Friday, May 30, 2008

Susie Ghahremani

Susie Ghahremani - Lantern Giclee print, 5" x 7", $20.00
(left) Treetops Giclee print, 7", US$25.00 and (right) Maurice Giclee print, 6", US$20.00

At Sea Giclee, 8" x 10", US$40 (also available in 5"x7" - US$20)

Susie Ghahremani's livejournal was I think the second blog I ever read and loved and bookmarked... before I really understood what a blog was. (The first one was Loobylu, which I stumbled on quite by accident a few years ago... and haven't looked back!)

Boygirlparty is Susie's professional website - here she shares her many skills.... and she's one versatile lady! She calls herself an 'illustrator, musician and stuff-maker'... and she sells a huge array of wonderful handcrafted things in her online shop... from badges to stationary to T-shirts to pouches... and of course original artworks. Her paintings and prints are often tiny in scale (she's a regular Tiny Show Case artist).... which means they're affordable - even gift-able (and what better gift than an original artwork?).

I'm trying to stick to the theme and just focus just on Susie's artwork here... but do browse her website thoroughly, because her illustrations and other work is gorgeous. Even her music is gorgeous. I'm sure she'll be famous one day very soon.

Must apologise - these tiny tag paintings aren't current... Susie posted them on her blog a long time ago and I just loved them so much I couldn't resist sharing them here... love the background textures/patterns especially....

Thursday, May 29, 2008

affordable art online

There have been so much wordiness already this week... I will try to be brief today :) Here is a little round-up of good places to find 'affordable' artwork for sale online...

There are so many more... the internet is a big place! Anyway this is a selection of my favourites.

Tiny Show Case

Tiny Show Case is an online gallery that specialises in artwork that is, well - tiny. This idea is such a simple approach to the problem of affordability. The solution - encouraging artists to create smaller pieces of artwork. The result - limited edition artworks for the price of a book or CD. Genius!

Each week a new piece of tiny artwork is selected and turned into a limited-run print production. Each run is printed on archival Hahnemühle German Printmaking Paper. The archival ink is specially treated and sprayed, giving it an archival lifespan of over 60 years.

Also, its worth mentioning that Tiny Show Case structures their pricing so that a percentage of the money from each print sold is donated to a charity chosen by the artist! win win and win.

Some Tiny Show Case current favourites below:

ghostpatrol - Bear in Socks and Gloves
4.35" x 6" print from original artwork
limited edition of 100
US $20.00

Nathan Abels - Island
5" x 7" digital print of original artwork
limited edition of 100
US $22.00

Tin Lark

I have only recently discovered Tin Lark gallery. They're based in California, and they represent a great range of emerging American artists... including a couple of my favourites - Laura Normandin, Saelee Oh and Scott David Johnson. To be honest I am not sure if Tin Lark sell through their website... I was positive they had an online shop section, but now I think perhaps I was imagining things. Anyway... there are some beautiful pieces on the site if you browse through the artists work... I'm sure if you emailed them they could arrange shipping etc. They have such lovely things I couldn't leave them out!

Laura Normandin - (Left) Bottle of Tears
(Right) Painted Bottle Series: Hair, Grater, Ironing
Board, Burr Pod, Skirt and Livestock

Scott David Johnson - Urban Development 50


I find Etsy hard to navigate sometimes... there is a lot to wade through before you get to the really good stuff! But perseverance is the key... there are some fantastic craftspeople and artists selling through Etsy... and they often sell a mix of original works, limited edition prints, open edition digital prints etc etc. A few Etsy goodies below:

Erin Tyner - Yellow
photograph - 8"x8"
US $24.00

Matte Stephens - Happy Owl Print Neat
Digital print of an original gouache drawing - 8.5" x 11"
US $35.00

...and even the super-famous UK paper-cut artist extraordinaire Rob Ryan is on Etsy!

Rob Ryan - Bird Lady
Handprinted 3 colour screen print, printed on "Heritage Woodfree" paper.
Approx image size - 280mm x 410mm
Edition of 20.
US $600.00


Artstream Studios is another online gallery and shop with a good selection of original art and limited edition works for sale at very reasonable prices. Examples Below:

Ashley Goldberg
Kristof - from the very popular Bearded Men series
Digital print - limited edition of 10
6.25" x 5.5" in size
US $35.00

Heather Smith Jones
Works from the Pieces of Mama's Letters series.
US $225.00 each

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Interview (part 2) - Sophie McNeur

As promised, today I am posting the second installment of my interview with art consultant and curator Sophie McNeur, in which she offers her valuable advice for buying fine art in Melbourne. Included are Sophie's tip-offs about the best places to view and buy 'affordable' artworks, and detailed information about mounting, framing and displaying works on paper and photographs once you've made your purchase... priceless information for any budding collector :)

Thanks again for sharing all your secrets Sophie!

What advice can you offer to newcomers who are looking at buying a piece of artwork for their home? Where is the best place to start?

Do your research!

I start by looking at what the public institutions are collecting. Starting out it is most important to visit public galleries. As you look around the National Gallery of Victoria, you get a sense of what appeals to you. Then research the style/artist which resonates with you. Find out where you can acquire their work or be directed toward artists working in a similar genre or with compatible themes.

Can you list a few galleries in Melbourne that you would recommend if people are in the market for ‘affordable’ artwork?

If you can spend a little more definitely visit Sophie Gannon Gallery in Richmond. The gallery is situated amidst a cluster a commercial galleries all worth a visit. It is near enough to Space Furniture for different kind of Art fix!

the current exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery - Nicholas Harding: on drawing and paint
May 6 - May 31 2008

The current exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery - Nicholas Harding: on drawing and paint

In the swell (red boogie board and figures)
Nicholas Harding 2008

(part of the current exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery - Nicholas Harding: on drawing and paint)

Speedos and lotion bottle
Nicholas Harding 2008

(part of the current exhibition at Sophie Gannon Gallery - Nicholas Harding: on drawing and paint)

Sophie Gannon Gallery
2 Albert st

Richmond 3121

Open Tues - Sat, 11am - 5pm or by appointment

Neon Parc
1/53 Bourke Street

Melbourne 3000

Open Wed - Sat, 12am - 6pm or by appointment

Recommendations for artwork under $2000:

- Art Fairs (Melbourne Art Fair is coming up soon, 30th Aug - 3rd August 2008)

Melbourne Art Fair
Royal Exhibition Building

- For emerging artists
VCA graduate exhibitions are brilliant. It is an achievement to be in a graduate exhibition. (VCA publicise upcoming events like this on their website here)

Metro 5 Art Award - finalists artworks are for sale + some artists do not yet have representation. (The 2008 Metro 5 award exhibition is very soon, June 10th - 6th July! More info and a list of artists here)

Natasha Bieniek
3 A.M. (2008)

(Part of the Metro 5 Gallery upcoming award show, June 10th - July 6th 2008)

David Eastwood
Gold Room (2008)

(Part of the Metro 5 Gallery upcoming award show, June 10th - July 6th 2008)

Metro 5 gallery
1214 High st

Open Tues-Fri, 10am - 5.30pm, Sat-Sun 11am-5pm

- Until Never
2nd floor, 3-5 Hosier Lane
(enter from Rutledge Lane)

Open Wed-Sat, 12-6pm

When they’ve selected something to buy, what key things should buyers look out for when purchasing an artwork, ie:
- should the work always be signed and dated by the artist?

Yes - if it’s not ask if it can be.

- How should photographs/prints be numbered?

That’s up to the individual artist; some emerging photographers produce editions of 5, 6, or 10. Tracey Moffatt’s something more series of 9 images are an edition of 30. If they were not the public institutions would not be able to collect them, and an artist of her international reputation is aware of this, and will usually produce a higher number of edition works.

Two images from Tracey Moffatt's Something More series (1989)

- What is the maximum size an edition should be? How does the size of the edition affect the price of each piece?

Some photographic galleries increase the cost of a photo as each auditioned work sells. An artist such as Tracy Moffatt needs a higher edition to create a market. When an edition is completely sold out naturally the works value increases. Auction houses can play a role at this stage.

- How should photographs/works on paper be framed/mounted to best protect the work?

I frame contemporary works in the original format of the artist. The photographs should be archival prints. Photographs are a special case because some types may be affected by alkalinity: they should not therefore come into contact with an alkaline buffered board. A pure, unbuffered cotton museum board is now commercially available. UV filtering glass should be strongly considered for conservation level. Light exposure has a pronounced effect on paper condition and pigments. The back board should be made of a stable, rigid material, such as pH neutral conservation backing board.

- Should buyers be wary of where they plan to hang their piece at home? (ie is it bad to hang original artwork in a damp place like a bathroom, or in direct sunlight etc?)

- Store photographs in a cool environment as this will help to slow deterioration.

- Avoid very damp or dry conditions, and particularly fluctuations between the two. Aim for a stable environment and if possible, a relative humidity within the range 30-40%.

- Avoid displaying photographs at high light levels or for extended periods of time. Ultraviolet filtering glazing helps protect photographs during light exposure.

- Keep handling to a minimum and avoid touching the image later. Make sure your hands are clean and dry or wear cotton gloves, and handle photographs by the edges, using a support such as a sheet of stiff paper or card to move fragile photographs.

- Keep and display photographs in good quality storage and framing materials.

Can you list any upcoming Australian artists worth keeping an eye on?

Anthony Lister
Jasper Knight
Kirra Jamison
eX de Medici
Marc de Jong

Kirra Jamison
May your wishes all come true (2007)

(image from the Sophie Gannon Gallery website)

Your personal favourite artists - either from Australia or worldwide?

Lucian Freud, Anselm Kiefer, Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, David Salle, John Michel Basquiat, Balthus, Banksy and Paul Cezanne.

David Salle
Mr. Lucky (1998)

(image from the Saatchi Gallery website)

Do you have a favourite piece of artwork that you own? What is special about it to you?

Marc de Jong painted the first painting I bought - ‘Mad Max’. Marc has since done a series of these works - more info here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Interview (part 1) - Sophie McNeur

Today I am very excited to share the first installment of this two-part interview with Melbourne based art consultant and curator Sophie McNeur. When I first started thinking about doing a little research into commercial art in Melbourne for this site, Sophie immediately popped into my mind as the best person to talk to! Sophie started her career in the fine arts at Metro 5 Gallery in Melbourne - a gallery specialising in contemporary work, and with a reputation for supporting and representing emerging Australian artists. After three years here Sophie moved on to Gould Galleries (where she now works) - a very different gallery with a focus on highly respected established Australian artists. Gould exhibits works by Australia's most important 19th and 20th century artists, as well as a select group of the country's most dynamic contemporary and international artists.

Sophie's responses to my questions were so fantastically detailed and carefully considered, so I thought it best to break up her interview in two parts. So, today is an introduction to Sophie, her career path and the ins and outs of working in a commercial gallery. Sophie shares her unique insight into the role of curator and consultant in the commercial art sector, and also shares with us some examples of work by her favourite collectible Australian artists. You can sense Sophie's passion for Australian Art and for her work in every single response..! I feel very lucky to be able to share her expertise here. :)

But for those of you super keen to get started on your own personal art collection(!!), you'll have to wait until Tomorrow, when I'll post the second half of this interview. This will include Sophie's valuable advice on researching and buying and original art in Melbourne, which galleries/events to attend to find reasonably-priced work by emerging artists, and Sophie's shortlist of Australian artists to keep an eye on. - Thanks so much Sophie!

Tell me a little about your career background - what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?

I completed a Masters in Art Curatorship at Melbourne University. My undergraduate qualification was an Arts Degree at Monash University, majoring in Psychology and Politics with History minor. I completed a Graduate Diploma in Fine Art, hoping to diversify from the fashion industry to the Arts. Art has always been my main area of interest.

A component of the masters was an internship in a cultural institution. I was introduced to a girl who was employed as a senior registrar at the
National Gallery of Victoria. She accepted me as her volunteer and taught me computer based cataloguing systems for artworks.

Which galleries and artists have you been involved with?

Upon completion of the Masters Degree I commenced working for commercial arts business Metro 5 Gallery. I worked as an art consultant/curator with Metro 5 Gallery for three years. The position encompassed all aspects of a commercial gallery. Metro 5 Gallery specialised in contemporary art, and was very pro active in supporting emerging artists, offering an art prize and giving young artists a change to hold their first solo exhibition. I thoroughly enjoyed dealing with the general public, other art institutions and artists.

Metro 5 Gallery is currently showing latest works by Michael Peck until June 8th. (images below)

Michael Peck - Untitled (2007)
oil on canvas

Michael Peck - The Second Hearing (2008)
oil on canvas

I love Australian art, both traditional and contemporary. Originality and an aesthetic component attract me to an artwork initially, but I am especially drawn to artworks which have either a political or social meaning.

I was interested in advising institutional, corporate, and private clients with regard to the formation, development and management of their art collections, so I commenced working for
Gould Galleries, which is highly regarded for modern and contemporary art. The artists exhibited at Gould galleries are often the same artists being collected and exhibited in the public institutions. Gould Galleries has exhibited the finest quality works by Australia's most important 19th and 20th century artists, as well as a select group of the country's most dynamic contemporary and international artists.

Below - Gould Galleries' Autumn Collection 2008 is on show until July 2nd, and includes the following works:

Charles Blackman - The Trance (1965)
oil on paper on composition board

David Larwill - Time (2008)
wood, plastic, tin and rubber on composition board

Lucien Freud - Bella (1987)
etching, edition of 50

At Metro 5 Gallery I have been very lucky to work with their exciting stable of artists including, John Olsen, Anthony Lister, Jasper Knight and Jason Benjamin.

Anthony Lister - Cold Rock Croc (2007)
mixed media on canvas

Gould galleries enable me to work with paintings by my favourite Modern artists such as
Albert Tucker whose work I adore, as well as Brisbane artist Scott Redford whose oeuvre is continually evolving. Contemporary artists are often multi-disciplinary their art practice encompassing painting, sculpture, site-specific installation, collage, photography and video.

Scott Redford’s work explores identity politics and popular culture revolving around his upbringing in Surfers Paradise (Queensland, Australia). Redford regularly incorporates aspects of his physical and cultural surroundings into his art practice and uses both traditional and improvised materials with wit and poignancy. Surfboards for example take on a new role and purpose when painted in fluorescent colours with images of generic Gold coast high-rises and palm trees. I guess in some ways Scott Redford’s work reminds me of my university job as a retail assistant at Melbourne ‘Surf Dive n’ Ski’.

Image above left
Scott Redford - Surf Painting : The Higher Beings Command Paint Palm Trees Instead (2007)
resin and fibreglass over acrylic on foam with decal

Image above right
Scott Redford - proposal for a Surfer's Paradise public sculpture: Hugh Jackman (2007)
painted laser cut acrylic

Scott Redford - made for use in the proposed feature film Reinhardt Dammn (2008) /
Point of Sale Display Item for the Honey Pump recording Skull Star

glazed ceramic, edition of 30

Another of my favourites, and luckily, a Gould Galleries artist, is Canberra based eX de Medici who work is beautiful and emotional with a strong social message. Melbourne artist Marc de Jong also comments on our consumer driven society.

eX de Medici - Take #5 (2005)
watercolour and metallic pigment on paper

eX de Medici - Drone I / Hearts + Minds (We Love a Theme Park) IIII III (2006)
watercolour on paper

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

There is not really a typical day. It may involve visiting artists' studios to learn about their work and select pieces for exhibitions. Evaluating art works that collectors wish to consign to the gallery, in cases authenticating and researching these. Selecting art from the storage facility to be displayed in the gallery spaces and working with curators at other museums to organise travelling exhibitions. Researching and Writing about art for catalogues, brochures, magazines, valuations or books, and helping corporations develop art collections.

A museum/art gallery curator acquires, cares for, develops, displays and interprets a collection of artefacts or works of art in order to inform, educate and entertain the public. The emphasis of the role in a commercial gallery moves away from a purely academic research function towards a broader-ranging career, which includes aspects such as: public relations; marketing; fundraising; education and access activities.

Art Fairs are a great opportunity for commercial galleries to work together to share expertise. When organising exhibitions for Art Fairs, curators need to publicise and market them appropriately to ensure they appeal to a wide cross-section of the general public, including overseas tourists.

I guess daily task revolve around a combination of:
cataloguing acquisitions and keeping records; researching and writing catalogues; planning, organising, interpreting and presenting exhibitions; caring for the collection; negotiating consignments and sales; handling enquiries from researchers and the public; giving presentations; talking to individuals and groups about exhibits; dealing with enquiries from a variety of clients; networking with other museum and art gallery professionals and outside agencies through meetings and collaborative projects.

Curators in a commercial gallery direct the acquisition, storage, and exhibition of artworks including negotiating and authorizing sales. They are also responsible for authenticating, evaluating, and categorizing the specimens in a collection. Curators help conduct the galleries research projects and related educational programs. Today, an increasing part of a curator’s duties involves fundraising and promotion, which may include the writing and reviewing of grant proposals, journal articles, and publicity materials such as magazine editorial, as well as attendance at conventions, and art fairs.

Curators working in large institutions may be highly specialised. Some curators maintain their collections, others do research, and others perform administrative tasks. In small commercial galleries a curator may be responsible for a number of tasks, from maintaining collections to directing the affairs of the gallery. In small commercial galleries curators manage, care for, preserve, treat, and document works of art, which may require substantial historical research. They use special lights, and other equipment to examine objects and determine their condition and the appropriate method for preserving them. If a work of art is not in a stable condition a curator will seek the expertise of a professional conservator to treat the item and minimise the deterioration or if possible to restore an artwork to its original state. Conservators usually specialize in a particular material or group of objects, such as documents and books, paintings, decorative arts, textiles, metals, or architectural material.

Curators need computer skills and the ability to work with electronic databases. Many curators are responsible for posting information on the Internet, so they also need to be familiar with digital imaging, and copyright law.

Curators must be flexible because of their wide variety of duties, among which are the design and presentation of exhibits. In small museums, curators also need manual dexterity to build exhibits or restore objects.

What's the best thing about your job?

Being surrounded by such stimulating and inspiring art works make you feel so lucky and grateful for all the opportunities you’ve had and the experience you continue to have. I’m eagerly anticipating the Melbourne Art Fair 2008 where we will exhibit Scott Redford’s new work. This biannual fair is an opportunity to meet many knowledgeable curators, writers, artists and individuals interested in art that it is definitely a highlight.

And the worst?

Quiet Days…
and because Gould is a commercial gallery, many emerging artists approach us to sell their work. Gould is predominantly a secondary market business so we deal with only a handful of contemporary artists. Artists represented at Gould Galleries are already in the collections of Australia’s leading public institutions. Gould Galleries do not take emerging artists, as we would not adequately represent their work despite it often being of exceptional quality. Our clients are looking for artists with an existing reputation even if they are not widely known. Clients do look for new directions, and wish to be educated, but Gould is not the space for a first exhibition. Occasionally artists who apply for representation are offended when we say no to their work. The work may be fantastic, however not suited to our particular gallery. This happens usually when Gould Galleries are not well known to the applicant and they have not researched the gallery.

...Stay tuned for the second installment of Sophie's interview tomorrow!

Monday, May 26, 2008

NYC gallery - Charmingwall

Last week I got an email from Katie McClenahan, who is the director of a small independent gallery in NYC's West Village. 'Charmingwall' specialises in a curated collection of open-edition fine art prints, and lucky for those of us outside the US, they have an extensive collection of work available for sale through their online shop. I'm assuming from their very reasonable prices (ie prints for US$20!) that these are mostly photographic prints of the original artwork? But Charmingwall does also sell the originals and limited edition prints by the same artists... (you may need to email them for more specific info about original works).

Charmingwall represent artists from a variety of backgrounds, from fine arts to comic-book culture and everything inbetween. Most of the work has an illustrative feel and is largely figurative in style, however this is where the similarities end... the work on offer covers a broad range of aesthetic influences - there are elements of street-art, fashion illustration, and very decorative, ornate detailing which reminded me of traditional folk arts and even textile design...

Grey Dog by Fred Chao

Barnacles and Butterflies by Evan B. Harris

Briar Patch by Andrea L. Peterson

The brand new Charmingwall website is a little work of animated art in itself - I'm always a sucker for hand-drawn type, and the animated element is really effective and, well, charming :)
To keep up with all Charmingwall news be sure to bookmark their blog as well as their website.

More of Charmingwall in the press here and here.

Whale & Innards by Evan B. Harris

a week of 'affordable' art

This is a first for The Design Files, but I have a theme in mind for this week's posts - and its all about 'affordable' art. I have noticed a lot of interest recently in this idea - and although 'affordable' is a very broad (and subjective!) term, I think it's worth featuring artists and artworks that are accessible even to those of us on a budget! (and really, who isn't?). So I hope you'll forgive the generalisations... and that you'll enjoy a week of articles about researching, buying and collecting original art for your own home. Here's what I'm looking forward to:

- a two-part interview with Melbourne art consultant Sophie McNeur, who offers her valuable advice on buying and displaying original artwork, and shares her own shortlist of emerging Australian artists to keep an eye on!
- a little round up of online galleries offering limited edition prints, original works on paper and photographs at very reasonable prices.
- a look at one of the very first artist/bloggers I ever bookmarked many moons ago when I first discovered the amazing world of blogs... I still love her work and hope you will too!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Emma Elizabeth Designs

Australian designer Emma Elizabeth Coffey of Emma Elizabeth Designs sent me a press release recently about her latest furniture and interior accessories collection entitled CHIUSO (meaning 'closed' in Italian).

The work is so accomplished and so slick... each piece incorporates a monochromatic sculptural form within a clear acrylic 'box'. This striking visual theme mimics the way we are used to seeing fine art encased in museums, and gives each piece a real sense of drama.

Interestingly, for some reason, Emma Elizabeth's work immediately struck me as having an 'international' design look, rather than an 'Australian' design aesthetic.... After reading a little more about her, I realised this is probably due to her years of study and travel abroad - she spent much of her youth living between Australia and the US, started uni originally in Brisbane, and later went on to complete a degree in commercial interior design at the Istituto Europeo di Design (IED) in Milan.

pendant light

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Design*Sponge guest blog - stationery

beautiful wedding invitation by Brooklyn-based design studio Linda + Harriett (who also have a lovely blog)

As always, there is much gorgeousness over at the Design*Sponge guest blog this week. The current guest blogger is Brooklyn based interior designer Vane, of Brooklyn Bride, and you guessed it, there's a bit of a wedding theme going on there at the moment....

I always love looking at images of wedding styling... BUT before all the anti-marriage people pounce on me, it's not because I am itching to walk down the aisle myself (far from it!)... It's purely an aesthetic interest! I think it's just the girly girl in me that gets excited about things like lavish flower arrangements, custom-designed stationery and decorative table dressings...

Vane's stationery round-up is especially gorgeous.... My favourite images are below. (more over on the guest blog). Beautiful beautiful beautiful.

invitation by Brooklyn-based design outfit Swayspace

another lovely invitation idea by Swayspace

This gorgeous calligraphy by Jenna Hein of Love, Jenna - original article here

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Interview - Arlene TextaQueen

I guess comfortable may be an overstatement (Amber) for Texta's Felt-tips Forever show in Brooklyn, NY, 2006.

Some things never change (Leah) and It could be anyone (Vanessa), both 2007 - for the exhibition
and publication If you see Something, Say Something

Texta drawing in her sketchbook

Its not really stealing if it were meant to me mine (Michelle) from the Felt-tips Forever show in Brooklyn, NY.

Arlene Textaqueen is part super-hero, part artist-performance artist-art curator, and general all-round kooky Melbourne cultural character.

Texta's artwork is inspired by many things, but some of the key themes in her most recent work are queer and feminist culture, Australian national identity and voyeurism. Her work is an eccentric blend of at times quite politicised subject matter, balanced by a playful, cheeky aesthetic. But don't underestimate the power of the Texta - her work might be rendered in a naive style, but Arlene Textaqueen is a serious (and prolific) artist. She's completed an Australia Council residency in New York, collaborated with many artists and organisations both here and abroad, has an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Brisbane scheduled for later this year, and is currently working with Rebel Films on a documentary about her TextaNudes series. A friend recently recounted to me one occasion when she was asked what type of artist she was... Her reply - 'a professional one'. Yeah!

ANYWAY I know I say this all the time but THIS interview is seriously one of the best yet. Mainly because Arlene Textaqueen (Texta for short) is just so goddamn funny. I mean, what other artist describes themselves as 'a super-hero who draws naked women and has social anxiety', aspires to guest-star on Sesame st, and dances around her studio to Jane Fonda Aerobics videos in between creative bursts? Read on for a glimpse into the crazy, creative world of Melbourne's very own superhero.

Arlene Textaqueen in superhero-mode

Tell me a little about your background - what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?

I guess my artistic career begun entering colouring-in competitions in the weekend newspaper as a kid. Once I won a swing on a high trapeze, $100 and a coke bottle radio for a fauvist rendering of marine animals. Oh and then I went to university and did a Bachelor of Fine Arts in which I mostly made experimental film and photography, though I always drew in a sketchbook. It wasn’t until after uni without a darkroom or edit suite that I embraced drawing as my main practice. I would draw daily, a dozen pictures a day, of people I talked with or spied on whilst on the train. I began drawing with ball point pen, but someone gave me a multi-pack of kids textas and I was hooked.

I began drawing nudes following meeting someone at a party who saw me drawing portraits and asked me if I wanted create pics for a website that would be like a soft porn manga site but in a different style. I only really draw from life so I asked friends to pose but the site never happened, instead the ‘Textanude’ series began. I’ve now had over ten years experience drawing women un-dressed-up in their bedrooms, homes, gardens and lately in the natural landscape.

In addition to creating and exhibiting your own work, you’re involved in a variety of other projects… (Naked art camping etc?) what have been some of your most fun/notable projects and exhibitions?

My latest series is Naked Landscapes of Victoria in which I’ve drawn women posing in reference and re-interpretation of Australian history and culture in regional locations throughout the state such as Mary at the 12 Apostles, bunyip hunting in Bunyip State Forest or a feminist bushranger in Kelly country. On individual trips, a model and I travel in a campervan and create the picture over a few days on location.

Other than my portraits on paper I’ve made many things from them such as playing cards, collaborations to create animations such as for ARTV on SBS, zines, murals, postcards calendars, and once a surfboard.

An amazing experience I had last year was to tour across America, over 30 locations in around 30 days, on the Sister Spit tour organised by the writer Michelle Tea. Alongside 6 amazing queer woman writers reading their work, I showed slides of my drawings and told the stories of the people in the pictures. I got to see so much of America that I never would have visited and the response to my work and tales was incredible especially from other young queer woman was amazing.

We Separate Ourselves (Francesca) 2007 - for the show If you see Something, Say Something in Sydney

You also curate exhibitions at Brunswick Bound. How did this collaboration come about? How has it worked out so far? What are your goals with this ongoing project?

I love curating the shows at Brunswick Bound. My friend Christie Petsinis did the design of the shop fitout and recommended me for the job to Rob and Susie, the lovely proprietors.

I’m really happy with the shows that have been on and the response to the afternoon tea parties that are held for the openings. It’s really lovely to create events that aren’t centred around the consumption of alcohol and instead around sugar and caffeine! I love tea and I love baking and I get to make lamingtons, chocolate crackles and sometimes fairy bread. It’s a kid friendly and delightfully social environment in which to experience art.

Brunswick Bound opening for artist Tom Civil's exhibition 'Strategic Bombing', featuring one of Texta's famous tea parties! (image from Tom Civil's Flickr)

I love being able to choose art that I want to see and work with artists who I like as people also. In terms of the art, I tend towards figurative illustration that has an edge, often by local Brunswick artists. It’s great that we can launch publications in conjunction with exhibitions of the artwork inside them. The gallery takes a commission but it’s free to exhibit so it’s a great opportunity for emerging artists to show without having to shell out hundreds of dollars for a space, or with having to write extensive applications. I have offered people shows on seeing one or two of their artworks online or elsewhere because the images I’ve seen have been so strong.

How would you describe your artistic style? How has this style developed over time?

My pictures surprise me everytime I do them. I draw on huge sheets of paper over a metre tall and I think that I’m drawing realistically and all of a sudden I’m out of space and I have to squeeze the people’s feet into 5 cm. I don’t consciously distort my portraits. I draw straight onto the paper with black texta reasonably quickly so I have to be confident in my line and the distortion just happens.

I have noticed my style evolving over time, my backgrounds becoming more decorative and elaborate, my understanding of colour evolving, my style becoming more stylised somehow without intending it to. I got carpel tunnel in 2005 while on an Australia Council residency in New York; bad timing, but actually in some ways the RSI has focused my style a little. Previously I had done the entire outline of the pictures on site, but now I often leave elaborate details, such as the wallpaper pattern, until I can take my time back in studio with a photograph.

Texta with her self-portrait at her Felt-tips Forever show in Brooklyn, NY in 2006

I shouldn't have put it there to tempt you (Dana) from the Felt-tips Forever show in Brooklyn, NY.

Which designers, artists or creative people do you look up to or are you inspired by?

Taylor Mac, a musical, theatrical and burlesque performer in NY, Gurlesque Lesbian Strip Club has hosted incredible kooky performance for years, Simon Yates is one of my favourite Australian inventor-artists, Sprinkle Magic, Gilbert and George, Sista She, Hey Willpower!, Annie Sprinkle’s playing cards, Michelle Tea, Breakdown Press, Alice Edgeley who designed my costume (image below), Daniel Boyd and my sister Keg.

Arlene TextaQueen in superhero-mode again - costume by Alice Edgeley (see text above)

Where else do you find inspiration – travel, books, the internet or movies etc?

I’ve been doing lots of research for Naked Landscapes on the net, its good for secret histories and fictions. I choose my people with trust they’ll turn out a good idea for the portrait and we spring ideas of each other that might come from their life or mine. People I know are easily my greatest source of inspiration.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Coordinating future drawings, exhibitions, residencies and stuff via email and phone usually takes up a chunk of the morning. Then I’ll uncover the latest picture I’m working on as I have to protect it from the paws of my cat with an Alf sheet over the table. I’ll often test colours out on a small photocopy of the picture before carefully colouring the page. I’m still recovering from carpel tunnel so I can only work for half an hour at time depending on the kind of detail I’m doing, so I’ll usually read parts of a book (I’m reading the Ultimate Guide to Winning Scrabble by Derryn Hinch at the moment) or punch out a letter on the typewriter with my left hand or dance around to a Jane Fonda aerobics video or other nonsense in between.

Texta's studio

What are you most proud of professionally?

I’m very proud of co-founding Squatspace in Sydney at the Broadway Squats in 2000, a free to exhibit gallery in a squatted venue that was part of an incredible squatted community and still exists as a productive collective. I had my first solo gallery show at the Squatspace venue and being part of that supportive and wonderful team of people creating community was empowering. I am generally proud of my Textanude series as I think of it as a showcase of wonderful and creative women in the world. The pictures are created in an intimate process and even though they are naked the connection between model and artist is the strongest dynamic that the viewer often witnesses as an outsider. I draw my peers; performers and queer women who reflect politics relevant to myself, and I think this is evident. Realising that many people make a living from voyeuristically capturing people they consider very different from themselves, I am proud that I don’t. I make my artwork for my community though it also does make me a living.

What's the best thing about your job?

My job involves getting paid by an ArtsVic grant to go on camping trips where your big dilemma is figuring out how to make a teddy bear and a can of tinned spaghetti look like your model, who is un-dressed-up as a puma, disembowelling a wombat. I am a lucky woman.

And the worst?

That people expect you to be vivacious because you’re a superhero who draws naked woman, but you actually have social anxiety in crowds of more than 5 people so might come across as mean and tough because of your grimace!

What would be your dream project?

It used to be guesting on Sesame Street but now it’s being paid to do a television series of Naked Landscapes of Queensland. I borrowed the camper for Victoria and an independent film maker called Claudia Rowe for Rebel Films is making a doco, but I want to find my own dream camper so I can continue. The TV series would be Lleyland Brothers meets Greatest American (Australian) Hero due to my camping bumblingness experiencing Australia.

What are you looking forward to – professionally or personally?

The show I’m in at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brissie at the end of the year – I’ll have an 8 metre long wall! Printing a 2009 Textanude calendar teatowel with Third Drawer Down, and completing my new set of playing cards. Personally: Taking my karaoke skills to the next level, I’m starting a band with my neighbours. We’re called Suzanne Grae and the Katies (I’m Suzanne). I’ve been op-shopping for outfits in country Victoria and I’ve been writing songs with my models while campervanning with such titles as Moccasin Man, Dirt Bike Diva and Undercover Butch. I hope we can perform when I exhibit my landscape series next year.

Melbourne Questions –

Best galleries/spaces to see new contemporary art in Melbourne?

I love Sticky, the zine store under Degraves in the city. They are my hub to the creative world. Oh and of course, Brunswick Bound, the gallery I curate! There’s still people whacking up good stuff in the street too, I hear.

Where do you buy the tools of your trade – ie papers, textas, etc? (ie a specific art shop in Melbourne? An online shop?)

I bought most of my markers in North America, I haven’t had to reload yet. Markers are one third the price over there. My next lot are coming from Japan (via a friend) where all my favourite markers:Zig and Tombo are made. If anyone knows the online store for these though, pass it along.

Texta Rainbow! Have you ever seen so many felt-tip pens?? Texta says each of those pens cost between 4 and 6 dollars! She reckons a bit low on the indigo / violet at the moment...

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

I hardly eat out because I love to cook, but when I do its usually at Friends of the Earth on Smith Street for there most-often-delicious $6.50 organic lunch. I love Yoyogi on Swanston Street in the city and The Uleg Indonesian Restaurant on Sydney Road in Brunswick.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Weekends are the same as every other day for me, I barely keep track of what day of the week it is because I work to my own schedule, but if it was the morning of a Brunswick Bound opening I might be dipping lamingtons in chocolate and rolling them in coconut. If it was not I might be at the gym, as there’s hardly anyone there on a Saturday morning for some reason.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

That you don’t get paid compensation if you have a traffic accident while riding your bike if you’re not wearing a helmet or are wearing headphones. That you can swim for free at your local council pool if you’re a pensioner.