ell me about the work you developed for your most recent exhibition Accident & Process?
Accident & Process is a touring survey show (2015-2018) that brings together thirteen key works produced over forty years spanning performance, film, photography, installation and video that reflect my interest in experimentation and chance in the working process. Types of materials and other source elements are often informed from things and actions that occur around me. Identity and relationship to place are also important. History, social relations, popular culture and environmental concerns can also be identified as ongoing aspects of my work; the past is very present in all of us. My works also often identifies with the uncertainty of these themes.
Your work carries an enduring fascination with the ocean. What motivates this?
Observing the ocean forms part of my interest in cultural and physical environments. In Australia, coastal sites are places of popular fascination, fear and awe. The ocean is not an abstract thing rather a part of the earth’s metabolism, it can kill and feed in the same yaw. I have worked on the water in boats, professional fishing boats and lingered on different shores. I came to understand the ocean as a big clock measuring life and death on this planet. I find it’s ambience fascinating but I rarely indulge this sense in my work.
In recent times I produced a series of pictorial (like) photographs of the coast near my home in the Illawarra. I had been inspired by a photograph at the Art Gallery of NSW by George Mortimer called, Big Wave Hunting. Mortimer was the nephew of the English photographer Francis J. Mortimer (1874-1944). Francis was influential in rise of the Pictorialist movement and an exceptional photographic innovator. George’s image shows Francis wearing turn of the century wet weather gear on a rocky foreshore with ‘dangerous’ waves crashing nearby. The image presented its subject as an adventurer I found the image humorous. His stance was appropriated into my photographic series of the same name, Big Wave Hunting 2011.
“The ocean is not an abstract thing rather a part of the earth’s metabolism, it can kill and feed in the same yaw. I have worked on the water in boats, professional fishing boats and lingered on different shores.”
ould you say that your art is also introspective?
All good art requires reflection and detail in its formation this is true for any considered human activity. Materials and ideas take time to coalesce into entities. Some art suits a time period and is known for that period whereas other artworks may travel through time well or be considered favourably after the artist’s death. The answer to your question is complex.
Why did you want to be an artist?
I didn’t. My secondary education in Sydney was enjoyable to a point; the art teachers were always close I felt no restrictions. In the beginning the idea of becoming a radical teacher appealed to me more than being an artist. Attending a teachers college as a follower of the English educationalist A. S. Neill (1883-1973), known for his school Summerhill and its philosophies of freedom from adult coercion and community self-governance. I soon realized my ambition presented a dramatic philosophical contrast to the NSW department of education in the early 70’s.
Entering the Australian tertiary education system at a time of political and social change, achieving a great deal personally and academically I soon realised teaching was not useful for me I left determined to travel. Moving boxes of bananas from truck to palette at Flemington Markets in Sydney realised enough money to travel to Cairns in 1974. I worked the commercial boats in Cairn’s harbour to get skills then found work in the Gulf of Carpentaria and the outer Islands of the Torres Straights. I enjoyed the hard labour the endless horizon and the light, the light! In 1976 I wrote to various art schools in Australia for course information, finally deciding to travel to Adelaide to study at the South Australian School of Art. Art school seemed my only escape option, a smart decision. The environmental violence and characters of the far north were not appealing.
“I worked the commercial boats in Cairn’s harbour to get skills then found work in the Gulf of Carpentaria and the outer Islands of the Torres Straights. I enjoyed the hard labour and the endless horizon and the light, the light!”
From Left: Big Wave Hunting #2 2001 and Big Wave Hunting #7 2011
an you recall a time when you an artwork really moved you or opened your eyes to a subject you knew little about?
Yes, there have been many times. I was struck by the idea of Mike Parr rowing Lake Burley Griffin through the night, I felt the stamina and emotional intelligence required was impressive. I did not see the event but heard him speak following his performance at Act 3, Canberra 1982. Shirin Neshat’s Rapture series 1999 is at its surface an allegory on gender. I found the gender stereo typing clichéd but I cannot forget the 6 women at the end of the work boarding and rowing a boat into an ocean swell, dressed in Chador and billowing black clothing. The women show strength and control. I find Rodney Graham’s Vexation Island 1997 thoughtful and humorous, such works, like a Beckettian joke remind you of the world, the way the world is.
More watching, more thinking. I am planning some new photographic works and a new video piece. For these works I am returning to research an older series White Goods 2004. I seem to have developed a pride in producing troubling (unsettling) work. There is too much decoration in galleries these days – it spoils the fun.
Favourite book? There are too many. Currently Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (second read).
Favourite film? The 39 Steps by Alfred Hitchcock. Mostly for the experimental sound design. And Dallas Buyers Club 2013
Favourite musician / band? Again there are too many. Recently I have been listening to Nico Mulhy, Mothertongue 2008
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be? A fake.
If you could change one thing about the world today, what would it be? Cars