Avoiding Mastery: Whitespace Contemporary Art 2014
Mastery, according to the Webster dictionary is knowledge and skill that allows you to do, use, or understand something very well and a state of having attained complete control of something.
My conundrum as an artist is that, whilst ‘understanding something very well’ might seem an appealing and mature virtue, its close association with having ‘complete control of something’ raises a warning flag that the cul de sac of orthodoxy lies in wait.
In art, to understand something so well as to control it runs the risk of remaking and refining something that you already know, and that your audience also knows and recognises; a closed circuit of mastery and applause. Less prone to success, but arguably more interesting is the strategy of avoiding the possibility of control, deliberately pursuing unknowing, cultivating areas of non-skill and embracing unpopular and little understood vernaculars as a vehicle for art making.
To put it more simply, maybe I think of art as a half wild pony, rather than the dressage mount. Which is not to say that there is anything wrong with dressage; I just prefer a little more excitement.
Avoiding Mastery opens next Tuesday, 28 January at Whitespace Contemporary Art. If you are in Auckland come along and see it, for those of you not in Auckland I will post photos over the next week or so.
I have a show at Whitespace Contemporary Art early next year and have been mulling over what to call it. The show will involve some paintings, a few books of drawings and a number of yet to be finalised objects. There is always the straightforward option of SomeNew Paintings and Objects, and I also considered Horse, Pony, Donkey but I have decided on Avoiding Mastery. It has a decisive ring to it which clashes pleasingly with its directive to avoid getting too good at art making.
Ironically this interest in non-mastery has its genesis in my Master of Fine Arts study at the University of Auckland in the early 2000’s. At the time I couched it in terms of cheating and lying as strategies for art making, however now I am thinking more in terms of failure and resisting the status quo. Failure to do the right thing, failure to master the art of being normal (or more correctly normative), Failure to be polite and well behaved, failure of art to strive toward being more skilled and refined and conceptually erudite.
In general a failure to progress and a reluctance to endorse progression as (a) normal/natural and (b) desirable.
At the opening of Come on You Little Rabbit, my first exhibition of bunny paintings, two women approached me to ask about the carrots. They were mother and daughter; the younger woman was in her early twenties and looking somewhat embarrassed. The mother explained that were discussing the possible meanings of the carrots and that she had suggested that they might have sexual connotations. The daughter countered that now that was a terrible thing to think, the carrot symbolised food and nurture for the rabbit. I suggested that the mother should trust her intuition. The girl looked at me as if I too, was terrible. She left shortly afterwards and unsurprisingly did not buy a painting. But she should have; it would have done her good.
thinking about it, the very first drawings with carrots were not bunny drawings at all; it was these self-portraits. I did them in 2004, they were my first move away from the painting machine work I was doing at the time. They are shown here at the Whitespace gallery in Newmarket.