The SALA Podcast aims to engage South Australian visual artists and arts industry professionals in interviews about their arts practice and creative lives, and in discussion about topics relevant to the arts. The SALA Podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, PlayerFM, Podbean, Amazon Music/Audible, iHeartRadio, Listen Notes).
Episode 25 / Heidi Kenyon
In this episode, Andrew Purvis of Adelaide Central School of Art speaks with artist Heidi Kenyon as part of the school’s ArtSpeak program (recorded live). Heidi’s work ‘We shall by morning inherit the earth’ featured in the exhibition Neoteric at the Adelaide Railway Station in March-April 2022.
- Heidi Kenyon, We shall by morning inherit the earth, 2022, Pleurotus ostreatus and citrinopileatus, timber and mixed media, dimensions variable. Sound by Ben Davidson (Ben Sun) using electromagnetic sequences generated by the fungi.
- Neoteric Digital Catalogue (pdf)
- ‘It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own. Scientists too, as J. Robert Oppenheimer once remarked, ‘live always at the ‘edge of mystery’—the boundary of the unknown.’ But they transform the unknown into the known, haul it in like fishermen; artists get you out into that dark sea.’ A Field Guide to Getting Lost – Rebecca Solnit [goodreads]
photograph by Rosina Possingham
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast.
This episode is a live recording of ArtSpeak, which is a series of talks run by the Adelaide Central School of Art that have been recorded in collaboration with SALA Festival.
Sorry everyone, lost track of time there. Just getting my breath back from running up the stairs. Thank you very much for joining us. I’d like to acknowledge that the land we meet on today is the traditional lands of the Kaurna people. We pay our respects to Aboriginal elders; past, present and emerging. We’re very fortunate today to be joined by Heidi Kenyon for this in conversation session as part of the Adelaide Central School of Art’s ArtSpeak Program. Heidi is exhibiting currently at the Neoteric exhibition in the city, with her new work…
‘We shall, by morning, inherit the earth’
Thank you, I always get it in the wrong order.
Me too, actually.
So I won’t give too much of an expanded introduction, Heidi, because I’m really interested to hear you talk a little bit about your journey from art school, to being a professional practicing artist where you are now today.
Thanks, Andrew. Yeah, and with that in mind, with the slides, I’ve gone kind of right back to the beginning of my art career. So, with art school, I’ve realized in thinking about this question how much I’ve gone back and forth over the years. So I originally finished art school – so all my art school has been through UniSA – so I initially started at Underdale campus and finished in 2005. And then, when I left, I wouldn’t have really considered myself a professional artist at that stage, but with kind of dabbling in things and working in retail and then it was probably when I went back to do my honours degree, which is where this body of work came from, that my work as an artist really started to gain momentum. And also, I think, pushing more confidently into sculpture and installation. Because I started off in painting, and kind of dabbled in a bit of everything. So there’s a bit of glass and jewellery and metalwork and kind of tried as many things as I could. And then…
I think that’s really interesting, because you can see that material versatility come through your practice now.
But you don’t see a lot of painting.
Yes. No, not at all. And yeah, and you know, I wasn’t bad at painting. But I don’t think I was ever going to get anywhere with that or have… I guess, I realized how much materiality and …that sort of act of making and feeling and kind of unraveling or playing with was such an integral part of what I was interested in. And I was actually um – and as you know – and I can talk about this a bit later, but I started a PhD this year with Steven Carson, Uni of Tasmania, and he was back then Head of Sculpture [at UniSA] and was the person who said, “why are you doing painting? You should be doing sculpture”, like okay! So yeah, I think there’s those little turning points when you don’t necessarily know it at the time but looking back, you can kind of start to see how things evolved. And then out of honors, and so I finished in around 2008. And I was fortunate to be shortlisted for some art prizes and exhibit this work in Hatched at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, which I think was really pivotal in terms of growing my networks and meeting other artists and being able to contextualize what I was doing in a much broader perspective.
Hatched is a wonderful opportunity for something like that. So when you say this work, you’re talking specifically about the cut leaves? The shadows?
Yeah, yeah. So I sort of cradled them in a shoebox on the plane, so they didn’t break and was given a very hard time by Monte Masi, who was the artist that year in […]. It was a funny time.
He’s much more caring for graduate artists these days, now that he’s got his new position here at the school.
That’s great. I love it. But yes, it was, you know, those times I guess, that we’ll have when you’re immersed in things, and you’re trying new things and meeting new people. And that was quite a big turning point. And then I guess, on from that I focused a lot on applying for grants to produce new work and showing at spaces. You know, artists run initiatives in places like FELTspace and Project Space at CACSA, which for those of you don’t know, was the Contemporary Art Center of South Australia on Porter Street but then combined with the Experimental Art Foundation to become…I always get my acronyms mixed up. And what did I do from there? So then I got the Ruth Tuck scholarship, and I was able to do some travel. And I went to New York and the UK, and did a workshop with a bunch of other artists around the world kind of working collaboratively, which I can talk about a bit later, but just continue through. And then yeah, continued working in the arts, I guess, in terms of how have I sustained this as a career, I haven’t really ever made a lot of money for my practice, I’ve been able to, you know, sometimes break even or get grants to make work or occasionally make work that’s perhaps saleable, and not fragile installation, one off pieces, but I’ve focused on work in the arts more broadly. Outside of that I sort of worked or worked in retail, but I’ve worked at Hahndorf Academy for a while, and, you know, teaching workshops and those sorts of things, which I found has given me a bit more freedom to pursue my ideas without, you know, I mean, like, even if you were focused on trying to make money, who can do that? Not many people. And then –
– but most recently, you’ve been working with Guildhouse?
most recently working with Guildhouse. So then, yeah, so then I did a master’s degree as well. And then, after that, had been working as the Guildhouse Program Officer, and yeah, just continuing to … what was I going to say before that? I did some more travel, remember travel, when people did travel? That was great. So yeah, I got this Qantas Award, which gave me 10k, just to use in flights, which was amazing. So that really helps my professional practice and did a residency in Venice. And so that’s the images of stuff in Venice. And then working in Guildhouse, which has been great to, I guess connect, you know, Guildhouse has almost 1000 artists members, and so you are very kind of connected to the pulse of what’s happening, but being able to use the skills that I’ve gained over the years to help other people in their professional development.
I think it’s something that often is underestimated that value of an artistic community – of being connected to something, of seeing what other people are working on. And often, it’s what drives us knowing that there are other people out there making work.
Definitely. And it can be, you know, a lot of people do get that sense when they’re in art school, or they’re having critiques or regular forums and things. But once you’re outside of that environment, it can be isolated. Particularly if you’re not working in a shared studio space, or, you know, in recent years, with COVID, and restrictions that we’ve had less kind of in person, events and things.
Totally, and it’s interesting, the way you frame the discussion about your artistic career talking about these roles in the arts that have supported you and enabled you to make work. But I think that it is also something that, you know, informs work or, or can sort of drive work as well.
Absolutely. Definitely, I think that’s been a really critical part of what I’ve been doing. For sure.
Heidi, it’s a really beautiful image, when you talk about going over to the Hatched show cradling your little cut leaves in a shoebox on your lap. And it does make me think, it sort of almost neatly summarizes a couple of aspects of your practice, the idea of care, and also the working with natural materials. I think there’s probably a few people in this room that might not have had the chance yet to see “We shall by morning inherit the earth”. Is that right? Can you tell us a little bit about what that installation looks like? What the different elements of it are?
Yeah, absolutely. So the exhibition space is in the railway station. And it’s a quite grungy renewal SA site like beautiful, old building with lots of character. And so there’s a small kind of room tucked away, fortuitously, in part of that space, and when I was talking to Ray Harris at the beginning and was saying that I want, you know, that I might have to construct a space or I want to kind of create a darkened space. And he said that actually there is this little room, which is great because there is a beautiful dilapidated wall, and it’s just perfect. So I’ve created this immersive installation where the participant or the viewer is invited to enter this darkened space and come and sit at ground level inside a circle of growing mushrooms. And so there is a few sensory elements to it. So there’s quite an earthy smell of the mushrooms on the straw, which wasn’t something that I’ve given a lot of thought to really but it is something that people have commented on a lot, the smell. And what I’ve done is I’ve connected the mushrooms to some equipment that reads electromagnetic energy. And I sent this data to my brother, who’s a London based music producer, and has created a soundscape for this work. So you come into this darkened space and see the mushrooms and then you hear the sound was just kind of synthesizing various notes or chords that have been assigned to the varying energy levels. I did a period of recordings over probably a couple of hours and was sent snippets and then yeah, as those levels change, they’ve been assigned different sounds. So you’re invited to come in and sit with the work, and yeah, listen to it, and I guess, you know, witness the detail of it, and I wanted it to be something that was quite intimate and kind of maximum like one or maybe two people at a time.
It’s a very contemplative meditative space that you’ve created. And I think what you allude to that sort of like the depth of the sensory experience, because beyond the visual to the auditory and the and the olfactory as well, is a big part of creating that kind of nestled sense with that work
Definitely. And it took me quite a while to work out some of the detail of like, how I was going to light the work, or how I was going to place the mushrooms I was gonna make, you know, well initially, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of boxes, like I thought there might be some earth elements are on the ground, but kind of nutting out those details was a bit of a tricky one for this work. But what I always knew from the beginning was the type of experience that I wanted it to be. So that came first, I guess that sense of slowing down, being in the space, having those sensory elements having a darkened space coming down to ground level, you know, and even that kind of circle element, those are the things that I knew that I wanted, and then it was kind of working backwards, or testing things out to kind of pull it together.
This work isn’t the first time that you’ve worked with not just natural materials, but living organisms. I’d love to hear a little bit more about some of those works. But I’m also interested in how you would like audiences to read these works. Do they have an environmental context to the way you hope they’re understood?
Yeah, definitely. Definitely, there is an environmental context, but I guess, I’ve never made that really overt so I have kind of focused a bit more on the relationships and trying to convey a really clear environmental message. It’s more about how we are connected to other living things and what our relationships are, what our empathy might be, for those things or how there might be similarities. I mean, there’s lots of interesting stuff about mushrooms. You know, mushrooms are more related to humans than they are to plants, they take an oxygen and they release carbon dioxide. But yeah, it’s kind of about interconnectedness. And I guess, some of those themes of interconnectedness go back through my practice in general. So if it’s not natural materials, I’ve worked a lot with found objects, and have looked a lot at manifestations of memory or meaning and objects and rituals. But I guess, with this work, it comes from examining some ideas around sustainability more consciously, and how the context of empathy might prompt social change.
Previously, some of these works that have that have articulated sounds from natural organisms have worked with trees and pot plants. There is that sort of sense of that shift towards, as you say, trying to have a more empathic engagement with these things, thinking them less as decorative items and more as living organisms. What is the shift from the plant to the mushroom bring to the work?
Part of it part of the reasoning behind that was around sustainability and the idea of like growing my own materials. And, yeah, like you say it’s, you know, instead of kind of like some of them have used sapling trees, but you know, they’ve had to be in pots, or I’m taking them from a nursery context into a gallery context. And then I then kind of donated trees to different people and community groups and stuff. So they have a life beyond that exhibit. But again, I like this idea of seeing kind of a full cycle and being in that from the very beginning. So seeing these mushrooms come from, you know, and they grow very quickly, which has been the biggest challenge of this work, but they’ll go from, you know, smaller than your fingernail to as big as the palm of your hand, sometimes within a matter of days. So I have just worked out I’ve almost done 100 harvests for this exhibition. And I’ve had to be in about every 36 hours to change stuff over and clean them up and rebag them. I hadn’t anticipated the level of care and maintenance, that would be required to have constantly fruiting mushrooms over a period of six weeks.
That is fascinating, because it talks about the the, the variability of natural materials, and it also goes back to this idea of care which is abig part of your work,
I think, because there’s been such a time commitment that’s involved, like it feels like they have become children in a way and that you round the clockness of it, and misting them and checking on them and checking on the humidity. Like it feels like the time that’s spent breastfeeding a baby or like I have other times in my life where I’ve gone. Yes, that kind of sense of losing your sense of time and round the clock, and I’m dreaming about mushrooms every night. Every waking hour.
It’s very much an intimate relationship. I’m assuming you’re not eating them?
I am eating them as well, which is even weirder. And that came up in one of the artists talks we had the other day. And I’m like, ah, yeah, it feels feels a bit strange. But also gifting to many, many. Yeah, lots of gifting of mushrooms to to volunteers during the show, and friends and neighbors and anyone who will take them.
And I think you were telling me that one of the reasons why you need to get them out there is quite quite a unexpected one as well.
Yeah. So they say if you don’t harvest them once they get to a certain stage of growth, they’ll start releasing spores, which actually looks quite beautiful in the midst of stuff that happens, but not so great for public health. So some people do have allergies to mushroom spores. And I think even if you don’t if that keeps happening, and it builds up over a period of time it’s not so great. So yeah, it’s important to be really onto it and really on to the weather as well. So that last week, we had a period of quite high humidity, and everything just went nuts, you know, the ones growing at home and my bathroom, the ones in the show, and everything was just going crazy. So I had to be in everyday for a period of time. Um, but yeah, I think also working with that because I’m using straw as well. And I’ve developed a bit of asthma and have to make sure that I use a mask every time I do it now but that repetition of that constant exposure to it like I’m yeah have started getting bit chesty. I’m getting blisters from pushing this trolley of mushrooms. And I’m sure we’ve all had works where yeah, you that repeated act, you start to kind of take that on that it manifests in physical ways, which I think maybe next step is thinking about sustainability of practice, as well as sustainability and environmental theme.
Yeah, well, it is very much like a little ecosystem that you create them and that the mushroom is not the only living organism in there thinking about the audiences and yourself about how these things interact, and the influence they have on each other, I think gets back to the core of the work
as well. Absolutely. So yeah, the core of it really is about that interconnectedness. And I think I mean, there’s a lot more research coming out about the role of mycelium networks and how baguettes nutrient extract exchange and how trees can kind of look after other family members or send nutrients and send warning signals and you know, it’s the oldest mushrooms the oldest living organisms on Earth, I think. But um, yeah, there’s, yeah, there’s the more that you delve into it, it goes so deep. It’s really interesting. And what was it gonna say about that collaboration and nutrients, that sort of relates to Part of the reason of connecting with my brother as well and having been separated from him from a period of time because of COVID. That the we can often be on the same wavelength. So we might not talk for months and months, and then we’ll both be, you know, bringing something up and really on the same page, or have these points of crossover that I don’t necessarily have in the same way with anyone else in my life. And I think it’s interesting, you know, we can be so far apart and kind of be circling back to the same thing. So there’s some kind of parallels.
Yeah, absolutely. And do you think that’s fungal spores that’s connecting? Definitely. Yeah, definitely. Yeah, that’s a really interesting thing. Because the music that your brother has created for this work, sound is has been a has been a repeated element in your work. And also, I think we have images in here of your quite spectacular piano shifting through the wall work as well. So the motif of sound, the idea of sound is something that ties into Yeah, absolutely. Do you want to talk a little bit about what sound and music means for you? And how do you see it operate in your practice?
Yeah, absolutely. So when I first did that piano work, it was in 2009. So not long after leaving Art School for the second after finishing honors. And there was a site specific work for FELTspace, because you can stand in the doorway, and see both halves of the piano. So it looks like it’s pushing through the wall. And there was a funny story that that time that building used to be shared with the housewives association of South Australia, which I didn’t know was still a thing. But it was a thing in 2009. I don’t know if it’s still a thing. But I used to have meetings there maybe once a week or once a fortnight, and one of the women was outraged that the landlord had, she thought that the landlord had let me cut a massive hole in the wall and push a piano through it. And sorry, I was thrilled with that feedback that I had carried off the illusion like I made it look so real, that it was believable that it had happened. I guess.
Similarly, as unbelievable what you actually did, which was to cut the piano is
a bit ridiculous. And mostly done by hand. Because, you know, I chose a really strange angle. And so lots of like tape and laser pointers and different measuring tools. But yeah, hacksaws and Japanese saws have developed kind of a very specific attachment to very particular types of sores from using that work, which I think some people I’ve become known for using, particularly these Japanese saws,
I know you can make great recommendations of like, ‘This sword is perfect for cutting a piano’.
exactly, this is good to know. So if anyone wants to know, you know, I’ve got the Intel. And so what was I gonna say? I guess I’m interested in in it might be found objects and things in general. And I talked a little bit back to kind of memory and traces, but I really like kind of analog technologies. And I guess, the art effects of music. And so I’ve done some work with records and always cassette tape and, and the regional showing of this piano work, there was no sound. And so I liked the idea that there was some kind of embodied sound or sound that was felt, and that pushing through the wall was a little bit about cheekiness, or maybe there was something slightly sinister, I’m not sure about this idea of a little bit of a kind of animism thing. But thinking about Yeah, if sound became movement, what would that look like? Or how can something kind of take on those memories of what it’s been used for, and then show those in some kind of playful way.
And to me, the works often speak quite a lot about translation, that idea of like, translating the biological processes of the plant into sound, and similarly translating that sort of idea, the white move, music might move through a space into a visual language with the piano.
Absolutely. And I’m glad that you brought that up because I didn’t bring it up as the first thing I wrote here, which I didn’t say was then I think it’s about communication. So making viewers or participants kind of aware of a presence or giving a voice to something as this gesture of connection or collaboration. So, I’m glad that you understand my work better than I do.
We’re just collaborating.
But yeah, definitely, it’s that gesture. And, you know, obviously, I guess it’s a bit like, you know, putting out messages for other planets. And then this idea that someone would find those things. And this is a load of rubbish. This has meaning less than the piano, or the mushrooms might think, What the hell are you doing, but it’s that, so it could be lost in translation, but it’s that idea of, yeah, gesture, or reaching out or looking for a point of connection with another thing. And, you know, with the plant stuff, and with the machine stuff, you know, awareness of our own conductivity. You know, we conduct electricity, too. So what what do we have in common? And I think the other thing about music is just being inspired by other creative media in general, which I think a lot of artists do. So whether that’s music or literature, or other things, that there are those, you know, when you’re making work, and you listen to something over and over, are those things that kind of plant in your subconscious? Yeah, absolutely.
I think that you, you raised something interesting there with, you mentioned, just as an aside that this idea of like sending messages out into the cosmos, and this idea of communicating with something that maybe can’t communicate back or, or something that might not even be there looking at a lot of your past works. Using the Camera Obscura or shadows, some of the sculptural interventions with a disembodied white hands and the piano, they feel something almost spectral occurring. They’re very beautiful, but it feels a little bit like they kind of hold the spaces that they’re in, is that a deliberate effect that you’re aiming for with your work?
I think so I think it’s, yeah, I’m very happy with that reading of it. And I guess, throughout my practice, what I’ve been really interested in doing is using very everyday very familiar objects and materials and natural materials, and perhaps shifting something called presenting something in a new way, so that there can be a little bit of a doubletake or a little bit of a slowing down, or layers that reward curiosity. So sometimes I’ve been so caught up in some particular detail, a piano is a good example, or even this mushroom, which some people have gotten into the space and missed entirely. But sometimes I’ve been so caught up in something. And I’m saying to my partner, I just want to do this to a level that like, I don’t want anyone to notice it at all. And it’s like, you don’t want anyone to notice the work. Yes, they get that sense of if someone does take the time that something may unfold, or become visible, or there might be Yeah, I guess, you know, there’s a touch on animism and some of it but also thinking about phenomenology and how we focus on sensors and experience and some ideas around reverie and memory and absence and presence. The Camera Obscura is quite an interesting one camera obscures you know, the history goes way, way back, that we used in the 1600s by people intentionally to kind of trick viewers or trick people that they were what they were reviewing were manifestations of the culture of magic or visions into the future. So it’s, you know, it’s for those of you that don’t know, it’s very simple thing, the camera obscura or the pinhole camera, you know, you’ve got a hole for light to pass through. And if you have a surface for that to focus on or a screen of some kind, what you get is an image of what’s outside, back to the front and upside down. And it’s just the way that, you know, lenses work that cameras work that our eyes work. It’s a natural thing that happens,
but it certainly makes it feel very uncanny. Sort of familiar but strange at the same time.
Yeah, but I love that idea that they were used to, you know, trick people. And so yeah, that definitely ties into it.
Well, with what you’re saying as well, your partner’s response to this idea of you working on something until your intervention becomes invisible. And it seems to me that what you’re striving for there is to create a sensation of magic in that encounter; that this is just something that has occurred.
Definitely. Yeah, and I think that yeah, I think one of mine now we have artist statements that we recycle and use over a number of years. And I think the word ‘magic’, was in it. I don’t know if it’s actually still in there, but was definitely in there for a long time. So yeah, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
You touched on this before, but you also work collaboratively. ‘We shall, by morning’ features sound elements created by your brother. But you’ve also worked with other artists like Rosina Possingham, and Laura Wills and your nonhuman collaborators as well. What does this strategy bring to your work? Is it a matter of ceding control or something else?
I think that is an interesting aspect for sure. I think. Collaboration over the years has been has been something that I’ve pursued quite intentionally as a professional development exercise. So I’ve created the work one of the slides that you’ll see with this, I can’t remember what I called it. But this work that I created with Rosina Possingham and Laura Wills. So there was we did a workshop with the South African artists called Francois Knoetze. And his idea was The Art of Mongo, which was making things from rubbish or recycled materials or discarded materials. I’ve lost my train of thought. So I think that that one was a very collaborative finding that we all just kind of kept bringing bits to it and seeing how it unfolded. But outside of that, I’ve pursued collaboration of things that sits quite outside of my practice, I’ve volunteered as a performer in a few works by David Cross, who’s a Melbourne based artist, and he was previously based in New Zealand. He makes these kind of performance and installation, inflatable works that ask people to enter into or interact with in different ways and push boundaries around, you know, some of them have had things which are like a great height, and there’s kind of a fear of falling, or yeah, there’s some interesting things that happen that fit very much outside of my practice, but I’ve learned a lot from being involved in those kinds of works. And I’ve been involved in some performance with Henry Wolff, and yeah, and their practice in kind of moving image and photography and performance and ideas of care and vulnerability. And there are, I guess, similar themes in my practice as well. But their work is, you know, the end product is very different. And, yeah, I’ve learned so much from, you know, workshopping some of those ideas. And one that I want to go back to in one of my initial points of travel, I did this international artists workshop in the UK, where we were asked to work collaboratively with 17 other artists on a piece for a festival, which was kind of a music festival music arts festival, but it was, it was a big ask. And there was a period of I can’t quite remember, maybe a couple of weeks or something. And a lot of the artists there were sculptural installation artists. And I think the people involved thought that we were going to create something or fabricate some kind of thing. And we all just ended up doing these little performative interventions. But it also turned a little bit into Lord of the Flies like trying to work collaboratively with 17 other people from very diverse practices. I definitely had a few moments of like, hysterical crying and laughing at the same time and just like not knowing, you know?
Well, absolutely. It sounds like pushing the sort of limits of collaboration, a wonderful way to sort of start well, maybe a terrible way of starting a collaborative practice, but also really interesting to see the limits of it. Right from the get go.
Yeah, it could have been a great reality TV show that one, I think. But yeah, I can seem to keep out of control, I can be a bit of a control freak in my own practice, but then, you know, also set myself up for things like the mushrooms, which I can’t, you know, I can’t control the weather. There are so many things that I can’t control and so there’s that push and pull between, you know, having a vision or perhaps having some kind of obsessive perfectionistic tendencies, but then putting yourself on the line or pushing those limits to being open to what’s possible. Oh that’s what I wanted to say, actually, I have a little quote, sorry, I feel like I’m ranting. It’s a wuote from Rebecca Solnit in a book called A Field Guide to Getting Lost, that really resonates with me in terms of thinking about how you want unable to experience your work or maybe having, you know, having some ideas or things that inform it that like leaving that openness for things to unfold, and I guess ceding control in that way. So she talks about the idea or the form of the tale that’s not yet arrived or what must be found. It’s the job of artists to open doors. And inviting prophecies, the unknown, the unfamiliar. It’s where the work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making their own. And so she talks about scientists doing this too, but they transform the unknown into the known, haul it in like fishermen, whereas artists get you out into that dark sea. And I love that idea in that image. And I guess, particularly in working with some technologies that, you know, there might be a biology aspect or physics aspect in the sense of the electromagnetic energy, or the sound or the kind of photographic stuff. But I like to just kind of mess with it in a way or push into what I don’t quite know and see what happens. And I think that’s one of the most interesting things, for me about making work making sure that you leave that space to see what can unfold, because, in a lot of ways, the end product for me, I guess, in my practice becomes a lot more interesting than if I had a very clear idea of exactly what I wanted for the begin from the beginning. And that not be open to some of those, you know, and sometimes it’s even things that go wrong, or things that don’t turn out, as you expect, but you discover some magic in that
absolutely sort of building in that element of chance or risk to open up the possibilities for discovery, even if it’s the discovery of dark water or the unknown. I think it’s a really fascinating way of being aware of how you work and being able to build that that search of the unknown into your own practice is marvelous.
Yeah, and risky and can be quite stressful. But I think it pays off.
I’d love to do a little bit of time for questions. But I did want to ask what you’ve got coming up next, because you did allude to a PhD project that you’re working on.
Yes, I’ve just started a PhD with the University of Tasmania, but working from here, but I’m hoping to do some field trips when it becomes easier to travel. And so the, the scholarship that I applied for, was centered around sustainability and using recycled materials, or reused materials and objects, which hadn’t ties into my practice really well. But I thought, it could be a really good chance to more deeply examine my practice with some of those lenses in mind. And the way that I’ve positioned my starting point is thinking about collaboration with nature with other living things kind of as a driver for social change. So that is, the sustainability aspect is one of sort of moral philosophy. And, yeah, I’m also really keen to investigate my local environment, more than I guess, now having a studio at home in in hills, and having moved from Boston and previous to that being in the city to a much greener space has been something that, I guess was became more important with the pandemic and having two young children in an apartment and you know, public spaces suddenly being closed down, but also the weapon that I showed earlier with the hands and the rocks was based on thinking about my daughter going out and collecting rocks and filling her pocket with rocks and always bringing these kinds of things home. And, you know, that ended up in the washing machine or in corners of the house and rocks and pebbles and bits of nature. And then I had that realization, I thought maybe she you know, it was annoying and frustrating, but maybe that actually is the most important thing. Like maybe that is she’s trying to fill a gap or there’s something that we’re missing that we need to prioritize. I think I’ve gone off on a big tangent.
Thank you. Maybe now we have any questions for Heidi
I’ve got a question for Heidi. It’s definitely seems like you have really wide-ranging research interests. And this latest work with the mushrooms it just seems like a huge field that you could just get lost in endlessly. You know the scientific aspects, the anthropomorphic aspects, everything. But I guess, how do you… what is your strategy for not getting lost in the endless curiosity of all these fields and materials and processes that you utilize… because your work is so tight. And so discrete, the outcomes. I guess, I’m amazed that you can find the pathway to a very particular experience and material outcome. Do you have a strategy for that?
That’s good to hear, actually, because I think sometimes I feel like my work is too meandering, or that it’s too… Yeah, it’s an interesting question. And I, I’m not sure what my so I feel like sometimes I do just get lost. That maybe there are things that I always come back to or circle round with. So there’s always some stuff about sensory experience, and there’s always some clear ideas about site-specificity, that put those boundaries on the work. So how I want people to enter into a space or what I want to be felt or perceived that kind of put some boundaries on it. I was thinking too -and I wouldn’t recommend this as a strategy- but I think one of the things that I do is maybe really go too far and push too hard, like this mushroom work that I’m spending, you know, 35 hours a week maintaining to the point where I’m like, ‘I can’t look at mushrooms anymore’. So I will just flood myself with things to a point of saturation, that I then need some space from it, which Yeah, I don’t think is an amazing strategy.
I’m sure that’s just the spores talking
Maybe they’re in my brain. But yeah, I think there are probably some clear ideas about experience that always come into the work or about aesthetic or about the idea of different levels, or layers or, you know, having things to unpack or discover, and there’s always some aspects around memory or traces of the past or coming back to materiality and the object itself and what I can learn from that, or how I can unpack that. I’m not sure how that answers your question. But yeah, I think it’s, you know, it’s going out by then coming back in and each time you gather new information, and you re-position Yeah, during that fieldwork and then circling back. And things like this are really good opportunity to, you know, you don’t necessarily you wouldn’t necessarily do this of your own accord, you know, sit down and go back through your practice and doing those things does help contextualize and position where you’re going in the same way that art school can do that or, you know, talking with peers or having critiques all those things kind of help, position or provide some framework.
Wonderful. I think we’re gonna have to leave it there. Heidi, can you please join me in thanking Heidi Kenyon.
Episode 24 / Jess Taylor
In this episode, Andrew Purvis of Adelaide Central School of Art speaks with artist Jess Taylor as part of the school’s ArtSpeak program (recorded live). Tune in to hear about Jess’ journey since art school, the ethics of creating artwork within the genre of horror, and what draws her to the mediums she uses.
- Primordial at Hugo Michell Gallery
- Primordial (JessTaylorArtist.com)
- View Master at FELTspace (2014)
- Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA)
- Floating Goose Gallery
- Deborah Prior
- ACE Open Studio Residency
- NAVA membership
- Lenticular prints
- What is 3D Rigging for Animation & Character Design? [article]
- Francisco Goya
- Chaïm Soutine
- Francis Bacon
- the Chapman Brothers
- Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son
- Scammells Major Grant
- Jess Taylor, When I die, I’ll die on time, 2022, 3D printed resin and paint, 35 x 21 x 13cm, ed. Of 3
- Cordyceps is a genus of ascomycete fungi
- Jess Taylor, Now I love You In The Dark, 2022, 3D printed resin and paint 37 x 62 x 18cm, ed of 3
- Agisoft Metashape (formerly Agisoft Photoscan)
- Midsommar (2019 film)
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast.
This episode is a live recording of ArtSpeak, which is a series of talks run by the Adelaide Central School of Art that have been recorded in collaboration with SALA Festival.
Is this my seat, Steph? Wow, this is all quite new to me so excuse me if I seem to be fumbling my way through things. I’d like to acknowledge that the land that we meet on today is the traditional lands of the Kaurna People, we pay our respects to Aboriginal Elders past, present and emerging. We’re very fortunate today to be joined by Jess Taylor. Jess has recently opened her exhibition ‘Primordial‘ at Hugo Michell Gallery last Thursday, and that show runs through till April 2. So if you haven’t been allowed to see it yet, stay for the talk, but once it’s over, seize the opportunity to get out and see that exhibition because it’s really wonderful. Jess is not just a graduate from the school, but she is also a lecturer here. She completed her honors in 2013. She has also completed a master’s at UniSA, and then enjoyed a residency at ACE Open Studios. But I won’t say too much about Jess’ bio because I do want to talk a little bit about her journey out of art school. So if you could just join me in welcoming Jess today.
I might have given you a little bit of a suggestion as to what the first question might be. But do you want to talk to us a little bit about what your your journey out of art school was like?
yeah, um, so I suppose, like Andrew said, I completed my honors here in 2013. And kind of, the career that I wanted and had envisioned for myself was one of a kind of practicing exhibiting artist. So that has been my career focus to date. That 2014, the year after I graduated, I had my first solo show at FELTspace. I also joined my first artist studios. So for at least the first few years out of art school, that was a really kind of important part of my practice. And part of me finding my feet as a practitioner was finding these spaces where I could work alongside other artists and kind of continue to get that feedback in that peer atmosphere that I’d had in art school. I also presented a kind of large installation work at CACSA in that year. I kind of one of my other life goals as well as to have children so at the end of 2014, I had my first child. 2015 was kind of me getting back on my feet a bit, I was in a few group shows, but kind of got back into things in 2016. So I had a solo exhibition at Floating Goose Gallery, and also started my Masters by Research at UniSA. I’d also always had this kind of idea that I’d really like to lecture one day, and having that postgraduate degree was a kind of prerequisite for that. So that was one reason I went into the master’s program. But also I really wanted to kind of extend this research I’ve done so far on this idea of the interplay between visual arts and horror; you know, horror being something we consider a very kind of filmic or literature-based genre. So that’s what my master’s was about, it was looking at how visual arts might perform the social function of horror. I did that through and graduated in 2018. But that whole kind of postgraduate degree was really great. It gave me the freedom to exhibit quite widely so I had shows in Adelaide, ACT, Tasmania, Melbourne. I collaborated with another artist in 2018, as well that I really respect called Deborah Prior. And we had this kind of collaborative exhibition that we held in Melbourne, and in FELTspace in late 2018. I also gave birth to my second child at the end of that year, so very busy for me. And 2019 was the year that I was awarded the ACE Open studio residency. So that ran for a year, I got a supported studio space above ACE Open, which was amazing. And yeah, that was another kind of opportunity to have that peer support of a kind of new group of artists. A lot of professional development opportunities offered by the staff at ACE to meet other artists and curators and so on. I produced some more 3d printed work, which was shown in Melbourne, and also started working on more virtual reality work which was shown at MOD in 2019. 2020 was kind of a few group shows, you know, with COVID it was kind of a disaster year. But in 2021 things kicked off again. I had a show at JamFactory, which was quite a new kind of audience and context for my work, I suppose. And that was the show that kind of led to Hugo Michell approaching me to have the exhibition which I’m holding now in 2022.
It’s pretty stunning CV for less than 10 years out of art school,
almost 10 years!
almost but not yet 10 years at art school. And I assumed that like a lot of those opportunities, some of those were offered to you. But it sounds to me like you pursued a lot of those, and were very sort of dedicated and did a lot of kind of entrepreneurial work and getting your practice off the ground and exhibiting widely.
Yeah, I think it certainly from my perspective, that kind of initiative, particularly in the beginning, was really important. You know, I feel like I’m kind of just at the point in my career where that momentum has paid off, and, you know, now people might approach me to do things where, you know, in the early days, it was things like, getting a NAVA membership so I could check the opportunities obsessively, and apply for things and you know, throwing many stones at one target and hoping one would hit and that kind of thing. And, of course, in between that, like learning how to go about approaching funding opportunities, so that I could do all of these things. So yeah, early days was a lot of, kind of, I guess, it being driven by myself, but also a lot of kind of luck and opportunities that I’ve been given as well.
But I think I can also detect that looking at your practice, this sense of… there’s no resting on your laurels there. And it’s really interesting to look at the mediums that you use because a lot of people will be familiar with your 3d-printed work. But to go back to some of your even during your graduate work, there was quite a lot of sculptural work, but there was quite a lot of interest in materials like lenticular prints. And even now you’re working with virtual reality. Do you want to talk about your approach to materials and processes?
Yeah, I suppose, you know, the, the kind of uniting feature of the materials, I’m drawn to other materials that I use, I kind of group them as all being these representational digital technologies. So yeah the lenticular prints, which for those who aren’t familiar, it’s kind of those really dodgy holographic… you’d see them and bookmarks on placemats and stuff. And I am a huge fan of gimmicks, so I love all that stuff. But then also, like, I’ve explored a lot of kind of glitch techniques with the video, art and photography, a lot of 3d scanning, which is the basis for my virtual reality works. I suppose I’m just I’m really interested in technology that tries to capture something about the real world. And I’m interested in the ways that it really falls short at the moment. We’re not quite at that technological point where these things produce convincing replicas of the real world, and so I’m more interested in technology that tries and fails, than technology that succeeds at its aims, I suppose.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s something that I feel that I observe about your work is the sense that the, you know, the lenticular print is an interesting thing but it talks about visuality, that sort of ability, as the body moves through space, to get a different perspective on something, to move around a sculpture or to move through a virtual reality environment as the same. But as you say, interested in this kind of glitch quality of technology failing, it feels that you’re also interested in that materiality of the technology. And I think that comes through the 3d prints.
Yeah, I think certainly, I think, you know, it’s something that I’m always kind of trying to describe, that perhaps is difficult for people to get a handle on. But even the way that I kind of design my 3d printed words, like the models that are used to create those works, and stuff there is this kind of digital tactility -for want of a better word- there’s a way that you, you know, manipulate these 3d objects in this 3d space that is kind of bodily, but kind of not. It’s this weird kind of interplay between us and these technological interfaces. But yeah, and certainly that kind of… the way that we interact with technology, I think is so important, you know, all the technologies that exist are kind of a reflection on us and what we want. And so even when they don’t go quite right, there’s something I find really kind of endearing and engaging. In that we tried to get this thing to do something for us. We tried to realize a part of ourselves or our hopes in this technology, and even if it kind of fell over, I don’t know, I find that a very human thing.
Absolutely. I think that seeing it as an object helps people sort of translate and understand the digital in some ways, it’s gonna tell us a little bit about the actual sort of mechanics of how one goes about creating a sculpture like that, because it’s very different from a lot of the processes that students are likely to encounter at art school.
Yeah. So I suppose that’s the thing. I kind of got into 3d modeling and 3d printing in my honors year. At the time, I was looking at the kind of failures and slippage is that occur when we try and capture something real with technology. So I was taking these not-very-good blurry photographs and stuff like that. But then once I kind of came across 3d printing, I was like, oh, there must be a way to to make real stuff into 3d models, like, how do I kind of go about that. So I tested a lot of different ways of doing that. One of the primary, I suppose, ways I do that in my practice is a process called photogrammetry, which is, you take a whole bunch of photos of something, feed it into a 3d program, and that program tries to figure out what it’s looking at and give you a model. A lot of the models that you see, you know, my 3d printed works, they were made from a much higher grade 3d scan of myself, I was actually scanned when I was pregnant with my first child. So you can see in some of them, I’ve got kind of a belly going on, which is a nice kind of moment in time in my work. But I had this really good 3d scan done. And I had that model rigged up, which is basically a posable skeleton gets attached to it in 3d programming, it’s the same thing that happens like video characters, that allows them to walk and move and so on. So I use that kind of base model to pose it, save it and kind of print it, duplicate it. Another thing that has been a reason why 3d modeling and 3d printing has been such a mainstay in my practice, is, there’s so much ability to kind of interfere with that form in these programs. So you know, I can cut it in half, I can hollow it out, I can turn it inside out, I can attach objects to them or take them away, there’s just kind of limitless opportunities to do things to my body that the real world doesn’t quite allow me to do.
Thankfully. And it’s really interesting, looking back to some of your earliest experiments with that medium, how sophisticated the latest works look, by comparison. Is that something you’ve experienced the technological advances in that medium? It’s quite dissimilar from oil painting, for instance, that your medium that you work in is changing continuously while you’re working in it.
Yeah, I mean, I think there’s, there’s two things that have kind of happened. One is that is this… not so much increase in technological sophistication, more so like that sophistication becomes accessible to your average person, because you know, I don’t have a multi-million dollar budget behind me or anything. Certainly a lot of I get my work printed overseas, a lot of those printers are still just phenomenally outside of my price range. But nonetheless, over the years, it’s become more accessible when I’ve been able to experiment with materials and scale and so on. I think the big part of it is, you know, I haven’t received any formal training in this in this kind of material. It’s all been kind of self directed, bothering people that know way more than me and being like, how do I do this? Lots of YouTube tutorials. So also, I’m always in each exhibition, obviously, there’s kind of a conceptual premise. But usually, I’m also trying to think of some new aspect of modeling that I can kind of master and begin to play with. It’s just an incredibly broad, medium, like there’s so much you can do. I feel like maybe I’m, I’m exploring, like 15% of it. And there’s always more things that I want to get a handle on.
Andrew Purvis 13:31
Wonderful. Jess you mentioned before, your master’s research, and I think that that’s something that I really connect with, in your work, the horror, and particularly body horror, as I read it, in the work plays a large part of your visual imagination. What draws you back to that as a source of inspiration?
Yeah. I think like, you know, there’s the kind of psychological reason of it being this very large, looming interest that I’ve had since, you know, early childhood, which it definitely shouldn’t have been, but it was, so here I am. You know, it’s always been something that I’ve really enjoyed and found fascinating, and I’ve always been really kind of confused as to why horror is a thing that exists. I suppose. It’s always been a fascinating question for me, you know, this stuff isn’t necessarily pleasant to watch, you know, I don’t even enjoy it all the time. But it obviously does something for me. So a lot of my research was trying to unpick, why does it exist? Why are we drawn to it? Why do we keep making it? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me on the surface. I think, you know, I’m very interested in again, that kind of idea of horror performing a social function. So I think what horror does is it reveals a lot of social anxieties or social fears, it kind of gives form to them, symbolic form, but a form that we can start to kind of interpret and pull apart to kind of understand what’s going on, in a social context a bit better. The other thing that I think it does really well as this genre that kind of sits on the outside of acceptability, is it allows us to kind of question and challenge a lot of those, you know, dominant social ideas that we have, you know, a lot of monster stories are kind of about challenging the status quo and taking down power structures and all that kind of stuff. So I suppose politically, I’m very drawn to that aspect of it. The kind of body horror aspects because so much of my work, yeah, cutting myself in half or, or something like that. You know, I think I’ve become really attracted to this kind of symbolic narrative, that symbolic language that permeates a lot of horror, you know, we have ideas. If we see someone turn into a vampire, we kind of know what that’s about. We know what socially that’s indicating to us. If we see someone become disfigured, we’ve got ideas about what that’s telling us. And so a lot of my work, I’m using this language to talk about, I suppose my own experiences, or my own thoughts and feelings about myself in this language that hopefully people can start to decode, because it relies so much on existing cultural things out there.
I think it’s a really interesting thing to translate horror which we normally encounter in popular culture and sort of time-based media. And the things that an object does in relation to horror, the opportunity to shock or startle kind of evaporates, but maybe you gain something in that ability to contemplate, as you say, its representation as a symbol, you can linger with it a little bit longer. Sorry, did you? That’s just me talking, that wasn’t a question.
Jess Taylor 16:51
That was just me digesting it.
But looking at your works, I suppose that the tableaus are often recognizably troubling. The body is often heavily distorted. But sometimes I feel like the references that are being made are less to say horror cinema, and maybe a tradition of ways of painting and depicting the body that hones in on the visceral or the disturbed, thinking about artists like Goya or Soutine, or Francis Bacon, even the Chapman brothers. Is that a lineage of art practice that you see yourself operating within?
Yeah, definitely. It was kind of a first hurdle, I suppose, in my research that I kind of established like, I kind of felt quite at home with the idea that horror has always lived in the arts, you know, it didn’t just appear as soon as we invented the camera. But that’s not necessarily where everyone else is at in terms of their their ideas of Visual Arts and horror. So I kind of had to go through this process of establishing this long-held relationship between the two. And so I think in the early days, I was doing a lot of work that referred explicitly to older artworks like Goya, who I love and I’m obsessed with. You know, the Chapman brothers are like my heroes, I just, I really like them. But I think the Chapman brothers in particular, why I kind of isolate them as my artistic heroes is, there’s something really in the sensibility of horror that they kind of get, this excessiveness. It’s very self indulgent, in your face, kind of, you know, seems a bit petulant, often in their work, and I say that very lovingly. You know, but also this kind of absurdity and fun and, you know, provocation to engagement, which is so important and something -in a very different way- that I try and do in my work as well. Because, you know, horror is based on this physical, visceral reaction we have. It can’t really exist if it doesn’t grab people to engage with it. So yeah, definitely artists, like the chairman brothers as well, a lot of their work is kind of impossible to ignore, and very obvious in the way that it’s trying to goad you into engaging with it. And so, that cold kind of sensibility, I see is a very horror sensibility. And you know, one that I do try and in a different way, incorporate in my works I suppose.
Yeah, and there are some explicit acknowledgement of sort of like Goya’s Saturn eating his children or the horrors of war painters, which the Chapman brothers have also engaged with it. I think that’s a really nice aspect of your practice this kind of recontextualizing of sometimes familiar imagery that we see from horror, but it takes on a very different reading when it’s your body.
Yeah, and I think that that was the core thing; I did this series of appropriations of famous artworks with this kind of horror tilt to them, I suppose. Horror has always been a very self-referential genre, you know, like, ‘oh, you can’t understand this film unless you’ve like, watched all these other films’. And, you know, there’s all the lore and all that kind of stuff. But I think, in looking at that kind of self-referential thing, which is also such a big thing in the visual arts, like there’s so much you can’t really comprehend unless you have this background knowledge. Because my works exclusively use my own body I started to look at as well how does the context or meaning shift. So I did recreate a version of Saturn devouring his son, a 3d print with myself, and at the time, you know, I was having all these feelings about, you know, maternal burdens, and, and what it is to kind of bring up a child and do all this with a baby and all that kind of stuff. But I think it’s such a different reaction to that work when it’s a woman doing that than a man
They both horrible, but one is horrible in a way that is more socially digestible perhaps.
And the fact that the scan, as you say, was taken when you were pregnant, it is often a reading of that body, of your body, in those arrangements of being maternal.
Yeah, definitely. But yeah, at the time, I was like, Oh, what a happy coincidence. But as I’ve kind of explored these things more, you know, it’s such a big part of my experience, that it’s become such an integral part of the kind of emotional states the work draws on as well. So it’s why I’ve been kind of loath to get a replacement scan made, because, you know, I feel like it’s so important, but I’ll get there one day, I’m sure.
Well, I think that’s a really other another interesting thing is that you work on… am I right in thinking you work exclusively with your own image?
So in all these arrangements, you are both the perpetrator and the victim of the violence that is being committed?
Where does that idea stem from or fit with your work?
Yeah, so I think, at first, you know, like you said, there’s there’s aggressors, there’s victims in my work; I had a great deal of discomfort around putting other people in those roles. Like it didn’t, it wasn’t something that I suppose I was kind of ethically comfortable with, you know, someone comes into my studio and sees a picture of them getting bludgeoned to death, that’s probably like, pretty confronting. Likewise, if I’m like, ‘here’s my painting of you as a murderer’, like it wasn’t really something that I wanted to do. So I made that decision pretty early on, in my studies, that it would be me and me alone. And that kind of gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted, you know, I could kind of call the shots and define the boundaries and what I’m comfortable with, in terms of how my body is represented in these things. And as my work has developed, this, focus on my own experiences, my own thoughts, or kind of internal states has kind of become a main facet of the work. And so, you know, to me, it just makes a degree of sense that it’s, it’s all images of me, because it’s all about me, as egotistic as that sounds.
No, but I think you raise a really good point that there is an ethical dimension to your practice, particularly when you’re dealing with violence and horror, and things that you do need to negotiate and work out. And I think that’s a very sensible strategy of dealing with those issues as well. I really want to ask about the ‘Primordial’ show. And we’ve got a lot of slides showing of some images from that show. Do you want to tell us where the the ideas that underpin that exhibition came from?
Yeah. So I suppose it’s probably around 2018, that I was kind of transitioning to this practice that was becoming much more explicitly about experiences and moments in time and kind of emotional states that I would experience. And this body of work came about, kind of reflecting on a lot of these experiences and reflecting it kind of, I suppose, where I was at this current phase of my life. And I was looking at these two kind of dual ways of considering that like one that, you know, when we’re born, we’re kind of blank slates, stuff happens to us, that turns us into the person that we are when we’re adults. But then also this other idea that perhaps there are these facets that are just waiting to kind of be revealed by life as you go through; that perhaps there are certain parts of my personality that have always been kind of buried there. And certainly a lot of the works as well, they look at that through a kind of familial lens like looking at how much of myself I can trace back through my father or my mother and things like that. So the title ‘Primordial’ was this kind of idea that I could represent facets of myself that had been there since baby Jess came into the world perhaps, since I was an existence in the world. And I feel like initially, I started to try and branch out a little bit beyond, I suppose the more traditional horror symbolism that I bought in. But also to look at things, like I was looking at a lot of creepy animals and fossils, and just a lot of these ancient dreadful real life things that were kind of playing on my mind a lot. I don’t know, maybe it was just ‘iso’, going slightly mad or something. But yeah, the whole show was basically going through and picking out these kind of pivotal moments where I’m like, ‘oh, that’s when that part of me was crystallized’. You know, or ‘that’s where that came from’, and trying to kind of map out an explanation. As absurd as that is, an explanation for the Jess you see before you today.
That’s really interesting, because I mean, my encounter that show is that I was blown away by the sort of level of visual invention in there. And I think some of what you’re saying about widening your scope of reference to think about biology and fossils, and so forth, the sort of the tooth holes and things like, like emerged from those works are really stunning. I think they’re really fascinating. It’s really interesting to hear about that kind of thought process that underpins that. Was there any shift in your practice in shifting into this sort of more commercially geared realm? Or what has that process been like of having your first solo commercial show?
I look, it was one of those… like I’m a big 10-year-plan artists. So it’s one of those things that I was always like, oh, one day I’ll get a show at Hugo Michell. I kind of always, you know, hoped that would happen at some point in my career, I didn’t necessarily expect it when it happened. I think the first thing like when I kind of got offered the opportunity, I was like, Oh, my God, I need to level-up like so badly. Like, I gotta raise the stakes here or something. But, you know, I was very fortunate in that I got the Scammells grant. So that did allow me to, to level up in these ways, I’ve been playing with increasing and scale and complexity, and just time and installation requirements and things like that. In terms of the kind of, like, professional aspect, I suppose, like, it actually made it kind of really easy in a lot of ways, you know, they’ve been very well organized. I’m also very organized in my shows, you know, if you’ve had so many that you’re responsible for the photography, and the installation, and this and that, like, you kind of develop a level of organization. So that side wasn’t necessarily something I was unfamiliar with. If anything, I was kind of unfamiliar with, like, ‘Oh, you’re handling that for me, that’s fantastic’. I don’t have to worry about that. And that did free me up to really right until the end, kind of consider the installation and, and how I was gonna make these works kind of sing in that that little back space and things like that. So yeah.
Absolutely. Maybe this is a good opportunity to open the floor up to any questions from our audience. And if you do have any questions, please speak up. Your voice will be picked up by this microphone, but you will remain anonymous. Can we even do that sort of like voice disguising, if possible if anyone feels self conscious, but please…
Audience Member 1
Not exactly a question – oh I suppose it is. So I’m noticing that one of the slides that’s been cycling through here was a face with these mushrooms coming out, and my immediate thought was ‘oh cordyceps‘… and is that where that came from?
That’s a really funny one because everyone’s like, ‘Oh, the mushrooms’. What it actually is, is I started to play with like, smoke simulation in 3d programs. So like, I rigged this little model up to have like, little smoke explosions coming out of it. I was thinking a lot about like, hydrothermal vents and the origin of life and like all that kind of stuff way beyond me. So I think that that’s the kind of themes I was working through with that. And I was like, I really need to just start figuring out how to simulate stuff instead of trying to model it from scratch. To spend way longer getting the computer to do it for me, then if I just tried to model it myself, but you know, I learned a new skill so it’s sort of worth it. But I’m totally happy with the other interpretations people have of that work, I think it still kind of fits in with the general theme of the show and the work so.
Audience Member 1
So that leads to a follow up question then: another one of your pieces, it appears that two faces are reaching towards each other with tentacles. Other those actually tentacles then?
Audience Member 1
So yeah, I spend a lot of time rigging up tentacles. I’ve done this for a few works, like I did make an octopus lady at one point in 2019, which was great. These are kind of just bare minimalist tentacles I suppose but yeah, in the same way that the model of me is rigged and posable, the tentacles as well as these posable entities that I can recycle in other works. So, yeah.
Audience Member 2
[faintly] What 3d program do you use?
Maybe I’ll just repeat that question it was being asked about what 3d program you use.
Cool so I use a few. And I am morally opposed to paying for software. So I do not do that ever and I won’t recommend anyone do that. So for like the posing of my model and a lot of the simulations and renders and stuff like that, I use a program called blender. Which just vastest capabilities of anything on the planet, it’s amazing but an extremely steep learning curve that took me a while to, to kind of master that. I also use a program called Meshmixer, which is really cool, because it’s kind of aimed for more high school kids, but a lot of the basic functionalities it gives you – so you can combine models, cut them in half, mirror them, hollow them, and all those kinds of things in that program. And then very rarely, I’ll step outside of that. So I use a program called Photoscan for all my photogrammetry stuff. It’s technically not free, but you can get an education license. And then I use, yeah, like just a bunch of other little programs. If I need something really specific, I’ll just kind of scour the internet until I find something that’ll do what I want it to do.
Audience Member 3
How do you do with drafts of your 3d work? Do you print them yourself at home? Before you send the work to China? Or
Off it goes, and what I get I get. No I think like, so. People often ask me, Do you have a 3d printer? And I’m like, unfortunately not. Because the printers that can print in the materials I do -so I primarily print in resin or nylon. And printers that print at the scale that I do will set you back like 100k. And that’s probably US. So no, I don’t have a 3d printer. For me, I have never really loved the aesthetic of the kind of desktop printers that’s all like red plastic, and you can kind of see the striations and I just I don’t really love that aesthetic. So I don’t kind of do that. And the printing processes are so different that even if you printed a prototype with one of those, what you’re going to get from another printer is going to be so different. It’s not really a worthwhile exercise. I think it’s just like I’ve made a lot of 3d printed work over my career and I’ve kind of got a pretty good handle. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve received something that I wasn’t expecting. So I’m pretty good at knowing the model I get I know what it’s gonna look like when it comes to me. So again, no prototypes, straight to real thing.
Audience Member 3
off it goes!
Audience Member 3
How have you found the sourcing to be from China, has there been an issue around COVID or?
No, like they’re pretty amazing with getting stuff to you. So yeah, for a bit of context, I used to print through an American company. And then I found this company in China, which is super cheap. So allows me to scale up because otherwise like, you know, one of the works in primordial would have cost like $1,800 US which is not quite in my budget. But no, I haven’t so far experienced any delays in getting things although I am mildly nervous with world events, but you know, cross that bridge when we come to it.
Jess I’ve got a question that I’m really interested in what I see is a bit of a shift in your aesthetic towards the gold and the white, which to me evokes a sense of kind of religious iconography or even altarpieces. It’s a shift away from the sort of glossy red that you’ve been using in recent years for some works. What motivated that change?
Hmm So I think like the first thing is I’m very bad at colour I feel. Like I started art school, I wanted to be a painter but it turns out I don’t know what colours are and it just wasn’t where I was gonna go. Often I kind of pick colors for very symbolic reasons. So yeah, I did a whole series called Love Works that were the red glossy ones and that yeah, I feel like doesn’t bear going on about but um, the white and the gold kind of came into play I got invited to do this show or be in this group short jam factory and it was about people who use technology to achieve a kind of craft aesthetic in a way. A lot of people are quite surprised that my works are 3d printed, you know, I get ‘oh are they porcelain or this’ and I’m like ‘it’s plastic’. And so, you know, that kind of prompt, as kind of vague as it is, got me to kind of think about the kind of visual objects that I was referring to, because I always have had this kind of love of ornamentation and old statues and stuff like that, but I kind of stopped and I was like, oh, but you know what? What materials? What aesthetics? Like, what are you trying to get at? So those were the first words I made with this white gold thing. And I was thinking of, yeah, these kind of precious religious social artifacts and things, the kind of objects that would, I don’t know, translate these kinds of imagined social narratives and things in that body of work for that exhibition. And yeah, I think I, I wanted to kind of push that almost altar-like thing in the show at Hugo’s. So I made these kinds of shelves to specific measurements for each of the works. And the ones that sit on shelves, at least to kind of haloed by these gold chains, with little gold teeth hanging off them and I kind of Yeah, I was thinking a lot about altarpieces and offerings and elevating these objects to be these kind of beloved social, semi-pseudo-spiritual things that people could encounter.
Do we have any other questions for Jess?
Audience Member 4
I just wanted to ask is when you get your models from China is there much finishing you have to do?
Audience Member 4
but you apply the gold?
Yeah. So when when you said ‘finishing’ I suppose I interpreted that, for some models and materials you print in there’ll be support structures that you need to cut off and sandblast or whatever. The processes that I use, I don’t have to mess around with that. I do usually paint them all the base colour. The recent works which have been in resin you can get like little color differences in the resin, which is really interesting from something that we think is just going to give you the same thing over and over. There is this kind of individuality to every print. So usually I you know just coat them in white or something to get rid of that. And then yeah, the gold or you know in some of the works you’ll see behind the chain and stuff is all additions I do by hand.
Just as a last question, just from one sort of horror fan to another: Do you have any recent horror recommendations or something that’s floated your horror boat?
Not like incredibly-
So to speak. Sorry I don’t know where that came from.
Not any hugely recent ones. I think the last thing that I actually had the time to watch… because this is the thing: when my children were babies, it was fantastic. Because I’m like ‘they’re not gonna have memories, I can just put what I want on TV’, like, do they even have the eyesight to see what’s going on? Who knows? And so was very comfortable doing that. Now, unfortunately, my son is seven and so like, not ideal. So, admittedly, I don’t get to watch as much as I do. I went through definite like Midsommar obsession because I just thought that was just the most amazing thing. And then got very upset when I read, you know, kind of breakdowns on it on the internet that were all like, ‘no, like, you know, it’s actually a really bad ending because she’s getting fooled into being in a cult’ and I was like, ‘I thought it was romantic, be quiet; that was a happy story for me and now it’s ruined.’
Well I think we can see from your works that are about Romance that your ideas of romance train to a certain direction.
A lot of films I shouldn’t have watched as young as I did. Anyway, yeah, that’s fine. That’s my last favourite that’s churning away.
Midsommar, okay, great recommendation. Thank you very much. Jess. Can we please all thank Jess for her time here.
Episode 23 / Sam Gold
In this episode, Katya caught up with South Australian ceramic artist Sam Gold at their JamFactory studio.
Sam speaks candidly about their journey from art school to the present, including the mentorships and opportunities that informed their exciting trajectory towards interstate exhibitions like Primavera 2021 and securing gallery representation with Hugo Michell Gallery. Tune in to hear about the way that Sam’s training as an Art Therapist informs their reverence for clay as a material, its capacity to echo emotional states, and ceramics as a lesson in resilience and letting go.
- Sammgold.com / @s.amgol.d
- JamFactory / Associate Program
- Primavera 2021 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
- SALA Feature Artist archive
- Samstag Museum
- Helpmann Academy
- Mark Valenzuela
- Australia Council for the Arts / ‘AusCo’
- Duncan Young / @DuncanYoungDesign
- Ivana Taylor / @IvanaTaylorDesign
- Francesca Sykes / @FrancescaSykes_Studio
- Celadon glaze, Chün glaze
- Catapult Mentorship Program / Guildhouse
- Sam’s mentorship with David Pedler & Jane Robertson
- Sam Gold joins Hugo Michell Gallery stable [ArtCollector article]
- Hugo Michell Gallery (SA) / @HugoMichellGallery
- Wet from a moonlight swim, Sam Gold exhibition at Hugo Michell Gallery, 3 Feb – 5 March 2022.
- Bedroom, Kate Power
- Kate Bohunnis / @Kate_Bohunnis
- George Street Studios
- Lou Cresp
- Carclew / Pom Pom program
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast. My name is Katya and today I’m catching up with South Australian ceramicist Sam Gold. We’re upstairs in Sam’s studio at the JamFactory, and I’d like to acknowledge the Kaurna People as the traditional owners of the land that we made upon today, and pay respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.
Hi, Sam, thanks so much for meeting with me today. We’re here in your studio, as we’ve just said. It’s nice and cool in here; I can see you’ve got some beautiful works delicately displayed out of our way just in case we knock anything over. How long have you been here at the Jam for?
I’ve been here for two years. I put the air conditioning on just for you. It’s never usually on for me. So yeah, I’ve been here for two years. The Associate Program started in 2020. And then it was cut, and then restarted in 2021. And recently, we have found out that we are continuing associates for a second year now.
That’s so good. Nice. Now, we met at uni a few years ago now. Yes. So can we talk about your journey from uni?
UniSA which is next door to us, a stone’s throw away
A stone’s throw!
to how you are today -or where you are today, sorry- because you have had so many doors open up for you. So many opportunities. Like it’s as if every couple months ‘Sam Gold’s doing this; Sam Gold’s here; Sam Gold’s now the MCA for Primavera 2021, like you’re just, you’re everywhere.
No it’s so good. Because it’s so nice to see someone still in their formative years as an artist doing so well.
Yeah. Well, I guess, when I first started a contemporary art degree, we were told that every female wouldn’t make it.
I remember that. I remember exactly that tute.
Yeah. Like, the lecturer was just like, you’re not going to make it; the statistic shows if you’re not a male, you’re not going to make it. So I think there’s like this determination. You know, to make it, and I think, you know, I hold down two other jobs just to do this full time. And, you know, there’s echoes in my relationship of just acknowledging how hard you have to hustle constantly to sustain this. It’s a lot of pressure. – but joyful.
Yeah, and that’s what you love and you’re so good at as well. Like, it’s not just for the sake of doing it. So you get such enjoyment out of it. And you can see that in what you do and where you’ve gone with it. And obviously, other people are receptive to that. So you’re doing something that is speaking volumes, and is interesting. And so yeah, from uni to where you are now, out of the plethora of things that you’ve done, what do you think has been a standout? Like a ‘pinch yourself’ moment where you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I’m here’.
Yeah, well, definitely being in a national show. But prior to that, and in lead to that -and I think what helped me achieve that- was a mentorship with Kirsten Coelho. Kirsten is, like, you know, a ‘pinch myself’ moment, I cannot believe someone who is so wonderful is in my life and not just as mentor now, but as a dear friend. And yeah, I think, for me that’s something that… a relationship that I feel is going to be sustained for the rest of my life and career and Kirsten’s life.
And Kirsten was also the 2020 SALA Feature Artist
Oh cool! Yes, yes, no, of course -that was that Samstag. So, also being at Samstag was really great, because I got the graduate position after we graduated. And I really appreciate that environment that I’m in there, because the team: Gill Brown, Erica Green, all of them, have been really gracious towards me with their time, like looking at applications, giving advice, you know, always being a sounding board. They come and do studio visits. They’re invested in me, and that feels really nice.
Such good support as well.
Yeah, definitely. Yeah. And I feel like what we were speaking about before with working really hard. I mean, I was doing like 14 to 16 hour days. And I started that last November.
So you’re on a year doing that.
A year of doing that, yes, 16 hour days, but I was doing it seven days a week for a period of time.
And working two jobs as well.
Yeah, that’s, that’s like, if I did, including in that 16 hours if I did a shift at Samstag on the weekend then I’d come here straightaway, wouldn’t leave until it was done. And when I was gas firing, you’ve got to be here from like 7am until like 1am/2am, and then come back and be here and like watch the kiln constantly.
But that you know, all rich things. And I think I’m in a position where I can do that. So I’m doing it, I might not have that. And you know, I want to have a family. So I don’t feel like that’s, you know, I cannot have that kind of a routine. And my partner is also a sole trader and ‘gets it’. So there’s that kind of support, instead of somebody who’s like “be home all the time”. Yes, so thank you Lou.
Your work is really physical, so having to be in the studio or nearby for that many hours: how do you preserve yourself? What do you do like because your work is, you’re using your hands and your shoulders, your arms, it’s all upper body, but as well, it’s actually the rest of your body because you’re always standing up. How do you maintain that physicality?
Well, if I have a rest period, so before November, I wasn’t making as much and I was in more local commercial shows. And if I had like a couple of weeks off of making and would return to making, my wrist that RSI kind of thing. So there’s so much physio that I actually participate in. And have tools at home like a rolling ball and one of those pool noodles.
Which has been really helpful. But I think the one thing I forget to do is make myself food.
Oh I do that. I get that.
Constantly I’m just like oh shoot, got to wait for like dinner?
You need an assistant.
Yeah, I did have friends volunteer and help me with time we did trade where I then taught them something in return. So there was no exchange of finances, but there was exchange of value and time
Yeah, yeah, totally. But yeah, the rest of it is I live really close to the city, and I ride a lot. And there are moments where I think my social life has just not become a predominant, but I think COVID has really supported people not having too much of a wild or big social life. I mean, I’m not a… I’m very much an introvert. It’s really hard for me to be comfortable in big groups of people. So, yeah.
COVID suits you nicely. I think a lot of artists in the last almost two years now have benefited from working on their craft, and just like -for lack of a better word- ‘locking down’ and just focusing.
And with this lockdown, have you found anything new? Or do you think you’ve developed further or learned more, enhanced your skills? Your work is beautiful. And yeah, it’d be great to know if there’s anything that sort of sticks out -have you been able to research something that you’ve really wanted to that you’ve found the time for?
I just keep nodding at you
Yeah I was going to say your head’s going to fall off because you keep nodding so much!
Yeah, no, all of the above. The last two years working on the show for Primavera, it was meant to be in 2020 and then postponed, and I was able to get two massive grants, one from Helpmann. I was kind of given the heads up that I wasn’t allowed to, without supervision, use the big gas kiln here. So I’ve shifted from electric firing to gas firing, which is a very… it’s like driving a manual car in firing terms. So I needed to have kind of like an Occ. Health & Safety mentor. So Mark Valenzuela was the only person who had been recently using the kiln and had really perfected the ramping. So when I say ramping, it’s like the the way that you build up. So you know, when you’re on a hill in a manual car, and you’re holding it? That’s kind of like ramping.
Like a hill-start sort of.
Yes, the hill-start. So he’s really great. And pretty much just did a few with me and -well, he did all of the sessions with me because he was there. But you know, after a few, I really got the hang of it. Each kiln is very different. So I think just having, you know, kind of like a little instructor for a few of them was really great. Mark is a person who’s full of incredible skills. I mean, I’ve picked up using ash glazes because of Mark; conversations, you know, even considerations towards you know, working in studios together outside of Jam when our opportunities aren’t here anymore. So yeah, there’s lots of relationships that have very much developed from that. So I’m very grateful for Helpmann and Jam for doing that. And then I got a Australia Council grant. And that was pretty much the bulk of the money that made the show. So thank you AusCo.
How many pieces do you have there?
10 pieces presented but three of them are in individual parts. So there’s two large-scale kind of ones that are 1.2m in length. And that’s a two part piece. And then there’s a wall piece that’s made out of porcelain in three parts because of kiln firing. So I had to work with these tables here. So these tables I had custom made so that they’re the same height as the kiln so that it didn’t break my back putting them on and off. So I’m not bending all the way down to the floor, up to where I needed to load into the kiln. It’s just more of an easier transition. And then these shelves are 610x610mm. So that was the kind of capacity that I had to make parts in. Yeah, so I would make several of them. And I had a really great team here from the furniture department. Duncan Young, Ivana, and Fran, they were all really helpful and just volunteered their time to help assist me with loading things, shifting, crating and freighting around, so there was like, yeah, beautiful community here. The scale of the work meant that I had to figure things out. So things I learned a lot like gas firing’s completely and utterly different in atmosphere. So all different results. This piece behind you is a cobalt piece, it was one of my test pieces. That was like a metre and 30 centimetres, and it shrunk that much prior to so shrink rates in ceramics are usually around 15-14% for utility ware. But for large sculpture, we’re looking at 30-35%
Wow that’s quite considerable.
Yeah. So you know, counting for those losses; learning how to make things in compartments and segments to make larger holes. Working with porcelain and much finer porcelains. So I am now working with Audrey Blackman. But it took me after I made all the work from Primavera and testing different porcelains to find that porcelain through conversations and Kirsten as well. That, you know, Porcelain is like working with butter. So to build what I make, with butter, is very difficult.
So I work with like, you know, really grogged clay, where I can build incredibly fast, you know, make a piece in a day, which, you know, you don’t want to push things you need things to set and solidify, because movement in water, make clay very malleable. So you want drying times like 15-20 minute like rest periods. So yeah, lots of those kinds of things like managing the whole thing. I’m incredibly organized in terms of this production of things I had like, like beyond checklists of checklists, like daily like ticking off ‘to-do’s. And yeah, it was pretty full on. But this blue is an oxide so I don’t love exhibition work that’s glazes because of risks of fusing things to shelves and the scale of things and… but I am exploring a small gas range of celadon glazes and Chün glazes for smaller pieces. So ones that are between 15-30cm heights. Just for something else, like you know, to keep that kind of continued learning. I do really love glazing and I fell in love with using local materials from the Catapult mentorship. So whilst we’re in lockdown, I just kept busy. So I got a catapult mentorship, thank you guild house, and worked with David Pedler and Jane Robertson. And, yeah, so I do want to make a bit of a considerable shift in my practice from commercial things, because I think it’s taking too much of our world, like digging too many holes into our planet, and start shifting towards more local materials, but doing that in the most respectful way to Traditional Owners. So I’ve been developing relationships since that mentorship with a few local Elders and leaders. So hopefully in the next couple of years, I can shift to more of a predominately local clay material.
That’s wonderful. It’s nice to hear that as well, because so much of your work is reminiscent of the landscape.
Yeah, yes. And I think there’s a beautiful tie to that. Something I think I tried to subtly make a hint at: the idea of our body and our environments, writing our bodies and the memories of our bodies. And that, you know, there is an intrinsic connection.
There’s such delicacy in your work. I remember seeing it.. oh I can’t remember where I saw it now, I think it was in an office space somewhere, and I saw a work of yours. It was ginormous. It was so big. And the person who owned it had said ‘oh it’s actually like quite light and fragile’ and it’s like glass: it’s fragile, but she’s really strong at the same time. Spoiler alert: we lifted it up.
Because I was like ‘I want to know how heavy this thing is’. And he was just like, oh it’s actually really light’. I was just like, wow, for the scale of what this is. It’s so beautiful to see. And actually, you appreciate it more, because what you just said, it ties into that whole… that whole metaphysical … what am I trying to say?
I do that on purpose by the way.
Do you? that’s so sneaky of you
Yeah. I do that on purpose because of weight-bearing things. So if I’m freighting large things, I don’t put bottoms in them because of the added unnecessary weight, and because I can make things from a thick coil. But like, some people expect that ceramics will have a base on it, and need that. So I really want that to be an option. And I really want, you know, my work to be commercially viable as well.
Yeah. Just looking around your studio now. It’s so nice to see vessels that are functional and aren’t.
Yes, yes, definitely. Yeah, there’s a whole range.
A whole range. And, again, just such varying sizes, like those teeny tiny little pots there next to that shell.
Oh, yeah, that’s my local clay outcomes.
See, that’s how small and how troubling using local clays are. There’s no real guarantees.
Yeah. Right. You just get what you’re given.
Yeah, yeah. And they do different things and testing different atmospheres.
That’s great. That’s how you develop and find new things and build from there.
Definitely. Yeah, and I think building from site-specific, with very intentional connections to that landscape is something that I’m interested in. Yeah.
Yeah. They’re really nice. I really, really dig them. With your coil work, for people who haven’t seen or experienced your vessels before… are you calling them ‘vessels’? or ‘sculptures’? or both.
Yeah, definitely, I am absolutely comfortable with them being called both.
They have such… they hold their own sort of story. And looking at them like this one, in particular, look at that big one up there
The black and white one?
The black and white one. I just know, if I, if we turn that around, and I stand on the other side, it’s going to look completely different with the light.
So how you imprint when you coil, it has its own language and no two thumbprints are the same. Which is really nice, because it ties that back into the individual; that no two individuals are the same; no two lives are the same; no two, you know, vistas and landscapes are the same. It’s forever changing. It’s like that old thing we learned at uni I think in photography, that’s like, you know, ‘if you want to take a photo in the sunset, it’s never going to be the same photograph twice’. So you’ve got that split second to get you know, one and you’ll never be able to recapture it again. I find that with your work, that’s really nice to see, because you’ve sort of stopped that moment in time, and it lends itself for you, for the viewer to pause and reflect. Which is really lovely.
Yeah, definitely. I like hearing that!
Do you think… is there anything that you… because your works are so laborious: what do you think about when make them? Are you listening to podcasts, music, are you just thinking?
Definitely. I think I, I guess the reason why I want to make is I think it’s not just about objects and putting material into the world, it’s things that have meaning embedded into them. And I like the idea of what you just said, in terms of the story, everything there is a connection to something like the body, the landscape, and asking questions. If they’re reflective, or make people pause or consider things, or even if someone’s like, ‘yeah, all I see is coral’ like, yeah, then does it make you think about coral then, does it make you think about what’s happening right now.
It’s still a reaction to it yeah.
Yeah. And I guess from my training as an art therapist, and when I worked at the primary school,
I was going to ask, yep.
Yeah. So it’s just this idea of using material as another conversation of processing experiences, all types of experiences, positive negative. I had someone that we went to uni with once be like, ‘well, why, you know, if you’re unlayering all your experiences, aren’t you just putting bad juju out there?’ And I was like, ‘no, no, that’s not the point.’ Like it’s about using the act of making to move through things and work through things and it doesn’t have to be adverse experiences. I feel like moments of pausing and I think moments of stillness or mindfulness is really, really great. And I don’t particularly just make work that’s about being mindful. I think it’s about being in conversation with something that’s tactile and tactile storytelling. Yeah. As opposed to just verbal communication, like if you see a therapist or a friend and you just talk at something. From my training, it’s like you stay in a cycle of that story and you don’t break it; you don’t get hindsight. Whereas you start to see and shift and make an intended meaning into something, you start seeing things in different ways. And different possibilities, maybe problem solving. Maybe celebrating.
Yeah, it’s definitely a sensory experience that you have, most definitely.
How much -just looking back at this cobalt one- you’re saying works lose between… what was it?
30-35. That’s percentage, but it could be like 30 centimetres.
Yeah. Are you devastated when you pull something out of the kiln, and it’s much smaller before you put it in as like, do you take before and after photos
like this is what I hope it stays as, and this is what it’s turned out to be.
Um, I definitely think that in all my years of ceramics, you cannot count on anything to be guaranteed. And I think that’s a really interesting life lesson, you know, relationships that we, you know, are hopeful for, or jobs that we feel will be in forever, or, these kinds of things that we decide to be set on. I think ceramics is this other way of practicing things not going to plan.
This is good practice for real life almost; you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. It’s, as soon as I open up Big Bernard -is it?
Big Bernard, yep
Yep, it’s gonna be something completely different, we’re just gonna go with it, accept it and move on.
Yep. And each kiln will do something different. And like the top of kiln might be different to the bottom of the kiln. It’s I think the variables of being flexible and resilient is huge. And being able to go, ‘I need a plan so that I finish everything two months ahead of time, so that I have enough time to keep making if I need to’. So like, all these other strategies come in place. And I think there’s something really interesting about like, emotional resilience within that. And sometimes like, say, if my partner, and I just like having a moment and we’re just like having a disagreement about something, I’ll just be like ‘just let it go, really is it that important?’ Like no, I’m just gonna let this go.
That’s so nice. I think we could all learn from that. It’s nice to just release, just let things be.
Yeah, well have everyone enroll in a ceramic course.
You’ll learn! The sun will still come up tomorrow, it’s all good. Oh how funny. And you’ve got a few classes coming up that I’m excited for, they’ll be great I’m really looking forward to doing one of them it’s going to be really really fun.
Yes, I’m very excited.
I’d love to go back to how we were just talking how I was saying, you know, you’ve had all these doors open up since we’ve left uni what 4, 5 years ago now? No, I can’t count.
Is that three years ago? Yeah. In three years, you’ve accomplished like a heck of a lot. You’ve gotten so many grants, awards, you’ve been part of so many group shows. You’ve had your own solo shows, you’ve got things coming up, you’re bubbling away, doing things as we can see in the studio now. But one of the big things was you are now represented.
Please tell us more. How did that come to be? Where are you?
I don’t know how it came to be, but I know that I met Hugo at a Helpmann, at the Helpmann-selected grad show. And I nervously made one business card and gave it to Hugo, just for Hugo.
Just one. It’s like the Willy Wonka golden ticket!
Yeah, basically, and Hugo is probably one of the kindest people ever. And I remember looking at Hugo being like everyone just wants to talk to you probably, like, you’ve never really met me, but I just want to be that awkward person that says, ‘Oh, hi. I’m an artist here at this show, just here’s my card if you ever, ever want to call.’
I’m an introvert so please just be nice to me.
Totally. I mean, I mustered up so much strength and was so well received by Hugo. Hugo’s always, since then for the years until, I was represented in like July and had always been sweet and kind at events, said hello and just definitely made me feel like I was acknowledged as a human that, you know, I wasn’t a forgotten face. I definitely didn’t think I was on anyone’s radar. But then before Primavera was announced, Hugo invited me to do a solo. And I did a few like, visits over there to the gallery and it was really, really lovely. They’ve got a great team over there, Ceridwen, Gabby, and Jenna are just like lovely and Hugo sings their praises. And I think that if you ever want to be represented by anyone, it’s someone that’s very intentionally a good person, and Hugo really is.
Yeah. It sounds like they’re an extension of family almost
just loving, supportive, caring, and dedicated to you just want the absolute best.
and incredibly professional, like mixed in with all of that. And it was just such an honor the day that Hugo asked to represent me and I did this really weird thing where we were sitting at his desk and I was so excited that I just like slammed my hands both down on the table and was just like ‘yes!’.
This is happening
And I think I went home and cried.
Such elation as well. That’s great. That’s yeah… you can’t not!
You can’t not. Yes. And yeah, so it was just really nice. And then I think that night, we went and saw Kate Power’s performance for the show ‘Bedroom‘. And we just celebrated by watching Kate. So it was just really, you know, humble and lovely. And since then, just every conversation is always really great.
You’re definitely on people’s radars.
Yeah, you don’t think that though! But like, I think because I’m always just in here making I almost feel like no one even knows your face, or it’s more the work, or anything like that. You almost feel removed from the things. Yeah, so definitely thank you Hugo!
Make one business card and give it to someone you really, really want to represent you. That’s great, what a confidence boost.
Yeah. And I feel like maybe it is the grant or just the track record, or just keeping momentum and moving. I was recently asked by another local artist ‘how did you get that?’ And I was like, I really honestly can’t exactly say that because that’s not for me to say like, I didn’t represent me. But I know that someone believed in me, and that felt really nice.
And do you think like, I was gonna ask a similar question: being so fresh out of uni, it’s a big jump to start a professional career. And I guess for the people out there who are starting, who aren’t sure how to apply for grants, talk to the right people, sort of put themselves out there – because it can be a really scary thing.
Yes. Still is.
Yeah, it totally still is frightening, I can imagine. But is there something that you could… like a word of advice? Or would you say, like just talk to people as nerve wracking as it is, talk to people just yeah, if you believe in yourself that much other people, you know, feed off of it.
Definitely, and also know that you’re not alone. There’s like, we are a small and beautiful community here in Adelaide, but there are lots of us that are emerging and all doing the same thing. You know, I’m inspired by my peers, like Kate Bohunnis also, like, incredibly motivated,
who you worked with at George Street.
Yeah, and we’ve known each other like, you know, 10, almost 10 or 12 years prior to that, traveled to India together. And it’s just like, I have, I think, you know, a lot of people that practice that are constantly doing the same thing. But for people who are leaving maybe uni, I could talk to just you know, really saddle into Helpmann and make yourself known there. That’s a really gentle way of understanding grant writing, applications, communication, networking, and speaking to people
Use your uni tutorers, as well, and lecturers; all of them artists.
Yeah definitely. Exactly. And I think there’s a lot of nice people out there, but what I would recommend, something that does happen to me a lot, is that if you are new and budding, and you do want to bail someone up, maybe take them out for coffee, or offer them something for their time. Because I think no matter who it is, or where you are in your career, always asking someone to value their time, and if it’s not just a financial thing, but really with a ‘please and thankyou’. And that goes a long long way. I think those kinds of things in this industry is really important. You know, every time that Gill or Erica or anybody else or gave me a moment of their time I would be so sincerely grateful and offer them something back. Not as in like my work, but just helpful in another way. Yeah, I think that’s just really important.
Yep. That’s good. build that community up, keep it strong. Don’t be super greedy or anything.
I’m going to go backwards because I just want to know this, If there’s an answer to this, for my own just personal knowledge. Your forms, as I said, have like a life of their own and no two works at the same, no two imprints are the same. How do you – because you work with coils and you build them up and up and up and up in various layers- do you let your works talk to you? Or do you have a vision in mind of what you want the end product to be before he put it in the kiln and it turns into something else? How do you let it be as organic as your works are?
I never draw them. I never have a plan prior to; I will do observational drawings later after firing. Because I think if I set a shape and a form, I am setting myself up for failure. I just know that I need to stick to some ceramic principles of not creating thick walls and thin like these works over here where I’ve gone vertical plane instead of horizontal plane. They’re made on bases. So coiled, smoothed out bases that are either wheel-thrown or hand-built. And then I build and flare out, so I pinch out, as opposed to the coiled wrapping around movement one. Yeah. So those ones, these horizontal ones are technically a lot more thinner and faster to build. These ones I’m making a base and then building out from them. And then wheel throwing then building onto those wheel-thrown forms, I think it’s knowing when to stop so that they don’t bow out and collapse. And not getting too hungry to finish something. So just calling it as soon as the material starts being like, ‘stop’, stop.
‘Stop pinching me’.
Yeah, ’cause I think it’s, yeah, what I said like movement and water; it’s just going to make it like jelly. So the more you do it, and the more you press something, just because you want to finish it. It’s not going to end in a good time.
Yeah. Let it be.
It’s such a nice space in here. I’m so relaxed in here.
Oh, great. I’m glad!
It’s really really nice in here. Just feels like I could do a lot of work in here, just like knuckle down and do everything I need to.
Have you gone over to Sydney to see the work?
February and I’m so excited. So everything was a bit delayed because all the other artists had a few other shows going on. And another artist was giving birth and I think there was just a lot of hoops to jump when the borders were closed for me to get over particularly for work stuff, and they decided to just not put that pressure on everyone and to celebrate in February. So it was really great. Thank you MCA but it’s gonna be really great. And I’m so excited and I’ve had some friends who are over there in Sydney see the show. And I’m just like yeah great! I also think that I’ve got a lot of people to think like photographers and a lot of people who helped because there’s many hands, many hands in this project. So my Instagram is all about gratitude for the next year.
Yeah I’ve gone through your Insta a few times and seen a lot of people tagged in there so yeah, there were many moving parts and cogs that help this machine get to where it is.
definitely and I think the most powerful one is my partner. So thank you Lou
Good resilience Lou, thanks, Lou. And good photography as well my goodness!
I know! If you need someone hit Lou up! Please put that in there.
Is there anything you want to say about your work?
It’s hard sometimes because I think I think there’s like evolving ideas, but underpinning it is yourself as a mirror. Using clay as just a material that holds you. And I don’t want that to sound wanky or anything, because some people can kind of joke about those things. But I, when I teach wheel throwing, or when I’ve helped kids that are facing intense trauma using clay as a material, where you get to witness like, the pressure of like, you know, if there’s something holding in your body, you’ll see that, it’ll show up, and it’s non-judgmental. And it’s a safe place where I think there’s this nice thing about materials as a therapy. And you don’t have to see it as that, like, this kind of idea or things that like I kind of lament on, you don’t have to it could just be like, I just love that blob, or I love this. But I like making with the idea of it, creating opportunities and conversations and maybe creating more connection to yourself and the world. But yeah, I think there’s the when you’re in uni, you learn that… why am I making this? Why does it matter? And how is it important to the world?
And I think I always come back to that like, for me to be a utilitarian kind of ceramicist, to make things for restaurant ware, wasn’t exciting. But, even though I get excited by other people who do make like that and have deep appreciation for it. I am more excited by ceramic as like an installation or a sculpture or an immersive interactive thing. Because it’s an interactive material.
There’s a lot of thought that goes into your work. It’s not just visually beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. Like, as I said, it makes you stop and appreciate it. And you can think while looking at a piece.
Yes. I had a really hard time leaving my role at the primary school. I was there for two years. And I think what I needed to do, needed to be more impactful than that, but still speak to why I cared or why I studied art therapy in the first place or why, you know, places like Carclew that are offering Pom Pom and you know, other workshops that they do like their holiday workshops and things like I just I really believe in that. And I think that this practice and material and creativity and making is a part of everyone’s life in every aspect and everyone needs access to it.
Most definitely, and I think the beauty with your work as well was that there might be a lot of adults who aren’t able to communicate what they’re feeling; what they’ve experienced, whether they haven’t been given the tools or they don’t feel safe, or it’s just not the right time for them to accept whatever they’ve gone through. You provide that.
I’d like to think I do. Thank you.
It’s really nice
Yeah, no, I hope that like people can look at the concepts behind things will be like, ‘what, what’s is that? is it stalactite? Like why?’ And I think there’s that connection back to environments; environments that build up over time, or like termite mounds and how they’re like little things that stack on top of themselves and build up to something bigger. I think there’s these really beautiful metaphors that you can draw out into a lot of things.
I’d love to write an essay,
oh my god, please do
It’s you know that foundation. And you build up and up and up. And it’s just life; you know, you start at age 0 and you build and you learn and you pull and you push and you do this and that and it’s just this ever-evolving thing. And yeah, if you can keep growing and growing and growing, and then if you go too tall, like one of your works might just collapse all of a sudden, or not end up where they should be like all over the floor.
Totally. And seeing the material have like stress fractures. So I think the reason why in grad school when we started putting together like the grad show, and you know, finishing Studio B, I mean, Studio A going into Studio B, I was looking at how I just earth, how earth and cliffs and all these types of formations of earth have stress cracks, and why they have stress cracks and what they’re conducive to. So, you know, being walked on all over the time or like, on a cliff face that’s about to fall off because of atmospheric pressures and all these other types of things. And I was just like, well, there’s so many parallels to our environments and ourselves and think we can take some hints and cues of how to help ourselves better,
Most definitely. Be kinder to ourselves and the planet that we live on.
Yes, yes, definitely. Yeah.
I think that’s all the time we have today. Thank you so much for joining me.
Oh it’s been an absolute pleasure.
It’s been so nice
I’m so stoked that you got to interview me.
Me too – I’m so glad we found some time in your insanely busy schedule.
Well thank you for holding, you know in there. Holding in there? holding on?
We got there we got there. We’re so excited to see where you go next what you’ve got planned for next year. Watch this space. We love our South Australian artist Sam Gold. Thank you.
Episode 22 / Tony Kearney
In this episode, Steph caught up with photographic artist Tony Kearney at his home in Port Adelaide. Tune in to hear about his journey to photography, his highly-acclaimed portrait work, competing with pigeons for exhibition space in Hart’s Mill, and that time he took 180 rolls of film to Syria.
- Kodak Instamatic
- Reticulation, Bas relief
- Mug Shots
- Fixer, developer, stop bath – photographic chemicals
- Atkins Lab
- Marden Senior College
- Tarnanthi Festival
- National Railway Museum
- Olive Cotton Award / 2021 Exhibition Catalogue
- Bowness Prize / finalist images 2021
- Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize
- National Portrait Gallery London
- David Prichard’s portraits of Australian First Nations stock women win the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2021 [article]
- Tony Kearney, Jacob, 2020, (Jacob Junior Nayinggul)
- ‘Dignified, strong, beautiful’: the year’s best portrait photography – in pictures (The Guardian) [article]
- High Ground (2020) imdb
- The 2021 Bowness photography prize selected finalists – in pictures (The Guardian) [article]
- 3 of Tony’s portraits in NPG collection
- Laneway Festival
- Tony’s photograph of Billie Eilish (@BillieEilish)
- Tony’s photograph of Aurora (@AuroraMusic)
- Tony Kearney, Linda Syddick Tjunggkiya Napaltjarri, 2017, inkjet print on paper (sheet: 82.6 cm x 82.3cm) purchased by NPG (Australia) in 2017
Tony Kearney, Wentja Morgan Napaltjarri, 2017, inkjet print on paper (sheet: 82.5cm x 82.5cm) purchased by NPG (Australia) in 2017
- Tangentyere Art Centre
- Rust ‘The corrosion of culture and the culture of corrosion’
- ‘Shandy’ by Deb Jones & Christine Cholewa
- Syria Lost
- Hart’s Mill
Hello, and welcome to the SALA podcast. My name is Steph and I’m catching up with photographer extraordinaire and visual artist, Tony Kearney in his apartment in Port Adelaide, which is full of fantastic objects and things to see. Before we get started, I do just want to acknowledge the Kaurna People as the traditional custodians of the land and water that we are on and looking out upon from this fantastic vantage point, and acknowledge the Elders past, present, and emerging.
All right, Tony, thank you so much for making time to catch up and chat about things that make you tick. I guess we’ll start with the core stuff, photography. I know it’s a big passion of yours. How did you actually find your way to the medium?
When I was very young, I can’t remember exactly how old, my parents bought me a Kodak Instamatic. And we’d go on holiday, and I’d take the camera with me and I’d take photographs of things. And the film used to come in a little cloth bag with a tie on it and a tag. And so the tag was the address back to Kodak somewhere. And two weeks later, you got your prints, and the prints were square, and they were beautiful, and I’ve always loved square prints, so I keep on going with it. And then after that, I went to Wellington Polytech to study industrial design, and that was a 36 hour week. And four of those were in a photo lab. So I managed to learn all sorts of things about large format cameras and developing slide film, where halfway through the process, you had to take it out and flash it in the light and then put it back on the spool and keep going. So all sorts of strange, wonderful things, reticulation, bas relief, all those sort of things.
Those words are even at the edge of my understanding. Amazing. And to get even a bit deeper, straight off the bat, what is it about film and analog processes that has maintained and held your interest in such an enduring way?
Well, digital, I’ve sort of got for both, I use analog and digital cameras. The digital I use mainly for when I get invited to photograph festivals or concerts or whatever. And I use that mainly sort of in the evening in low light and so forth. The film, I just love the serendipity of what you get; the potentially the weird results, which turn out to be fabulous. Because sometimes I just enjoy using old and expired film too. So and then that sort of adds another level of ambiguity to what you’re looking at, that you can’t see through the lens.
And you have quite a collection of quite old antiquated lenses, don’t you?
Yeah I’ve got a collection of cameras and lenses which I use. They’re not there for collecting, they’re there to be used. Anything from half frame, which is basically half the size of 35mm image up to I think about 12×16 inch. Yeah. Some big old cameras, my oldest lenses are from the 1860s.
Wow, still getting used!
Yep still getting used! I still crack ’em out to do portrait work. Because they’ve got really beautiful softness about them, and at the same time, sharpness in the focal plane, but softness everywhere else.
Yeah, that’s perfect for portraits, isn’t it? Yeah. Amazing. Well, there’s a deep reverence for objects across the board and, and their functionality, which I guess, stepping back from, you know, your interest in photography. You do love stuff don’t you?
Well I’m an industrial designer by profession – was. And part of that was understanding how things worked, and also respecting some of the things that had been designed in the past by people who are backroom designers whose name never appeared anywhere near the product. So the sort of anonymous products,
Right, so not the kudos in a way.
Yeah, so a bit of a machine-age archaeologist is what I see myself as. I find things that aren’t perfect. So if I’ve got toys, they’re not the ones that sort of are in their cardboard box and perfectly kept from the day they were bought. I prefer to see toys that granddad made for their kids and, and in the back shed and cast them maybe or built them out of wood. So those are the sorts of… that’s where I sit. And I just love the sort of the aesthetic of age texture and in all the fabric of how things were made and where things were made, and so forth. And my one of my passions is, well, one of my businesses, was designing plastic products many years. So I’ve got one of the largest Bakelite collections that anyone has in Australia, in boxes.
Wow yeah – no small feat!
I’ve got a few bits out, but not much.
Amazing. And is it true that you -coming back to your processes- is it true that you developed photographs in coffee?
Pray tell, what was that about?
So we had a – it may have been SALA, I’m not sure- it was a festival. Where Danni, a friend of mine, and myself decided that we’d go to a cafe on a Saturday morning, take photographs of the patrons with a medium format camera. Then develop those negatives in coffee, and then print them in coffee.
And print them in coffee as well!?
And then put them back up on the wall the following week for people to come and see
of the cafe? Amazing.
So there was about 30-odd pairs of portraits and they were called ‘Mug Shots’ because we had them holding the mug looking straight at you and then sideways. So we had the two shots and printed one negative there and one beside it. And it was good, some good fun, and contemplating doing it again sometime somewhere.
Yeah well you” have to let us know to look out for that one.
It worked beautifully. There’s no problems except for think fixer. You can have alternatives to developer and you can have alternatives to stop bath, but fixer is one of the harder ones to find able to find an alternative too. But it was coffee and it had citric acid, borax, I can’t remember – it had a number of different things. But that that’s also how I, I quite enjoy playing. I was recently asked, where I work as a casual looking after the film labs at Atkins. I was recently asked by one of their clients who’d found a roll of Kodachrome, which hasn’t been developed since 10-15-20 years maybe?
Yep. So developed as black and white. So that used all sorts of homegrown chemicals. Home-available chemicals should I say, like borax and all sorts of other things. And we just got we got black and white negatives from Kodachrome.
And so – sorry black and white positives from Kodachrome. So they had their images and they could see them and see what the granddad had photographed.
Oh, wow. So it was from in the family, amazing. So you get to play mad scientist sometimes too.
That’s the enjoyable bit.
Yeah. Oh, that’s fantastic.
– Musical interlude –
And now talking about objects, I don’t want that to sound like the focus of your work because you do have distinct threads in your photographic practice. I think my introduction to your work was this beautiful shallow depth of field, close up macro works of these objects and things that we’ve been talking about. But you’ve also got a very curious eye for scenery and, you know, new visions of the port and a photojournalistic sort of style that you these really beautiful images of Syria, and also a very established portrait practice. Is there a common thread between these approaches? Or does each way of shooting have its own individual appeal or drive that draws you to it?
If there is a common thread, it’s not something I’d consciously do. Let’s go back to where my photography was: so I finished studying and then basically, from then on ’til about 10 years ago, I just used the camera for whatever else does, for parties, for travel – I don’t didn’t use to photograph food, but just film photography of all sorts of things. And then when we moved to the Port, about six or eight years after we moved to the Port, the government said they were going to tear down a lot of the fabric of the Port and replace it with new housing. And so I thought it was about time I showed people what was out there and what was going to be lost. And it turned out that’s when I started to pick up my film cameras again, and so I’d photograph the boat yards before they were demolished, and all the sort of cultural heritage that is involved in that. And the people who were five generations of the businesses were sort of established in the 1860s. And they were getting moved on or kicked out and the buildings demolished. And I thought that was criminal. And I basically wanted to tell as many people as possible about it. So that’s what I was doing. That’s got me back into photography. And then, and then I wanted to use a darkroom. So in about 2010, I went into year 11 photography at Marden Senior College.
I imagine you might have been the oldest one there?
No I wasn’t, but there were also 12 students from other schools who had come to study photography, and wet photography,
So a bit of a melting pot of interested parties.
Yep. So the first year, all I did was just use the facilities to trial alternative processes, and do photography and print all sorts of things. And naturally, at the end of the year, I got my mark and I’d failed because I didn’t do any of the coursework. So the second the second year, which was year 12. And that will cost about $300 a year, by the way, for four hours access once a week. I decided to do the coursework and do my fun stuff, as well.
Oh, that’s good of you.
So I did the course work, handed it all in, then got my mark, and then had a ring, a fellow student who was a year 12 student who, we used to do photographic projects and collaborate on things. And she said ‘shut up’ and hang up on me, because I just got, I think was A plus, with merit, and turned out as the highest mark in the country for creative arts.
There you go -just as well, you applied yourself then!
And I got the invite to go to the Governor with all the other year 12 students who got sort of high marks, and I decided not to. Didn’t really feel like being looked at and pointed out for being sort of a mature age student who’d gone through, but I only did the one subject. It’s not like, you know, they were doing 4 others. I was working at the time, and I was working fulltime at the time.
Yeah, a juggling act.
So I was pretty pleased. So that was because I just played with all sorts of things I made cameras, I made scanning cameras out of scanners, I made all sorts of things. I just played.
Right, getting an image one way or another.
It’s about putting an image on using glass or something to distort or give you a… will give you a perfect image, one on one or the other. And a medium, which is in a lightproof box, which can accept it.
So anything’s a camera.
Yeh well that’s one of the projects I did since then, so I was commissioned by Tarnanthi Festival, an Indigenous contemporary art festival, to go up to Alice and work with one of the art centers on photography without cameras (real cameras). Yeah. So basically going out onto the country and doing things like lumen prints or like going down to the tip shop and buying litter boxes and first aid kits and cocktail shakers, and cake tins,
and putting a tiny hole in them?
putting a tiny hole in them and making pinhole cameras. And because I knew the focal length, and I knew the size of the hole and everything else, I could give them the exact amount of seconds they can open up for whether it’s cloudy or sunny or whatever day. And they’d open them up for three minutes and then put a bit of tape over them and bring them back and I’d unload them and then they’d go out again, and do another one. So, just that was fun.
Yeah, I bet.
So it’s just playing playing with alternative processes. But I also like to be refined in my processes. So when it’s, you know, when it’s film, like large format film, you can’t really waste too much, so try and get as as clean an image as possible and then work with that clean image to make as clean a print possible.
Yeah. And I think oftentimes we don’t think about the weighting of you know, taking the photograph and then the development as still being part of that process and you know, still having control over outcomes in that process.
And it’s not… the obvious difference between digital and film photography is it’s not take the photograph, look at the screen, delete it; it’s take the photograph, wait two weeks ’til you get a chance to develop it. Develop it, it’s still a negative. Scan it, rework it, as in change the tonality, or change the contrast or whatever, and get rid of all the dust because you can have a lot of dust. And then because you’ve scanned it, you can have a two gigabyte scan if you want. And it’s not going to lose anything, it’s just going to be bigger grain on the image. Whereas in digital, if you took a 60 megabyte file from a camera, you’ve got a lot of farting about trying to confuse the, the digital data to make it something that’s two meter square. Which, you know, I’ll print that easily with a negative.
So there’s that difference. Obviously, if you want to spend a lot of money, you can do exactly the same thing in digital, because you can get very big files. But right now you can walk down to the nearest secondhand camera shop and buy an old film camera and you can do the same thing with a scanner. So.
Interesting isn’t it. We’ve sort of forgotten that in a way, the merit of the film camera. And yeah, interesting to know that… is that a train?
That’s a train, the National Railway Museum is across the road.
I can see it. Oh, yes, there it goes. So apologies for any interruptions in the background.
I didn’t even notice it because I’ve been here so long I just tune it out.
There are worse noises. But yeah, interesting that the you know, happenings in the port gave you that very clear impetus to and have something to capture because it could disappear.
Yeah. I mean, some of the first photographs I took I used the first time I was in an exhibition. And so that was my first exhibition where images from the Port.
Right, yeah, well there you go. It’s funny to think about your first exhibition because I know you exhibit so prolifically. And actually that does bring us to some exhibitions slash significant prizes that your work is in at the moment at time of recording. Do you want to tell us about some of your big wins from this year?
Well, they’re not wins as such. They’re the finalists. Yeah,
Yeah yeah. So I use the term in a career way.
Would have been nice if they were wins. So the Olive Cotton Prize for photographic portraiture is a $20,000 Prize, and that’s run by Tweed Regional Gallery, and it’s fairly prestigious as far as getting work into and I hadn’t been, I hadn’t really applied myself to put work into awards for the last three or four years through the personal circumstances. So I decided this year to
-throw your hat in the ring?-
apply for 4 prizes, so put work in to be selected. So I managed to become a finalist in the Olive Cotton Prize, which was fantastic. And that’s been and gone and I wasn’t a winner, but my work was hanging on the walls and wonderful, well known and distinguished portrait photographers who do it as a profession for a living, and that’s their art form
yeah so you were in good company.
Yep. So that was one of the four. And then I got news that I was a finalist in the Bowness Prize, which is a prize for photography total. And that meant that I had to sort of print a 1.5mx1m portrait and frame it and get it across to Melbourne. And that’s on its way back from Melbourne tomorrow. So that’s been and gone, and, again, I was in the company of many renowned and wonderful photographers, whose work I very, very much admire. And then the third one, which really stumped me was the Taylor Wessing Prize, which is a $27,000 prize from the National Portrait Gallery, London, and I got two portraits into that.
It’s amazing, isn’t it?
Well, that’s from 5,400 entries from around the world. They chose the work of 25 photographers. And I had two of them in there, two of the portraits in there.
So they’re hanging at the moment
until early January -I couldn’t get there, would have been lovely. And someone who I’d admired their work for a long time, an Australian photographer, actually won the prize.
So in the end between he and myself, we had 10% of the photography on the walls of that exhibition.
Amazing. Well, well done. That’s a great comeback from not entering for a few years.
And the Guardian UK wrote a review and chose a portrait I did of Jacob Junior Nayinggul, who is an Indigenous ranger in the Northern Territory by day and became an actor for the first time -and a lead actor- in the movie High Ground, and I caught up with him at the Adelaide Film Festival for the gala launch of that movie. That portrait was described as one of the top 10 portraits of the year by the Guardian UK.
That’s a big compliment.
And the Guardian Australia, in the Bowness Prize I was a top 10 Photographer of the Year from the Bowness as far as their collection.
Oh wow, take in in your stride!
Now I’ve got to lose my amateur status, which I’ve been sort of holding on to for so long, I had a card printed when I went to Syria, which said ‘amateur photographer’ on it, and that hung around for a while.
you might have to part with that word
So I’m just starting to get myself a website. I work four days a week at Atkins, so three days a week now will be devoted to portraiture.
Yeah. So it’s a great transition period.
Yeah, it is a transition period. It’s obviously, until I start getting work, and it’s an expensive transition period.
You know, getting getting all the works off to different parts of the world, the prints.
Yeah, there’s a lot of logistics there isn’t there.
And just printing and framing, and shipping, and shipping back if it doesn’t go anywhere. All costs money.
Although I like that you, to get the prints to London, just before [you] told me that you, you know, instead of compromising on size, because I know that you do great big, very commanding portraits -they’re great when they’re at large scale- that you printed them and sent them unframed so that they could then be framed on the other side. Did that work out okay?
Yeah it did. The National Portrait Gallery framed them. So they that was their contribution, they paid for it.
Well do you have any tips for anyone that, perhaps might be working with photography, and that kind of thing? I’m assuming ‘develop a website’ is probably a good one.
But there’s a portfolio in a sense. Yeah,
but I just don’t have an e-commerce website, which is what I’m in the process of doing.
Gotcha. Gotcha, Oh, good. So we have got somewhere we can-
I’m not totally a troglodyte.
My apologies! But in terms of, you know, just throwing your hat in the ring and entering prizes, do you have any wisdoms around that? Or is it just a matter of you’ve just got to try it out?
Oh, try it. With a lot of the major photography prizes. They have people who have taken photographs on their iPhone; they’ve got people who have never used film who have a disposable camera they’ve bought and taken some photographs, and they’ve turned out pretty good and they’ve put them in with a great explanation of what the work is and they’ve become finalists. So it’s not… and you know, the Bowness Prize is $30,000 I think, I think the Moran prize might be $50,000
in prize money? yeah so that should be impetus enough.
And it might cost you $30 to enter. It’s like a big lottery though. Because it’s really up to it depends on who the judges are. And it’s very subjective.
Great to know that there is that diversity of work that you can get in.
Oh you get work from people who have already won major prizes all over the place. Yeah. And they get people whose work has never been seen before.
Yeah, might not even call themselves an artist. Amazing. That’s very reassuring – it can be done.
I’m sure you don’t think twice about this because you’ve photographed a lot of people. And I don’t know how you ask people because you’ve photographed -off the top of my head- Billie Eilish and these people that come over for festivals, these fantastic artists and people that, I don’t know, I would just stumble on my words. How do you not only approach people to sit for portraits, but make it comfortable and get those -because you can tell by the way that people are in front of your lens that they’re comfortable and that’s how you get those beautiful photographs. What’s the secret?
I don’t know.
Just your knack?
I was always shy about portraits. I never took portraits at all. And then I was kind of forced to when I did the course, at Marden Senior College, because there was a portrait component. And that included, doing all sorts of lighting and doing all sorts of things to make the person look beautiful. So what I did is I sort of went through the boxes of rubbish I’ve got around the house here, and sort of established a box of things that could be held or offered. And so I decided to do a series of work, which was called ‘offerings’. And it involved someone holding a piece out to the camera, and then being out of focus in the background, and slightly looking away or doing something that they weren’t necessarily looking at the camera. So that started me taking photographs of people and getting confidence to take some photographs of people. And then from there, I started asking people, if they would like to collaborate with me on photoshoots, where basically the subject and myself co-owned the final results, and they could use them for whatever they want and I could use them for whatever I want.
It’s a nice way of reframing the act of having your photograph taken is that it’s actually collaborative.
Yeah, and I had to ask the subject, if I could use them. They didn’t have to ask me, because I’d already given them that as a gift, or as part of the process. Because the person that you’re taking the photograph of, if they’re not there in front of you, then you don’t get a photograph. So why not share it? Because especially I find that, I’ve actually formalized that quite, with the Indigenous artists that I’ve photographed over the years have basically said that, after costs, we share whatever profits come from it. So if there’s a print sells, or if it’s an award or whatever, they get half.
That’s a really lovely way to break that down.
And it’s not… I don’t get people rucking for it, it’s just something I discuss with them after I get them in front of the camera. They don’t even know that beforehand. But I suppose it’s the collaborations that I did for four or five years after the Marden course, which got me to a style. And from that I got three portraits in the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection. And I sort of have the confidence to walk up to someone and ask if they’re interested in having a portrait taken. I might show them some of the portraits I’ve taken in the past. And then I generally don’t waste their time, because they’re people who are busy, and I might only take three portraits total. And that’s it, and then go on to the next person. Half an hour later.
nerve racking in a way.
Well, if I fail in my portrait-taking they just never get seen – just like any other photographer. But yeah, with Billie Eilish, I was standing sidestage taking digital images of her at Laneway Port Adelaide. I was commissioned by Vitalstatistix and Laneway they got the images. And they gave me a pass that let me go backstage and take photographs and Billie’s mum was there. And Billy being only 16 or 17 at the time. I just asked her mum if it was okay, if I could take some portraits of Billie and she liked what she saw, and she said ‘sure’. So we chatted for a while with Billie and Billie pinched mums earrings.
and popped them on?
Yeah. And Billie was all chirpy and smiley and everything else on stage and when talking to me and then backstage we used the backdrop as the photographic backdrop. So it was a dark backdrop to the stage. And natural light. And I took four photographs of Billie and that was it.
And that was it. Yeah. So I guess you’ve got that sort of system figured out and
and sometimes I actually give the camera to the person so they can look through and look at me and see what sort of
get a sense
get a sense of what it’s going to be like. And so and they just hand it back. In fact, when I handed it to Tash Sultana she took photograph me before I knew it. So I’ve got to a process now where if I’m taking photographs of someone sort of well known and didn’t want to waste their time, and it’s not something they’ve come to me for. Literally, it’s I divide my 12 shot film into 4. Yeah, and it’s four people get collected on one piece of celluloid, which is 12 shots long.
So just ask very politely and quite happy for them to say no. And most of the time, I think I’ve only been refused once.
And now that we’re talking about it, you know, it sounds like it’s a very mobile practice in that, you know, you just identify a backdrop or have a backdrop and
mostly identify, yeah, and the camera’s handheld and I hand-hold it down to 30th successfully, 15th sometimes works, but 30th of a second, and take photographs in that light. And that’s just a 1960s medium format camera. And that’s it.
And you’re sort of reading the direction of the natural ambient light.
Well, I just, I actually have a little bit of a cruise around to see where the light’s best or more even, and can work and not getting in the way of people changing sets or changing backdrops or whatever.
There’s a lot of moving parts at a festival.
So I don’t have a tripod, don’t have lights, don’t have reflectors. Just use the light as it comes.
And do you have -it’s horrible to ask you to play favorites, but- is there a standout experience of photographing someone who’s sat for you?
There’s a Norwegian musician I photographed called Aurora. She was just bubbles, she was going all over the place. Had to slowly quiet her down to take the photograph, otherwise, at a 30th of a second it would have just been a blur. But she was lovely. She looked in the camera and she said, ‘Oh, it’s gonna have all that dust on it’. Um, nope. No my cameras, when they’re sitting in the bottom of a bag, they do accumulate a bit of dust as you’re working around. And then another time, I was photographing two women, two sisters. In fact two of the portraits that ended up in the National Portrait Gallery. So Linda Syddick Napaltjarri and Wentja Morgan Napaltjarri from the Gibson desert and they spoke Pintupi as a language. And where they were in Alice Springs, very few people could understand them. And so they chatted amongst themselves and chewed the bush tobacco and said there painting and asking for cups of tea and do some beautiful work – their work’s in most of the major state galleries and the National Gallery. But they’d never been photographed together before. And one of them is I think 74-81 years old, and the other one had a bigger span and she was something like 84-92 years old or something. And they never been photographed together. And so I got them into the gallery space at the Tangentyere Art Centre in Alice Springs. And asked if I could get a painting as a backdrop. And I asked if there was any pre-prepared black backdrops. And there was, so we hung that. And so I took their individual portraits and then I decided to take the pair of them together. And they kept on giggling and laughing and pointing around the room and laughing and giggling and they knew bugger-all English. But they must’ve asked one of the people who work in art centre who I was, and so they’re looking around and I was going ‘come on girls, stop it’. And they were looking through my camera.
‘Cause you look down?
I look down into the camera. And then they both turned to the camera and they started chanting “Tony, Tony, Tony!”. And I thought (jovially) ‘bugger off’. And I did take some photographs after that. And they started singing to me after that. So that was pretty special. So there was singing there. And it was just lovely. With these women who had come in from, met their first white people when they were in their teens and early 20s; never met or never seen anything from a white community before. In fact, one of them got so freaked out [that] her major motif for a lot of her paintings is the scary windmill. And so she would sort of have these scary monsters under the scary windmill because that was first thing she saw.
And I think she went to Hast’s Bluff mission and then sort of moved around on the western side of Northern Territory for a while and then sort of ended up in Alice Springs.
So taking these portraits actually is a little window into meeting such a diversity of people?
Oh it’s fantastic.
Now I think I got to know you just after one of the Syria exhibitions, can you -but that seemed to be like a really significant project- can you detail what that project or series was and was about?
I’d got Brian Dawe to open one of my exhibitions here in Adelaide, maybe 2009, called ‘Rust’, and it wasn’t going to be a series it was just rust, and it was embedded in a Port festival and
a solo exhibition or?
No, I decided to do a contemporary art exhibition where I curate -when I say curate, I’d just ring friends. And it had byline of ‘the corrosion of culture and the culture of corrosion’. And it was about the developers at the time taking away anything that wasn’t heritage listed, and the only things that were heritage listed were stone and brick,
yeah so it’s quite biting conceptually,
And so all the corrugated iron boatyards that have been there for up to five generations they were being threatened with being knocked down. And so I got people to respond to that. And it started out with about 17 artists.
Was it all mediums or photography?
Yeah. So there was a little bit of photography. There was glass artists who made that piece for the exhibition
is that glass?
It’s glass, it’s called ‘Shandy‘.
Oh, yeah. That makes sense.
by Deb Jones and Christine Cholewa. So we had all these works. And Brian Dawe stood up the front and told government, who were in the audience because Brian Dawe was up the front, that the government had sold the community down the river, and many other, more biting,
choice words about how that’s -because he’s born just across the road from here. And so we got to know each other, and then, about five months later, Brian rang me and said, ‘Look, I’m thinking about going back to Syria for a trip, would you be interested in coming?’ And I said, ‘when is it?’ and he said, ‘oh, we’re thinking about maybe six or eight months?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I think I’d be able to sort of handle getting some money together in that stage and potentially going’. So two months later, he rang me back and said, ‘we’ll been leaving in a month. Would you still be interested?’ and so I sold a few things, and Sandra and I both sold things, and got the money together. And we headed it off to Syria with a small group, ten of us. And I took, I contacted Kodak, and asked if I could buy bulk film from them at a discount.
And I didn’t hear back and then I didn’t hear back. And it was just after Christmas we were leaving. So I rang just before Christmas and said, ‘Look, I really need to know if I can buy film’. I’d already accumulated quite a bit of film in the meantime. And they said, ‘Yeah, I’ll tell you what, we’ll send it off tomorrow’. And so I got 80 rolls of film from them.
And it was for free. They basically gave me 80 rolls of film to take to Syria.
Got written a note about what I was doing. And so with my 100, I took 180 rolls of film to Syria.
Oh my gosh.
I gave about 30 or 40 of them away to photographers in Syria, because they were finding it hard to get.
Wow, I don’t even want to think about taking that film through the airport.
Well we went through, there were 22 opportunities for it to be searched, as in go through the X-ray.
Oh my gosh.
And in the end, it went through three, because I managed to convince everyone that you don’t put the stuff through.
Yeah. And that can be a hard sell.
Yeah, well it’s not that one dose of radiation cooks the film, it’s just like
it’s the buildup. So each time it’s basically… you know, if it was 100 ISO film, by the end of the day, if it’s been through 6 x-rays, it’s acting like 3200 ISO film going through an x ray. It’s just getting more sensitive and absorbing more things. So you get colourshift and all sorts of things that go on. Some people say it’s not a problem if it’s in your hand luggage – well it was in my hand luggage. And when you go to Syria and it’s in your hand luggage, your hand luggage gets taken off and put through an ex-Aeroflot industrial X-ray machine,
which is bigger than Ben Hur. It’s like a washing machine or bigger. And it cooks it. So I arrived in Syria. And the first thing I did after my film, having gone through this massive half-room of an x-ray machine, is I contacted a friend who was a photographer in Syria, he worked for the Washington Post and The Guardian, and all sorts of other major newspapers. And so I got up at six in the morning, walk around Damascus. And took three films, quickly, met him at 10 o’clock in the market and we walked for an hour to the place where they develop film, and we dropped the film off. Went and had a few too many beers together, because we’d caught up and then got back and they’d developed them and printed them, and colour ones had a bit of a colour change
a bit of shift?
but the black and whites were fine,
And I had lots of both, so I just kept on taking film photography. I thought one month in Syria with no film would have been a bit of a disaster, but it was there and I was enjoying it. So I did for myself. And so came back and we had an exhibition called ‘Syria Lost’
that’s the one
where we had with Brian, myself, and Sandra‘s photography, and each printed about a meter square and they were pretty amazing images considering three weeks after we pass through Daraa, which is in the south of Syria into Jordan, the first shots of the civil war in Syria were fired in the streets of Daraa. So up until then, you know, things were going off in Tunisia or down south, and other areas that hadn’t got to Syria yet. And then when Syria decided to do it, the government decided to crack down and took on its civilians. And then after that, and other sort of people in infiltrated the cause of the civilians and turned it into a civil war but with different ideologies involved. So it turned into something more vicious
pretty tight timing.
Yes. It could have been worse six weeks later
and I’m still on the one metre prints – because those ones I think I’ve only seen online so Yeah, amazing. And they are very It does feel like you’re there walking through markets and
I took I took a 1954 Hasselblad with me, which was a supreme wide angle camera and just walked everywhere with that, just taking photographs of people and landscape and and just everything that was in front of me. Because you know, Damascus and Aleppo, cities that have had continuous occupation for 7000 years. So you go into any of those and there’s this fabric from all sorts of different eras in there. We stayed with some Bedouins on the Euphrates River opposite Mesopotamia and an archeological dig, and went out and did some sort of fossicking and plain roaming and archeological digs, we did some wonderful things all through, and had the odd encounter with a with someone with a submachine gun at five in the morning when I was taking photographs, because I’ve managed to be taken photographs in the wrong direction towards military camps
So they were tapping me on the shoulder with a machine gun and saying, oh, you can’t do that.
And I bet you stopped
Yes I did, I turned around to take photographs in the other direction.
What a what a chronology of events. Um, but moving back to the ‘Rust’ exhibition that sounds very similar to another couple of exhibitions that had a sort of single-word premise
So it’s a few exhibitions we’ve had been contemporary art exhibitions. So it started with ‘Rust‘.
Yeah, so that was the beginning, gotcha.
Then it was salt, tar, smoke, knot, grit, grain, bridge, vessel.
That’s quite a few!
So that’s nine. And the next one’s booked for the same space in Hart’s Mill for February.
I won’t push embargoed details then.
That’s if COVID permits.
Yeah, yeah, but a very established sort of model now then.
Well yeah there’s 40 or 50 of us now.
Yeah that’s a sizeable fleet!
Yeah. People who have shown that the Louvre or the V&A or internationally all over all sorts of contemporary art spaces to others who have shown at the local or have not shown at all before. So it’s a big range, there’s only a couple of rules. One is that all the artists have to bring a plate to the opening. The other is that they all have to ‘sit’ the gallery. And likely you could be sitting, you could be a third year student from AC Arts and be sitting beside your art hero. And, and having a great conversation for four hours while neglecting the people in the gallery
And everyone has to clean up the space because it’s a it’s a pop-up space which we established about six years ago, that we moved into after, after having an established gallery for four years, we managed to convince the government that they could let us use Hart’s Mill as a venue. And so we the first time we did it took us two weeks to scrub and clean 100mm of bird shit and dust and crap off the floor and away and then repaint some walls that were tagged
in in the same original dirty browny-gray color that was on the wall there. So we didn’t we didn’t restore, we we just slightly renovated. It wasn’t pristine. In fact, we’ve got walls in there, which are beautiful peeling paint, and no one’s allowed to touch them as far as we’re concerned. Paint’s been sitting there for five years now, so it’s crusty, it’s falling off the walls, it’s beautiful. So that’s all part of the texture of the space
and the character. It’s a great thing that’s been established. And yeah, to have such a mix of people of different levels, being involved, and you know, everyone respecting the code, because that’s how you sustain something like that.
And it’s great. And a lot of the artists who would normally have their work either picked up or dropped off at galleries, and then at the end of the exhibition work picked up and dropped off, and very little to do with the exhibition itself, have got a big connection with the exhibition and have got the opportunity to hang out with other artists of different levels. And it’s fantastic. So lovely people, lovely friendships, long friendships now. I got another waiting list of about 40 or 50 people who want to get into it.
If you build it, they will come!
But generally if you if you’ve been in it, you get invited again. Yeah.
Oh, well done. And yeah, thank you for pushing these very community-involved events; the care for the Port is palpable and tangible. Yeah, I look forward to seeing the shows when they come about.
Yep they’re good and we enjoy them. And we obviously do SALA exhibitions each year with photography, which got I forgot to mention, that’s analog photography. So that happens in August, when you can have a real exhibition. I think we’ve missed out on one or two during COVID. But they’ve been fun, and big prints some of them up to three meters wide
I do love a big print.
It’s good, good fun. Yeah. And some of those, we get done by Atkins, the smaller ones. And the bigger ones, we’ve sourced a signage printer who makes very good durable vinyl prints.
They’re obviously not as perfect as ‘fine art’ as something that would be on photo rag [paper] with archival links. But that’s for an exhibition where, when we first started exhibiting in the space, pigeons lived in it.
So you don’t really want to put archival, top quality
you don’t really want to. So when Trent Parke and Narelle Autio put their work up, they put them behind glass. But for those of us who sort of haven’t got big frames, or we just sort of pin them up. And so I’ve been sort of stuff you can wipe down with a wet cloth before each day -or maybe during the day.
Ugh, I don’t want to think about it! Brilliant, well we will be keeping an eye out for all these projects. And yes, hopefully.
So I will give you the name of the next one:
Yeah, good. Yeah,
It’s called hold
hold! That’s nice
As in the hold of a ship or the embrace
different ways you can read that.
Well the words we’ve used…
they’ve all got double meanings
more than double. So that allows people allows people to play. But it’s a fantastic space. And I’m lucky enough to once a year or twice a year, give permission to use it
Well, may it continue.
Episode 21 / Jasmine Crisp
In this episode, Steph catches up with Jasmine Crisp at her home studio in the Adelaide Hills. Jasmine paints across small and large scale, with her narrative paintings discoverable in both gallery spaces and on buildings around Adelaide and beyond. We talk about what drives her work, the ups and downs of working in public space, her time in residency in Iceland, and her painting that won the inaugural Centre for Create Health Art Prize.
- Jasmine Crisp (Instagram) (website)
- Adelaide Central School of Art
- SALA Festival Slide Night 2021
- What is an artist residency?
- SíM Artist Residency – Seljavegur, Reykjavík, Iceland.
- NES Artist Residency – Skagaströnd, Iceland.
- Kolin Ryyanänen Artist Residency – Koli, Finland
- Centre for Creative Health Art Prize
- Jasmine Crisp, ‘They had to share (a portrait of Ruby)’, 2020, oil on linen, 91x152cm
- Ruby Allegra (Instagram)
- Portrait of Ruby wins new health-focused art prize (InDaily article)
- Religious Icon paintings
- Brisbane Street Art Festival
- Andrew Salgado (Instagram) (website)
- Beers London (website) (Salgado bio)
Music: Sky 5: The Rise, The Walk, The Hope – Monplaisir
Hello and welcome to the SALA Podcast. My name is Steph and today I’m catching up with Jasmine Crisp, who is a South Australian painter, muralist, and apprentice tattoo artist. Now, we are very lucky to be catching up at Jasmine’s home studio, in the foothills in the Adelaide Hills. There’s a lovely amount of rain for spring day. It’s a little bit atypical, but it’s all lovely and misty up here. And I want to acknowledge the Kaurna People and the Peramangk People as the Traditional Owners of this land that we’re meeting upon. In particular, because, you know, we’re going to be talking about Jasmine’s practice, and how she sort of portrays her subject’s connection to their surroundings through art. So I think it’s important to recognize the long standing and continuing connection that the traditional owners have to this land.
Alright, Jaz, thanks for having time to catch up with us. Maybe we can start at the beginning, that probably makes the most sense. Can you tell us how you found your way to this career path?
Jasmine Crisp 01:29
Yeah, um, it felt like a path I always wanted to do. But as commonly in our environment, people perceive a career in the arts to be a unicorn or somewhat impossible for anyone to achieve. So I really wanted to pursue art always, but wasn’t really sure that it could be an actual job or career until I studied at Adelaide Central School of Art, because I knew I had an interest in art. But it was there that I was surrounded by a lot of serious students and practicing artists in the field that motivated me to take on as a realistic goal.
Yeah. And that exposure to all those people that were doing it,
Jasmine Crisp 02:19
yeah, yeah. Because all of the teachers there are actually, at least in some point in their life, been full-time practicing on us here in Adelaide, and you build a network of people that live and breathe every day, so becomes a reality.
Yeah – much more realistic. Yeah. And how would you describe your practice now, and, I guess what -big question- what is it that you try to explore in your work?
Jasmine Crisp 02:47
Yeah, um, I guess it’s always developing as art practices do. But a primary element of my practice that still holds and maintains is an interest in the human condition, and the human experience of environments and space and objects. So not just portraits of people, but people’s environments, and their belongings and their surroundings and how that impacts their character, or connection to space. Yeah, and sometimes that will be stories directly from my own life; sometimes it’s stories from other people’s lives that I know. It’s always people that I’ve had a personal connection with, and sometimes that also involves telling stories of objects that are, beyond my own understanding, but then become part of a larger narrative, through someone else’s tale or connections of tales as multiple people with the same feeling towards an object. So yeah.
I’m sure there’s a very fancy word for that, that sort of object based-
Jasmine Crisp 04:05
Yeah, it’s not necessarily about the political environment, or the person’s more official or business-oriented status as just a very feeling-oriented direction between people in their space. Yep.
And now that you’re some years out of art school – because when did you graduate?
Jasmine Crisp 04:28
ah 2017 with honors
Yep, cool, which seems like yesterday but it’s actually not
Jasmine Crisp 04:34
it has actually I realized it’s been a little while.
Have you -so you’ve had, you know, quite a few years of practicing quite intensely- have you got a bit more of an understanding now about why you are interested in drawn to depicting people that you’ve encountered and, you know, bringing in the sort of symbols of their personhood… Have you got words for that? Or are you still figuring out why you’re pulled towards that?
Jasmine Crisp 05:06
Yeah, um, I feel like that’s probably the most obvious element to me in the sense that it feels completely authentic. Like, it’s the knowledge that I do actually have from my living experience that I can share and contribute. So I’m not necessarily researching for answers, and I’m not trying to provide a solution; or I’m not trying to, I guess create a specific statement so much as just describe what’s happening and how I’m feeling and how others are feeling and what’s happened to them. And maybe, yeah, not providing any kind of resolution, but presenting that as I perceive it to feel or be.
Yeah. So it’s not it’s not instructive, it’s not preachy, it’s just responding to very real things and – well not ‘just’, it is responding to those things.
Jasmine Crisp 06:05
Yeah, it is, it’s like sounds simple. And I guess it is, in a sense that this is the material in my environment, that is my raw ingredients. And I’m cooking them into something that I feel is only derived from those ingredients. But they’ve been crafted to usually still have a message.
Jasmine Crisp 06:28
Yeah. Or a tale?
Yeah. There’s still plenty to be drawn out of them, I guess.
Jasmine Crisp 06:36
Lovely. And you work across quite varied scale from, you know, I’m looking at works that are sort of quite easily carried by one person; works that might be carried by two people, all the way up to you know, these murals on silos and multi storey walls. Do you think that… does your practice sort of change depending on what scale it’s going to be? Or do you think that it’s just the practicalities of how much paint that you’ll need that sort of come into play there?
Jasmine Crisp 07:12
Yeah, yeah, definitely practicalities is a large element. Because there’s a very different installation process, with a public artwork compared to something made in the studio. But I always like to, I guess I try not to do any kind of project that I don’t actually believe in, and therefore end up making work that is directive of my interests. So like the same passion of wanting to tell stories and include real people that I know in real environments that I’ve seen and captured is really important to me. So original stories and imagery to work from, and stories that I want to share about that imagery in the work that feels closely connected to me, it’s special. But um, I guess the largest difference, particularly with public artworks, is the influence of a client or a commissioner. Because that often dictates a lot of material that I can or cannot include, or perhaps even just starts off with a theme that I may not have, you know, conjured in my own self, but there’s always a way that I can make that mine and make it beautiful, and also make it theirs at the same time -I hope!
Yeah, is that quite a fun process, that having to stew on how to align, you know, the client’s values and yours and find that middle ground or?
Jasmine Crisp 08:44
It depends. Like everything, I guess, sometimes you have really beautiful people that understand and support and the feedback is actually just so constructive to making a design that’s better than what I could have, because their eyeballs are noticing something that my eyeballs have become blind to. But other times it can become, yeah, really frustrating and constricting. Because I want to do something maybe a little bit more honest or a little bit more brave than what I’ll be allowed to do.
Yeah, I can see that.
On the subject of, you know, doing your mural work and that side of your practice: I think anyone who follows you on Instagram gets major envy because you’re just bloody cool as hell out there and your little pink overalls, very much living a dream. But you did the Slide Night as part of the SALA Festival in 2021 and I loved that you really subverted convention in that, you know it’s a slide presentation and there wasn’t a single image of an artwork, and I was like, ‘Ah, you got me!’ like, it was very clever. But you know, to take a slightly more somber tone, it was quotes of things that had been said to you when you’re doing your mural work. And some of them were kind of cute and fun, but some of them were a bit -I can’t think of a different way to put it- but a bit sexist. And yeah, it got me rightfully thinking about… because you don’t really see that and, you know, not that you would try and capture that when documenting that process. But it’s something that maybe doesn’t get spoken about very much.
Jasmine Crisp 10:42
It doesn’t at all, and that’s why I really wanted to talk about it for the Slide Night, because I knew that the audience would be artists as well. And we know a lot about being artists, you know, ups and downs that that comes with. But the public art realm comes with a new set of, yeah, ups and downs that are somewhat unspoken. And it’s become somewhat of an all-consuming lifestyle for me for the past year and a half anyway, so I thought I’d share some tales from those experiences, yeah.
And some of them were sort of ones that you get, you know, it might be slightly different wordings, but you get quite a lot. And I’m sure some that were a bit more niche. But
Jasmine Crisp 11:29
Yeah, well, you’re in the public realm. So you get a great diversity of people I’ll be in, sometimes it’ll be disadvantaged areas where you’re bringing colour to the environment. So you get a mixed response to being present in those areas, a lot of the time on construction sites, where it’s really high stress, and you’re surrounded by a lot of workers. So you don’t have privacy to paint and be, you know, a sombre artist in the studio, you have to really just get it done. And you have deadlines and people pushing you to complete it. Or then other times, yeah, you might be in just the street where, at any given time there’s 150 people around. And yeah, you can’t even look at your phone or scratch your ass really, without knowing that someone’s probably watching you. So there’s a different mental space, physical space, process-based urgency in all of that environment. And people feel very welcome to talk to you and comment on the work, which is actually yeah, really interesting to get that from people that are not artists, and would not walk into a gallery. And yeah, most of the time, it’s really, really rewarding, and people are just beautifully thankful and complimentary, and just glad to see activity in their environment. And especially I notice a lot of people in suburban areas feel like quite claiming of their space in their hood, if you will. So they’ll really be grateful that someone’s putting energy into what they think is something that they own. Yeah. But yeah, there’s other times where, unfortunately, developments have not been made enough to see women on scissor lifts. Or to see women in high-vis, or to see women on construction sites
Jasmine Crisp 12:03
or running a project. Yeah
Jasmine Crisp 13:33
Yeah, yep. I got a lot of people asking how old I am, which is, I think, quite strange. I’ve asked a lot of male street artists and muralists, who’ve never been asked that question. So there’ll be questions that I’ll get based on my appearance, or people asking me if I can do those things by myself in quite condescending manner.
It’s quite patronising
Jasmine Crisp 13:55
Yeah, yeah. But I guess people are still learning. And still haven’t seen that in their environment before. So it’s good to, instead of retaliate or get downhearted, it’s sort of best to, I suppose, try and educate and support people in learning that, like, Yes, I can use scissor lifts and I have female reproductive organs.
They’re not mutually exclusive.
Jasmine Crisp 14:22
Well, it sounds like you’ve found a way to sort of hold space for yourself to not get too affected by those things then?
Jasmine Crisp 14:32
Sometimes. Other times I feel braver than other times. Yeah, yeah. headphones have been great.
Oh that’s a good tip.
Jasmine Crisp 14:40
But you don’t want to miss out on those beautiful moments too. Yeah.
What a roller coaster.
Jasmine Crisp 14:46
I know. You get some really special people. Yeah. Oh, good.
Have you got a favorite little mural moment from when you have been working?
Jasmine Crisp 14:56
There are actually so many. There was A woman once that, yeah, came up to me in the street and tapped me on the back. And I was a bit like, I had my headphones on and she terrified me, ready to sort of ‘karate’, but um, she gave me a box of roses (the chocolates) yeah. And I was like, Oh, well, what are you doing? Like what are these for?’ and she said that her grandma lived around the corner. And that she was very elderly and less able to move and walk and that she had a short route in the neighborhood where she would walk and that she’d now changed her route to come and walk past my mural and watch it as it was being painted because involved some of her favorite native birds in it. And that she hadn’t seen her grandma that energized and happy and moving in a really long time, because, yeah, she was just so excited about seeing that happen close to her, because she wasn’t often able to go much distance with her health. So that was just so rewarding and beautiful that yeah, not only that, that happened and that someone was given energy from something that I’ve made, but also the really giving nature of the granddaughter to tell me and to
Jasmine Crisp 16:20
Yeah, yeah. Just to see impact happening tangibly and instantly.
Yeah, tangibly is the right word isn’t it.
Jasmine Crisp 16:30
Mm, so someone you never knew that you would reach. Yeah.
Yeah. And it kind of puts a face to the people that are appreciating that work as well.
Jasmine Crisp 16:38
Yeah. ‘Cause there might be a lot of people silently that like, enjoy something that you will never know that they enjoyed it.
A lot of quiet folk.
Jasmine Crisp 16:47
Yeah, for sure.
Oh that’s really lovely. Can you for a moment indulge maybe just me, but maybe more people that are listening, in a bit of vicarious travel and talk a bit about your residencies that you’ve done overseas? I think they were quite fond times for you, judging by your happy captions.
Jasmine Crisp 17:08
For sure. That was a really just a huge, significant goal that I never thought I would achieve so soon, basically. Even during my time at Adelaide Central School, I was really aiming to finish strong so that I could, in the future, apply for residencies and get experience so that I could return to Iceland, which inspired a lot of the first paintings I’d made during my study and the direction of my research. And yeah, it was 2019, so only two years after graduating, that I got in to the dream residency I really wanted to do in SíM residency in Reykjavik, as well as NES residency and Skagaströnd in North Iceland, and Kolin Ryyanänen in northeast Finland, that I didn’t know I… Basically, I applied for all of these things that I wanted not thinking I’d get a response and got so much love back that. Yeah, so I ended up spending four and a half months away for that year, predominantly in Iceland and Finland, researching areas that were heavily affected by a significantly changing environment. So I was a guest investigating that human experience of your home changing. And how do you change with it? Or do you change? Do you hate the change? But these sorts of environments. So in Iceland, the first time I went in 2015, they started to have a surge in tourism, and the locals were a bit mixed-feelings about what that would mean. And then visiting in 2019. I already saw the impacted that had occurred. So friends that lived in the CBD had to live far away, the businesses they worked at had all been shut down to accommodate for tourism, because they had a population of 350,000 in their country, and 2 million tourists a year.
Jasmine Crisp 19:13
So suddenly, what was their home wasn’t really theirs anymore,
or unrecognizable as what it was.
Jasmine Crisp 19:23
Yeah. And like their root and culture, all of their spots that were so close to them had been removed to accommodate for visitation. And there are beautiful and important things to that as well; they relied on it for their economy because they don’t have many other resources to share. And then they’ve created a new kind of solidarity with the local people connecting through their language that they’ve maintained, even though it’s such a non-used language in any other country. They keep it so strong so that they have their bond together. And yeah, it inspired a lot more work about just trying to form your own version of home in somewhere that maybe doesn’t always reflect what you knew it to be. Yeah, it’s sort of, I guess, a higher concentration example, or result of a bit of a fear that I have about my world changing or like growing up as a white colonial [descendant] in Adelaide, where I know my body is not designed for this environment, and the environments also becoming harsher. And
there’s a lot of layers to that
Jasmine Crisp 20:42
Yeah, and youth generations having a gap in incomes and just that unsureness about the future where I don’t necessarily want to make specific political statements or cultural statements in my work. I’d much rather I guess, focus on making artworks that say how it feels to be in that situation. Yeah. Not answering again, any of those problems, but just sort of saying, like, we’re feeling them, and this is happening, and this is how some of us are dealing with that. So it was a really interesting and challenging place because I love it so, so dearly. But I’m watching,
watching it change.
Jasmine Crisp 21:25
Yeah. And the locals have generations of attachment to that environment, which is very quickly degrading, because of tourism -which I contributed to by going there.
It’s so nuanced isn’t it.
Jasmine Crisp 21:37
Yeah. And I want to go back. So yeah, it’s really strange.
It’s really strange. Yeah. But I guess that’s, that’s it, you don’t have to come up with a solution to be able to make really valid, you know, -I can’t think of a better word for than ‘documenting’- Yes, the feeling and the layers of that.
Jasmine Crisp 21:56
Yeah. Which is similar… like we’re we’re really experiencing that now in a different way, where our home has changed dramatically, just due to legislation like rules and public health. And that becomes a strange thing of reassessing our own environments and our connection to space.
God, there’s a lot in that.
Jasmine Crisp 22:24
There is enough for a lifetime of work, I think.
Well that’s good.
And now jumping back to the present day: you were just announced as the winner of the inaugural Center for Creative Health Art Prize for your painting ‘They had to share (a portrait of Ruby)‘, which is incredibly exciting!
Jasmine Crisp 22:56
Yeah. I still actually don’t even know how really to respond to that. It’s such a huge, yeah, just crazy thing. I don’t know. It’s someone else’s life. It’s not mine sort-of-feeling.
Like as in Ruby’s like, is that what you mean?
Jasmine Crisp 23:11
Oh, even just like the fact that this has happened is just; I guess it’s one of those things where you think ‘oh I’m never gonna be in a car crash or an accident’
Oh, in that sense.
Jasmine Crisp 23:19
Yeah like ‘I’m never gonna win this major prize’
Haha, so you’re still processing?
Jasmine Crisp 23:24
Yeah, yeah I am. I don’t know… yeah, quite how to…
Yeah, what do you do with that? Maybe put it in a box and you can figure it out how you feel about it later.
Jasmine Crisp 23:32
Yeah. Yeah I think I’m doing that a little bit
Oh, wow. That’s, that’s interesting to hear that actually, that it’s, you know, even as something that’s quite good, you can still be like ‘oh I didn’t see that for me’.
Jasmine Crisp 23:43
Yeah. No, it’s like this big responsibility as well of just like, this needs to be the best thing it can be.
Yeah. Yeah. And that visibility around that as well. I hadn’t clocked that!
Jasmine Crisp 23:57
Yeah. That impact’s ongoing, as well. Yeah, like it will be a forever thing. But I don’t know yet because I haven’t done forever yet.
That’s it. Well, I might quickly do a bit of an audio description of the work for anyone who hasn’t seen it, if that’s cool?
Jasmine Crisp 24:18
Cool, I’ll do a bit of.. I’ll give it my best shot. So the work is called ‘They had to share (A portrait of Ruby)’ and it’s an oil painting on linen. It stands 152cm tall, and 91cm wide and was created in 2020. And the work depicts South Australian artist Ruby Allegra seated on a wheelchair under the running water of a shower. They are in a bathroom with musky pink wall tiles and cream-coloured floor tiles and they are using a gray footstool. The scene is framed by a thin sort of lime-green coloured line which sort of reaches up and forms a round arch, with a blue sky and white clouds in the gap between the arch and the top of the canvas. The scene is framed further by indoor plants, and in the foreground lies an assortment of products that look a lot like they’re from the company Lush; the kind that smell really good. The figure is covered in soap suds with one hand supporting the other arm at the elbow to hold a pink loofa or cloth up towards their neck. Tattoos peek out from behind the soap bubbles on Ruby’s arms, and Ruby is depicted staring right at the viewer. Their mouth is closed and they are not smiling. Their mousy-blond hair is short, and sort of tousled. Their eyes are brown, and they have a silver septum nose ring. And their skin is depicted in sort of warm honey-tones. The piece is full of little details; from water sort of dripping slowly, from Ruby’s chin and from the chair. But also water that’s bouncing really rapidly off the body. There’s this glisten on the wheels, like wet wheels; freckles, and even -which I loved- in the background, the semi-transparency of like a nearly-empty shampoo bottle or something in the background, which I loved. How can you tell us about this work? And actually how, do you know how long it took to make the work?
Jasmine Crisp 26:28
Yeah, firstly, thanks. That’s such a beautiful description. That work took quite a long time to fully manifest. Ruby actually offered themselves to me as a model.
Jasmine Crisp 26:46
Which we deliberated on what story to tell, because I was doing a series of works about taking pride in vulnerable activities at home. So things at home that we do that give us a sense of strength, just even through a mundane task. And Ruby had a really interesting experience with showering and with bathing, because they required assistance to shower and bathe for most of their upbringing in childhood. So they never had a shower alone. And they didn’t really enjoy having a shower like most other people do, because it wasn’t a moment of like warmth and reflection and privacy for them. But yeah, they live in a share house now and they have a shower chair and they have the equipment to be able to shower on their own. And I thought that was a really beautiful example of claiming something that most people will take advantage of to be able to do and to make it like a really big achievement and a statement and to portray their disability with the color and character that Ruby has, which is really positive and really courageous as well, because they’re very vocal about those vulnerable states that they do experience. And publicizing nudity in a usually private space and doing that through art. I really wanted to capture the positivity in the clouds was sort of like a, ulterior dimension where you’re imagining the beauty of the environment that you’re in and sort of that classical dreamscape. Whimsical, positive future energy that a happy sunny sky provides. Yeah, I really wanted to put in Yeah, bright colors that describe Ruby. All the Lush products were part of the household. So it was a sharehouse. And you know you’re in a share house when there’s like seven bottles of shampoo in the shower. And I really wanted to also demonstrate like Ruby as a young person and lives with people that work at Lush, which has its own understood, like quite a worldwide stigma of like, yeah, young, progressive people with coloured hair. And that was all I think, important in portraying their character and their lifestyle and this current moment in time. Yeah.
Oh well congratulations again.
Jasmine Crisp 29:37
One thing I did want to pick up a little bit is to just understand a bit more is the line, like the little arch line that cuts through, does that have a greater significance in your practice?
Jasmine Crisp 29:53
Yeah, I’ve used arches a lot. Um, it does reference to, so like a Christian icon paintings, so the icon paintings depicted relevant characters from religious tales about their significance so that the general public at that time who couldn’t often read or write, could perceive who these people were. And in order to portray that person’s role
and their importance?
Jasmine Crisp 30:27
Yeah, they would use like, really strong symbolism. So really flattened image; direct, quite didactic imagery. So like a flat face, an object that they’re holding, maybe they’re holding the Bible, or they’re holding Jesus because it’s Mary; holding
like a scepre or something?
Jasmine Crisp 30:48
Yeah. Or they have a sheep next to them in the background. That tells you directly who this character is and what they’re doing. And I guess, in order to tell stories in a similar manner, but in a contemporary sense, I’m pretty much doing the same thing. In a lack in a different intention, but to tell this person’s story and their character, I’m very much just selecting objects from their environment that have an understood contemporary, iconic symbolism of sorts. Like, we know what Lush products mean.
Yeah and entail
Jasmine Crisp 31:16
And even though that’s not an official icon, or symbol used in preRaphaelit times, it’s something that I can use. And I like to play a lot with that in a semi-humorous manner, where I’m, yeah, subverting the religious aspect of that and more introducing it as a
it’s a tool isn’t it
Jasmine Crisp 31:47
A tool yeah. It’s a tool, but I’m aware of how it’s been used and therefore I’m trying to use it, in a… it’s self aware. Yeah. But, um, has its own character. I like to think.
That’s so interesting. And so like the positions and poses that your subjects are often in, there’s, yeah, a lot of thought that’s gone into how that will portray them.
Jasmine Crisp 32:11
Yeah, for sure. I’ve, in the past directly referenced specific paintings from history as well, and the poses from those paintings, such as like Waterhouse, or Botticelli to use figures that reference that idea of Venus, or that idea of a muse, or the idea of a Greek mythical woman who may have been mysterious or evil or jealous. And they are sometimes subtle, sometimes not. But it’s something that I really like to play with as a tool for communicating.
Yeah. And as a viewer, once you’ve clocked that you can see it across the practice. So that’s great.
Now looking forwards, what are your next sort of goals for your practice?
Jasmine Crisp 33:20
Yeah, there’s a few, I guess. Because there’s a few [disciplines] now having like muralism, and this year practice, in conjunction with starting tattooing as a new passion and a new medium as well, which I’m just loving so much as a practice. But I really would like to maintain great balance between the studio and mural world because last year was all-mural-consuming. Okay. Which was a great time. But I’m aiming to have a series of new works for a new solo show next year, which is exciting.
Ooh, when, what month?
Jasmine Crisp 34:06
Are we allowed to know where or is that secret still? We can keep it secret.
Jasmine Crisp 34:12
Yeah, stay tuned.
Cool. Oh, that’s so exciting. So you’ll be busily preparing work for that.
Jasmine Crisp 34:21
Yeah. Yeah. And it’s been really special to be, after being in the public realm, to return to the studio and make work where I have free reign, to be as rude and naked as I wish to be.
That’s real power that is.
Jasmine Crisp 34:36
I think it’s gonna be a little bit more honest than it has been in the past because it’s becoming somewhat of like a therapeutic channel to release things that I’m not always allowed to say.
That’s exciting! Colour me intrigued
Jasmine Crisp 34:53
But hopefully still doing some mural projects. I’d really like to do one or two more interstate walls, yeah, after I had a really amazing experience this year at Brisbane Street Art Festival, where I just got to meet the best of the best. And being around those people is so invigorating and just so motivating. They’re just the best people in the world, and it’s those livelihoods and those lifestyles that are just so, yeah, enriching to be around. So i’ll absolutely be still aiming for those projects and for walls that are going to be the most rewarding.
That sounds like a good goal. Yeah. We have been talking for quite some time. So maybe we’ll regretfully wrap up. But I reckon, or maybe we can close with: Have you got a favorite -I know this is a similar question to before, but- do you have a favorite response that someone has had to your work?
Jasmine Crisp 35:57
I have actually a really special one. So one of the biggest artists I’ve always looked up to since I was a little teenager, Andrew Salgado, is a British painter, a figurative painter. Really makes a lot of work about being a homosexual male, and they’re very vibrant and colorful and brave. I submitted my work to Beers Contemporary which is a gallery in London that represents him, and he gave public feedback to my work online. He chose ten artists out of many thousands that applied and publicized it online with written statement of feedback talking about how currently, in the painting world, maximalism (which is essentially how my practice is and looks) is quite unfavoured, and figurative painting in conjunction with maximalism is quite unfavoured as well and out of style at the moment, blah, blah, blah. But talking about the beauty that can still exist in that, and the bravery of doing something that is unfavoured, and the authenticity of the messages that come from making work that maybe isn’t gallery-preferred. And that gave me so much strength. I was actually in lockdown in 2020 when I received that on my Instagrams and I was in bed eating chocolate when I saw his amazing comment on my work that he’d selected, and ended up going for the biggest run because I just couldn’t contain energy, just had to expel it somehow. So that was just a really special moment that an artist that I’d really lived up to had given me their kudos. Yeah, that’s really special.
Well, that’s a lovely note. Well, I think we’ll wrap it up there. Maybe we’ll go and enjoy this rain that’s been sort of threatening in the background.
Jasmine Crisp 38:05
Thank you so much for having me, Steph.
Thank you. And yes, we’ll be watching on keenly what you do next and figuring out where that show is gonna be.
Episode 20 / Shane Kooka
In this episode, Steph catches up with Shane Kooka, whose art takes many forms, including painting, drawing, murals, and tattoos. Shane’s interest in art started at an early age and became an important way for him to connect with culture. Today, Shane works at small and large scale, making his mark on bodies, garments, buildings, and more. In this interview we hear about the role of collaboration and variety in sustaining his practice, and some of his work in Tarnanthi.
- Cherbourg Mission
Missions, reserves and stations were reserves of land to which Aboriginal people were forcibly located – aiatsis.gov.au
- Stolen Gen / Stolen Generation
Who are the Stolen Generations? (healingfoundation.org.au)
- Jack Buckskin (Instagram)
- Uncle Stevie
ABC memorial article (please note that this article contains images of people who have died)
- Jamie Goldsmith
Honored with mural by Jimmy C and Elizabeth Close in the East End of Adelaide.
- Tarnanthi 2021
- LT3 at Hahndorf Academy, 9 Oct – 28 Nov 2021, 10am-5pm daily, free.
- LT3 artist talk 12-1pm, 20 November at Hahndorf Academy
- Elizabeth Close (website) (Instagram)
- Thomas Readett (website) (Instagram)
- Mirdilyayanthi – to Shine Bright at Women’s and Children’s hospital (Blue Heart Gallery, Ground Floor). 15 Oct 2021 – 31 Jan 2022. 9am-5pm daily, free.
- Black Diamond Tattoo
- De Castella’s Indigenous mission in New York Marathon (SMH article, 2019)
- The fight to ‘free’ the Aboriginal flag – BBC article
- Adelaide Crows Football Club 2020 Indigenous Guernsey designed by Eddie Hocking working with Shane Kooka
- UFC Adelaide: Tai Tuivasa’s entrance music honours his Aboriginal heritage (sportingnews article)
- Cold Krush
- Anthony Mundine wearing Shane’s art
Hello and welcome to the SALA podcast. My name is Steph and today I’ll be catching up with Shane Kooka, who is an artist working across paint, murals, and tattooing, and who is currently exhibiting as part of Tarnanthi. Before we get started, I’ll just thank Post Office Projects for giving us a space to catch up and have a chat, and also acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional lands of the Kaurna People and pay my respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.
Shane, thanks for having time to catch up today. I know you’re very busy.
No problem. Thanks for having me.
Maybe we’ll start from the beginning, and get you to tell us a bit about how you got into the visual arts.
So I started pretty young. I remember my mom always doing like, pottery and always kind of creating something around the house. It was more so just kind of just like drawing and just kind of any type of art that she kind of felt like doing at the time. But it wasn’t until probably about 13, 12-13 years old that I started really taking an interest in art. Yeah.
And what kind of mediums did you start with? Did you try a bit of everything that she was doing? Or?
Yeah, so I was I was always kind of into drawing quite a lot. My dad had tattoos. So like, that was something I noticed kind of early on, that he had pictures on his skin, which was pretty interesting to me at the time. And then kind of being in hospital and spending a lot of time with my mom. So actually, yeah, after kind of like growing up, just drawing in the household with my mom, I guess, I ended up getting in a incident where I received third degree burns to like 30% of my body. So I was done at a park and there’s an incident with another young young guy around the same age as me and which resulted in me being burnt. So I spent about nine months in hospital recovering from from burns, serious burns, and was in an induced coma and had like, you know, fair few skin grafts done. And yeah, it’s pretty, pretty traumatic thing to go through as a young kid at the time. And then, but you know, the result of that was, I got to ask a lot of questions about my mum and her family and my Nana. My Nana’s was born in on an Aboriginal mission called Cherbourg in Queensland. So she was born there. Her parents were Stolen Gen from Central Queensland and a place near Winton. So my Nana kind of grew up there and moved off. And then my mum was born in Dampier, Western Australia, and I didn’t know where that was at the time, it’s actually on the other side of the country. So having these conversations with a mum really interested me about wanting to learn more about my Nana’s cultural heritage, and I just seen these drawings of, you know, Aboriginal artworks and these these Aboriginal men painted up in their traditional, you know, painting like the ochre in that and it just really intrigued me to want to learn more about this art. And that’s kind of that kind of sparked my, my interest as a young person as took me on my journey as like, you know what it is to be a young Aboriginal man. And so the result of you know, being burnt was the kind of hard part but the good stuff that come out of that was yeah, really getting to learn more about my culture.
Yeah. An unexpected catalyst, I guess, isn’t it? Yeah. Wow. And did you begin drawing sort of on that journey to healing? Or did you spend a bit more time learning before you sort of got into making?
I think I was always just kind of into drawing and like coloring in, and graffiti, obviously, as a young man, as young fellow was always really interesting to me by this graffiti tags and had
Mark-making from the beginning!
yeah, it was kind of like, yeah, the original markmaking
On skin or a fence
Yeah, whatever, whatever we can find at the time. And then yeah, so I think it just kind of went from back from drawing into graffiti, and then learning about culture and doing a bit Aboriginal dancing and just kind of going back and forth into all those different kind of art mediums I guess, yeah.
So it was multifaceted. So it wasn’t just visual arts so dance as well see, really throw yourself into that.
Yeah dancing for me was kind of like one of the -obviously besides just like drawing- but dance for me, it was the the first kind of opportunity I had to really connect with other Aboriginal people and learn about culture. So I had a local young man at the time called Jack Buckskin, who was my mentor at school, and my mom become very sick after I got out of hospital, she needed a kidney transplant. So as my mom got sick, I kind of really disengaged from school, but it was good to have him because he said to my mom, Shane’s not going to go to school and learn that way, we’re going to go teach him some culture. So I got the opportunity to go and dance with him and, you know, Uncle Stevie, and Jamie Goldsmith as well. And so that I really those are the kind of the memories are hold real close to my heart. This is the first time, you know, connecting with my culture. So
yeah, and to be embraced like that by a community.
what a journey and then maybe get coming to the present: can you tell us a bit about if you had to describe what your work is about in the present day? How would you.. how would you put that into words?
Yeah, it’s kind of crazy, because my art kind of… I’ve got a good friend Tom. And he says that my –Tom Readett– and he kind of says that my art kind of has no boundaries, again, that goes on anything like skin to murals, large scale murals to digital artwork to, you know, fashion and clothing, I’m really interested in as well. But I think what I think it’s kind of my arts kind of gone for kind of circle back to that kind of back to dancing, like how I kind of really learn about culture. So I’m at the moment, I’m really, really loving what I’m doing in and it’s um, I’m taking kind of the mark making that we make on our skin with paint and digitalizing that and then blowing it up to large scale. So taking the marks that I put on my body, something that I look at as a form of identity and then placing that on onto buildings into different pieces of, you know, different materials. Yeah.
And that’s so interesting, because it’s not necessarily obvious that that’s the level of process that you’ve gone to to make that work.
So yeah, I’d actually like I’ll make the marks with my hands as I would like on my own body when we’re painting each other up. And then, yeah, I’d like digitalize that and then and then blow it up and try and recreate it is a little tricky sometimes, on a large scale. Yeah,
Well the best things are always a challenge! And you are exhibiting in multiple places as part of Tarnanthi this year, which is the statewide festival of visual art. Can you tell us about where people can see your work and what you’ve got on display?
So I’ve got a collaboration, collaboration exhibition with Elizabeth Close and Tom Readett and that’s the Hahndorf Academy up in Hahndorf. And that’s called LT3. So ‘L’ for Liz, ‘T’ for Tom, and then ‘3’ for Third, which is my graffiti like lettering
Like an alias; it’s kind of well known now. But yeah, so that’s how that name came about. But so that’s one and then the other one’s ‘Shine Bright‘ at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, which is where I spent quite a lot of time recovering from those burns. So that’s quite special to be exhibiting there.
So there’s a real tangible connection for you there.
Yeah absolutely. So I spent a lot of time in there. And that’s kind of where the interest for wanting to be an artist started I guess.
And again, another full circle, you know, putting work in there for other people that are at hospital to, you know, stroll -because it’s a nice, long corridor, I’ve just come from the hospital- and yeah, you got center stage on that wall.
Yeah that’s nice.
And they, you know, you’ve got sort of canvas works in the hospital, or is it was it on board?
Yeah, so in the in the hospital it’s just some canvas artwork that, yeah, I think I’ve got two or three pieces there, I believe. And then at Hahndorf me and Tom and Liz have put together an exhibition, Liz’s got a few wooden shapes that she has cut out and painted and me and Tom had worked on two little murals. One was like a calligraphy piece with the photorealism eye, and the other piece was a piece that I’m pretty proud of, so we actually got to paint Jamie, who I got to dance with when I was younger, Tom painted him as part of the mural. And we you know, we asked him if we could use this portrait of him and he was pretty stoked for us to do that. And in the background, it’s kind of like this, like dotwork lettering, style stuff that I’ve been using with like woodburning but also with tattooing. So I’m trying to link what I’m doing in with the, with the tattooing in with, like the wood burning stuff, and then also into the mural as well. And then I’ve also done some markmaking of those, like body paint kind of images, or different kind of laid in amongst each other. But yeah, that that by far probably be one of my favorite pieces that I’ve done. We also Liz was actually in hospital the week that we were painting that so we we took some of these wooden shapes that she had created, and we use them as a stencil to put some artwork in the background.
Oh that’s a great way to incorporate that. Yeah.
Yeah, so that was nice. That was probably one of my favorite murals I’ve done in recent years, I think.
Yeah yeah. And it sounds like you do a fair bit of collaborating. How did you, you know, sort of get to be doing that and is it largely because of the camaraderie between you guys anyway or ?
Yeah, I don’t know. I think we just kind of, I’ve always kind of found that it’s I really like my art more when I’m working with other people. It kind of pushes me to… pushes me in a different direction sometimes and I just think it’s like a lot more fun working with people that are enjoy working with us rather than working on myself on large stuff. So it’s always nice to have someone to chat to while you’re spending long long days painting big murals. But also, I think it’s just, I think that, kind of, for me, I’ve always kind of painted with other people. You know, doing graffiti when you’re young, you go out with your mates and that’s what you do. So I’ve always kind of spent time with either my mom or with my friends painting. So for me collaborating, is not really something that’s kind of new to my practice.
No you wouldn’t even question it
Yeah, even till now, I didn’t even really think of it three like that. Like,
yeah, like oh yeah it’s got a name.
Yeah. So I think I think with my I’ve obviously do my own stuff – tattooing is a lot like that. But in a way, you’re still collaborating with who you’re tattooing, so.
Yeah that’s true. That’s quite cool. Well, it keeps it interesting doesn’t it
Yeah, for sure.
And then, speaking about your tattoo practice, how does your visual arts practice intersect with that? Do you sort of think of them as all together? Or distinct?
yeah, I’ve definitely tried now to link what I’m doing with my other projects in with my tattooing, just so I’m not jumping from one completely different medium to another, doing completely different styles. So I tried to link him in with, over the pattern work that I’ve used throughout all my other work. But that’s kind of been tricky when working with some people, some people obviously have set ideas on what they want. So I think my studio that I’m working with at Black Diamond, they’ve been really awesome with supporting me to work with clients and how to negotiate that so. But uh, definitely now going full circle with the mark making and all that other stuff. I’m thinking that yeah, I just try to, I think, for me to be able to create, you know, evolve this style. So no matter what I’m painting at all still represents me is something I’m really trying to dive into
Yeah, that’s really cool. So then it’s one hat at a time.
Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
That’s cool. And another feather in your bow [cap] – I hope I’ve got that saying right- would be, like you said, working in fashion and doing all these other little cool things. Have you got a favorite little project that you’ve done -or not necessarily little?
Yeah, like, I think it’s, I think, I don’t know. Like, it’s, it’s pretty crazy. I obviously love, I love when I get the chance to do some lettering as far as like doing graffiti pieces. I think lettering is always something that I really enjoy doing. I painted in New York when I went over to run the New York Marathon. So I painted I went to the South Bronx, and for me, that was pretty exciting to go back to like, you know, where graffiti started and, and do something.
and leave a mark.
Yeah leave a mark. Especially we, at the time when we went to New York, it was it was at a time when the flag rights have kind of been up in the air as far as like, Aboriginal people being able to use the Aboriginal flag. So you know, graffiti lettering, a lot of people kind of leave their message when they do their pieces. And for me, that piece I wrote above it like ‘free the flag’. And for me, that was pretty awesome to be able to go overseas and do a graffiti piece and share that message on kind of like a national level because I was getting a lot of I was kind of in the spotlight a lot for doing the running. But it was awesome to be able to take people back and show them that no matter where I go, I try to always take some time out to do some art where I go. So that was pretty special for me to be able to do that, I think that’s one I’ll look back on in time and be really proud of. I’ve also, you know doing the Adelaide Crows football guernsey with Eddie Hocking. That was that was pretty amazing experience to like, spend some time with him and help him share his story. So that’s something I really enjoyed doing as well and also getting to do the Aboriginal dance in a walkout for Tai Tuivasa in the UFC when it came to Adelaide. That was pretty special to be able to do the dance for him, but then also to be able to paint him a pair of UFC gloves and send them over to him for him to keep, which was something that I shared recently that I don’t think a lot of people hadn’t seen that back then. So to be able to reshare that sparked quite a lot of interest as well.
Yeah. And again, it’s all these connections, isn’t it? That’s what it comes back down to I think.
Yeah. It’s just special to being able to take my art and then put it into sport. Because that sports obviously… saying that’s been a big part of my life as well. But yeah,
so, but not something that people often see a connection between the Visual Arts and Sport and nice to be strengthening that.
Yeah for sure.
Yeah, I feel like I was just gonna say with the navigating commission work with personal work for me sometimes hard because I’m finding that I really have to kind of take time out to like, do my own personal work. And that’s why instead of trying to take time away from commission work to do personal work, I’m trying to really evolve my style. So it really is stuff that I enjoy doing. So I think I’m trying to get back to that mark making and, and sort of that identity, I think, even if you’re not, you know, Aboriginal person, we all have our own identity. So I think that’s something that’s very relatable for everyone. So that’s kind of that’s kind of the main way I’m kind of pushing my art at the moment is to try to really dive into identity. And yeah, that’s
and if you’re doing that through those commissions, I guess you’re not having to go, ‘oh I need a cut time out of this to do what makes me feel good’ because you’re actually pushing them in blending them together. Sure. I
feel like I’m in a pretty, pretty amazing or pretty great spot to be able to have people so trusting me to, to do my own stlye. So they kind of give me the creative freedom to dive into that. And it still reflect what they want, but them giving me the freedom to create the stuff that I’m really happy and proud of.
yeah, it’s a lot of trust.
Yeah, for sure.
So you work from skin to canvas to buildings; do you have a favorite scale to work out? Or just having a variety is good?
Yeah, I like the being able to spend some time into one and then kind of go back to something else. I think, if I was to do just one art form, like just paint canvas, or just to be tattooing, I feel like I would be limiting myself. And I feel like I just don’t want to ever get bored. So I think it’s like good to be able to jump from one to the next thing and kind of go where I feel I need to be. But in saying that I swear it’d be pretty frustrating for people trying to work with me if they’re wanting digital work and I’m like, oh, sorry, I’m tattooing at the moment. And then I’m constantly being asked like when I’m going to be back in the tattoo studio and I’m painting these large murals, so I think sometimes it’s hard for people to kind of keep up where I’m at at the moment.
That’s alright, you’re an enigma
yeah, I just don’t like frustrating people people too much.
Nah that’s good. Go with it. Go where you gotta go. Do you have a favorite memory of someone either engaging with or like, you know how sometimes you can watch people react to your work without them knowing? Do you have like a favorite memory of that happening? Yeah,
there’s probably like a few. I remember me and Tom painted portraits of our mums. So it was like the first time I kind of had done a portrait and it was one of the first times me and Tom had collaborated on a on a larger mural using aerosol than that don’t know Tom, generally an oil painter, but he’s also now pretty established in aerosol as well. But it was one of our first ones and we painted our mums for Mother’s Day.
oh that’s lovely
And I just remember like, yeah, bringing my mum there and we turned this corner and I was like, just have a look at this wall. And she’s like, she had to look at it for a second then she’s like, just started freaking out. And then me and Tom were just like cracking up laughing together. And then like, just to see her reaction was like, pretty special. And there was another one where I had a really… One of my best friends, his mom has been so supportive of me for for a long, long time, with my artistic career and always asking when the next exhibition is, so she can come and I had one, probably a few years ago at Cold Krush, in Unley at a graffiti art studio and store / gallery. And she come there and my friend said ‘oh just letting you know, my mom’s going to want to buy up a painting tonight’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool. Let me know which one she likes. And I’ll and I’ll gift her a painting’ because I know that she you know, she always supports me. So I want to be able to give something back and it’d be nice to have something hanging in her house. Yeah. And then he came up to me, he’s like, he’s like, ‘Bro, like, I’m really sorry about this, but she like loves the most expensive painting in this place hey’.
She’s got good taste!
Yeah, and I was just like, ‘she can have it’. And then and he’s like, ‘are you serious?’ Because like, I think it was like worth, like, you know, a fair few thousand dollars. And I was like, yeah, if she loves it, I want to give it to her. And then so we went up and put like a red sticker on the painting and then she come back over, like two minutes later. And she’s like, ‘Oh my god, I love that painting. I can’t believe someone bought it. They’re so lucky.’ And she was like, freaking out because like someone had bought this painting, and she was like, just pretty much saying how lucky they are that they get to keep this stuff and just turned around and I was like, ‘you know who bought that?’ And then she’s like, who? And I was like, ‘you bought it. And then she’s like, I didn’t buy it. And I was like, Nah, you didn’t buy it, but I’m giving it to you. And then she just like started like crying and then it was like it’s made me pretty emotional. But I think you know, art’s a gift. And if you can’t give it then, you know, sometimes it’s good to do it for yourself, but I think like times like that, you know that means more to me than selling a painting.
Yeah, yeah. Especially if you’ve been there supporting that whole journey. That’s really lovely. And then what about looking forward? Like do you have any future goals or do you feel like you’ve hit most of the big ones?
Oh it’s just been crazy. Like I like growing up I used to love like Anthony Mundine and then I got the chance to like design his boxing shorts. And I was like, that was just ridiculous. And I look at those things now, it’s like sometimes I just put so much pressure on myself because I’ve done so many had so many great opportunities and I put a lot of pressure on myself and what I’m going to do next, but I think I’m just really like loving getting back to doing some work for myself and going back to canvas and taking some of that stuff from the tattooing and the large scale murals and then refining it right back to do some high quality artwork for the gallery space. So I’m really enjoying that. And I think that yeah, I’ve maybe being able to put on a few more exhibitions and collaborate with a few of my really good interstate friends that are artists as well, I think would be awesome. Once, once the board has everything open back up and we can move around a little bit more freely. So I think, yeah, collaborating with some of my friends interstate and getting to go visit their country, and even going back to my country. So I’ve never been back there yet. It’s something that I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I was meant to do it last year but then because of COVID… I actually trained up to run the Gold Coast marathon, just so I could get over there. So I trained up for like three months, and then three days before the race, it got canceled so I was kind of shattered that I had been running every weekend and didn’t get to go back to the country.
But not in vain
Yeah. So I think going back there and really connecting back to country and seeing how that inspires me and pushes my art in another direction. I’m sure it will take me in another direction. And that’s just saying I’m looking forward to doing as well.
Yeah. I’m sure it’ll give you heaps to keep you inspired. Yeah, when you finally get there. And then maybe we will round out the interview with: what is the most important thing that you get out of being an artist like personally?
I think. I think for myself, it’s just nice to be able to connect with with other people. And it’s a way of, for me, me being an artist, my mom’s still her health hasn’t been good over recent years, so she can’t work. So think, for me to be able to continue to being an artist, in a way helps me, you know, get to have her involved in art, like she can’t go out and do art herself so much. And you know, she can’t probably do as many things as maybe she would like to do but, in a way, art pushes me to go do those things and then bring it back to her and to be able to bring her with me when I do workshops at schools and do stuff like that. I think it’s pretty awesome to be able to give her the opportunity because if I maybe if I wasn’t doing these things, and maybe she would have a, you know, maybe a different outlook on life. But I think being able to bring her out and still get her involved in in try to inspire her to keep her creating. I think that’s something for me that I really take a lot of pride in is making sure that my mom’s right and she’s getting to fulfill herself.
Yeah art’s kind of interesting in that it is a journey that you can come along without having to sort of physically come along on that journey.
Yeah, so I think she’s always the first one to ring me up if I post something on social media and I haven’t sent it to her first. She always brings me up and goes, ‘your sister told me that you posted this picture, what is she talking about?’
No you’ve always got to tell mum first! Oh, that’s good advice to round out on, I think. Yeah, thanks so much, Shane, for having a chat and we’ll all be eager to see what you do next.
Thank you very much.