Want to make a career out of doing what you love? Five artists share their secrets

Updated October 07, 2018 16:44:18 The former National Art School students turned acclaimed artists sat down with The Mix to share their secrets for how to “make it”, as the school exhibits old and new works from 50 prized alumni.’It’s a bloodthirsty world’: Chris O’Doherty (Reg Mombassa)Nas student, 1969-1970 and 1975-1977Kids, if you want to…

Want to make a career out of doing what you love? Five artists share their secrets


October 07, 2018 16:44:18

The former National Art School students turned acclaimed artists sat down with The Mix to share their secrets for how to “make it”, as the school exhibits old and new works from 50 prized alumni.

‘It’s a bloodthirsty world’: Chris O’Doherty (Reg Mombassa)

Nas student, 1969-1970 and 1975-1977

Kids, if you want to make a living, be a stockbroker or a lawyer or banker. You’ve got to do art because you enjoy it, you want to do it and it’s a compulsion.

I had some lucky breaks. I was asked to design T-shirts and posters for Mambo Graphics, which gave me a much bigger audience than most artists have just showing in a dealer gallery. I also liked that ordinary people had access to art, because the fine art world can be intimidating to a lot of people.

It’s a fairly bloodthirsty world, the fine art world in Australia: it’s relatively small and it’s ruthless. There’s not that many galleries and not that many art buyers in Australia to support a lot of working artists.

Obviously having a bit of talent and working hard is useful, but making it as an artist also relies on luck.

It’s also how you present yourself and personality, and people who are quieter and maybe not good networkers and not good at the business side of it, they will tend to suffer and that’s a shame really.

My advice for young “art school Reg” would probably be to attend a little more, be a little less resentful of authority, older people, rules and conventions. But apart from that just do what you’re doing, believe in yourself, don’t give up, don’t be too frustrated by rejection or criticism.

I’m still working, at the moment I’ve been doing robots. I think very soon the robots — when they achieve full artificial intelligence and technological singularity — will probably either enslave us or exterminate us … And I’m just wondering, after that, will they be good priests or comedians or artists?

How’s all that going to work? A gloomy but cheerful subject.

‘A lot of folk make too much work’: Leslie Rice

NAS graduate, 2006, and lecturer, 2008-present

You’ve just got to find your own path and keep yourself honest, and if you find yourself making stuff for the wrong reasons it’s up to you to stop that.

What the market expects and what you think is historically significant art aren’t the same thing. That’s frustrating and that’s been the hardest thing for me to deal with: commercial concerns are paramount in the real world but at art school you’re encouraged to think about art for art’s sake.

As long as your artistic practice is independent and autonomous I think you’ll have a successful art career. But what’s success?

There’s financial success which a lot of painters have got, then there’s the critical success others have, and then there’s integrity.

You’ve just got to choose which one and be honest about it.

I often say to friends of mine, I think a lot of folk make too much work. We owe the world about three good pictures I think, and if you make four everyone’s done well, and if you make 400 I can guarantee they’re not all good.

I think as long as we make a couple of memorable things that stay in people’s brains, that’s the trick — to make memorable stuff.

There are a lot of people who don’t get to spend time in a studio indulging themselves, because it really is the most self-indulgent thing you can do.

Nobody asks us to do it, we just choose to do it, we unleash these things on the world.

This is really corny, but making art is just one of those things you need to do, so if you get to do it you’re lucky.

‘Stop thinking about it, just do it’: Juz Kitson

NAS graduate, 2009. She divides her time working between Australia and Jingdezhen, the “porcelain capital” of China.

There was always a sense of the romantic, tragic, starving artist that I found quite attractive.

I was quite lucky in terms of what happened in my formative years. For example, I got a call from a friend saying David Walsh, the owner of Tasmania’s MONA gallery, was in town and asked if I’d welcome him to the studio.

I thought, the studio’s a mess, I’m clay covered, the work was unfinished … Within moments of him coming to the studio and me standing there quite naive and unsure, he turned to me and said “I’m interesting in acquiring the collection, how much?”

What happened after that was essentially a bit of a snowball trajectory.

To be an artist, you do what you have to do.

If there’s a yearning to succeed, you have to make sacrifices right?

So obviously, sometimes you’re full, sometimes you’re not.

It’s a solitary life for any artist working in the studio. There is that sense of the inner demon, which each individual would probably come across at some point in their practice.

But it’s how each creative deals with that self doubt: “Is this actually important? Is it political, social, what is it for?” But I find I thrive on those questions and dialogue, and I think that feeds the work.

My advice for art school Juz? I guess just don’t worry so much, just do it. There was an interesting letter I read in art school between Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt, and he said “just do it, stop thinking about it, stop dissecting it, just do it”.

‘It’s very, very lonely’ — Luke Sciberras

NAS student, 1995 -1997

You really have to work every single day. Even if you’re not being financially rewarded or emotionally fulfilled all the time you have to be dogged about it.

It’s like an itch that has to be scratched, you either have to be an artist or you don’t. If you’re in two minds about it, you pretty much know that you don’t. I wouldn’t know how to do anything else, being a painter is definitely what makes me who I am.

I think one of the most harsh realities of being an artist is that it’s very, very lonely.

There’s no-one else who can make those marks, no-one else who can decide for you what to do with a painting next, where to take a body of work or approach a subject.

It’s a very vulnerable and emotional terrain we navigate everyday, but still it’s a great job.

A bit of advice I’d give to a young student or a young myself: paintings don’t get easier, they get harder, and hopefully better. I think you cook them longer, you bake them hotter, and you stare into them in a different way.

Maybe you put more of yourself into a painting the older you get, it seems that way to me.

I obsess over them, every last bit, every form, shape and compositional element that makes a painting up, takes over in a fantastic way. It can be really totally consuming … with any luck, it should be.

We used to discuss a lot at art school who’s “made it”, who’s going to “make it”, that sort of thing. It was a great source of sport and conjecture. But now, I don’t think about it. It’s just me in the studio, and I’m competing against my own pictures, that’s it.

‘I caught the tail end of a more free time’ — Justine Varga

NAS graduate, 2007

It’s not just a life where you’re taking and consuming. You’re processing ideas and concepts and then you’re putting something back in the world, for other people to have a similar experience, and that’s incredibly rewarding.

It requires a huge amount of dedication and commitment to pursuing your work, but ultimately that is what it is about, all the other stuff is peripheral.

I think it’s really important to hold onto that core, because you could otherwise get a bit lost.

I was really lucky to be at the tail end of a much more free time. Things have become a bit more conservative of late, and I think the expectations on students are far different to when I was at art school.

I think there’s a lot of focus now for art students to create a finished product, that is almost ready to go straight into the gallery, and I think that you don’t get to experiment and explore the same way.

As an artist, the material things kind of fall away because you realise how very little you actually need to have a fulfilling life and that’s really special.

When you’re in the studio, you’re working, you’re playing. Often I’m using really rudimentary materials, but the possibilities are endless.

When you’re an artist and when you attend art school, the one thing you learn is how to see. So once you have that skill and you apply that to the way you live your life, and you are a questioning person, it’s a really rich way to live.

National Art — Part One is on display at National Art School, Darlinghurst, until 27 October.View the full story onThe Mixon ABC iView.








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October 07, 2018 05:00:00

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