passe hippie crap.” He recalled a ‘60s psychedelic mural, “Alice in Wonderland”, he’d seen in a hippie café in the city of Bangalore, India, in 1973, that used bright fluorescent colors against a dense black background. He looked at the history of posters at the Workshop and, apart from a mid-seventies monochrome fleuro from a guy called Buzz, the rainbow of fleuro colors made available by new technologies had been ignored by the Marxist realists at the Lead Sheds. 

                                Still from "Virgin Beasts"

To Arthur’s psychedelic brain, colour was a drug that got him high, he designed a shockingly bright, incandescent poster for his bail fund raiser, “The Anti-Authoritarian Dance”, again holding the gig at Balmain Town Hall, with the Balmain cops gnashing their teeth in the foyer. (He didn’t learn till many years later that the Balmain Town Hall had long been the spiritual home of the Australian Labour Party.) This gig was also a great success, the crowd rioting with the rock’n’roll fun, dancing wildly with pagan hysterics till the roof near blew off, and this encouraged Arthur to carry on throwing benefits helter-skelter. He always paid basic expenses to the workers involved then donated all the profits to the various protests, never keeping anything for himself as money was not his god, though his cynical detractors possibly mythologized him as a thieving outlaw, buying a Balmain mansion with the loot he had scammed.

 As part of his general mania, Arthur had always thrown himself, guts and all, into whatever attracted his interest. When he was a yogi seeking enlightenment he devoted the best years of his youth to practicing the arcane disciplines, surrendering comfort and career to the great quest, twisting himself into knots, meditating for hours in the freezing Ganges River, devouring every yogic tract ever printed. When he came back to earth in Sydney and his unrequited, mutinous lover had won him over to the revolution, he agitated so zealously he came across as more radical than Che Guevera. Any and every issue would get him harping and carping like a rabble-rousing demagogue, ever willing to storm the Bastille, picket a nuclear reactor, march on parliament and save the world. While this impressed a few Maoists, it left all the half-baked, leftie careerists climbing the pyramid of government bureaucracy unamused. They sneered at his rabid intransigence, his egomaniac delusions of romantic resistance, his “more radical than thou” naiveté.

As an assertive, opinionated, anarchist upstart he got on most sane, dull, people’s nerves. Like Zippie the Pinhead, he thought “land-rights for gay whales” contained a politically viable philosophy and he truly believed the Social Construct in which he wallowed was “Topsy-Turvy Land”; much of what the State/Media/Church pushed upon him as GOOD he saw as BAD. Once, at a benefit gig he put on at the good old Lead Sheds for “The Prisoner’s Action Group”, he featured a rock’n’roll band called “Real Fucking Idiots”, and that was a fitting tag for Arthur himself considering his recalcitrant, bent soul. Rocking the boat, agitating sacred cows, honing the satire of his art, he relished the infamy of being a cheeky, nasty boy and was careless of the dampeners it put on his artist’s non-career. At every snooty cocktail party he was not invited to, he said the wrong thing and trod on the wrong toes.

In Arthur’s flighty mind each political stunt was a holistic piece of performance/conceptual art, starting with the act of civil disobedience at which he’d get arrested, then creating the poster, finally putting together the happening music gig as support to pay off the police fines. As Art it all went unrecognized by the ‘Powers That Be’, ‘They’ preferred ballet dancers laying turds on glass topped tables as cutting edge ART as long as it had an obtuse, conceptual rave to go with it; oh yeah, and friends on the Grants/Members Committee. He was a crazy freak with more than a burning chip on his shoulder, it was a raging forest fire, he hated much about the way the world was organized, and he often depicted it all come tumbling down in his imagery; possibly all this drama was the denouement of his violent childhood and oppression as a homosexual. Of course he was aided and abetted in all his insurgent endeavors by other dysfunctional rebel-types of which Sydney had a plentiful supply.

 Throughout all these avant garde antics, Arthur acted the independent loner in the Workshop, paying for all the silkscreen materials he used, personally hand making all the posters and cleaning up religiously after every artwork. The gang at the Lead Sheds named their Collective “Dirtworks”, stamping the “Illuminati” design of an ‘eye in a pyramid’ upon their posters which Arthur thought was clever but not for him. He preferred his own signature, slashing a big ‘Z’ as did ‘Zorro’ in the 'Fifties TV serial. He was never asked to join the hallowed in-group of “The Collective”, to concur on decisions, disburse funds, get paid as a teacher or take on a commercial job, though in Government National Gallery records THEY would record him as being a member of “The Collective”. In truth he was excluded, humored, mimicked, slandered as a wanker and a foolish outlaw who got in trouble with The Law for his art; in reality it was only playing it safe and pretending radicalism that got one an arts career in Auz.

The leader of the Lead Sheds Art Workshop was a one-eyed craftsman named Chips MacSalty; son of the University’s vice-chancellor, he could get away with post-modern poster murder, and he did, creating brilliant, challenging artworks. He was the only one whom Arthur considered had any integrity and he liked him a lot, as did everyone, he had charisma, was sincerely dedicated and very laid back, open to any hard luck story, such as Arthur’s, and he was very kind to the little poof. Chips led a coterie of six other artists, all of them ripping off famous, historical designs and rearranging the images to suit their iconoclasm. They were all paid by the University to take classes in silk-screening, they taught Arthur the craft of making perfect posters and for this he was honestly grateful. But they had little influence on his style, he preferred to use hand-drawn cartoons of his own making instead of their photo-realism or rearrangement of famous classics, and the fact that he remained a fiercely independent artist alienated him from “The Collective”. As far as the history of Pop Art posters goes, he was more turned on by Toulouse Lautrec’s perverse nightclub sketches than Andy Warhol’s commercial shock-value Polaroids.

Many poster-jobs from around the city, for advertisements and good causes, flooded into the Lead Sheds and the Gang of Seven took all the jobs, every last one of them, never offering Arthur a thing, him surviving by taking the dole. He dreamed up every one of his disaffected events and did the poster for it, the demented “performance artist”, thankfully avoiding “The Collective” as if it was a Stalinist farm, he didn’t want to die nameless in a mass grave. Eventually the “Dirtworks” gang drifted apart and a second mob took over, “Juicytoil”, but Arthur got no merciful employment from them either. When a job as silkscreen lecturer finally came up, after he’d been toiling seven years in the Sheds, he optimistically applied for it but was knocked back, maybe he was just too mad even for these anti-establishment house fraus. The job was given to a macho Greek guy who’d showed up out of nowhere claiming he was an expert carpenter and could build all their screens and tables for them. He then proceeded to politically harass and sexually molest the nice feminists for a few months till they had to sack him, but Arthur had also fucked off by then.

Back in early 1979 Arthur threw a benefit gig for a little club in Darlinghurst called “Garibaldis”; it was a favorite haunt of artists and politicos and the old Italian guy who owned it was going broke and Arthur tried to help him out. The poster for the gig was a cartoon caricature of the notorious drag queen, Doris Fish, striding out of Kings Cross with a gang of Punks in her wake, silk-screened in a rainbow of fleuro colors set against a dense, black field; and on a street corner he depicted a dog taking a shit, an image much discussed and sniggered over. The design stuck in the minds of people “on the make”, for down the track Arthur was asked to paint a twenty-foot high mural, “Enjoy Smack Cold”, on a pylon holding up the railway-lines into Kings Cross, which miraculously survived twenty-five years of storms, graffiti and official discomfort. This was in the late Nineteen Seventies, the Punk sub-cultural style ruled the Underground, and around the world the new technologies of artificial dyes was being taken note of by all the punked-out artists. Fluorescent was so in your face Punks just had to take it up.

Arthur was a man of his times, surfing the wave of the moment, hip to what was hot and cool, a real punk himself and seven steps ahead of most of the pretty young things trying to impress champagne Sydney, that plastic city of celebrated hairdressers. In his recycled clothes he never made the IN-Crowd, at art soires he was a nobody, the eternal outsider with his crazed history of LSD therapy, acid jaunts on the international freak circuit and squatting with anarchists down on Pyrmont Point, a freak’s life compared to most people’s humdrum experiences staying at home in the suburbs.

It didn’t take long for artists all over town to start making posters with lots of different fluoro colors and thick, black edging; even similar images to the nasty dog defecating showed up: when an image is hot, it’s hot . “The Collective” still snatched up all the commercial jobs at The Sheds, Arthur eking out a sorry existence of poverty in his ramshackle Pyrmont Squats studio, carrying on blindly, blissfully ignorant of the careerists maneuvering around him. He toiled to create his explosive works of fleuro outlined in heavy black like “Darling it Hurtz” and “No Future”and paid for it all with his dole-money. As far as he was concerned, the major artistic influence on his style, apart from everything he’d ever looked upon, was the “Little Black Sambo” books of his childhood in the Nineteen Fifties, designs in primary colors with heavy black outlines. This style had a long history with the likes of Van Gogh, Lautrec and Picasso, influenced by Japanese prints, so he could never claim he invented it. Yet while it’s true that all the Sydney artists meeting at the Sheds inspired each other, borrowing, enhancing, evolving, Arthur didn’t like being left to eat their dust when they got their works recognized later on, especially as his “Garibaldi’s” poster was the work that resuscitated the fluorescent craze in Sydney, for all that the art-wanking desperadoes would say otherwise. Being of the gutter, he was made to stay in the gutter.

In this cruel, commercial world, winning is what counts, and THEY won, the dice were loaded against him. Arthur could only declare, “Fuck ‘em! A boy’s gotta do what a boy’s gotta do, plod on regardless, surviving, creating and staying cool was a form of winning also.” Arthur had tried to be an all-round Mr. Nice-guy, ever ready to lend a helping hand or a sympathetic ear, cleaning up after everyone, lapping like a puppy at all the great artists’ heels as they toiled away at their masterpieces in the Lead Sheds. He forgot nice guys got trodden on in the big rush to Nowheresville. He was a poofter from the wrong side of the tracks, from provincial Melbourne no less, no private school and no old boys network. He didn’t have a clue about what was really going on with the ART world; he thought all the posters were for radical, political causes and every one of them should be put up on the street walls of Sydney. 

He was naïve, idealistic, dumb and delirious, the quintessential soft-touch; he considered Art and money anathema. He gave his artworks away, did jobs for free, lavished effort in painting murals on crumbling public walls, printed up a deluge of cartoons which he handed out on street corners and generally avoided any connection to capitalist value systems. Most of his work was mass-produced, copies of copies, thrown to the wind, of the moment, for he felt that all would turn to dust in the end, nothing was permanent. He was living in ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’, hanging his art on sky-hooks.

It was only when the party was over that it gelled on Arthur what up-market Art Gallery entrepreneurs had in common with revolutionary artists. He didn’t know all the Lead Shed artists had kept most of their posters in storage, ready for sale as ‘High Art’ to government funded galleries. When he stated that he wanted to put all his works up on the city’s walls, “What do you mean, the walls?” piped up Bobby Stoner, “Our prints are going to the Galleries, hopefully to be sold to private collectors, that way we only need do a limited run.” “A limited run, for private collectors?” mused Arthur. “I must be on another planet. I wanted to paint the whole town punch-drunk fluoro pink. Fuck, what’s going on?”

But these clever careerists indeed did make it to the hallowed walls of the State with their proclaimed “Street Art” while he trudged the streets, defying the law, sticking every one of his thousands of posters upon the walls, never sending them to galleries for private collections, this kind of art business being out of his ken. And thus he ended up broke and ignominious.

Arthur had been showing politicized films at many of the benefit functions he helped organize, always pleading with filmmakers to donate their work so the gigs would be shit-hot multi-media events. There came a day when he realized he could make the films himself, another secret childhood dream dredged up; if no one was going to discover him as a movie star, he would discover himself. He had a good mate in those times, Glen Lewis, who supported him unconditionally and put a Super 8 camera in his hand and he saw how it easy it was to make “Punk film” by waving it about like a wand. He filmed the scenes he moved through, life in the gutters of Sydney, the squats, punk rockers, potheads, protest marches, strip clubs, and in 1980 he put it together as “My Survival as a Deviant!?” He showed it at underground clubs, some liked it, some didn’t, but it was the beginning of his wondrous movie career.

Sydney was a vicious town that chewed up guttersnipes who dreamed of better things, you were either well connected to money or connected to a ball and chain, there was little in between. Maniacal in his sincerity, believing in his causes, his bleached white hair standing on end and dressed like a cyber-punk Zippie the Pinhead, he stood out from the safe crowd like a freak-show clown. As a nasty, edgy artist, he always knew the conformist Auz elite would be denied him; a libertarian gutter fag who undermined consumer capitalism with cutting vitriol, it couldn’t be otherwise. Like Tourette’s Syndrome, to give the finger to ‘The System’ was compulsive, and total fun. In spite of the poverty, oh how he loved being the REBEL. He went on to make daring animated films, and they won international awards; there was a Big World out there curious about the state of things inside the magical Isle of Auz, and his work intimated something of this. Eventually the Internet was invented and he could really talk to an international audience; laughing with glee, he jumped over the heads of the local plodders, overcoming the black-balling and censorship, he spread his wings and was free, the Internet a true democratic leveler.

In 1984 he was making one of his typical, illuminated designs, a poster for his short, animated film, “The Thief of Sydney”, when a Japanese guy, Rick Tanaka, came into the Lead-Sheds Workshop and watched Arthur as he finished up. He talked about how he was a disc jockey for the radio station atop the University of Technology’s concrete tower, with a show in which he played Japanese pop music, and he wanted to make a poster to advertise it. He was enamored of the style, fluorescent color and motif in Arthur’s “Thief of Sydney” posters which he’d just put out to dry, a dragon wrapped around the Centrepoint Tower, and was inspired to do something similar.

But Artie didn’t get the job, months later Rick gave it to one of the Lead-sheds “Collective”, Mickey C, and together they came up with a poster, fleuro with heavy black outlines, of the Godzilla movie-monster attacking the same Centrepoint Tower. The coloring and design of the Jap-pop poster was not unlike Arthur’s “Thief” and he didn’t mind his hard-won design worked over, mimicry being the best pretense at respect, so the bullshit truism goes, and he kind of felt honored he’d made such an impression on the hip foreigner. In the gladiator’s bull-pit that was the Australian Art scene, he had to be happy with any commendation he got.

There was even a night when the imperious Bobby Stoner gushed to Arthur that as he’d had the genius to dream up the name of “Toby Zoates” as moniker for his work, perhaps he could dream up a new name for “Dirtworks” as they’d grown tired of its ‘Sixties, Illuminati connotations. Even she had progressed in her posters to bright colors outlined in heavy black, a look that had become ‘Sydney ubiquitous’ and Arthur was growing heartily sick of it. Arthur smirked into her smarmy face and suggested, “All Mod Cons, Bad Samples or how about Soft Edges?” She stared blankly in return, too canny to take the bait, suspecting he was taking the piss, and gave him her famous no comment, prim smile.

By 1985 the old Lead Sheds gang had split up and gone their hairy ways, the smartest of them seeking jobs in the Arts Bureaucracy, the only infallible way for half-talents to stay on the Australian Arts Gravy Train. Arthur labored on making batty posters and wallpapering Sydney with them, not a corner in the entire inner-city missing out.

Over the years he noticed he was excluded from all the group shows of the Sydney poster makers, usually held at Fly Swatter’s Gallery, and he couldn’t figure out why, he’d never done anything bad to them, not one thing. And it was total exclusion, as if some other agenda was at play. They knew of his hard life, yet they seemed to take pleasure in putting the boot in doubly hard, it was mean of them, these middle class brats were like the overseers in convict times who didn’t mind using the whip. He could only imagine they were jealous of his achievements, a boy from the slums, too much competition for their pseudo-radicalism and pedestrian lives, his animated film, "The Thief of Sydney" the clincher, too hot for their cold hearts.

He thought back to that evening, in the late ‘Seventies, when he was invited to dinner at Fly Swatter’s prestigious gallery penthouse, along with his straight mate, Karl, who Artie suspected was flirting with poofy old Fly. In the middle of the meal, Karl proposed the two of them make a daring risque film, a 'John Reschy' sexual outlaw kind of film, with Artie in some public toilet pulling his dick, on camera. Old Fly seemed impressed by the idea but Artie refused to do it, he couldn't understand why this was such a hot idea; he accused them both of being crass voyeurs, they argued on and on, quite heatedly, and old Fly’s wrinkled face got grumpier and grumpier whenever he cast it upon Arthur, who became quite abusive in his refusal. The boy was not living up to salacious, arty-farty notoriety, or some such obtuse nonsense, somehow he just didn’t please the guy. When he showed old Fly his work and fished for a show at his renowned gallery, the old prick just gave a cryptic smile and a slight shake of his grizzled head. There was going to be no easy patronage for Artie, that’s for sure.

Being the generous, naïve fool, he delivered a copy of every wondrous fleuro poster he printed to the Swatter’s gallery and the old squirrel stashed them upstairs with his huge collection. Arthur never knew what became of them, whether they were trashed or sold on. He did discover, much later on, that the old rogue had long decided to ignore Arthur and back his competition for hip artistry, an inane Kiwi who had often come to the Lead Sheds to eyeball the latest posters produced there, a private school boy, safe, heterosexual and connected, who made crap art depicting Aussie cliches, appealing to gronks. Arthur would've liked to appeal to Fly's sense of "Gay Community, Brotherhood and Solidarity" but it was just toilet graffitti to the old dick, it was what was safe, commercial and dumbed down that had dollar-potential and money has always been the name of the game. Whatever, over the years, though there would be furious denials, Artie often saw certain aspects of his work in the pop artist's famous shit. Winners are grinners, losers are boozers, he could only escape into a pot haze and repeat over and over, “Sydney is a small, shallow pond, full of sharks." 

All the Leftie types' various artworks trumpeted support of the disaffected, poor, working class, gays, dispossessed, indigenous and homeless, but when someone turned up who encapsulated all these abused entities in one person, such as Arthur, they denied him employment and succor. It reminded him of when he was a child and a big kid from across the road kicked him in the nuts, for no reason at all except for the cruel pleasure, setting a pattern, the beatings never seemed to end, as all these tales on Blogspot attest. Competitive capitalism was only the half of it, apparatchik socialism the sucker punch, for in  Auz Govt. bureaucats decided what was art and who could be an artist. And yet Arthur surfed the terror, gave the finger to 'The System' and had a wildly exuberant life.

After old Swatter declined him a showing, he eschewed risk-averse middle-class gallery owners; he was too grungy and notorious; instead he felt he could use all the walls of the city as his gallery and thus defeat their elitism and monopoly of art spaces. The cost of silk-screening had become prohibitive and the Lead-Sheds Gang of Seven continued to hog any available poster employment, thus he had no money to make hand-printed posters. He evolved into using the industrial, offset press, printing thousands of cheap black and white designs, sometimes hand-touching them with fluoro paints. He applied for an Arts Grant from the Australian Arts Council to have an exhibition of his latest works but he was knocked back with finality. What else could he expect from the trustees of an ex-convict colony who cringed at anything which hinted at social critique and consumer subversion, “subvertizing”, for everything had to be rubber-stamped “State-sanctioned” to be considered a valuable contribution.

Many years later, in the mid-Nineties, perhaps when they had all imagined Arthur had been killed off, the old Lead Sheds gang held a reunion to celebrate twenty-five years of glorious contributions to the Art world. They had as M.C., the anarcho-feminist television personality Judy Croissant who blathered on about how she “found the nerve to go on to conquer showbiz with comedy after being inspired by the rousing politics of the Dirtworks posters”. One non-star after another got up and made grandiloquent speeches of self-congratulation while Arthur sat at the back of the crowd, under his Garibaldi’s print, with a sneer on his wizened, old Punk’s mug, the bad fairy. He’d gone around and handed out offset posters for his latest nightclub show, “Deadbeat and Gronky”, telling them all he’d recently been arrested and framed for an armed robbery by a corrupt police force, much to their horror and embarrassment. Each of them, all protest campaign comrades of old, gave him seven seconds and then turned away, they were over him, he could flounder on his own.

Later in the evening he had to retrieve many of his flyers from the floor, all scrunched up and abandoned. When he looked in the catalog of works being shown, he saw everything had been grouped under Collective banners, Arthur’s work now listed as if it was a “Dirtworks”or a “Juicytoil” Collective production, when the reality was that Arthur had simply hired the screens and paid for the paints. Thank no god he’d signed the works individually, otherwise the wankers would have truly dispossessed him. They were all conscious that he’d been trampled into a misshapen monster in the ongoing stampede for glory, he could read it in the wall-eyed looks they gave him, he sensed a guilt-edged misunderstanding lurking behind their half-smiles.

In the years thereafter Arthur had terrible nightmares of sneaking around to the abodes of all the merciless arts-careerists he’d ever met and been used and abused by, and wait in the dark for them to show up. Like a serial killer whose M.O. was choosing one kind of person for all his victims, in his case arts-holes, he dreamed of bumping them all off hideously, maybe sticking paint-brushes up their fishy arseholes or shoving rubber squeegees into their big, greedy cunts.

Further on in the mid-Nineties, a Poster exhibition was put on by the National Gallery in Canberra pompously called “The Streets as Art Galleries - Walls Sometimes Speak” and Arthur was informed that they were including one of his works in the show, “The Thief of Sydney.” He was extremely thrilled at the prospect; all his childhood dreams had come true, he had made it into the hallowed halls of High Art at the heart of his nation. He had been issued an invitation to the opening but the organizers can thank their evil stars that his sojourn to the Capital got screwed-up for he would’ve torn the dump apart over what he would have discovered had he been there, his infamy be damned.

He got his best mate to drive him down to Canberra, only they stupidly took the coast road instead of the freeway, which added several more hours to their journey. They trundled up to the National Gallery past eleven o’clock at night, the party was over, the doors were shut and the cleaners were tidying up the leftovers. Arthur could only press his nose against the plate-glass doors and imagine what it must’ve been like to actually be there, in the National Gallery, with one of his works hanging upon the wall. He had no money, all had been spent on petrol, and they were left to forlornly wander the cold, white concrete corridors of Canberra, hungry and disappointed, salivating as they watched the legion of fat bureaucats gorging themselves in the swank, bourgeois eateries.

When he got back to Sydney he was sent a Catalog of the show, “The Walls Sometimes Speak”, as if to rub his nose in it. He avidly flipped through its colorful, glossy pages only to discover he’d been totally expunged from the book, as if he’d never existed, with not even a tiny pic of ‘The Thief” nor a slight mention of his name. All those thousands of posters he’d laboriously marched through the streets and pasted up had been ignored, crowded out by other precious works he knew very few of which had made it onto street walls, most going into government offices, galleries and private collections. Chips MacSalty, Bobby Stoner, Mickey C, all getting lionised with repetitive entries, like they had some insider, golden hook into the Prints and Posters Curator of the National Gallery, a guy called Dodgy Butthole. Staid house fraus, T-shirt salesmen and social-security publicists got themselves patronized in the Catalog, but actual street walls as galleries were far too gauche for the majority of the works, for Arthur had lived through the times and he didn’t remember seeing much of their crap up around the city.

What shitted Arthur off the most was the Japanese DJ got a full page reproduction in the Catalog of his poster depicting Godzilla attacking Centrepoint Tower, produced by Micky C, and Arthur knew damned well his “Thief of Sydney” poster had inspired that one. Sure they had all inspired and borrowed from each other, that re-configuring was the name of the post-modernist game, all works had their individual touch and it was those first across the line who won. Still, it pissed Arthur off no end to be wiped from the slate so deviously for he was confident that his own art was as brilliant as the next fuckwit’s, dam the experts’ opinion. What a bunch of dickhead bastards they were, and on questioning Prim Devonham, one of the glorified artists, he was told it was Dodgy Butthole who had made all the decisions and he had particularly singled out Arthur for exclusion. Like, how would that pen-pushing prick know what went up on the walls of Sydney when he spent most of his slothful life wallowing in Canberra’s robopathic corridors of power?

Arthur’s paranoid, perceptive view of the workings of the Australian scene suggested that there must’ve been someone giving him inexpert advice, like Bobby Stoner, who’d long held a pathological hatred of this working class boy with balls. He howled with pain at their cruelty, was it that they were jealous, afraid he’d show them up, for his art was hot, and his animated films were showing all the the world, while they were eternally relegated to backwater regional Aussie galleries at best. He thanked no god for the Internet. If one Googled his tag, TZ, his ART popped up from a multitude of sources, the “Collective” blackballing just not able to keep him down.

If Arthur had made it to the opening at the National Gallery, seen his “Thief” poster up on the wall, nicely presented behind glass, then noticed he’d been excluded from the Catalog, in a blood-curdling temper tantrum he would have ripped his beautifully framed work down and smashed it to pieces in the faces of the wine-swilling flock of culture-vultures. He would’ve screamed the truth about the all-suffering “Streets”, called them all money-grubbing creeps and let them ring for the fucking cops. For the poster was his to do with as he willed, no one had paid him for it and if it wasn’t good enough for the Catalog then it wasn’t good enough for their bloody walls.

Such an act would’ve made him infamous! At last he would’ve received recognition as the perpetrator of an alarming piece of performance art, maybe the only artist ever to have torn his work down from the Grand Temple of Artifice in Canberra where “The walls also shriek!” In the doing he might have done the only honest act ever performed in such a citadel of crapulous chicanery, for in Arthur’s jaundiced view of the history of Art in Australia, the Great Southern Land was a bandit-infested desert, rife with exclusion, plagiarism and nepotism. After all, he was spewing on a cringe-worthy country that had refused a Van Gogh painting, offered for free in the late Nineteenth century, knocked back because the curators didn’t think it had any merit.

They could all suck shit and rot in the posterior of their posterity: who are they anyway? Shit-bags who'll die like everybody else! So what if their tatty posters also hang in the Museum of Contemporary Art, nobody reads the tiny little names on the wall, their 15 nanoseconds of infamy isn’t worth the degradation of their souls. The lure of fame and money was irresistible to the crabby cunts, like the ultimate drug, nobody could resist it, but sadly they've ended up with fish-faces, like most junkies. In this cut-throat commercial world, Art was the least of it, Art in fact was a tired old whore fucked to death, it was all about the survival of the quickest and the slickest, the connected and the affected, and MONEY.

The careers of stuffed-shirt Govt. Arts Curators depends on  pinpointing and promoting the next, new avant-garde and, being sophisticated dead-heads, they inevitably, blindly trawl ‘the Underground’ to find unusual, outrageous, sometimes subversive works to turn into ‘High Art’ and make MONEY, (Basquiat and Banksy's work for instance.) Arthur obsessed that ‘art’ shouldn’t be separated from daily life and so he slavishly brought his art to the street, like “the Lettrists” and anarcho-surrealists of post-World War 2 Europe, to bring vibrancy to the dreariness of urban streets, the scruffy posters defying the status quo of obedient consumerism, work, Religion and the family, then blowing away in the wind. Arthur knew it in his guts: the State would never give lifetime support to anything that critiqued its machinations; State supported Art was for oxymorons.

Of all the artists he worked with at the Lead Sheds, Arthur thought Chips MacMalty was the coolest dude, for he had actually put his soul where his mouth was, got arrested over the issues he’d made inflammatory posters for and dedicated his entire working life in support of those issue. And he had his own style, didn’t need to plagiarize and wasn’t interested in the fleuro rage. He was everybody’s hero and as such managed to keep the workshop productive for many years and was always ready to provide Arthur a space. Like a naïve, incensed lunatic, Arthur had also got himself arrested over those burning political issues, many times, and his thousands of wall posters were simply the aftermath of his warped, heartfelt convictions. None of the other so-called radical artists from the hot Lead Sheds ever got arrested in support of the content of their art, they just pushed and cheered from the sidelines, and pretended to be radical artists. But he did admit it was with the Gang of Seven that he went on the first Gay Rights march up Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, in 1978 and he really appreciated their solidarity, the one thing they did to bolster his ongoing existence.

In spite of the elitist vitriol spat into his face, Arthur didn’t regret giving his life over to “subvertizing”, the exhilarating adventure of the iconoclastic artist running amok in a cold, complacent, bourgeois world. He didn’t need State sanction, he declared himself to be an artist by his very deeds. For what makes an artist? A critic’s newspaper write-up? A curator’s endorsement? A collector’s sale? A bureaucrat’s grant? To Arthur it was the doing, the slapping up of a mountain of work, the living and breathing of sheer creativity, as if he were a mad sorcerer, a lead pencil his magic wand. All else could blow it out their collective arse, his art was from his heart. 

                        EAT THE KIDS!

The Lead Sheds was a muddled attempt at a Utopian free-space, where sheer creativity was welcomed, the oppressed were uplifted and the heinous political crooks were vilified. Much fun was had with the rock’n’roll parties and politicized shows, and freaks could feel somewhat at home there. The top dogs probably thought they’d been selflessly kind to Arthur, encouraging him and lending him access to their sanctified precincts and, like Cinderella, he was always polite, worked hard, never complained or tried to take over. Secretly he thought they treated him as if he was some poor, club-footed cousin, to be patronized but never brought into the fold or treated as an equal. His male gay working class punk character kept him on the edge, an outsider. In future he didn’t want to hear any shit about how he was a member of any grand “Collective” or how art was “for the people”. Capitalist human nature and altruistic collectives are anathema.

While this whole bitch-rave sounds like the typical loser-artist’s bowl of sour cherries, it makes for one of the juiciest of Arthur’s “how I got beat-up” stories and, whatever other arts-holes might squawk in reply, he swears by his version. He hardly ever met an artist who didn’t have a harrowing tale to tell, of being ripped off, plagiarized, hard done by, blackballed, dispirited and annihilated, like an army of raving, paranoid misfits with delusions of grandeur blaming an unjust “Them”. Arthur didn’t have what it takes to succeed, genius, upbringing and ruthlessness, he was just another failed artist bemoaning his fate, more talented than Hitler, not as good as Van Gogh.

Regardless, he carried on with his multi-colored hallucinations upon the human condition, on paper, canvas and film, surprised when people made a fuss of them and enjoyed their verve and satire, shocked if they bought one when he was particularly hard up for cash. Given the terrible history of the world, the many wars, rip-offs and tyrannies, the fact it was on the brink of nuclear devastation, environmental collapse and disease pandemics, he believed it was the artists responsibility to discuss, protest, obstruct the devolution, directly, in clear language and imagery. Pretty wallpaper, art as furniture, conceptual masturbating, clever installations, all a waste of time and space. The forces of destruction, war machines, police states, environmental exploitation, are all backed by high capitalism to make profits for wealthy elites who have no interest in supporting “protest art”, for them Art is to be what Robert Hughs, the High Art critic, called “bullion art”, objects to invest money in.

Robert Hughs also said Piccasso’s “Guernica” was the last great 'protest' work of art. Artie firmly believed there were many more to come, using any and all mediums, particularly the new medium of digital communication, like the Internet. Deluded, he dreamed of participating in the vanguard of the latest happening Arts movement, Post Pop Art, Post-Post-Modern Art, Post Apocalyptic Art, imagining it to be representational, abstract, narrative, meta-textual, surreal, anarcho-mystic, expressionist, futuristic and realistic all at the same time. Considering all this, in Arthur’s heart, the Artist had to be an Outlaw, it was the only way his art would have any viability, it had to have punch.

For much of his long life he would have to toil through chill winds and hard rains, howling at the injustices of small souls sticking in the knives while his back was turned, without his right of reply. They were like the spoiled kids from his school-days, excluding him from their precious in-group; the goodie-two-shoes who were given access to the art materials because they were well behaved. And Arthur could only look on from the outside, denied the crayons, the paints, the pencils and paper because he was constantly rebelling, giving lip. As if art was not only a reward for conforming, but as a dangerous propaganda tool, it had to be closely monitored.

Yet his childhood dreams had come true, all those years of travail, study and euphoric abandonment lending solid sub-text to his imagery, he was satisfied with the art he’d left behind, and what was yet to come, fantastical vision-quests into the body-politic. He’d gotten on top of his troubles and created ART, and, what the hell, at the end of the day he could possibly make a claim to that coolest of titles, “The Artist.” Or was he kidding himself, with delusions of grandeur, a wanker, a madman, a shaman, an outsider, an outlaw; if that’s what it takes to make BAD  art, so be it. This is his story and he's sticking to  it.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.