Wednesday, 18 December 2013

NAVA, subsidising artists, Tax breaks and special needs middle class art poppits.

In my down time at work I usually start to read a lot of blogs and essays about various topics that interest me. I suspect everyone does. I have no idea what people did at work before the internet came around. But from what I can tell Public Servants did a lot more drinking and gambling during the day before 1995 than they do now.

The topics I go for range from ‘do what makes you happy arts blogs,’ why art school sucks’ topics and my latest search term which was ‘why are law grads such dicks?’ This led me to thinking about the latest proposal from National Association for Visual Arts (NAVA)  which just aggravated me no end. For the life of I just don’t get why artists think they are some special class of person that requires some sort of tax exempt status, special recognition, special funding and subsidies to make art. At the other end of the scale is this simple fact.

Artists can make art with or without funding.

I work a day job that is connected to one of my degrees, Law. It has its moments where it’s challenging, exciting and I’m at the top of my game. And sometimes it’s just a ‘job’ that pays my bills. (and provides me with my mini mansion and black shiny American made car). One of the reasons I studied Law was so I could subsidise my arts practice without feeling like I needed to struggle to buy materials, provide for my family and not rely on my wife to fund my dreams. Behind every male artist I know is a wife or girlfriend working to support both of them and the same is for a lot of female artists. Although the blokes tend to act kind of like body guards at gallery openings.

It doesn’t make me less of an artist to be able to afford drinks, have a nice studio, go on holidays and not wear brown corduroy. What makes me less of an artist is not getting an exhibition or people not buying or enthusing about my work. The inability to get some traction in the art space is what makes me feel held back.  

Anyway I put in about 25 hours a week on top of my day job into art making. These 25 hours are divided up into various activities 
  • Practical painting could be anywhere from 3 to 5 hours per night depending whether I want to get to sleep  before midnight or I have a project or painting I feel I need to get finished. 
  • Practicing tattooing. That’s my latest thing. I have been going for a few years tattooing leather and practice skins. I might also study, research and read up on tattooing or painting. 
  •  Spare moments during the week are spent drawing. Well the rest of my time is a mixture of battlefield 3 and 4, Call of Duty and angry birds, watching TV, being a husband and father and playing with my dogs. 

I really do not expect anyone to think I’m special or require special treatment. I chose the art life, it didn’t choose me. If I stopped making art no one would really care. Except maybe my son (who is a fabulous artist) who was a bit put out when I took up guitar a few years back thinking I would stop painting.(note * I also paint guitars). My wife might also have to start to buy prints to fill our walls. 
TISM Guitar

Artists are not unique and beautiful snowflakes. They are the same decaying matter as everything else.

The thing that aggravates me about arts funding proposals such as that proposed by NAVA is that it makes assumptions that never get challenged in a considered way. The response is either a flat out no by government or they will give minor concessions to the proposals but without really changing anything. The rest of the responses are either total sarcastic disbelief from the great unwashed masses, or nodding acceptance from the middle classes that a) art is important to the social fabric of Australian society b) and we should pay for it but with public money not my own. 
 I don’t understand the question of tax breaks for artists or glorified welfare payments. There is already a tax break for artists earningunder $40,000 a year which is probably most of them. As I have said before on my blog.

‘As a practicing artist you are essentially a self-employed salesman and manufacturer. There is nothing magical about it. You try and make a unique product in an oversupplied marketplace’

If Art is a special case, deserving of a special status then where is its importance and gravitas? If you follow the route that artists deserve special treatment then this is what will happen.

  •  More art will be produced that can possibly be absorbed by government and private institutions. 
  •  There will be an even lower quality of work produced because no market mechanism exists that will automatically weed out substandard, poorly made and generally crap art 
  •  The commercial art market will be consumed by the government bureaucracy.  Can you imagine art galleries concentrating on KPIs, reporting and answering to Canberra instead of chasing sales? 
  •  A new government sponsored art’s elite will devour everything. 
  •  Artists still won’t get paid. 
  •  And the art market will be even more of a tournament than it already is.
Is art good for society? Maybe, I don’t really know. What I do know is that unfunded artists can sometime produce way better work than funded ones. Street art is a good example of art made for art’s sake that is of extremely high quality. It has to be to stay ahead of the competition. Why is art made for love of less value than pseudo academic site specific installations? Tattooing is another example of fine art sold to the masses that is mostly better than the work found in government funded galleries. Plus the artists can make a pretty good living from it. (If they are good enough!)

Should arts courses be subsidised more? My answer is a total no fucking way. Having been to University and completed a BFA. There should be no more money given to art courses until they lift their game. They are shonky, boring, deskilling institutions producing mediocrity at every turn. (See my art school post about this)

I know it’s a bit mean to criticise peoples work (either policy or artwork) without offering an alternative, so to improve the lot of the visual arts in Australia I will make my own policy proposal. 

1     A return to a traditional classical arts education. Call it the new conservatism, call it reskilling of Australian artists, or call it Objective arts training. I don’t care but arts education is poorly thought of in Australia because it’s badly taught. Art schools teach nothing but made up theory, and it allows kids to waste 3 years of their lives and $12,000 dollars finger painting, horse shit sculpting and boob photographing. These BFA jokes don’t come out of nowhere, they are telling a simple truth. Young people go to art school hoping to learn real skills and they do not learn them. What they do learn is evident from every second year art student show. Lazy, crap, poorly made work.

      And it’s the teachers and Universities fault. 
  •  bolstering of commercial art galleries with a standardised contract that can be used by all artists. This will allow real competition in the market place and protect the suppliers(artists) from unscrupulous dealers and rip offs associated with bailment contracts, forced selling and illegal consignment, theft and charging artists for work not sold by the gallery but the artists themselves. This ain’t a charity people. 
  •  A standard negotiated base line fee for commercial galleries. Or at least an explanation that a 40% mark-up on works is just that, not a commission on the base price.    Better legal representation and legal advice to artists. The arts law centre is great, let’s make it even better.    
  • Specialised arts business and marketing courses, in fact make them compulsory for all Arts students. And not crap ones like I went to at the School of Art in Launceston but good ones run by real industry accountants, lawyers and business teachers.
  • Specialised tax training for accountants dealing with the Arts industry. And specialised Legal training for Lawyers dealing with artists. This would include better copyright enforcement and civil remedies open to artists. I couldn’t get what NAVA was actually going about in relation to copyright. The law is pretty good; it’s the enforcement of the law that can be complex, expensive and full of contract based pitfalls. 
  •  Big art costs money. Operas, orchestras, museums and mass music cost a lot to produce. A future fund or trust may be a better alternative than yearly budget increased arts funding. It could be added to by the private sector. Put a lawyer in charge and avoid subjectivity and we could end up with something pretty cool. Haha.  

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


It's that time of the year again. Mona Foma is upon us in Hobart. 

What this means for me is usually disappointment. I have been to each one since it the first one was a free event in Salamanca Place on Hobart's waterfront. I went to see some free stuff and came away ...well ... bored by the whole thing. They had an Italian 'punk' band The Zen Circus who played really dull acoustic style nothing and  they had a totally crap 'manga' artist who had his drawings projected on a screen and in all seriousness it wasn't very good. I was almost interested when they said this song is for recently dead stooges guitarist Ron Asheton. I thought 'alright they might do 1970' ,alas they didn't. Pinky Beechroft played, I will admit he was really good. But then I like MGF and Pinky Beecroft  & The  White  Russians and try and see them every time they play in Tassie. I also paid 30 bucks to see the DC3 play a really crappy set at Dark Mofo/faux maux this year. And I would do it all again I tells ya.

I went again the next year and saw John Cale and those beardy weirdies The Dirty Three. The highlight being told off by security for taking a  video of John Cale. (In defense of my actions I had to do something to relieve the boredom) and anyway God wouldn't have let man invent amazing small  high def digital cameras  if he didn't want us to use them. 

2012's Mona Foma had the faux femmes which had the dubious honor of me unable to like the Violent Femmes and Amanda Palmer on the same bill or alone. This year they had a loud as DJ which I liked because I have a soft spot for loud electronic music. 

The real problem with MONA Foma's bill is it's just the total opposite of what I like. I like eclecticism  but I cant stand dull. If some one likes Sonic Youth I would rather see the Swans. If someone says something is punk I immediately think the Crumbsuckers, not some obscure band that Brian Ritchie may have worked with.  If some one mentions comic books or fanzines I immediately think John Hinkleton or Maximum Rockandroll.  So I always come away  disappointed. 

'Jesus, I wish I had a bucket load of cash and could do things my way' 

Next year the Orb and Psycroptic are playing the 2014 Mona Foma. I actually might buy tickets for it. The idea of watching Psycroptic get loud and heavy and play to the safe pants wearing oldies of Hobart is really a thing to look forward to. 

But really if I could program the MONA FOMA festival this is what I would I would book. 

Headlining would be Foetus and Manorexia. Preferably with the Tasmania Symphony Orchestra  playing with Jim Thirlwell conducting. 

Jim Thirlwell has said that he would only reform Foetus if he could do it with a 20 member orchestra, Now here's the chance to get some Hobart musicians to be directed by a genius artist and make a show with some real impact. Its OK, JG has worked with Nick Cave so he would fit right in with MONA history. 

Laibach and NSK.

Laibach are from Slovenia and are the ultimate in post modern ironic art production. They have been going for over 30 years and last year they played the Tate Modern. They have an arts arm called the NSK. They make passports which were successfully used by people trapped in Sarajevo during the civil war, they open embassies around the world and they just generally rock and are artsy at the same time. Laibach need to come to this most southern capital and demonstrate that Art is diplomacy that demands fanaticism

Hatebreed and Deez Nuts

I always hated it in the 80s when my favorite bands decided to stop playing hardcore punk and started rapping, or made country music, or metal or became pop bands or indie favorites. It just really riled me. Why ruin a good thing with mediocrity? Luckily we have Hatebreed and Deez Nuts who just do their thing and live their lives and produce  great grinding music. 
Zola Jesus
If you're going to have JG Thirlwell well you might as well get Zola Jesus as well,  just saying. She's like a cooler Lana Del Ray but with out Lana Del Ray

Clairy Browne & The Bangin' Rackettes
I just want to see them play. They haven't played in Hobart and they should.

Diana Anaid
I just like Diana Anaid

The Roobs
The Roobs are from Hobart they are very entertaining and deserve a bigger audience.

TISM reformation, the AUTISM show! 

David Walsh should make this happen. We all want a TISM reformation. He put Damian Cowell into MONA history. The DC3 play every year in Hobart  and David Walsh attends. I know this because I always see him at the DC3 shows. At the last DC3 show at the dark faux mo club night when the Dc3 left the stage a girl called out saying she would flash her god's own curves if they played a TISM song. Now that's dedication, plus every teen kid I know loves TISM and they are now officially hipster indie darlings. 

Shamen Fox-Henry
Hes my son, so I would definitely put him on the bill. 

Rachel Bloom  

Is just generally piss funny and is way better than Amanda Fucking Palmer

would also add in a  painting /art show done salon style. A free for all  paintings hung together with no rhyme or reason, just a shear volume of work across the main interior wall at MONA. 

Addendum:  19/01/2014 MOFO is happening this weekend and I haven't bought tickets and I decided not to go. Mainly because I need to save money for Soundwave in Melbourne to see Down, Stiff Little Fingers and Rob Zombie. That and My friends came round and we watched Flashdance to settle a drunken argument over a plot point. 'Oh what a feeling...'

Sunday, 17 November 2013

when the game refuses to work

I bought Battlefield 4 on the first day. 26 hours later I played the completed  download after a few days of moaning about my crap big pond connection. It should be awesome. I should be amazing at it. Instead it crashes with a beautiful red screen of death. Every time I finish a match. Some times I  get to play two matches in a row.

So I downloaded the patch. and Still crashing.

Anyway the upshot of increased blood pressure and gamer angst, is my refrain has been 'oh F**k I'm going to go make some art'

So here is my output.

and I went to some punk rock shows.
Scott Kelly from Neurosis
Every time I die at the Corner Hotel
Bodyjar at the Brisbane Hotel, Hobart

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

MacDonalds, Bogans and Tasmania

I came back from Officeworks and had a coffee an MacDonald’s. While I was drinking it there was a bogan nana, bogan mum and two kids there in front of me. Whiney little bitches they were too, much like their nana. Anyway, turns out the kids names are Connor and Indiana ( I know this because they kept repeating their names loudly and often).

My first thought was.

What are the chances of bogan kid  Indiana  becoming an archaeology professor in Tasmania?

Decided it was zero to no chance.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Punk Rock Masonic Cult.

A funny thing happened when I was in Melbourne a few weeks ago. I was in a popular culture store. A 40 something man buying things for my kids and thinking about buying illustration books and Judge Dredd tee-shirts for myself. Well Judge Dredd, Ted toys (with x rated phrases) Strontium Dog, and action figures. 

In the end I didn’t buy anything for myself. 

Paying for the stuff for my kids, the clerk took one look at my Circle Jerks shirt and smiled with a 1000 yard stare. ‘I haven’t seen that logo for a while’ he said, I grinned back ‘it’s a new one, I bought it on eBay last year, the one I had when I was 14 would be a little snug nowadays’ .

We launched into a quick conversation about how punk is a strange fashion now that hip hop and R’n’B artists are co-opting the clothes and the music is everywhere. He then told me about some awful rap star who got spotted in a spikey punk leather jacket, which had a Cro-Mags logo on the back and those jackets are being sold on Etsy from prices ranging from $400 to $7000. If you would like to buy a genuine punk rock leather jacket you can go here.  

Total wow. I used to make those jackets myself with studded shoulders, painted panels, badges, spray paint and bleach marks. Turns out they are being sold for $7,000 at DNA designs in Seattle.

I walked out commenting to my wife that being a former punk is like a masonic secret society, now that we have grown up with real jobs and a cynical wit.

In a smile at a tee shirt it is understood between men

  • That we survived being easy targets for police harassment. (no its ok officer I don’t mind being treated like a criminal even though I’m just fourteen , shorter than you and I’m sure if I was going to commit some real crime I wouldn’t be dressed like this at all, now would I?) 
  • The terror of a car stopping and four or five assholes getting out and beating the living crap out of you up over your Mohawk or Dr. Marten boots. And then as you get older the terror on their faces as you managed to crack a few heads with said boots and take out 3 of them until they gave up trying to save face. 
  • An obsession with records. Not any records but records released on Touch and Go, Alternative Tentacles, SST and Slash. 
  • Owning Damaged by Black Flag. Or not owning Damaged but buying My War because you couldn’t obtain Damaged and pretty much hating it. 
  • Girls were never going to like our 14 year old selves. So we hung out with boys and listened to Charged GBH and instinctively understood their sexist songs. 
  • Understanding CRASS but growing up to realise it was load of pompous middle class bollocks.

  • Knowing what the Milano Mosh is. (and laughing as Ministry covered United Forces and having to find friends on Facebook who might also understand) 
  • Totally understanding that the Cro-Mags made the best hard core/metal cross over album with Age of Quarrel. Unless of course you think Life of Dreams by the Crumbsuckers was. Both stances are OK by me. 
  • Bad Brains. 
  •  Knowing about arguing over what is and isn’t punk. Of course as you get older you don’t need to believe in anything and begin to understand that because there were no rules and it was essentially anarchy no one could be or couldn’t be punk. Except Good Charlotte because they truly suck dog balls. 
  • Buying all those records again that you sold, lost and missed out on eBay and Amazon. 
  •  Buying DVDs of documentary’s about the Ramones, Circle Jerks, bad brains and Hard core Music because you can. 
  • Wanting to go up to kids wearing Ramones shirts and telling them about the time you saw them or met them (btw did I ever tell you about the time I met the Ramones) and then realising that you hated it when people did that to you by crapping on about Pete Townsend and the Who. 
  • Giving away CDs to friends then asking them 20 years later if they still have them and getting them back.

I met a bouncer at the Brisbane Hotel at an acoustic punk show. My third gig for the week, two hard core shows, one in Melbourne for Every time I Die and a Kiwi band on Wednesday then Joey Cape on Sunday. Good thing about being older is going to these gigs and being able to buy a shitload of beer for yourself or anyone around you. Downside getting knocked in the face by that stupid lawnmower starting dance the kids do these days. 

Anyways the bouncer made a comment about my Cro-Mags shirt, when asking my son for his ID ‘I won’t ask you mate, anyone with a CroMags tee-shirt must be well over 20’ The punk rock masonic cult kicked in again. Conversation flowed and moved onto tattoos we decided we liked tattoos but getting you neck done was just dumb and those new totally tattooed hard core bands aren’t really hard core at all. It’s all just a pose. 

Of course it is, because we know what is and isn’t punk from conversations we had nearly 30 years ago.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Foetus: connections across time.

I have this band I like. It’s not really a band but a man, a single man whose vision has been quietly hidden behind a noun.

I first bought Jim Thirlwell’s LP Foetus Interruptus: Thaw, Christmas 1988 with some record vouches my Mom gave me. I went into the record shop, bought them and returned to her car with this and the Butthole Surfer’s Locust Abortion Technician. Mom took one look at my purchase and sniffed loudly ‘Foetus Interruptus! That means an abortion’. Then she looked mildly disgusted. Mom being the anti-abortionist, Catholic Women’s League member, proto feminist  and hard core left wing lady of the 1980s.  Luckily she didn’t check out the Butthole Surfers LP title. The funny thing about all this the purchase occurred in the beautifully boring sea side town of Tauranga. All sunshine, cheap housing, car yards and old people.  

Thousands and thousands of old people waiting for entry into the hereafter. 

Tauranga was God’s waiting room if the waiting room was mostly retirement villages and council houses.  

I bought Thaw after months of having no money after leaving school early at 16 and learning to quietly starve in the social experiment that was New Zealand. It was after the stock market crash and NZ was getting back to its roots of agriculture, voting conservative and cutting down tall poppies.

Thaw was a rich soundscape of evilness.  To my ears it sounded nasty, vicious, artistic and deep. After years of listening to straightforward Hard core punk like Millions of Dead Cops, Suicidal Tendencies, Crass and Black Flag I had moved onto bands that even if you had every article, interview and review you were probably no closer to knowing what their intention was. I became a Laibach fan that same year with the purchase of Opus Dei and Let it Be.

I found Foetus scary.

He said things you didn’t say in polite company ever, the songs seemed to be about murder, racism, madness and misogyny. At the same time the music was soaring, complex and rich. Thaw made full use of stereo ambient movement between speakers and held it together with samples of movies and voice overs. It became my soundtrack to the isolation of being unemployed, wearing black and hating just about everything.  I totally believed everything Foetus said. As a na├»ve 16 year old the thought that someone could make a piece of art as a singular statement without politics or marketing was alien to me. I read his lyrics and liner notes trying to piece it all together and in the end giving up and just enjoying it as an enigma that doesn’t require punk’s tendency to wear its heart on its collective sleeve.

My friend Lisa liked Foetus (so did some acquaintances but they were kind of mean and kept it their little goth secret). At Lisa’s house she played me the Foetus All Nude Review: Bedrock relishing every word as Jim Thirwell growled in his whiskey soaked, gargling with gravel voice ‘a woman’s place is on mah face’.

So I bought that EP.

Then I bought Nail and Hole in 1989. Second hand from Real Groovy Records in Queen Street, Auckland. (quite surprised to find it still standing when I returned to Auckland this year after a 20 year absence) Stupidly I didn’t buy the Wiseblood EP and LP. They were all available as it seemed every University student sold their record collection every summer to either pay rent or buy REM albums now that they had graduated.

Nail and Hole have a huge amount of groove to the songs. You can sing along with them. Provided it meant singing ‘choke up another marlboro’ ,‘The chosen few are gonna arrive 10050 Cielo Drive, The pigs are gonna taste the knife when the chosen few arrive’ and ‘he kisses big, he kisses black’.

I revelled in liking Foetus. Everyone I knew hated him (well apart from Lisa, goths and cool student radio DJs). Flatmates would borrow Laibach but give back the Foetus records. I was never sure why. My wife would say she hates his voice, or it was too noisy but happy for me to buy his music. All the other people I knew liked Nick Cave or the Birthday Party. I had Sick Man I didn’t need no stinking Nick Cave.

And then silence.

I didn’t buy much Foetus after that. I bought an EMF remix EP and the Pop Will Eat Itself album that had the Kick to Kill remix on it. But basically got married, moved countries, had kids and just listened to what I had managed to put on cassette as I never had a turntable. 

Foetus ruined industrial music and performance art for me. Every time I went and saw a local band or performance that was trying to be industrial or artsy. I would unfavourably compare it to Foetus. Usually they didn’t have any songs or their strobe light, dildo whipping performances just looked silly and pretentious. To this day every time I see a performance in an art gallery I just want to scream ‘HAND ME ANOTHER NAIL’.

If an industrial act or art performance isn’t up to scratch, then I just end up putting a Foetus veneer over my bias and hating on it. It’s not a bad bias to have. It means, in terms of my own practice I always think ‘what would Foetus do?’ or ‘what would Jim Thirlwell think of this?’  Luckily he never says anything or I might be disappointed, close shop and just go and become a proper lawyer.

In 1995 Foetus released GASH. I didn’t know. I was up to my ears in nappies, poverty and sub-tropical heat. I had videotaped Rage on ABC TV one Friday night and there was Mr Thirlwell singing Verklemmt . He didn’t look frightening or scary or mean or even rock and roll. He looked kinda cute in his silk shirt and suit jacket. 

But the music was as brutal as ever.

I tried to buy the album, hoping my wife wouldn’t notice that I might have spent $25 on a CD, but alas no one in Brisbane stocked it. So I stopped buying again and managed to buy a Nine Inch Nails EP and my wife bought Marylyn Manson. I kept the VHS of his video clip though. 

So for a long time I didn’t buy any Foetus at all. At art school I recorded my LPs and put them on CD so I could listen to them. Making new covers in Photoshop. I watched YOUTUBE on dial up to watch songs, when I got ASDL I watched a lot more and downloaded bootlegs. 

Then I finished Law school and started making money after a long, long, long time of not having any. I started spending my money on CDs from the Foetus website and the Foetus Shop and bought all the new stuff I had been missing. 

I could sit in my office and get on Amazon or eBay and buy CD versions of my vinyl records, remix LPs, or buy downloads of Foetus’s earlier hard to find LPs. Or on the day something got released buy a new CD and ask Jim Thirlwell to sign the CD for me in the shipping information box on Paypal. 

I imagine if I ever meet Mr Thirlwell I will hopefully say something cool like’ Hi I’m Rob, long time listener first time caller…’