Thursday, September 16, 2010

What I've Got to Say About My Art.

I’ve called my latest art-show “The Grunge of Virgin Beasts” for much of the musical soundtrack for my film was created by Sydney’s hottest grunge rock bands of the ‘80s and revisiting “Grunge” was to be an element of my contribution to the Newtown arts festival. I like to think that “grunge” was kind of an art movement of the late 20th century, though one of its recognized masters, Kurt Cobain, disavowed the title as he maybe wanted to avoid being labeled. It evolved from the “Punk” style of the ‘70s after music was briefly side-tracked into “new romanticism”. There’s nothing romantic about “Grunge” and its adherents, for the most it exploded with howls of existential pain, alienation, disaffection, confusion and subversion of the status quo.

Grunge rock music preferred a raw, driving, relentless bass guitar overwhelming and upstaging the hero theatrics of lead guitar as prettified in glam and psychedelic rock. In the late 20th century youth seemed to want to rebel against their parents’ staid generation: the bodgies of the ‘50s excited by Elvis swiveling his hips to jailhouse rock, the hippies of the ‘60s and punks of the ‘70s with their anti-establishment rock, and grunge rockers were the ‘80s rebels. Grunge carried on the DIY ethic of the punks, do it yourself, handmade, garage bands able to practice their music by living on the dole and in squats. They were anti-elitist, their clothes and style scungy, trashy, with beatnic goatees, long hair and ragged clothes from opportunity shops.
Grunge bands played in clubs, pubs, squats, warehouses, dives that formed an underground, and the audience participated by thrashing to the beat in the mosh pit. No subject was forbidden, sex, drugs, politics, the law, existential loss in a techno world where god was dead and religion was corrupt. They were iconoclastic, and irreverent as in the band-names “The Butthole Surfers”, "Monroes Fur", "Lubricated Goat", "Thug", "Beasts of Bourbon".
It’ not just the music I use or the fact I made all the props, masks, sets etc from trash, you can see from my sketches and the film’s motifs that I leave no controversial rock unturned or sacred cow unruffled in my grunge style of the film. I talk about the ubiquitous use of drugs thru.out our civilization, the cruel treatment of indigenous Australians, the inequality and privileges of a class system, exploitation and pollution of the natural environment, corruption of law, nuclear war, the arms industry, the exploitation of animals etc etc.

I was a neglected child and it was only at five years old I was shown by the girl next door how to draw stick figures and to me it was like a magic trick and I compulsively drew from my imagination  ad nausea from then on, and the only thing I ever really wanted to be was an artist. Coming from the lumpen proletariat this endeavor/profession was one I was told could never be open to me, only goodie-two shoes middle-class brats need apply. But I persisted in drawing/painting secretly, much to the anger of my factory-slave dad who punched me out for sissy artiness and the ire of my authoritarian arts teacher at high school who threw me out of many classes for my cheekiness.
When I was 19 in 1969 I wandered into the Theosophical Society in Melbourne to watch a Hatha Yoga demonstration and was lucky enough to meet the old yogi who became my mentor in art, and his name was Murry “Latimer” Triggs. He taught art at Adelaide University and took me on as a kind of Master’s apprentice, for art schools were beyond my station and ken. He taught by example, drawing in front of me marvelous detailed human forms a la Albrecht Durer, 3D shaded scenarios a la Diego Rivera and multi-faceted cubist objects a la Pablo Picasso. He never told me what to draw which left me free to spread my wings and I drew abstract, energetic nature landscapes for which he praised me.
By 1970 I got caught up in the psychedelic pop culture hysteria and, having come out as gay, felt vulnerable and paranoid. I was convinced by a non-friend that I needed psychiatric help and was led to a private psychiatric clinic in Kew called Newhaven that gave psychedelic drug therapy to cure aberrant behaviours like homosexuality, anti-social rebellion and obsessive/compulsive disorders. I was supposed to have ten sessions of Sandoz Laboratory Psylocybin injections to turn me into a pliable good citizen but I escaped after the fourth session because the whole set up seemed nutty and creepy to me. I later found out it was a crazed cult run by a group called the Family led by a pseudo-messiah named Anne Hamilton Byrne. Read my Blog escapades for the full story if you are interested.

Inside these radical acid-trips I had the most out-of-this-world visions, monstrous hallucinations, astral travels, imagined histories, primal screams and parallel universe adventures that for ever after lavishly colorized my life and art. Much of it gave me the heebie-jeebies, I collapsed in terror at my own demons, Christian fears of the primeval pagan soul gushed up from my Unconscious like vomit, and after escaping the clinic I was determined to still somehow face those demons and try to vanquish them. At 22 I fled to India to escape the Australia of the Vietnam War era and chase my dreams. I was always enamored of Arabian Nights type movies, The Thief of Baghdad, Hadji Baba, Aladdins Lamp and The Jungle Book and in India of the early Seventies I was able to swashbuckle my way across an exotic, medieval, pagan landscape that was all my movie-dreams come true.
For four years I sat on the street and drew visions from Hindu epics with colored crayons on whatever surface, rocks, paper, canvas, across the length and breadth of India and often I sold them to get my next meal. And at the same time I continued to take psychedelics to ameliorate and clarify my psychosis and eventually I got strong and confident, assured of who I was and what I wanted. Acid was handed out at the parties in Goa, I formed a band and we played sci-fi rock operas on the beach at Anjuna while all the freak punters sat addled on their grass mats. I wouldn’t encourage this substance abuse, it’s radical and damaging if not taken under the right circumstances by strong-minded celebrants, for those with a screw loose can become unhinged. This is simply what happened to me, a crazed artist, part of his pop-cultural times. We did it at celestial pagan events as sacred vision quests and I sure realized many facets of my multiverse self, got the guts to stay alive and have been able to soldier on projecting art regardless ever since.
I’ve told this tale to give you some background on the style, content, edginess, mad hallucinatory flavor running throughout the films and artwork you’ll see at my exhibitions. Imagine me landing back in Auz in 1977, washing up in the glass-tower futuristic city of Sydney, I'm 27 and somehow having to make my way. And so I dreamed up the stories for “The Thief of Sydney” and “Virgin Beasts”, distillations of all my adventures and discoveries. I'm not trying to tell you what a hero I was, or that I’ve got the right line, or that I’m a leader and I know what’s what. I just always tried to surf the happening alternative pop culture wave of my times and I thrive on the anarchically edgy, and as an artist I'm compelled to comment upon my world, depict my gutter-view of it, satirize it for fun, kick the sacred cows in the ass, and totally get high on the flowing color, shape and music of BEING ALIVE.
I loved to make a narrative painting move to music, I thought I was a punk Vincent Minelli and then I got my heart broken. I did it as a punk cottage industry and simply couldn’t cut it with the world of big business and high art that is the world’s tough movie industry. Also I just couldn’t maintain a stiff upper lip with many of the smarmy no-talent artsholes that I met along the way. And then sheer bad luck struck anyway, for all this movie-making I had remained in the gutter and life can be very unjust at the bottom of the heap, the details of which I hope you’ll find out about if you read the production notes up on the walls, or further along in my Blog tales of the Punk Poofy Cat

 For me Life is an ongoing university degree and I’ve now got 7 PHDs, in survival, art, story-telling, surfing pop-culture, sojourning the multiverse, making love not war and Oms not bombs. I’m happy with the turn in the road my disasters and triumphs have taken me on. I now write endless short stories, published freely on the WEB, novels within novels in a Proustian-like attempt at remembrance of things past and future. And I paint large canvases, like taking flight through a magic window into a wondrous Underworld, with no one leaning over me telling me what to paint. I’m FREE for I don’t run around with a brief-case full of proposals and a mobile phone glued to my ear trying to swing a deal. I travel the world and create my art at will, relaxed, ecstatic, there’s no Golden Statuette or magazine cover to bust a gut for, just adventure in the lands of the Arabian Nights, all my childhood dreams come true.
I‘m not saying with this exhibition that I’m some great movie-making hero, I only made these few films, I’m not a revolutionary leader, a politician, a social worker or community saviour, just an artist who likes to comment on his civilization and satirise the pompous, and these films were from my “blue period”, for movie-making sure got me down. It’s hard to be an artist. What is an artist? Who says? The museum curator, the wealthy investor, the gallery entrepreneur, the newspaper critic, the pop-culture punter, the historian? A cop once snarled at me I was only a bullshit artist when I tried to explain myself, and when I told a shrink I wanted to be an accomplished artist he told me I was schizo and had delusions of grandeur. If you produce a body of work maybe you can claim the title of "artiste", to me it wasn’t a career for money and prestige, it was a lifestyle and a joy. I couldn’t give a shit to make it in the Art World, I do it for myself, within my community, stuck up on walls that soon the wind blows away. Here in this library is the product of my art madness, I hope you enjoy it, maybe even get inspired by it, as off the wall as it is.

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.