Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I live in Ipswich, Australia. It’s where I’m from and I’m very fond of it, but there’s no dressing it up – it enjoys neither the gravity of being the centre of anywhere, nor the romance of being truly remote – it is definitively interstitial. But I like that. There’s a sort of optimistic realism here – you have the space and support to do what you want but you can’t bluff it. It’s not the sort of place that rewards style over substance.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I always wanted to be a writer. My Dad is an artist and it felt terribly conformist to take up the family trade but in the end the apple rolled back under the tree.
What do you like most about working where you do?
My wife Caro is an electronic musician and we hand-built a studio together a few years ago and now each have our own dedicated spaces – it’s such a luxury after the odd little spaces we worked in in Europe.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
Volcanoes are pretty big in my work at the moment. It probably started with my natural disaster obsessed four-year-old but I just can’t get them out of my head. On one level I enjoy that a volcano is Nature’s middle finger to bucolic landscape painting, but I also like the idea of that sudden change of states, a mutability that can’t be predicted or controlled. In the same vein I like thieves and looters, not as individuals, but as agents of change that cut across the standard flow of events. I use figures in hoods sort of like volcanoes; some are harmless mountains, some are dormant, some erupting.
I used to be a really meticulous painter with lots of obsessive detail, and I had a lot of success with that, but I had a road to Damascus moment several years ago and started from scratch. It meant throwing away the reputation I’d built but it was the most cathartic and satisfying decision, a genuine commitment to my work.
What is your process like?
I do a lot drawing, doodling really, and out of that some ideas grow onto canvas. I almost never work on multiple works at the same time. Once something is in progress it becomes a little universe that I try to get inside. That said, I work pretty fast now. I find the best ideas often don’t stand too much manhandling.
I do have a particular way of drawing. When I decided to change directions in my work I threw away classical principles and found my own method. I use three or four bright colours that I can easily distinguish, each one closing in on the subject but allowing errors in transcription to remain. It was partly a way to embrace my colour blindness, but it was also a conscious decision to leave as much of myself on the page as possible, no polish, just a direct download.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I don’t have another job but I do have two little bosses, aged 4 and 1, who keep the whip cracking around the studio. They definitely force me to be productive in the moments I do have.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
Oddly, the best piece of advice came as a throw away line by a carpenter at a house we were fixing – he had to hand nail thousands of nails into a series of bracing walls and I asked how he was going to bring himself to do it – without a trace of annoyance or resignation he said ‘you just start and you keep going.’ I often think of that.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
Just start and keep going.
What is your studio like?
We made our little studio/house ourselves and it is really part of our creative output. Where we are it never gets really cold and the style is sort of Asian barn meets Danish furniture. It’s on the edge of a little piece of bushland which we have been adding to by replanting more forest… as many trees as possible! I’m hoping that at some point the koalas that lived here when I was a kid will move back in.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I would love to work from 8pm to 2am but the kids have ruined that so it’s fairly 9 – 5 but I do work every day if I can. I feel like I work a lot but never feel like I’ve worked enough and feel guilty or get itchy fingers if I’m away from the studio for more than a day or two.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
I went to all three universities in Brisbane, the nearest big city, and studied film, literature and design, wracked up a huge student loan and then started a career in painting. I think studying art would maybe have given me a better network of contacts or group of artists to feed off and work with, but on the other hand I have never really liked being in the middle of things.
How would you define “success” in art?
I don’t know, I’m happy when I’m working and I work all the time so I guess that’s success, but I don’t paint just to fill my studio. It is communication after all so when a work really speaks to someone, that’s transporting, that’s the reason I do it.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
Starting again. Starting again was really transformative, thinking about it, and this only occurs to me right now but it was very like that violent mutation of a volcano. It was a destructive transformation that changed everything and it was the best thing that has happened to me artistically, I think.
What are you working on right now?
It’s turning into a busy year actually. I’ve been invited to China in April to create two works for a permanent collection in Sichuan. Then in September/October I’ll be having a solo show in Cologne, which is a dream come true to be honest. Then a show of my hooded figures with a regional museum here in Queensland at the end of the year.