Detroit Interview

Fisher Plant 21
Fisher Plant 21
The following is a Q&A interview I did for a Detroit Hostel ,www.hosteldetroit.com by Rosalind Russell.
1. What brought you to Detroit/why did you choose to do your residency here?
The work of my visual practice explores the theme of abandonment in post industrial environments. Detroit was an ideal environment for me to pursue this.
Albert Kahn's Bue Windows
Albert Kahn’s Bue Windows
2. Can you describe the focus of your work leading up to Detroit and what impact visiting the city has had on what you produce since?
The focus of my work leading up to Detroit has been addressing the central theme of abandonment  in a post industrial environment. I have produced a body of work addressing this through a series of relief prints of the abandoned cockatoo Island Shipyards, NSW. A body of oil paintings, collages, drawings, photgraphs, prints and assemblages addressing the themes of discarded and superceded childrens games, eg Monoploy, of the 1950’s and 60’s, art deco teasets of the 1930’s , 1960’s comics , damaged tin toys , old dolls and outmoded educational aides eg Cuisanair rods.
meccano-2
My work since returning from Detroit focuses on abandonment in post industrial environments. Detroit has many deployed workers. I got to view up close a city decimated by industry closures and its effect on the people. It challenges me to go deeper into the human psyche ie think about the history and the events behind the closures. Presently I am creating a series of paintings based on the blue windows of Fisher Plant no 21,  designed by Albert Kahn, blue helped the workers feel positive . It is challenging me to look at the human psyche, and think about production lines in a grid contextual concept.
Nick Cave's Soundsuits at Cranbrook Academy
Nick Cave’s Soundsuits at Cranbrook Academy
3. How would you describe the artists’ community in Detroit? And how does it compare to your experiences as an artist in Australia/ other countries you’ve visited?
The artist community in Detroit was alive, embracing , vital, energetic and welcoming. I believe as a community they have lost so much, have hit rock bottom and will come back up. I witnessed great positivity, sharing of time, resources and information .They were an extremely welcoming bunch, from the high end, swanky galleries, right down to the mural and street artists. It was most refreshing as though as a result of their economic downturn, the boundaries have shifted, its a looser community, not so bound by prejudices and social stigmas & class system,  they have stripped all barriers away and are more embracive of creative output and prepared to take chances. Why, a fellow artist, Mike Sackey, gave me shoes, a hat, vest, and decals when i had no cash to pay for them at a factory relocation / garage sale.
Nick Cave installation
Nick Cave installation
Melbourne, Australia boasts a more traditional art scene and community with established galleries and local hierarchy, mind set and prejudices. Whilst it is constantly in evolution, there are established protocols, followers of tradition and favouring of certain art schools and promotion of specific artists. As we are a long way from established art centres there is the isolation mindset, combined with the colonial theme of ” are we good enough , compared to Europe “, possibly some negativity and tall poppy syndrome too. It is changing though and more up and coming artists are getting start projects off the ground, funding is becoming available and more money both private and government is being pumped into the arts.
Murals in Eastern Market Detroit
Murals in Eastern Market Detroit
New York City, by comparison seemed more relaxed with greater room for all endeavours as did Berlin, Leipzig and Eastern European communities ie Budapest, Warsaw and Sarajevo. Istanbul had a magnificent, thriving visual art scene that seemed very embracive.
Abandoned Paint Factory
Abandoned Paint Factory
4. Describe what your exhibition focuses on and what kind of reception it received.
It focused on a definitive, personal experience of Detroit whilst I believe still addressing the central theme of my work ie abandonment in a post industrial environment.
“Define Detroit “exhibition was a series of 11 A1 photographic images, both colour and b&w, of the post industrial sites I visited in Detroit, along with found objects found at these sites, assembled underneath eg tin lightshade, piece of wallpaper, empty, rusted letterbox slot and a child’s abandoned watercolour set and drawing. It contained words I had written to describe Detroit.
Building Detritus eg a tin box, copper wiring, pressed metal of a roof.
A series of 9 small watercolour paintings produced enroute whilst travelling around Detroit.Six old 33 1/3 vinyl records found on the side of the road in Detroit, which included motown iconic singers like Diana Ross and Ray Charles.
Abandoned Factory
Abandoned Factory
It was received favourably by most people. Those who know me believe it addresses my work succinctly . As it is housed in display cases in the entrance foyer it gets a reaction as people entering and exiting the large building see it . Some seem puzzled . When I was installing I got six favourable comments, & some puzzled glances but at least it is topical. Three D decals have already been stolen/ souvenired!
wall art by Julian
wall art by Julian
My talk went for 10/15 minutes was theatrical. It included removing my sparkly cheer leader skirt bought at  a vintage store to reveal my ” detroit-still-exists tshirt dress underneath! I had their attention . Of my 20 or so listeners I was told I exuded passion, knew the artists and all the art I had seen , my memory and attention to detail was exceptional . In short I gave an inspirational talk which totally embraced my art .
Several questions , including,  ” did I feel safe ?” were answered adroitly with ,”yes of course , I actually felt more unsafe in NYC.”
Nick Cave
Nick Cave
5. What would you tell someone who was considering visiting Detroit
Go
You’ll be surprised with what you will find.
Her creativity, passion, interest, beauty, old& battered facade are inspirational, and the natives couldn’t be more welcoming .

Vintage Sale Phillips Shirt Factory

 

shirtfactory

A Melbourne City Council email advertising a Vintage Sale at Phillips Shirt Factory in Little Lonsdale St piqued my interest. Gasp! a post industrial factory, hidden in a Melbourne laneway, not accessed by the public for aeons, selling vintage shirts and retro fabrics. Sounds like my dream come true. It was!

Shirt Factory
Shirt Factory

Vast quantities of vintage garments, dishevelled, abandoned sewing machines and garishly printed cotton. The only problem, it was all mens wear. Sigh.

 

Me At Shirt Factory
Me At Shirt Factory

I managed to bag a few small sized shirts which I will alter to fit my frame with the help of Mum’s old Singer sewing machine. A remnant of vivid seersucker also came home with me to be transformed into a nice frock.

The fittings and fixtures are straight from the 1950’s, and provided endless fascination to my creative eye. The building has been sold, I don’t know what will become of this treasure trove of fashion and nostalgia, her heady days as a doyen of the rag trade clearly behind her!

Seersucker for a nice frock
Seersucker for a nice frock
Shirts and more shirts
Shirts and more shirts

Punk

I am going to Brightspace Gallery, St Kilda, to see an exhibition called “Punk Journey, St Kilda + Beyond . I am excited. It was a movement I first encountered in London in 1979, where it spawned a vibrant and dynamic art, and music culture . At home in Melbourne, and as a Stkilda resident of the early 80’s, I loved going to the now defunct Crystal Ballroom, in Fitzroy st, part of the Seaview Hotel. It was seedy, distressed, dirty, dingy, but with exhilarating music, and outlandish costumes, I loved it. Heady times, exuberant passions, and visually stimulating art, I was part of a movement. It was a movement without peer, its like not seen again, and it spawned many talented Australian artists eg Rowland. S .Howard, and  Nick Cave , from the band, “The Birthday Party”.

punk
punk

 

Fashion was sublime in this period, and dress sense was avant garde, and personal, anything goes, with safety pins, studs, chains, and tartans abounding. In the UK, Vivienne Westwood ruled, and as one time partner of Malcolm Mc Laren, original punk god, she had her finger on the pulse, of all things punk! In Australia, Jenny Bannister officiated, and I was disappointed I was unable to book into a free workshop, at Brightspace, to punk up an item of clothing. It’s booked out by all the dormant punks in StKilda.!

 

I hope to meet Lauren, my ex VU Buddy, and we will enjoy the exhibition together.

Cheers!

Final Submission

VU Now 2014 Invitation
VU Now 2014 Invitation

It has finally arrived. Our final folio submission. Months of hard work, dedication, studio toil , self doubt and creative output are drawing to a close.

my studio work
my studio work

Gruelling final hours, are being put in at the studios, as final touches are added to works, tweaking of folios, and stretching ourselves to the limit is occurring, in a final, vain, effort to get our work just right. Its a long, difficult, and laborious process and one that doesn’t come easily. Mountains of work has to be sifted through, pieces selected and finals displayed in our cramped, newly cleaned studio spaces. I spent the better part of my Saturday cleaning, choosing, tweaking and self doubting. Pinning countless pieces to the walls, I marvel at my huge output but obsessively question the value of the work and the validity  of my artistic statement. An inveterate collector, recycler and re-houser, my work tends to overwhelm even me and I find my creative output massive and un-harnessable. Its excruciatingly difficult putting your life on the line, figuratively not actually. Always questioning, seeking solution and completion, whilst  perpetually searching and depicting, is the artists lot. No arrogance or bravado for this mature age student, just hard graft, my resilient work ethic pushed to the limit. Whilst I envy the exuberance and arrogance of the young practitioners on my course, I value my experience, my compulsion for my work, and my questioning, and restless mind. I am impatient now, want the assessment to be over, and want to house my work and establish a working space over the long summer break. I have enrolled in a framing course at the CAE, over the next month as I wind down, and share my burgeoning mound of prints, drawings and paintings, with friends  and family.

Mawkish sentimentality aside, goodbye VU, 17th Floor Studio Space, its been a bumpy ride, you’ve taught me a lot, and witnessed many upheavals in my daily life, and whilst I’ll miss you, I am lucky enough to be re-visiting you in 2015.

Printmaking Sweatbox

The day had arrived, we were to submit our final printmaking folio. Despite many instructions and warnings, last minute printing was still to be done, under the close scrutiny of our class mates, also anxious to use the printing presses. We scarpered from the Context and Culture Class, without a backward glance or word of apology to our teacher, as we raced toward the print room, to grasp our elusive final submission.

pride
pride

Work benches were cluttered, students clustered around any remaining, scant work space, and the queue for the printing presses peaked at six workers in tandem, churning the lino-cut relief prints out. Prints were spread over table tops, in  drying racks, between drying boards and across benches. Exclamations of surprise, or groans of anguish accompanied each print as it rolled off the presses. The maker was either thrilled with the result, or in the deepest of despair with the outcome. The back of the room saw students curled over visual diaries pasting and writing, fulfilling the brief fastidiously.

 

The submission deadline grew steadily closer, with notes being scribbled frantically, prints collated, and half dry prints being wrenched from their repository. One of our number needed assistance, and we all banded together and collated his many prints. To no avail, as he confided later he forgot to submit his visual diary. Grr! Safely stowing our work, we exited the print-room gleefully, stumbling towards our homes or studios in a post production daze of exhaustion. A job well done we are now at the mercy of the assessors. Its now time to concentrate on our final folio submissions, for painting and drawing.

Vale Gough Whitlam

Gough Whitlam, was a legendary figure of Australian History. The consummate politician, his legacy is great . As Australians we owe him much He ended conscription, established free health care via Medicare, provided free tertiary education, through the TEAS scheme, granted aboriginal land rights,  and gave huge funding to the arts. With his wife Margaret, and the Australian Labor Party, they initiated change in the Australian political landscape, and adopted a great social justice program, for all Australians. It was one of inclusion, and addressed many wrongs in our society, and sought equality of opportunity for all, across all walks of life.

Iron Will
Iron Will

 

 

As a young student I lay down on the tram tracks before the Victorian Parliament House, in Spring St, to protest conscription by ballot for young Australian men, to fight in the Vietnam War. My brother, who could have been conscripted, also protested. It was an old style protest, its type not seen on the streets of Melbourne before, or since, and was one of the last times my brother and I agreed politically, and fought our corner together.  Gough put an end to this barbaric conscription. Whilst too young to vote in the historic 1972 Election Campaign, Labor won, Gough became leader, and its catchy  “Its Time ” campaign song, and black and white TV ad, is one I remember well.

Land For all
Land for All

 

 

Ironically the day after Gough died, on 21 October 2014, his birthplace, a humble cottage in Kew, was demolished. When  I bemoaned that the great man had passed, a fellow Victoria University student asked, who was Gough Whitlam? I shuddered at the inadequacies of our Australian, education system.

The Palais

scaffold
scaffold

Much loved local icon, the Palais Theatre is under threat! Local rocker and frontman of the Dark Horses, Tex Perkins has stepped up to its defence. Mysterious scaffolding has encased the mighty structure for some time now. Apparently this is not a renovation precaution, but is in place to prevent bits falling off and striking the general public, and theatre goers.

 

Luna Park
Luna Par

 

 

She is a much loved piece of the St Kilda landscape, and integral part of the Melbourne theatre, and performance scene. Concerts are regularly held there, and she continues to host local and international acts. Mick Jagger, Rolling Stones singer, referred to the Palais in his recent Melbourne Show saying they performed at the Palais in 1966 and urged fans to save the venue.

I have attended many memorable performances there. Annually the Sacred Heart mission’s, Heart of St Kilda Concert, to raise funds for the local homeless, Missy Higgins, Rockwiz tribute night to Vanda and Young, Birdy, and Boz Scaggs.

 

palais
palais

 

In 2010, I was privileged to win a ballot to tickets to a guided tour of the Palais, as part of the StKilda Festival. We got to go backstage, stand on the rolling stage, check out the dressing rooms, view the juliet window, site the projectionist room, and even climb up into the roof to inspect the domes, and building structure. A memorable tour, firmly etched in my memory, and probably not possible now, due to Health and Safety regulations. The craftsmanship, attention to detail and sheer beauty of the grand old dame, a fine example of art deco architecture, was breathtaking. It was also sad to see how much she had fallen into disrepair through neglect and lack of maintenance. Impossible to believe she was still exisitng at all, but she has a tenacious hold on StKilda, our hearts and minds, and is the venue of our dreams. She’s not going down without a fight, and the locals are just passionate enough to save her. Prepared to take on both the local and state governments they will fight for her survival. The infamous triangle site fiasco is brought to mind, where they repelled the attempts to build a Chadstone style complex, on the vacant land around the Palais Theatre, abutting Luna Park, and the St Kilda Foreshore

 

 

palais side
palais side

. A virulent battle between protestors, and developers, and local and state government ensued, which saw the protestors victorious, and the site remains vacant until a suitable compromise can be reached.The StKilda Pier Kiosk was burnt down, the StKilda Sea Vaults closed, St Moritz demolished, and it would appear the Astor Theatre is beyond redemption, but the Palais is hanging in there and we will save her, wrangling a truculent Local and State Government to assist.

As a visual artist, I have always found the old girl, aesthetically inspiring and have photographed, painted, and drawn her for many years. She is a big part of my local history, and I too will do whatever it takes to keep her standing. Too young to have seen the memorable 66′ Stones Concert within her hallowed walls, I remember a Dame Edna aka Barry Humphries, concert there of 30 years ago, where the grand old dame played host to the magenta haired, grand old Dame, and gladiolus, flew through the air in a floral frenzy.

The Palais will not go down without a fight, it will emerge from its encasing cocoon like a chrysalis,  and I expect to be along for its bumpy ride, to re-emergence.

Essay Writing

view
view

The final essay is to be prepared for Context and Culture . Much brainstorming to select a topic, followed by information gleaning, and finally, actual writing is engaged in. What to include, what to strip out, what is relevant, what is not ? All are valid questions, not easily answered. Now with most of the research done, I am awake at 5.00 am, to complete the final draft. Hopefully I can get it done today. I want to be able to get a good night’s uninterrupted sleep, and be able to move onto the next project, essay free. This also promises to be an engaging but exhaustive project, as I catalogue and chronicle my vast body of work, in an archival format. It will mean another new computer application to learn. The life of a visual artist is certainly more complicated than it was in Picasso’s day.

” DETROIT D “

The offer of $8,000 to travel anywhere overseas to paint, draw, and more, was an irresistible offer. As VU training artists we were all eligible to apply. Much decision making ensued. Where to go, what to do and what to see. Easy right ? That decision was easy, but the writing of the grant application proved more problematic. Initially it involved detailed research, followed by a complex series of emails, to establish connections with a city to which you had never been, relying on the goodwill of people you had never met. Many questions were asked, solutions sought, and networking via cyber space was attempted. Favourable responses, were elicited from most parties, and with a swathe of references, a detailed series of proposals, and several further training prospects, the dreaded application was now to be written. Much procrastination, on my part resulted. I thrashed around ideas in my head,ad nauseam, and I became more than a little obsessive about the whole process. I slept ,thought,ate and workshopped travel grant, before I actually sat down to commence the writing process. My long suffering friends and family adopted pained looks when I started to gabble those three taboo words, travel grant application. Their eyes glazed over at the mention of the “D” word, and I’m not talking Denise

packard plant
packard plant
detroit
detroit

here, but that other “D” word, Detroit the place of my obsession, the holy grail of discarded and found objects, city of abandonment, my nirvana, and where I so desperately want to go, with $8,000 in my purse.

 
Several false starts were attempted before I got the nuance of writing clearly and concisely.It was a lengthy and difficult process. A lot of help from Robert, our VU teacher was invaluable, as he made me think about the themes I would be exploring, and how to articulate my reasoning. The dedication to the cause just had to be applied. It was too valuable an opportunity to let slip through my fingers. A harried Robert was seen darting in and out of the photo copy room and classrooms of the 16th floor, 300 Flinders St, VU HQ, all that long week as the deadline for the application grew steadily nearer.

It was a great struggle but I managed to pull it all together, and the last day saw me typing up my final draft, after multiple scrapped attempts. My piece was finally ready for submission, and I gratefully emailed it off with several hours to spare. I learnt a lot from the whole process, specifically how to articulate, who I am, what I do, what are the principles of my artistic practice, and how much I really wanted to win the grant.

But don’t we all?

I sold

Recently I decided to enter the Linden Postcard Show , at the infamous Linden Gallery , in nearby St Kilda. I purchased the appropriate size canvas , enrolled online, and dutifully paid the fee . Scanning my studio I decided to create a Luna Park face based on a photo pinned to my wall . It was ink wash , a medium I am not familiar with but I mastered it, and left the work alone, rather than fiddle with it, as is my wont . The next day I added  grey lead pencil . Climbing the iron stairs at the back of the Victorian grandiose mansion, I was plagued with doubt . Was it good enough ?, all these other strident , confident artists seem to know what they are doing , I’m only a student after all . Dropping it off I was wished well and queried about my surname,  by the enthusiastic curator.

luna park
luna park

Luna Park” , nestled alone and forlorn amongst the shelves at Linden . My life continued . On Thursday at Tokyo Deli, with youngest child I received a text that ” Luna Park ” was to go to a new home . He had been purchased within half an hour of the show opening . I was sad he wouldn’t be returning to me but elated I had received validation as an artist . Someone else liked my work enough to buy it . A pivotal moment in my artistic career and a much needed spur to continue on my path of image making .

Thank you Linden and I hope you will be happy in your new home , ” Luna Park ” , x love from your creator .