What I would like to talk about briefly is the idea of the artist. It is not with any great pride or pleasure that I claim to be an artist.
My being an artist is a consequence of my lack of choice. There is simply nothing else I can do. I am an artist to the point that given my task today, tonight, to open the exhibition here at Joey's, I am as interested in making this talk an artwork, or object, as much as I am actually opening the show. This illustrates the extent of my obsession.
The extent that I am an artist is amusing to me. It is often tiresome to others, especially those close to me, who become annexed to my project, and who sometimes feel that I am not entirely there and available, friendly, reliable.
As an artist, I am engaged 24 hours a day, every day of the year. As rich as my life is, it remains a catchment for what I can appropriate to art's needs.
While I am endlessly fascinating as an artist, I am personally reliable only as much as my conscience demands. Being that I am so experientially acquisitive, my beloveds often get by on the crumbs I can bring myself to give away. It is probable that I am as boring as I am fascinating.
I mention this tonight because, now that I have articulated the fact, it seems interesting. Also, I am aware that I am among those tonight who love art, who love the idea of art and what it is to lead a life where the imagination is the navigator.
I mention this because anyone tinkering with the idea of taking this business further, might be better aware of the limits of it, even when it appears to offer so much.
Ultimately artists are adventurers though, and leaping into the unknown brings the thrill we sometimes seem to need to have. Any preparation I might offer with these words must be necessarily closed off by a future artist listening tonight, in order to maximise a possible future thrill. Those who might gain from my experience are sadly, ironically deaf to the warnings.
Hello? Can you hear me out there?
The extent that I am an artist was cast in stone, (not that you can cast in stone), when I was living in Rome as a child. My mother was always dragging my brother and me through the museums, galleries and cathedrals of Europe. One day, I recall confessing to my mother my intention to become an artist. I remember thinking how irresponsible she was for encouraging me in my ambition. Go for it, she said. I remember going to school in Rome as a ten year-old and imagining what it was that I needed to become, what it was that I needed to be, in order to be an artist. I made a special effort to bond with the art teacher to better understand my desire.
The practice of art has contained into it all of the aspects of life that are compelling. There is the thrill of the chase, the pursuit of the unreachable, the unsafety of the leap, the gamble, the hunch, the capacity for focus and concentration, the capacity for breaking through in order to build. The artist has the sportsman's ability to win and to lose and to build from those lessons. The artist's career is cratered. My professional friends are coming to the age of retirement and I am still just starting to find my voice. My life as an artist is a life governed by the demands of beauty. What is a beautiful thing? How is beauty won? How does it stay? Why must we destroy it in order to recover it? Art, truly explored, reveals the charade of the 'prize'.
Apart from one's inclination towards obsession that determines the conditions for being an artist, there are other factors that are necessarily in the mix.
It is important to be in the right place at the right time. One cannot, mostly, invent a visual language single-handedly. I am a sculptor today as a result of being part of a continuous tradition of serious sculptural practice in Sydney. My contribution exists only in relation to having extended and built upon that tradition. There remains considerable debate about whether in extending it, I have damaged that tradition.
An artist who determines their own project will ultimately mostly end up in an idiosyncratic cul de sac. Most artists attach themselves, or are attached to a way of thinking determined by those with whom they come into contact. Most artist's direction is determined by a prevailing fashion or philosophy embedded into the institution they had found themselves.
I would like to close tonight with the idea of the affluence, such as it is, that we can afford to be fretting about the economy on the one hand and at the same time imagine there is such a thing as art. Art is the thing that you get to when all other demands of survival have been met. Currently, for all the gloom, we remain at that innocent perfection of the hope and scope for art and like my mother did, and I did to at least one of my children, encourage us to hope and leap dangerously forward.
In that darkness lightness lurks. We know that it does. It always did.
With this lever, I thee open.