Verist of the improbable.
pdf in the Greek language: PDF Flyer on the art of Vakras
ARTIST STATEMENT:Although my early art was influenced by the surrealists it has continued to diverge from what are considered to be traditional surrealist principles. I reject the idea that random accidents make for good art (essentially Lautreamont's famed encounter of an umbrella with a sewing machine on an operating table). Unless these accidents are refined and articulated they remain accidents. This therefore takes my work out of the surrealist ambit. My art is closer to what might be defined as fantastic art rather than surrealist. I suspect it would be best described as being closer to a form of 19th century symbolism which however has learnt the lessons of 20th century surrealism - a kind of "surrealised symbolism".
Surrealism in Australia tends to be disparaged. Criticism generally dismisses it with contempt. Take as an example this excerpt from a review in the Sydney Morning Herald 23/10/1993 by Age art critic Robert Nelson: "It must be the year of the surrealist Phoenix...I hope it does not sow a generation of unconscious painters."
I have never known of the unconscious to paint....! This was supposed to be a review on a monograph on Australian surrealist artist James Gleeson...instead it was a personal attack on the artist because, as the critic made obvious, he despises the genre.
...This predisposition to stilted criticism is not limited to any one "art reviewer". Other critiques demonstrate just as emphatically the shortcomings of the intellect behind the critique. For instance the reviews by the Australian's art critic, Robert Rooney (again on Gleeson's work*), made constant references to science fiction:
" while some of his images might seem to be Alien-like, he is not an illustrator in the science-fiction or related genres." (W.E. Aust. 24-25/9/1994) ...
which sounds much like what he had written 3 years earlier:
"I heard them dismissed as being too much like science fiction illustration"(W.E.Aust. 26-27/10/1991).
Even in reviewing another surrealist artist's work, in this instance the work of EM Christensen, Rooney wrote: " the science fiction illustrations her paintings sometimes resemble." .(W.E.Aust. 19-20/8/1989)...
Either Rooney attends such exhibitions (in 1989, 1991, 1994) with (coincidentally) the same people or those that he "heard" dismissing the art as science fiction are an invention. I have been to several Gleeson exhibitions and never heard any such comments.
By describing as "science fiction" or alluding to its appearance as "science fiction" any art of the imagination is reduced to low brow populist illustration - ephemera. I suspect the fear is that great art is elitist - that is, very few have the talent to produce it. Most post-Duchamp garbage is "egalitarian" - anyone can be an artist by labelling anything art and simply calling themselves an "artist". "Art" then is expression unencumbered by technique, ability, or even the need to say anything at all..... It is all about pretensions to grandeur.
*note: James Gleeson is pretty much the only artist of the imagination whose work is reviewed by the mainstream Australian media and is Australia's only "successful" artist of the genre. Hence reviews on him are plentiful.
An aspect of art appraisal that fascinates me is the categorisation of any work by an unfamiliar artist as being similar to, influenced by, or in imitation of, the style of another. In days past the only surrealist artist popularly known in Australia was Dali. Consequently my work was "like Dali's"! Now I'm apparently just like Giger*!
(* mispronounced by anglophones as "Geiger"!)
And this is not limited to the general public's perception of art; Robert Hughes (former art critic for Time magazine), in his book titled The Art of Australia, 1966, dismisses the work of James Gleeson (again) as nothing more than the work of a Dalí imitator (though there is some truth in Hughes' claim).
*additional: vakras contra gleeson
This is the great tragedy of Australian art: it is the artists who pander to the national psyche... and illustrate national folklore and myths that are the ones acclaimed and celebrated. Art, like sports, must serve the national interest to succeed.... Essentially it is national propaganda art....like that of the Boyds et al, which is therefore celebrated.
....... As Jeffrey Makin, art critic of the Herald Sun recently wrote in his obituary on Arthur Boyd:
"Boyd, more than any other Australian painter peopled our outback with accessible motifs that helped form our national psyche and self image...he will be sorely missed." (Herald Sun 28 April 1999)
So "Australian" was Boyd that he lived in London....not Australia when he died...
This is, I suppose, symptomatic of a nation with no identity which, in endeavouring to create an identity, celebrates populist and mindnumbingly obvious ho-hum symbols.
My view is hardly unsupported:
"The late 1940s and on into the 1950s saw the perennial testing by Australian artists of themselves on the European [British] scene...Drysdale and Nolan (and subsequently Arthur Boyd) in particular were exhibiting their Australian imagery and achievement on the international [British] stage and, for better or for worse, not without success. For others, not so stridently identifiable in their Australianness, this was not always the case."p. 219 A Story of Australian Painting. Mary Eagle & John Jones, Macmillan Australia.
Gleeson's work was never "Australian" enough...his paintings sell for around thirty thousand Australian dollars. The very "Australian" Boyd, however, sold his works for well over five HUNDRED thousand Australian dollars...Ironically Boyd's works are worthless internationally.
On 21 June 2000 the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, made a speech at an Australia Council opening. He quoted from a report which studied how to best promote the arts in Australia. The following is part of the transcript:
"...the report found [that] the great majority of Australians saw the Arts as an opportunity to express...what we think it is to be Australian, what the essence of Australianism is and the values that we hold as Australians. And that very strong identification between the Arts and our national identity is always something that I believe has resonated very strongly in the Australian community." (my italics)
The great tragedy is, that realising that they are merely Englishmen (& women) displaced , Australians have tended to try to create an identify separate from England. The landscape then becomes an obvious motif as a point of difference.
It is not coincidental therefore that artists such as Nolan, Boyd, Drysdale, are ethnic English, who went to their motherland at the conclusion of the second world war where they were celebrated as greats simply because their Australian landscape did not look English...and who upon their return were celebrated as greats in Australia on the basis of this recognition in England. Australia has always looked to the "superior" dictates of its ethnic motherland...
Unsurprisingly, w hen given the choice, Australians voted to keep the Queen of England as their own head of state rather than have their own president in the referendum of November 1999.
And if art is merely the vehicle for expressing myopic parochial and nationalistic visions then it is no different from the art of Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, or the state sponsored art of Saddam Husein's Iraq.
At this stage however, it is worth pointing out that the current trends in Australian art are also dictated by art fashion. New York is almost as influential as London is. To be cultured is to be aware of the current art fashion trend. And so, like the Pokemon phenomenon amongst their children, the adult connoisseur, not to appear a moron amongst his/her peers, can name all the Pokemon characters.... metaphorically speaking. And the last thing you would want to do is discredit your well-earned reputation, by praising the work of an unknown artist.
It does, however, remain a prerequisite in Australian art that artists still somehow demonstrate their "Australianness", as the crisis in identity is not an issue yet resolved in this country.
Sydney is Australia's largest city. Alas it is not a place in which art counts if you go by the kind of superficial art criticism that appears in that town's broadsheet the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH). Probably the worst critic I have come across in recent times is Peter Hill, who writes for that paper. Unfortunately for Sydney he is also a lecturer at the University of NSW College of Fine Arts. As an example of the views he propounds is the following:
Piccinini? Piccinini is an "artist" who Peter Hill is aware does not create her own work. Although she claims her works to be a "collaboration" the finished product is attributed as being her sole creation; no attribution is made to any other artist other than her. Works attributed to her are created by others best able to fulfil her brief, who create on her behalf, what she herself cannot. Thus, it is up to the "collaborator"(sic) to actually make her ideas work, someone else's creative ability to make them a reality.
(...Just imagine the kind of damage Peter Hill's students will inflict on the Sydney art scene in the future.)
It is worth noting that her husband, Peter Hennessey, is a board member of the Australia Council, a government body which gives grants to artists (refer: http://www.ozco.gov.au/newmediaarts/members.html "new media arts" - accurate at April/May 2003). In Piccinini we have the example of an "artist" who does not create what has been attributed to her, who Peter Hill celebrates as an equal to incontrovertibly important artists. One wonders whether Piccinini's success (she is, for example, to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale in 2003 ... ) is attributable to the contacts her husband has? ... a kind of sick symbiosis ...? (It does beg the question of why Piccinini receives the accolades and publicity at the expense of the actual creators of the works attributed to her who remain essentially unknown ... and why other bona fide artists who create their own work are overlooked and ignored). In Australia it is who you know, not what you know, or whether you have any ability that will influence whether you will succeed...
....CLIQUES AND SUCCESS....
"...artist Patricia Piccinini, five times named by this publication as one of Australia's 50 most collectible artists, has achieved another career milestone with her selection as Australia's representative at the world's most prestigious art fair, the Venice Biennale."
So writes Michael Hutak in Australian Art Collector (ISSN 9 1328-9586) issue 24 April - June 2003, a magazine which features "Undiscovered artists" and "Australia's brightest new art stars". Hutak's article on Piccinini attributes "mixed media" sculptures Game boy Advanced 2002 & The young family 2002 to Piccinini. They were however not created by her. As Piccinini stated on Channel 9's Sunday Show 16/2/2003:
"I couldn't find a way to depict these new ideas in oil and so it meant I had no skills. And then I thought if I can't do anything, I can do everything if I work with other people, and that's when I started collaborating."
"Collaboration" has an altogether other meaning for Piccinini. The actual creator of these sculptures is Sam Jinks (Sunday, Channel 9 16/2/2003). Why does that make her the artist?
...(above) in the city of Bendigo (Victoria, Australia), which I visited Sunday 20/7/2003 to see the travelling exhibition of works on paper by Max Ernst on show at the Bendigo Art Gallery. This exhibition featuring Ernst's collages and frottages included examples from his 1929 "graphic novel" La Femme 100 tetes (the one hundred headed woman) which had redefined the idea of collage.
...Of particular interest is the parallel in Ernst's oeuvre with what is termed "digital art" by a contemporary audience.
A generation which has in its stupidity come to describe "physical", "mechanical" and "chemical" processes as "analogue"(!).... needs to be reminded that the process of creating collages and photomontages (whether physically or on the computer), is irrelevant, and that the idea of the collage is not a consequence of the advent of the computer. Ernst never required a computer to create his collages. A computer cannot make up for the lack of an imagination ... Ernst's practice, as is evident in this exhibition, bears similarities to my own. His collages show the same relationship with his (early) paintings as do my photomanipulated images to my own paintings. Essentially my paintings are a mental collage hand drawn... I never required a computer to compile them ...and it goes to show that a computer is not a substitute for a lack of an imagination.
"The papier colle technique which the French Cubists had developed was based on formal unity. The Dada collage is based on the incongruity of the various picture elements." p. 19 Surrealism, Uwe M. Schneede. "The principle underlying all of his [Ernst's] work is collage. Ernst has defined the collage technique as the 'systematic exploitation of an accidental or deliberate meeting of two unrelated realities on a plane that is related to neither - and the spark that is kindled by the coming together of these realities.' (Cologne. Wallraf-Richartz Museum. Max Ernst. Exhibition, 1962-63; Zurich Kunsthaus, 1963. Catalogue, second ed., Cologne, 1963." p. 19 Surrealism, Uwe M. Schneede
...which brings us to contemporary computer artists... who create virtual garbage (which looks like the wallpaper Kurt Schwitters created manually nearly a century earlier) ... with computer image programs which provide 'fudge tools' (filters) to disguise the absence of an idea that has come to be the definition of digital 'art'.
... drawn to the Bendigo Art Gallery by the Max Ernst exhibition, I was struck by a notification placed at the Gallery's front desk advising of the Gallery's purchase of an artwork attributed to Patricia Piccinini: "The Young Family" ... even though, as is known, Piccinini doesn't create what is attributed to her: the piece in question is one instead created by Sam Jinks .... Oh dear. Bona Fide artists can't get their foot in the door, yet what is essentially an artistic fraud* is given credibility and the fraud perpetuated by one of the state's cultural institutions. (*note: If Piccinini's claim is that the work exhibited as hers is a "collaboration" then there should be attribution made to the co-creators, those she collaborated with ... this however is missing in all cases which means that exhibiting it as her solitary creation is a deception, a fraud.).
....And the Piccinini fraud continues its momentum! Her work(sic) has gained an international audience... The attention she receives provides a demonstration of the degree of bankruptcy in the art world and the utter inability of critics to arrive at independent assessments on art. Convinced of her veracity as an artist, because works attributed to her are being exhibited at the Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Piccinini is interviewed by Chloe Kinsman in tema celeste contemporaryart 98 issn 1720-7541 pp.58-61. There is no mention that the work in question is solely the creation of others. The interviewer asks: "Your creations in Still Life with Stem Cells and The Young Family have a compelling veracity; their skins look as if they would be warm to touch. What role does the hyper-reality of your aesthetic play?" Piccinini, in her answer, does not attempt to correct the interviewer's assumptions; she neither makes the claim that the works are a "collaboration"... nor do we get to find out that the hyper-reality she is complimented on is instead someone else's work.
.... It is impossible to overstate the significance of cliques as an ingredient to success in Australia.
Philosophy: philosophical argument describes one means of argumentation as the "argument by authority"; that is, that the argument is supported solely on the authority (qualifications) of the person making it. Ultimately though, even an authority has to, at some stage, explain how their conclusion was arrived at.
.... In Australia the "argument by authority" is applied almost universally and is not limited to arcane philosophical debates. It is an essential constituent of the clique. Only an acknowledged authority can declare someone to possess a skill, talent, or ability. Without an authority accrediting your ability in Australia you simply don't have the skill. I might have been able to learn Flash and build this website, but for the Australian mindset I do not have any appropriate qualification, and therefore in that context I lack the skill to actually be capable of building a website, even if the evidence (that I have built the site) contradicts the lack of official accreditation. Eighteen months of failed job applications in the field is testimonial to this phenomenon. This is not isolated to website building. This process ensures that a conservatism is instilled in the process of qualifying ... It forms a continuity . It also means that those in the position of being authorities aren't ever challenged because they will select those that are least likely to challenge them. This is leading somewhere.
My most recent attempt exhibiting was a proposal I made to the CCP (Centre for Contemporary Photography). The proposal was to exhibit my recent photo-manipulations. It was rejected (letter postmarked 1 September 2003). There could be any number of reasons ... one being that my work may not be good enough. (As their letter stated the standard of applications was particularly high which means that mine was obviously not.) In the context of the Australian mindset, rejection by CCP makes sense. I have no formal qualifications... I can't paint because I am self-taught. I can't think because I never completed a university degree. I can't take photographs because no institution has given me a piece of paper to say that I can. I suspect that the objective stated in my exhibition proposal possibly influenced my being rejected. My proposal read (in part):
"The claim that photography is a means of artistic expression has been largely overstated . All one has to do is understand light, see a pattern or composition in what is already there, aim the camera and click a button (It helps if you have a good camera!). That does not mean there have not been some beautiful photographs taken... But how much of the credit should the photographer receive for something that was already there? Does framing something that is already before oneself, in which one has had no say in creating (say a nude or a landscape) constitute art? And, when all was said and done in photography what was left? the photographing of male genitalia by Mapplethorpe.... a demonstration of the absolute failure of photography to raise itself to any artistic or intellectual height. ...With the computer however, the photographer is no longer limited by framing what is found before them. Now the photographer can reframe the subject, reframe what they have photographed, in an altogether novel way. That makes the photographer an artist."
I suspect that for someone without formal qualification or education as a photographer, or as a digital manipulator of photographs, I cannot comment on photography or art as they are outside my area of expertise/ authority. I am not qualified to critique the shortcomings of photography. It must be difficult for a photographer to accept that they are no more an artist than any other technician, say, a radiographer who takes x-rays.... Even Man Ray was dissatisfied with photography as art & experimented with "rayograms", solarization, and a number of techniques to convert the simple photograph into an artwork. But what would I know? I don't have the qualification to make any comment... And, it must be difficult to accept criticism from someone who should not comment because they can't know what they're commenting on because they lack the credentials.
In a curious irony, CCP publish a magazine, Photofile ... which, as mentioned earlier, featured an article on Patricia Piccinini (one of several articles on her which have appeared in previous editions of that magazine)....And, although Piccinini does not have the skill to produce any of the work attributed to her and instead commissions others to create them on her behalf, her bonafides are unchallengeable; she has formal artistic qualifications, I don't. In Australia it really is that simple.
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