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A body of oil paintings, collages, drawings, photgraphs, prints and assemblages addressing the themes of discarded and superceded childrens games, eg Monoploy, of the 1950’s and 60’s, art deco teasets of the 1930’s , 1960’s comics , damaged tin toys , old dolls and outmoded educational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 .

Working whilst Travelling

A difficult task to paint and draw, whilst travelling to Detroit, New Orleans and New York, within a short period of time.


A quick Watercolour sketch of New Orleans, blue and purple house, in historical Seventh Ward, where I stayed.


Tools of the trade, watercolour paints, water, small brush. It was enough equipment to capture a quick sketch, and convey the vibrancy, mess and ultimately the essence of a fascinating part of the world.

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.

” 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?