"Loo Railway Mural: "How Do You Feel?"
Dear All Powerful and August Art Dictator at the Gallery of New South Whales,
Get ready for the usual bitchy moaning from a deadbeat, fucked-over artist. I was bemused/annoyed by the bullshit you spun in that interview for the Daily Terror I read a week ago. "What the Australian 'Art World' needed was more anarchists and iconoclasts to shake the institutions up, ruffle the feathers of complacency, break ground, cut edges", or some such dilettante drivel, slumming in the underground because it's hipster cool and beats stuffed shirts at wine-clinking soirees I suppose.
You were brought out of some crypt to bring culture to us heathen antipodeans and, as director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales for endless years, have guarded the temple-gates against the barbarians, influenced criteria and careers by pontificating on the Grand Dame, ART, and thus ruled the roost from pyramidal heights, as part of a social elite; Art is what you say it is, you've got the money, credentials and connections to back you up. It thus comes as a cruel joke to read after 40 years of my struggles at the bottom of the hill in Darlinghurst, painting the city fluorescent with my sardonic social satires, you now maybe will invite me up the mountain and into the inner-sanctum, as an "IN" anarchist, to kiss the arse of 'High Art' with you and your cabal. I don't think so.
I think what you mean by anarchist artists are those flakes who do minimalist wiggly lines and a few streaks of shit and so break the thrall of realist representation and perspective, still with a rave of social justice, how it represents the murder of the Indigenous, to salve your conscience. Or you want conceptual brain-bursts like a thousand buckets of dog turds all lined up like carbon molecules, as opposed to scenes of contemporary life with a text of critique, the research of historical fact and a philosophy of questioning the exploitative staus quo. The State Gallery is a pillar of the State and has a self-preservative interest in supporting that status quo, thus much of the art you show and support is State sanctioned, safe, and chocka-block full of careerists whose main eye is on the dollar, and kudos, and trends. There are 1001 civil libertarian artists working feverishly in their garrets producing genius imagery/researched journalism/agit-prop but they get no support from anybody and often die young, or ignominious old, their work thrown into the nearest dumpster, being anarchic/iconoclastic they would rarely find themselves uplifted by your elitist art world, for your anarchic art is an oxymoron.
Overlord, you only have to take a walk down the hill into Woolloomoolloo and check out the pillars holding up the rail-line into Kings Cross to see what an anarchist is capable of. Around the year 1983 I was one of 7 artists Marilyn Fairskye got together to paint giant murals to enhance the industrial landscape that blighted the housing estate of the 'Loo. I got pillar number 7 and did a 20 foot high, psychedelic expressionist painting of the main drag of Kings Cross looking up from the Fitzroy Gardens and I called it "How Do You Feel? Enjoy Smack Cold!" I depicted lots of the local folklore and national politics, such as flogging uranium to war-mongers, and consumer rubbish to the media hypnotized, the through-line to emphasize why people turn to drugs, and I did it with risque flare, outrageous freedom of dialogue and iconoclastic verve. (My style is to have one picture read like a novel, pictograms and words communicating 7 levels of subtext, there's always a new story to discover in the image for anyone whose eyes get to fall upon it repetitively.)
The bureaucrats who funded the mural project were aghast at the opening, and the locals were divided, some hating it's semi-pornography and libertarian values, others liking it's nerve and out-front depictions of life at street level. 23 years later the mural is still there, in all it's vibrant fluorescent enamels, a miracle that the council haven't pulled it down, they've even put a protective fence around it to stop the young graffiti artists from destroying the lower panel. This has all been one big fluke for since then I've never got another commission, encouragement or even an invitation out for cheese and Jatz biscuits.
Nobody who's "anybody above ground" wants an importunate, deluded wannabe rebel artist in rags knocking furiously at their door; it's a sad joke that even for anarchic artists there's only the Govt. arts bureaucracy door to knock upon for support in Auz. That is if critical acclaim and a regular income are the artist's goal. He/she can always find some like-minded creative rebels to rally round and co-operate to make interesting art, (which is what I hoped the Tin Sheds Poster Workshop would be): art that responds to the world around it and gets responded to in turn, even if it's a put-down response, and from the State it usually is. (For instance take my frame-up by the cops for armed robber, it felt like The State taking revenge on me.) There are so many ways and styles to get one's interaction and dialogue with society across: posters, films, murals on any available building wall, photocopied flyers, zines and comix, paintings, videos, live performance, music, essays, photos, stories, data charts, digital platforms, the imagination has no limit..
And it certainly doesn't have to be imprisoned and controlled in an "art gallery", it can be anywhere, it's how you connect it to Mind, individual and collective, that counts, that's why this "cyper-space" thing is way cool, almost mental telepathy. Most of my art-working history has involved all of the above practice to have my say, even to effect rethinking of controversies, if a lunatic-fringe rebel can do such a thing; for instance, to get behind realistic efforts to ameliorate climate change. I've had to operate outside the constrictions of art galleries, curators, critics, collectors as they all eschewed me and I hate they way they've set up art, as a consumable commodity, sneaky propaganda for the Beast of High Capitalism.
Maybe my kind of art: cartoon imagery, symbolism, political diatribe, libertarian satire, acerbic comment, working-class folklore, memoir journalism is dead in the water, suitable only for the back-alley garbage-bin wall. The ruling elite would love to have art with nothing more to say about the world, history, factual injustices and destructive government programs. They want lots of bland portraits, abstract blocks of colour and conceptual garbage, Duchampism gone mad, anything can be art, a lot of bullshit text to snow-job it and a huge price-tag, but with no real information. I'm in favor of the metaphor of the "media virus", to spread memes into the population, by whatever means, to seed alternative ideas and narratives. I think there's still room for independent expression and revolt against a corrupt, burning world. To go beyond endless dialogue and encourage action.
My art contains everything I've ever looked at and read all mulched down into my unique take on life as a homo sap sap sap sapien, unique as a snow-flake with its chance in Hell, leaving an evaporating commentary on the violent void. Hot stuff I confidently think but I know I'll never get to meet you, dear Arts Overlord, up there in your ivory temple for you're not really interested in actual cutting anarchic art. Anyway, I'd get shoved out the way by some little spoiled brat fuckwit from Vaucleuse, introduced to you by his mother on the Arts Board as the latest happening thing, with his smudgy piled on lumps of shit vaguely looking like a big Somebody, or her abstract arse-wipe across canvas and every one's boo-hoo crocodile tears for the dispossessed, all expressed through banks of out-of-focus video monitors.
For it's all about regular money, fame, elitist cachet, power, pseudo-immortality and false consciousness, and the profit from exploiting the natural world and crushing the human populations to obedience of our wealthy Elite rulers. IT has nothing to do with ART. ART is an old whore who has been fucked to death. Artists are made famous so as to be plugged into high capitalism, their work becomes bullion, traded and bankable, money is the medium, not merit. It's so obvious that our rulers, economic, political and religious, would destroy any truly rebellious, anarchic art as a threat to their hegemony. The artist would starve and his/her work disappeared, wiped from the record. Picasso's "Guernica", Diego Rivera's murals, Otto Dix's war drawings, Hussein's "Bhopal Gas Tragedy", none of these works would've seen the light of day if Govt. arts bureaucrats were involved. The following tale of woe relates clearly how a hard working, sincere anarchic artist can get wiped from existence, tho I've told it many times, it's like a blow-fly in my belfry, buzzing around eternally, I tend to spit chips over it again and again, like every other broken-arsed artist one can meet on any street corner, I GOT RIPPED.
When I first came to Sydney in '77 I got arrested in the White Bay anti-uranium riots and, to raise the money to pay the fines of all involved, I organized a rock concert at Balmain Town Hall with up and coming rock legends "Mad As Cut Snakes". I went to the Tin Sheds Poster Workshop at Sydney University to silkscreen the poster for the event, "Blood on the Streets", designing it like a Z-grade '50s noir movie, lurid b/w photos from the press showing cops dragging protesters by their hair, dripping all over with red blood lettering. The gang who ran the Tin Sheds called themselves the "Earthworks Poster Collective" and they were much impressed by "Blood on the Streets".
I made a poster for a hang-out cafe in Darlinghurst called "Garibaldis" in fluero against a black field depicting the drag queen Doris Fish leading a gang of punks out of a creepy Kings Cross. The Collective and everybody else loved the 'Garibaldis' poster, really clapped me on the back for it, and within a year every zombie and his dog was making posters using fluero with heavy black edges. It's great to be an inspirational artist. I continued putting my work on every surface possible, discovering later that the Collective, while putting some of their work up in the city, held a lot back as limited print-run editions and sold them to public and private collections, a business way out of my ken. Money/career never has been my god.
I got many hairs up my arse about several social issues and thus printed thousands of posters squawking about some horrid state of the world or other, and I stuck these thousands of posters on all the walls of inner-city Sydney, using the world at large as my gallery for I knew the frustrating struggle and compromise involved in finding a private entrepreneur to take you on. For twenty years I was chased by cops, rangers, white-trash thugs, Hare Krishna devotees and irate Gays for putting up posters they thought were offensive, and thus I paid my dues. MIn the early '90s, many years after the "Earthworks Collective" disbanded, a dullard arts-bureaucrat in Canberra decided to run a show entitled, "The Walls Also Speak : Contemporary Posters. " He'd mainly curated works from the Tin Sheds Studio for his show as it had become famous for it's witty, politicized output. He promoted 7 works of every Earthworks crony and chose only 1 of my 77 pieces, the fluero poster I did for my film, "The Thief of Sydney", a poster job I'd given myself, as all my others were. But that's cool, at least I got one great work in the show, to be held at the National Gallery of Australia, the highest temple to the Goddess of Art in the entire land.
When I was making "The Thief" poster at the Tin Sheds a Japanese guy called in to watch me print; he was a hip D.J. on 2 SER radio playing Japanese pop music and he wanted a poster made to publicize his show; he gushed in hyperbole how he loved my effort and wanted a poster done with a similar effect. So months later I see Mickey C of the 'Earthworks' got the job and had printed a fluero poster using similar motifs to mine, the Centrepoint Tower under siege from a monster, in my case it was a dragon, from the Aboriginal myth of the Serpent of destruction being awakened by the digging up of Uranium from sacred country; his was the cliche of Godzilla attacking the same Centrepoint Tower, and he's got Japanese people in the foreground whereas I have post-apocalyptic ghosts, both with a color fade on the skyline. Fair enough, we all inspire each other.
I got invited to the opening night of "The Walls Also Speak" in Canberra but it's a good thing in my poverty I was late and missed the show for I'd have flipped at what I found. As my fate decreed, we had little money for petrol and stupidly went on the coast road which is much longer and so we took forever to get there, arriving just as the doors closed for the night and the cleaners swept the left-overs of the crackers and wine away, me with my nose pressed up against the window-pane, sob sob. We didn't even have enough money left for food and, when we went into the city precinct, we had to watch many Canberra denizens, most of them govt bureaucrats, stuffing their faces in the up-market restaurants while our stomachs rumbled. My flesh still crawls all these years later remembering it.
Some months later I received the catalog of the show, all important as it's the only viable record of the event that remains for future reference. I discovered lots of full-page reproductions of Earthwork's "revolutionary posters" and not even one of my intense efforts, not even "The Thief" which they'd hung on the walls of their hallowed halls but not seen good enough to include in the catalog, yet Micky C's Jap D.J. rip-off was there along with many other of his vacuous works. (The fuckers had also included Rag Bamboozle's posters for his T-shirts which had really only gone up in shop-windows but he was the next 'big thing' in Auz art and even his bum-wipes would've been eulogized.) I was "Carrie" infuriated. If I'd made it to the opening in Canberra and discovered myself missing from the catalog, after all my postering efforts, I'd have brought the building down upon their well-fed heads with psychic screaming, definitely tore my work off the walls and smashed it in their faces, maybe the only artist ever to have done so.
The biggest careerist wankers got promoted in the pseudo-politicized affair, and the "nobodies" like me, who really put in the effort and design break-through, got wiped from the record. (And why? For example, a few of my works were for bail money to help those arrested in riots against uranium mining, a trade the govt was involved in), (I've thought about it a lot over the years and have simply concluded that the mob of arts careerists were jealous I'd done animations, short stories, comix, murals and performance, a mixed bag of tricks; and they were bigoted, all middle-class Hets from Sydney and I was a working class Gay brat from Melbourne.)
|Squatting at Christmas in Derelict Housing.|
In about 1995 the Tin Sheds had a retrospective and all the cronies got out of their wheelchairs to congratulate each other on their genius. When I asked the organizer why I'd gotten excluded from the "Walls Also Speak" catalog she told me it was at the curator's insistence, a pen-pusher named Dodgy Buthole, who from his wombat hole in Canberra decided what had gone onto the walls of Sydney for the last 21 years, with some advice from the ambitious Collective no doubt. For the kudos, money and false glitter of fame as a "genius artshole", wankers would sell their old folks to a glue-factory, and let's not pretend otherwise. It's about toeing the State/Money line, it's not about intrinsic artistic worth affecting history or improving society, it's about influencing the writing of that culture-history that can bear immediate results for a cut-throat careerist. The "Collective" were cool dudes who did help me print my works, I paid for everything and cleaned up after myself, but they never put bread on my butter, some of them even "cut me off at the water-works", and I'm sure most of them got themselves nice, comfortable jobs with a govt. bureaucracy somewhere, the real "art's gravy train".
In the catalog for this retrospective they've got me down as a member of the "Earthworks Collective", and the "Lucyfoil Collective" that came after it, but I was never a member of any such mob, I was an independent operator, they just want to have a bet each way in case my name did indeed one day earn some cachet. If I'd not signed the posters "Toby Zoates" they would probably have claimed the posters as theirs as well, such is the race to "fame and wealth" desired even by Marxists, feminists and pseudo-anarchists.
And this brings me back to dear His August Know-All Art Dictator and Curator for the N.S.W. Art Gallery; it's not simply the difficulty of producing the work, getting noticed, getting sold and exhibited that defeats the true anarchist artist: if he/she sticks to their guns and produces real iconoclastic work they will get crushed, trampled in the rush and then written out of history as if they'd never been, so why should they bother? Certainly I wouldn't hold my breath dear Curator waiting for any real anarchist to kiss your arse, although for great artistic conceptual irony, you can kiss mine. Yours Sincerely, Toby Zoates
P.S. Not long after posting this missive my mural under the railway at Woolloomoolloo was taken down and disappeared, like the vicious act of Nazis towards decadent art, it not only doesn't pay to do subvertizing work, it also doesn't pay to open one's mouth and speak out. The Powers That Be are ruthless, unforgiving, cruel in their mean narrow-mindedness and hanging onto privileges. And the old arty-farty Arts Commissar finally retired, but of course another precious fuckwit has taken his place, last year ripping off $435,0000 as his annual salary and taking 7 bullshit overseas trips billed to the AGNSW, such is his overweening opinion of himself. With little money left over for anything else, he gets to dictate what art should be, the usual vacuous, abstract rubbish that was already done much better 60 years ago, but with some social justice title as a con that he and the flaky artist "cares".
Many years later, in about 2015, Chips MacSalty had a retrospective of his hundreds of marvelous works up in Darwin, "I'm Not Dead Yet", and in his catalog he gave fond remembrances to a thousand people, anyone who went near the Tin Sheds, many who had nothing to do with making posters, but sadly, to me, left me out. I couldn't help but wonder what on earth I'd done to him to so resolutely forget me as we seemed to be good friends for about seven years while I slaved away in his workshop. Somebody must've mentioned my omission from the list, not me, for if you Google my name up pops his show, which makes me laugh, as they can't entirely wipe me from the record it seems, the Internet KNOWS EVERYTHING. After reading his "dedication" I tossed and turned for several nights extremely upset at what I saw as an insult, yet another fuck over in a life of hard knocks, one of the downtrodden the political-poster artists were always wanking on about uplifting from our oppression.
As if the tension it caused was a rubber band, it stretched and stretched, stretched and stretched with my anxiety until it suddenly snapped, and I let go, of any grudge and any disappointment. I relaxed, I was through with it all, fuck the Art World, knocking my head against the brick wall of the Arts citadels, I don't have to care what all the dicks are up to. I've now dropped out of ART, I couldn't give a shit about artists, critics, curators, dealers, collectors, media barons, all of them money grubbing wankers, most art is crap, avoiding the real issues of the day, humanity on the brink of annihilation, the environment destroyed, governments trashing the poor in favor of the rich elites.
I am at the moment, ecstatically happy, as in 2017 I went to a talk on Hans Haacke at a show called "Journalism/Art - Art/Journalism" put on by Wendy Bacon, Chris Nash and Ian Millis, discussing the conceptual artist who in 1971 had his exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum cancelled because they didn't think it was art, it was journalism; actually it was just too radical, exposing slum landlords of New York with photos and text. I now feel vindicated that all my efforts, from the very moment I hit Sydney in '77 were spot on, surfing the crest of the contemporary cultural wave, as a natural, in that I had no education but instinctively knew what was important to express in my art.
I was assured that it's cutting edge to challenge corruption and control with in your face facts, ideas, designs and photos, to break out of the prison of arts control as established by the galleries and govt. bureaucrats. I must say that here in 2017 I'm bemused to discover that my posters in particular are right up there with the Masters of '80s Poster Art, yes even those who seemed to have tried to exclude me from the records. Some kudos galleries are now lionizing my work and selling them for big bucks, none of which I got any money for, they seemed to have purloined them from private collections while I'm left to starve.
So again,"Fuck them!" I've dropped out of the whole rat-race. My Blog with its writing and pics is now my art, it's journalism meets art without the Art World as intermediary, I don't need THEIR permission or glory, I leapfrog the artsholes here in Auz and get out to an audience all around the world. I am free, free at last!