by Dick Millott
So you WANT to be a Struggling Artist?
Since I last wrote - my brush hand has been a whirl. A flurry of fluidity in creative motion. Next week I am going to put some paint on the brush. My confidence is rising by the day. The worry for me has been - what do I share with you this month - my dud ratio at the moment being about 6 - 1. While many might view this as an unacceptable setback - or that I am, in the world of art, a mere lightweight - I have reprogrammed myself to believe that art is about preparation - and only practice will improve my stakes.
The first thing about art I find, is that one must appreciate that there is good art - and - not to put too fine a point on it - bloody crook art. We have a tendency in Australia to call things as we see them. (I have been informed that we have a large American audience on this blog so I will try to limit or at least explain the parochialisms and provinciality of my impressions.)
What a lot of American people don't know is that Australian men mostly all look like Mark Waller. Being an attractive artist is half the battle. Let's face it - if you turn up to an art show and the artist has a head on him like a robber's dog, lives with his mother and wears a dustcoat with four pens in the top pocket and grey Velcro sneakers with odd socks, you are going to be less inclined to buy the guy's work. I know it's cruel but it's how we are. Which is why old Van Gogh never sold a painting. He never brushed his hair - his beard a matted mess - and half an ear? Pffft! As soon as you took him out of his exhibitions - his bloody paintings started selling like hot cakes!
Like Mark, I personally won't paint until I have climbed into my sleeveless T-shirt and board shorts and whitened my teeth for the third time that day. We also all paint near the beach. This is because when we have had enough painting for one day, we can rush into the foaming turquoise surf to reenergize ourselves and get that all important tan for the next exhibition. Like Mark, no self-respecting Australian male artist lives more than 300 yards from the surf.
Remember Mark when he had his first big opening in New York? That cheesy big white toothed, 'Joe Buck' grin of his on Broadway, as he went to buy a proper business suit for the big night? Mark hasn't worn a suit since his Auntie Muriel was called aloft (the Vicar said that a t-shirt was inappropriate in a House of God.) That was half the appeal you see- like Paul Hogan - we are a nation of beachcombers - with our sun bleached hair, freckled noses and free spirits. Which is why our art is so vibrant. I mean look at Waller's surf. Could a man trapped in an artist's garret produce such vibrant and accurate waterscapes without immersing himself in the stuff daily? Never!
Similarly, all Australian women artists live in former pastoral and socialite owned homesteads, which they have lovingly restored to become both a home and a showcase for their art. This is why so many of them appear in Country Style. Their easels are set up under their grapevine covered arbours across the nation daily. Then, not content with that, they finish one canvas only to run into the homestead and whip up a batch of homemade organic fig jam from their own orchard before dashing off another masterpiece!
I'm only sharing this strange coincidence for the sake of our American subscribers of course. I don't want them to get the wrong idea and have any misapprehension that we all slave away in dark unused third bedrooms with a kerosene heater as our only friend, tortured as we express ourselves via the brush. 'Struggling' and 'artist' are two words that traditionally go naturally together. But not in this wide brown land of ours.
Here - artists have a sort of surreal quality. In Australia people think that if you paint - you are deep and tormented and therefore must be wise. I mean - there I was reading the latest Australian Contemporary Art Almanac over a cappuccino the other day - and a woman came up to me - out of the blue - with this puzzled look in her eyes and she said "Artist right? Like - can you tell me this? Is sex the answer?"
I said "No! Sex is NOT the answer! Sex is the question! YES is the answer!" She seemed happy that I was able to impart this knowledge and off she trotted.
I have to disagree with this volume of Contemporary artists though - and I have formulated a list of things to watch out for, that, in my book, are what I can only call 'red flags'.
Anyone who paints a surreal form, where a house paint roller has been the only tool in the taboret, is worth a wide berth I reckon. Then there are the paint 'throwers'. These are people who - not content with the time honoured delivery of paint via a brush - stand back about six feet and scratch their chins before flinging a bucket of paint six feet onto the canvas. Then they scratch their chins some more. They've got to be 'merchant bankers' I reckon. Then there are the ones who paint a canvas white with a kitchen knife and having then gone momentarily wide in the eyes, they lunge in an almost ephemeral state, suddenly jabbing the canvas with one stroke - a single dash of Mars Black. And then when someone says - "What is it?" -they say "It is an interpretation of the journey and the struggle of mankind to understand the meaning of peace." Right! See what I mean? Give these buggers a wide berth and stick to Gum Trees and blue hills. And street corners in Paris or Berrima.
But back to the journey of becoming a middle-aged painter after an absence from the easel of thirty odd years. What a shock it has been. Let me tell you about the angst-ridden path so far. Step one for me wasn't the art shop. It was You Tube.
Thank God for You Tube. You Tube is the greatest thing since sliced bread in my book. There I have discovered more about art in six months, than I have gleaned over the past forty years. It was there that I met Waller slapping the pigment about. It was there that I discovered a hundred artists from around the world who inspire me to pick up the brush again and have a crack at something I have always wanted to do - well. Russians, Lithuanians, Americans, Germans - who throw paint about in such an enthused and confident manner - that I am left breathless - mechanically mesmerized and reaching for the Windsor and Newton's that aren't there.
For example - and I'll get back to Waller - there's a kid in America who paints murals in waiting rooms and medical centres and other places who is utterly captivating. He uses house paint by the looks - which makes sense as he is painting on plaster walls and buildings - and from his simple primary colour paint tins, he mixes his colours on the wall as he paints with a precision that is simply breathtaking. He does water just like Mark and every element in between with such accuracy, that it is incredible. Then I came across a man in Germany who I think may be from the Eastern bloc - and he paints like a man possessed. Massive paintings completed with a fluidity of super-confidant sweeping strokes and dabs that leave me feeling exhausted with the desire to do the same.
And therein lies the problem for me folks. Because I've lost count of the attempts and the canvases and sheets of Arches 350 gram paper that I have lined up - determined to do the same thing.
But last week I did finish something that I think is at very least - a starting point. I am after all - just a struggling artist. But as we all know - from the struggle comes joy and a reason to be. And lots of friends who want one for their walls - for free.
We shall see about that!