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Leonard Mattis Blog

TONY MOTT

November 11, 2015

Photographer Tony Mott. By Benjamen Judd.

Coinciding with the opening of his latest retrospective, What A Life! Rock Photography by Tony Mott, rock photographer Tony Mott has released his third book A-Z: Rock ‘n’ Roll Photography.

One of the most comprehensive collections of Mott’s work throughout the years, A-Z is “a monster book of just about everybody” he’s ever photographed.

For more than thirty years, Mott has been at the heart of the music scene’s maelstrom. Untold magazine covers, candid portraits, album art – Mott has captured the raw energy of the world’s most iconic performers as they themselves were lost in their moment.

A native of the UK, Mott came to Australia at the beginning of the 80s where he found work as a chef in The Gazebo Hotel, sitting at the fringe of Sydney’s Red Light district in Kings Cross. It was while working here that he found his calling, at the foot of a stage and during the early days of one of Australia’s greatest performers, Chrissy Amphlett.

Since then, Mott has worked with the likes of Midnight Oil, The Angels, Madonna, Sonic Youth, Marilyn Manson and Bjork – just a casual glance at Mott’s resume reads like an honour roll of music’s history.

To hear Tony speak of this era is to catch a glimmer of the energy that propelled it – the decadence, the raw talent and their determination to succeed. His fast-paced, only slightly accented voice carries you with him – it’s a frantic pace, but with all the enthusiasm of someone still very much passionate about what he does.

INTERVIEW WITH TONY MOTT

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You came to Australia as a chef – where the did the photography career begin?

I was a huge music fan and a photography hobbyist, mainly because I had been travelling the world and capturing that, but I was also in love with black and white portraits so I got an art student friend to teach me basic black and white processing and printing. Then one night, I was in the Picadilly Hotel, and Chrissy Amphlett was on stage – this was long before they were really famous – and I was thinking “god, that must be really difficult to shoot with all those lights going on and off”. From there, I started practicing my photos on Chrissy Amphlett.

As muses go, you picked an amazing one.

Absolutely! And I wasn’t aware at the time that I was shooting the greatest female performer I have ever come across and that’s how I started.

90481765e8648572cc867f03ed0aa08d 3(Chrissy Amphlett, 1980s)

What was it like to be in Sydney, working in Kings Cross, in the 80s?

In the early 80s, Sydney’s live music scene was unbelievably vibrant. You could go see a band seven nights a week in whatever suburb you wanted to. Every single suburb had gigs!

I guess, though, that it’s like everything in hindsight – you don’t realise how great it is at the time. Everyone was living, everyone was into music and the inner city particularly had this huge culture.

The Trade Music Club on Foveaux Street was somewhere that everyone naturally gravitated towards every Friday and Saturday night and you could see six different bands on three levels there and it was guaranteed packed every Friday and Saturday night.

At the time, I wasn’t wondering around going “oh god how lucky are we, this is fantastic!” but I look back on it now with exactly that emotion – my god, how lucky was I? It was a fantastic time and I just loved that culture.

During this time, also, street press started and it was revolutionary – no one else was doing it. Free music newspapers every week and every venue had it and it was like the bible of gig guides. I literally wandered into their offices early on and flaunted my services.

Back then, they didn’t pay much but that wasn’t the point – it was just a passion. I look back on it with huge affection but I really had no idea at the time just how special this period was. And this time, that scene, produced Australia’s greatest ever exports of live and recording artists and bands.

What do you think was happening at this time that really made Australian scene so alive in comparison to the UK and US?

I think a lot of the pubs in Australia at that time had these big beer barns off to the side. So landlords had this enormous amount of space they needed to use so it became that putting in a live rock and roll band was the thing to do. In the early days, this was why it was called Aussie pub rock. The Angels, Rose Tattoo – these all came out this time.

Funny story, The Cure came to Australia in 1981 and toured Sydney for three months and never played the same suburb twice. Robert Smith was quite demoralised when he first got here, saying “ergh are we doing a pub tour” but of course he had this image of English pubs with maybe 50 people in the corner. They performed at Selena’s in Coogee and they got 1600 people attending and at the time this was The Cures biggest ever gig …and they were playing at a pub.

ed4b923f6dd163dffe76032346883727(Chrissy Amphlett & Band, taken at the Bexley North Pub, typical of its time at the height of the Sydney pub live scene)

You’ve been in the industry for a long time – you must have seen some enormous changes to the way things operate in the industry?

That’s the other golden era! When the 80s arrived, MTV culture came out and the videos along with it. But the record companies didn’t get involved in the beginning, they basically said “oh look MTV sells records so we better make a video”. But all the directors were jumping at the chance and the imagination was just amazing.

But slowly but surely the clips now have become very clichéd and record companies have all got involved. But the early filmmakers were really just given this blank canvas and it was fantastic – it wasn’t necessarily with a big budget, it was just big imaginations.

My best friend, Paul Goldman, who started out in Melbourne, he did Elvis Costello’s “I Want To Be Loved” video and it’s literally just Elvis Costello in a photobooth with strangers kissing him on the cheek and it was shot on a budget of $500 – this still wins awards today!. But MTV really did change everything because people started to look at music instead of actually listening to it. I mean, the Spice Girls are a direct result of “looking at music”.

The other massive change was of course the digital age.

I was dragged into the digital age kicking and screaming. I stayed on film for a long time and the first time I shot on digital I had a sense of cheating because it was so easy. The problem after digital was that lots of people suddenly became photographers. And of course then there was the iPhone. But this isn’t a whinge – this is just the natural attrition of life, this is just how things happened. I have twins now who are four and a half years old and when they were born I took a year or so off so I could help look after them full time. When I went back there really was a vast change. I used to have 182 magazines on my books and of those 182 magazines, 160 of them didn’t exist. They had all gone online and people aren’t paying the same for the photos and with the record companies – there were once fifteen majors based in Sydney and now there are only three.

Music also used to have a huge left wing element to it, which is great. Bands like the Clash, Midnight Oil, Red Gum bands that were really pissed off with the world. I still cant believe that Tony Abbott didn’t produce a punk band that were angry and this is another thing that has changed.

midnight oil by tony mott20johnny rotten photo#AFA2E(Midnight Oil, Homebush, Sydney 1986 and Johnny Rotten, The Hordern, Sydney 1985)

You’ve worked with and met a huge spectrum of artists – has there been any particular band or sound that stands out as a favourite?

I shot everything that moved, there wasn’t a band or gig I wouldn’t shoot so I can’t really say I had a favourite – I really did shoot everything.

For example, I was on the road with Sonic Youth and I shot Sonic Youth’s EP Cover and that for me is the height of cool. Then, within 24 hours I was on the road with Michael Bolton. It doesn’t get much more contrasting than that. This didn’t bother me either, because it was all entertainment and it was always interesting seeing different things that might not be your cup of tea.

Music also used to have a huge left wing element to it, which is great. Bands like the Clash, Midnight Oil, Red Gum bands that were really pissed off with the world. I still cant believe that Tony Abbott didn’t produce a punk band that were angry and this is another thing that has changed.

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Have you ever been surprised by the artists you have worked with?

Not really…but I always found it peculiar that heavy metal bands, these men all dressed in leather, were all quite shy. I had one band, I cant remember their name it might have been Iron Maiden or something and they were dressed up in their leathers but then they were all saying “oooh no I don’t want to go outside, what if someone sees us?” There was a lot of bravado going on.

Also, you always find that people who have bad reputations aren’t like that at all. I worked with Prince and he was an absolutely normal and pleasant chap; Marilyn Manson couldn’t have been more articulate and pleasant and dare I say a gentleman. A lot of them are thespians and what you see is a performance.

Lastly, what do you think makes a great photograph?

The thing about capturing something live is that it is all about that split moment and getting a performance when all the elements are in place.

For a portrait, it’s a different kettle of fish. Its easier to take a photo but harder to capture their essence. I go into every photo session and try to do my very best and the ones that work – they just work.

01de1e7284ad4a4da2f45ddacb37dd35(Mick Jagger, SYS, Sydney 1985)

Leonard Mattis Studio presents, A-Z: Rock ‘n’ Roll Photography

LAUNCH NIGHT: Friday 20th November, 6-10pm

The studio will be transformed for a live four hour experience, with art installations and performances by:
– Lexi Land
– Matt Format
– DJ Suzie Q (Longrain)
– Simon Rosa (Musician/Guitarist)
– Matthew Gode Matthew (Choreographer)
– Erica Stubbs, Ashleigh Tavares, Shivawn Joubert (Dancers)

Please forward your rsvp to leonard@leonardmattis.com

EXHIBITION: Saturday 21st November, 11am-5pm

A selection of prints will be on display, with a live stream of music from the launch night providing an aural backdrop for the visuals. Tony will be presenting and story telling from 3-4pm.

Signed limited edition copies of the book will be available for purchase on both days.

Proudly sponsored by Two Birds Brewing and Grandeur Wellington

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Leonard Mattis Blog

LAY OF THE LAND

April 10, 2015

Artist Kiki Sjoberg. By Benjamen Judd.

Art, and in particular photography, is an interpretation of reality. Or more appropriately, reality as we see it.

Susan Sontag once wrote, “photographs are a way of imprisoning reality, understood as recalcitrant, inaccessible; of making it stand still…One can’t posses reality, one can posses (and be possessed by) images”.

In Kiki Sjoberg’s latest exhibition (running as part of Head On Festival) , ‘Lay of the Land’, reality becomes something that is both personal and alien. Inspired by the work of British painter William Turner, Kiki presents a series of emergent landscapes that sit somewhere between dark and light.

Much like Turner’s paintings captured the beauty of the sea through the violence of brushstroke, Kiki’s work draws out the beauty of the Australian landscape by highlighting the vast and sinister emptiness that open space possesses.

We sat down with Kiki to chat about what inspired her latest collection of work.

INTERVIEW WITH KIKI SJOBERG

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You’ve said that you have had a passion for photography from a young age – what first drew you to this medium?

My father was a very keen photographer, and because of this I grew up being photographed often.

I have five sisters and he documented our childhood with his beautiful photographs. In my parents home there’s a huge bookshelf filled with boxes that are organised into years and events, it is such a beautiful keep safe to have in the family.

I got my first camera when I was about ten years old. When I turned 18 and graduated from high school all I wanted was an analogue camera. My dad brought me a second hand Nickon fm2, which I still have today! I can honestly say that my father has been a huge influence for in foray into the world of photography.

Looking back at your portfolio it’s not hard to miss how incredibly diverse it is – everything from intimate portraiture, fashion to now a more abstract approach to landscape. Is there a subject that you are particularly fond of capturing?

I have always felt drawn to the more abstract visual. Capturing life the way I see it. I feel that photographing landscapes allows me to do that more.

I love to capture beautiful places but from my perspective.

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In your latest exhibition, you drew inspiration from English painter William Turner. What drew you to reinterpreting his work?

I remember my first year in art school and every Friday afternoon was art history – the first time I saw a Turner painting I was touched.

At home I tried to paint landscapes the way he did but with no success. Since photography comes more naturally to me, it allows me to use his paintings as inspiration for my work, especially in regards to this current body of work.

How did you choose your locations?

Some of he places I have visited before, like the Snowy Mountains. Others, like Tasmania, were places I was instantly drawn to while scouting for locations.

I was looking for places that both represent the unique Australian landscape but that also had that wild beauty I hoped to capture.

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From my own experience back in art school, when people discuss Turner, they tend to do so in terms of light and how he captured that in his painting. But, I admit to being more interested in the way he portrayed darkness, such as his 1842 work ‘Snow Storm’ or even his earlier work ‘Wreckers Off the Coast of Northumberland’. The same quality is something that, I feel, you captured in your own photographs. Was this deliberate? And what was the process behind selecting the tone of the images?

I’m pleased to hear that. I am also drawn to his darker paintings, although I enjoy his lighter works too. While travelling, I realized early on that this body of work was going to be about the beauty of drama and darkness, but still capturing that liquid light.

During the process of working on the images in post-production I found myself experimenting with depth and tone. My background in art, especially oil painting certainly helped me achieve that painted feeling to the photographs, using my camera and post-production as my brushes.

Lastly-what do you think constitutes a good photograph?

For me, a good photograph makes you feel something. Whether it’s joy, sadness or anger. It’s a feeling that draws you to return and look again and again.

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‘LAY OF THE LAND’ A solo exhibition by Kiki Sjoberg.

Inspired by the poetic and luminous landscape paintings of William Turner. Kiki traveled to the Snowy Mountains, the Blue Mountains, Tasmania, Kangaroo Valley and the Hawkesbury River region. Each image tells a story and captures the essence of a land that offers such beauty and diversity.

‘Lay of the Land’ opens at the Studio on Tuesday 19th May, 6.30-9pm.

Exhibition: 20th May-1st June.

Proudly sponsored by Two Birds Brewing.

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YOU

April 8, 2015

Artist Byron Spencer. By Benjamen Judd

One of the fascinating side-effects of living in a digital age with a social media generation is the experience of watching someone grow-up. This is most often in a literal sense, as we witness the very physicality of a person change before our eyes.

But it can also be in a more nuanced, philosophical sense, such as the case with Sydney-based photographer Byron Spencer and his exhibition running as part of Head On Festival – ‘You’ at Leonard Mattis Studio.

Better known for his documentation of Sydney’s music scene and street-style images for the Sun Herald, Spencer’s ‘You’ is an exercise in maturation.

Paired back and raw, ‘You’ takes a look at the narrative that occurs between model, camera and photographer. By focusing on those details that fascinated him – be it their lips, the outline of a shoulder or the contrast of flesh – Byron exposes himself through his images as much as he exposes his subject.

We sat down with Byron to chat about his latest exhibition.

INTERVIEW WITH BYRON SPENCER

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In your bio it states that you’re mostly self-taught when it comes to photography. Can you tell me what inspired you to take up this medium?

I have always been inspired by taking photos.

My background is in theatre and classical music so I think there is a lot of the essence from that training comes to life when I take a photo.

I also tend to live a lot in my imagination so I think photography was a real escape for me to physically create a lot of those fantasies!

What other photographers inspire you?

I love listening to interviews and documentaries when I am in the retouch stage.

Years ago I was influenced by classic artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and Helmet Newton.

My transition into hyper-colour surrealness saw me inspired by lots of other photographers. I love the theatre of David La Chapelle, and appreciate his journey and career; I also loved Tracey Moffat in high school. There was so much animation and colour yet was still so emotive.

I love and find inspiration in paintings too!

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You are probably better known for your pop-art style editorials and capturing the Sydney party scene – What lead you to the more intimate and sombre tones we see in ‘You’?

This project is still developing a lot as I write this. I won’t be surprised if colour pops back into these works.

When I first started experimenting with more stylized photography, (I was previously shooting street style for the sun herald and various parties around Sydney) I was shooting very simple, classic nudes.

It was a project I had always wanted to do and I guess in a way a bit cliche. But going through all the experimentation I have tried in my work there is something quite nice about stylistically pulling it back and returning to where I started. A lot of the works are black and white but a lot of the subjects are super colourful human beings!

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Can you talk us through the process of your images in ‘You’? What kind of relationship did you develop with your subject?

For ‘You’, I am shooting people that have inspired me and intrigued me on some level. I am fascinated with how the internet has made so many people consciously (or even sub consciously) place themselves on a platform for others to view.

I guess in turn, it has deepened my intrigue with these people more as ‘characters’. I have tried to ‘amplify’ and celebrate an element of them that has fascinated me, whether it be a girls lips, or a dancers hands. It’s my view of them.

But I am super intrigued about keeping it feeling raw and true to their personality, so I make sure it also feels unique to them. I am intrigued by self-view versus an outsider’s perspective – “how we see ourselves? How do others see us?” Y’know!

Lastly, and probably the most difficult question – what do you think constitutes a good photograph?

Hmmm. A story. An emotion. It needs to make you feel something in some way. But that is so broad because everyone’s tastes are broad?! What is a good photograph?

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‘YOU’ A solo exhibition by Byron Spencer

An intimate moment with one subject, and a celebration of collaboration with a creative team to capture a unique portrait.

‘You’ opens at the studio on Wednesday 6th May, 6.30-9pm.

Exhibition: 7th-18th May.

Proudly sponsored by Two Birds Brewing and Stolen Rum.

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BONE PALACE SURREAL

October 6, 2014

Artist Lexi Land.  By Benjamen Judd.

In it’s beginning, theatre was more than entertainment. Influenced by the ecstatic practices of the Orphic Mysteries (whose adherents worshipped the God of Madness and Wine, Dionysus), theatre was a way of expressing the deep truths of the human condition. It was dark, often terrifying, but it could also be joyful and an expression of otherworldly beauty. It was a way of touching the face of the divine.

In her latest show, Bone Palace Surreal, Sydney-based artist Lexi Land revisits the traditional purpose of theatre – the embodiment of dreams, myth and, yes, nightmares. Using her body as both surface and subject, Lexi reenacts some of our most primordial myths surrounding birth, sex, death and ultimately rebirth. It’s a fascinating peek into the back corners of the imagination where fear and ecstasy mingle in peculiar unison.

I had the opportunity to chat with Lexi beforehand and learn a little bit more about what propelled the creation of Bone Palace Surreal and some of the ideas behind the images.

INTERVIEW WITH LEXI LAND

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Your latest exhibition, Bone Palace Surreal, touches on the idea of performance and theatre within art. Can you tell me more about what inspired this collection?

I’ve always been interested in performance. It’s a way to illuminate my existence. Bone Palace Surreal had many threads of inspiration – one being Herman Hesse’s ‘Steppenwolf’. I wanted to create my own demented theatre – a place beyond reality where I could explore expression.

Like a fisherman goes to the ocean to catch fish and uses a baited rod, his catch eventually feeding him… the theatre becomes my ocean using my physicality to catch whatever it is I’m looking to hook, feed and have nourish me.

The process is layered, I’m not looking to create a picture to hang on a wall but to explore in depth a surreal state of being – bringing the mysterious to life and fleshing out it’s bones – it’s a mode of discovery and it’s always unfolding.

A continuous thread in your work is your own body – its presence permeates your images and tends to be more canvas than the canvas or paper itself. Is there a reason behind this?

Firstly because it’s incredibly convenient – I’m always around to be used. And secondly that’s precisely what I want to say… I am here, I exist, this is my structure – which leads to deeper questions like – what is here, what exists etc… my main source of inspiration is existence – to be alive and breathing – questioning keeps me entertained and  ultimately that’s all life is – pretty damn entertaining!

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Untitled (preview) | Mixed Media-Performance Still | Museum Quality Archival Paper  | 45cm x 45cm

To me, Bone Palace Surreal seems the least personal in the chronology of your work. Was this a deliberate turning away from introspection?

I’m surprised you think that… well not surprised, nothing is that surprising but I don’t agree. It is definitely personal and introspective…it’s a theatre built within me. I am the theatre, the figure that appears is also me…naked I am born, the red signifies birth, sex, death; it’s a stage to free my psyche, my spirit and the flesh that binds me…maybe that’s why you felt it wasn’t as personal or introspective because I am freeing my persona and slipping mad and drunk into the mysterious realm of the ambiguous surreal?

I think maybe the reason that I saw this as the least personal is because you seem to be so lost in the performance itself – which is what any good actor does. Would you say then that this series is really a dramatic act where you play yourself playing yourself but in a grander scheme of life’s stage?

Your interpretation is interesting but for me it’s not so much a deliberate ‘act’ where I’m playing a role…Bone Palace Surreal is a question. It’s a real-surreal, strange land, a place to reveal my bare-bones in the maddened night. It’s my unconscious, my conscious – a dream and it’s dangerously alive and unknown.

My previous works are of my image in a void, separate from anything and isolated, making the work all about the figure – now, for the first time in this series, I am somewhere, I’m suddenly in an environment – doing something… but it is still introspective and personal because symbolically the environment I’m in is just as void and only an extension of me.

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How did you develop the concept behind the Bone Palace Surreal?

It began as a taste… a sudden vision, bones, erotic, flesh, dark, moody, pussy, opera, strange land, raw, twisted, I use words, write short stories and poems about the initial taste – then came performance which as mentioned is more like ritual – I painted bones on my body, sculptured masks, to breath life into the figure, I kept writing, sketching, dreaming. Once the performances were filmed and I had some strange footage – I captured the figures and began the constructing – drawing and collage.

Originally, theatre was a spiritual experience. Was there a particular myth, or mythic, tradition that you worked with when developing this series?

Instinct.

Were there any artists, or performances, that you looked to for inspiration during the piece?

I never intentionally ‘look’ or research for inspiration but often find once the concept has been conceived I coincidentally happen on things during the process that inspire and relate in perfect alignment to what I’m creating.

The name itself was inspired by a book of poetry by Charles Bukowski ‘Bone Palace Ballet’ this title ignited a vision in me about 15 years ago when a friend gave me the book.  As mentioned earlier Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse, the drawings of Hans Bellmer are a continuous inspiration, Francis Bacon’s paintings – the figure on a platform/stage and Antonin Artaud.

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All artist portraits taken by Sydney based photographer Kiki Sjoberg.

‘BONE PALACE SURREAL’  A solo exhibition by Lexi Land

On a liquid-lit path, void of time, shadows lay open beyond my mind and threads of consciousness unravel to reveal, the dark beauty of strange land at the ‘Bone Palace Surreal’.  A theatre of sorts, where things aren’t what they seem ‘for mad men only’ – born where poets dream entering through the mysterious light to ignite and unfold, in the depths of night a figure appears – jewelled in bone alive and breathing, standing alone her ribs build a cage, for her heart to break open and on her red womb of a stage is where her flesh is awoken – Lexi Land

The ‘Bone Palace Surreal’ opens at the studio on Wednesday 29th October, 6.30pm-9.30pm.

Proudly sponsored by Two Birds Brewing and Naked Wines Australia.

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INTRODUCING BRETT WEIR

March 27, 2014

Artist Brett Weir.  By Benjamen Judd.

In order to navigate across the various regions of Australia’s landscape, Indigenous nations evolved the practice of songlines – a poetry that was part mythology and part GPS system that traced the shape of the continent, giving the singer intimate knowledge of how to walk safely across its surface. The system was a mimetic function, relying upon the memory of the individual to recall the correct song for the ground they wished to traverse. It is a similar form of memory immersion into the contrastingly harsh and beautiful bushland of Australia that, after a prolonged absence from his native home, Brett Weir’s latest collection of paintings plays upon.

After living in Europe for close to a decade, Weir’s latest collection of work is an exploration of the landscape that he once called home – a landscape that is simultaneously familiar yet has become increasingly alien. In much the same way that distance and time work upon the memory, the images in Weir’s paintings fluctuate, sitting somewhere between the picturesque and the uncanny. Scenes normally so iconic to the Australian psyche shift, unsettling the viewer and emphasising the surreal emptiness that is so unique to the Australian outback.

In Weir’s work, the line between surrealist and realism is a thin one that works to unsettle the viewer, capturing the unsuspecting alienation so often experienced when seeing the Australian landscape for the first time. Or, as it is in the case of Weir, looking back in time.

INTERVIEW BRETT WEIR

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Tell me a little more about your background – what drove you to become a painter?

Actually I majored in Drawing at the V.C.A in Melbourne. However I have always had a deep interest in painting – a preoccupation that began when I would accompany my aunty to en plein air painting excursions as a boy; we worked in watercolours then.

Following my studies I set off on what would become a decade of more or less constant travel, never staying anywhere longer than six months. Most of the time I was living pretty rough, hitching around the country with a backpack, fishing rod and light-weight bivvy and sleeping out. I kitted up with a set of primary acrylics and had small panels of plywood or MDF cut to the approximate format of the cigar-box paintings by the Heidelberg artists. I painted on the move, drew in sketchbooks…whatever or whoever I happened to be in the company of. Once I found an abandoned house in the Queensland bush and there I made some large canvases, but mostly I was limited to making what I could carry with me and using quick-drying paints.

Then, on a camping trip when I was in my late 20’s, a good friend, a painter who is older than I am and more organised, invited me to use his oil paints – thanks Robsky! It was an instant love affair and I have been painting in oils ever since.

What eventually gave you the idea (and desire) to relocate to Zurich?

After the ten years of constant travel, I had developed a hankering to nest. I had been working a summer job for a wealthy man in the countryside of Scotland, doing his garden and whatever maintenance he required, and then painting at night in my half of the mansion. Following that I had a five-week job lined up in Zurich at a theatre festival. It was there that I met my big love, Natasa. I extended my trip a few months. She then came to visit in Australia, I followed her back and we have been going between the two places ever since – which is about as close as I seem to get to settling. Zurich has a very rich art scene, is centrally located in Europe and is generally a fabulous place to live.

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Untitled | Oil on aluminium | 25 x 40cm

What artists have influenced your work over the years? (Personally, there are two artists in particular that come to mind when I look through your current works – namely, Arthur Streeton and Gerhard Richter.)

You have picked two of a handful of favourites right off the bat. I am also influenced by the work of Bill Henson, Goya, Manet, as well as friends and contemporaries such as David Jolly and William Mackinnon. I have been seeing a lot of really strong painting in Australia lately – it is very exciting!

Can you tell me a little more about the collection of work that you are exhibiting? When you take in to account the stark quality and the size of the paintings, it is a rather intimate collection.

The work in this show is quite personal in that it addresses directly the place that I have always called home, but am increasingly ambivalent about – specifically in terms of things like environmental policy, the prevailing consumerist, churn-it-burn-it attitude and rising costs of living (a factor crucial to artistic freedom). These paintings continue the celebration of light and space that I have been exploring over the last five years or so, but are peppered with reservation.

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Both untitled | Oil on aluminium | 25 x 40cm

Throughout the collection, you fluctuate between a rural Australian landscape to an almost purely abstract surface – can you explain what the connection between the two is for you?

The impetus for the works that appear figurative is the same for the apparently abstract pieces. In the less recognisable paintings I have simply pushed an image beyond the limits of the representational. In more or less erasing the recognisable aspects of a landscape I am attempting to reference the anxiety I feel at my place in world, and humanity’s relationship to the land we inhabit.

You paint using oils over copper and aluminium – can you describe your experience of combining these two materials in comparison with a canvas? What drove you to choose these?

I never did like painting on canvas. The things I painted onto were always the things that I found lying around – refuse such as packing boxes, wood, rusted bits of metal then, later, salvaged copper, stainless steel and aluminium.

Both copper and aluminium having no tooth means that the paint travels in a certain way, which I find appealing. A great range of surfaces are achievable – certainly no less than with canvas. I enjoy the contrast of the painted surface and naked copper or aluminium; elements of that material interplay often serve as functions of my compositional choices.

You also make your own frames – do you consider this to be a part of the creative process?

A lot of people think that it is old school or unfashionable to frame paintings nowadays; I avoid trends wherever possible. It also seems to me that a lot contemporary art takes too much for granted and ends up being sloppy. I want my work to be loose at times, controlled at others. The frames I make, which are generally a floating frame that sits relatively deep on the wall but cuts a fine line around the work when viewed frontally, provide an element of tightness – a certain external structure to the compositions.

All the frames I make are from salvaged hard woods. I am a collector, Natasa would say a hoarder, but primarily I try to be resourceful and waste as little as possible.

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Brett in studio.  Zurich (2013).

Brett’s work is currently on show at the studio until Monday 12th May 2014.

Leonard Mattis Blog

BEWARE THE DOG

October 31, 2013

Artist Sal Higgens.  By Benjamen Judd.

Growing up I was obsessed with Greek mythology. I was that skinny kid who would spend hours in the library reading about ancient heroes and the gods who would send them on impossible quests. My weekends were filled with the tales of Hercules, Ulysses, Odysseus, and Perseus but it in particular my favourite was Orpheus and how, determined to bring his wife back from the dead, he sang the three-headed guardian of the Underworld, Cerberus, to sleep.

Twenty-something odd years later and the story of hell’s guardian is still one my favourites. So when I was asked to interview UK artist, Sal Higgens for her latest exhibition, ‘Threshold’, at Leonard Mattis Studio and I learnt that her work was based on my favourite three-headed breed of dog you can probably imagine how excited I was.

Cerberus is a rich and contradictory image. On the one hand, it represents all our fears of what may come after dying. But on the other, he is also our guide as we make our way through the underworld towards Elysium, the Greek paradise. One of Cerberus’ most fascinating aspects, I think, was as the companion of Hecate – the Goddess of the crossroads and journeys. In this form, I would say Cerberus is also the companion for artists – of all kinds – as they navigate the murky, uncharted regions of the imagination where ‘here be dragons’ only to return richer, wiser and with bounty to share. Sal’s paintings seem to capture both of these functions – fierce, yet protective; ferocious, yet familiar. It’s the kind of creature that you would happily let sleep at the end of your own bed…but still keep a ‘beware the dog’ sign on the gate.

‘Threshold’ is as much an exploration in to the process of drawing the creative out of the depths of the imagination as it is an exploration of the human condition, particularly our desire to divide and separate yet connect at the same time. Even the space she has chosen to show her exhibition in,  filled with mirrors, reflects this theme by dividing us from each other whilst reflecting our own image. 

‘Beware the dog’

INTERVIEW SAL HIGGENS

Sal

Sal in the studio, Hill End Artist in Residency program run by Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, NSW. July 2013.  Photograph by Bass Photography.

How would you describe your style of painting?

I enjoy the physicality of painting and the work I produce relies heavily on gestural line and a strong sense of movement and poetry. I like to create work that looks like it might spin out of control or jump off the surface, juxtaposing spontaneous mark making with empty space. The composition of the work has always been central to maintaining a dynamism and flow through the images. That said, the images themselves are explorations into something much darker, the darker side of beauty, spirituality and human consciousness. A reflection of something more elemental about being alive.

What artists have influenced you? Personally, I see a strong connection to the works of British artist Francis Bacon’s disembodied figures and the paintings of abstract painter Cy Twombly, particularly his later work that focused on gesture and the body’s movement in the construction of his art.

I’ve always loved European painters from the 19th and 20th century… growing up in London I had access to some of the world’s best collections. As a kid when I needed space I used to jump on the train and go and hide in the huge open spaces of the Tate. Lumping my old favourites together from back then would be Bacon, Freud, Beckman, Baselitz but more recently I’ve been looking at Japanese printmaking and mixing it up with Susan Rosenthal and Maria Lassnig. I’ve definitely become more Cy Twombly influenced in these new works, but all influences ebb and flow.

Portal

Portal | Charcoal on Paper | 2200mm x 1200mm

How do you begin the process of painting?

Everything starts in my sketchbook. I’ve carried around sketchbooks since I was 15, (A Daler Rowney, Ebony Sketchbook in A5 – the same book for over 17 years). I’ve got piles of sketchbooks brimming with newspaper cuttings, photos, my writing, drawings, fragments collected when I’m travelling. I mine these sketchbooks for ideas and inspiration and as I pull out ideas, I draw and draw and draw. Then, once I’ve found an idea that really gets me excited I put my headphones on, crank up the music and let the idea explode on to canvas. I paint very fast, often in one sitting but the idea might “cook” for months or years.

You mention that this collection sprang from an earlier project, called  ‘100 hellhounds…’ – can you tell me more about this?

I was in New York earlier this year where I saw some of Willem De Kooning’s blind drawings, the visceral spontaneity of them had me spellbound. I had been working on this idea of beasts lurking on liminal borders and wanted to capture something of the unpredictable and wildness that I had felt while I’d been thinking. My drawing style is naturally poetic and I wanted to break away from relying on what I know I can draw and rather to challenge myself to find out what I might draw if I took the wheels off. Freewheeling with my lines. Producing 100 drawings over two days also meant I was getting physically and mentally tired and had to find new ways to hold myself and the pencil. All the while never looking once at the paper. 100 had a ring of the fantastical about it, a nice round repetition and 100 of them brought a fairytale element to the series.

Hell_Hounds_2Chimera

Hell Hounds II | Solar Plate Etching on fabriano paper | 410mm x 610mm, Chimera | Oil on canvas | 760mm x 610mm

I personally love the story of Cerberus and how he sits at the gateway to the underworld…what drew you to exploring this theme?

I love to explore the juxtapositions of life, the essential, elemental things we too often don’t think about. I like the jolt that hearing an incredible story gives you and I’ve been reading into Greek mythology and folklore and fairy tales. The idea that there is a dividing line, a literal line that separates “us” from “them” or “light” from “dark” and “life” from “death” is an unnerving and exhilarating idea. I was particularly excited about the opportunity to show the work in Leonard’s space where two huge mirrors hang dividing us from our reflection, repeating the work endlessly.

You have used a limited colour palette throughout this collection – was this a conscious decision or something that developed along with the artworks?

Definitely. You have to toe the line of making deliberate conscious and unconscious decisions all the time and I wanted to take my normally vibrant palette out of the equation for these pieces. I wanted to explore the drama of extreme opposites, black and white with very little middle ground.

Which piece is your favourite from the collection?

What a difficult question! My mind changes daily but probably the animation at the moment. I feel like the animation has fed new life into my painting and I’m motivated by experimentation. If the work feels dangerous, like a risk then I feel I must be doing something right. You have to keep changing things and challenging yourself to find new territory, new words to embellish your visual vocabulary. The animation is doing this for me at the moment.

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Photograph by Bass Photography

‘THRESHOLD’ opens at the studio on Wednesday 20th November, 6-8pm.

Exclusive screening on the night of the digital animation ‘ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND HELL HOUNDS’

Proudly sponsored by Two Birds Brewing.

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Leonard Mattis Blog

ILLUMINATING DARKNESS

August 14, 2013

Illuminating Darkness invite13

OPENING NIGHT PRESENTATION

Wednesday 25th September 2013, 7-10pm.  Open to public, 26th September-25th October.

Explore the dark, erotic flesh theater of Lexi Land’s latest series…

ILLUMINATING DARKNESS

Dissected Dreamscapes of a Lunartic

I am human, a lost poet, a mystic, existing wild and strange, with breath, blood, bones and a name, I gather memories and thoughts; alive in this time I call mine and beyond my physical reality is the surreal unconscious of my internal world; the vast depths of a wild spirit contained in this body I call me but with all beginnings must come an end and one day all that I’ve collected will pass with me.

Dissecting physical reality in the silence of my dreamscape, I form an erotic theater of the flesh that explores and connects with what lies beneath the surface and in the sweet beauty of darkness, void of time; I illuminate my existence and explore the mysterious magic of the unknown.

 

Proudly sponsored by Jack Daniels and Two Birds Brewing.

 Interactive invite and link to Facebook event page

 

Leonard Mattis Blog

SUPER SONIC

February 22, 2013

‘SUPER SONIC’  Small works by Dion Horstmans

Super Sonic explores the fragmentation of space between speed and sound.

The title of the work references the void created when an F18 fighter plane breaks the sound barrier.

Open to the public
21st March – 17th April