“But what does it mean?” Part 1

I recently participated in the Melbourne edition of The Other Art Fair, an international exhibition that brings together a diverse cohort of artists at various stages of their careers. It’s a wonderful way for artists to mingle with one another and receive rich feedback towards their creative practice

The days and weeks leading into the exhibition were predictably rushed in parts. . I was frantically painting a series of new works and scouring through old works trying to assemble a cohesive collection. At this stage I’m not thinking too deeply about the process. I simply lean hard into intuition and generate a body of work that somehow resonates with where I’m currently at in my creative practice.

After hours and hours of painting, reams and reams of bubble wrap, navigating flights, ubers and Australia Post, all the moving parts arrived at the venue. In a frenzy, I put hooks on the wall and hung the paintings, finely arranged in a completed body of work. I step back with a sigh of relief. It all somehow came together. Phew!

At this point, the exhibition doors open and the eager art-goers start wandering in. I can now shift my headspace from task lists and logistics to being present, social, and ready to share my work.

As viewers take in my efforts, I’m intrigued by differences in their reactions. Some people give a quick side glance and keep on moving. Other people stop dead in their tracks, staring and gaping. Something’s going on. Something has resonated, the wheels are turning, something’s being processed.

It’s at this point, with big eyes and eagerness “but what does it mean?” The first time I was asked this question, I  panicked. I had forgotten that this was part of the process. As an artist we go through this intensely introverted period, going inwards and finding inspiration. We delve deep, inner worlds become something solid and tangible, there on a canvas for all to see. I somehow forgot about this final stage, where people get to see what was once hidden. 

“What does it mean?” I repeat back, stalling. Sometimes I ask, “what do you think it means?” Surprisingly most people have a pretty good guess, they pick up on a number of the themes quite accurately, and often add a little of their own story to it.

After being asked this question over and over again, throughout the four days of the exhibition, I was able to practise putting into words what had been an intuitive process. I tried telling the story from a few different starting points just to see how it pieced together, and how the person I was telling would respond. 

For me, my works have a lot of complexity to them, at the end of the day, they’re all explorations of self and identity, so like anyone, we all have our stories, values, things that align, things that we’re still piecing together.

Each time I told the story I would give a few morsels, and gauge if the listener wanted to go a little deeper. Surprisingly quite a number of people joined me all the way down the rabbit hole. Whenever we got to that point I usually tried to bring things back to levity and thank them from listening to my TED talk.

The few occasions people walked with me on the full journey, they had this look in their eye. It was either that I had said something that was a great truth, or something that put words and imagery to something in the depths of their being. Or it was an expression of them deciding if I had just rambled a bunch of nonsense and if they should throw the conversation away. Probably both thoughts were circling in their mind. I think for some people finding that depth of being seen, or unearthing a deep truth, or realising it’s a communality of being human was a bit overwhelming. For others though it seemed like it brought them joy and relief to be able to find connection and understanding in those places.

I found the experience very illuminating and has encouraged me to continue exploring the depths of my experiences, share them and allow people to engage.

Over a series of posts I’m going to attempt to articulate all the themes and ideas going on in my works, share them for people to read and respond to. To be honest it’s a bit of an experiment, but I find it very thrilling, fascinating, intimidating and wonderful that as an artist I can explore these spaces and invite others to join me. 

Let’s see where it goes and how it informs what I do next in my practice.

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