Public Artist-Clare Mc Cracken

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By Celeste Hawkins

Clare Mc Cracken calls her self a mixed media artist, but most of her art is ever-present in the streets of various communities, so many describe her as a public artist. Often placing thought provoking artworks right in the public eye, (and many times in unlikely places); it seems a perfect vocation for Clare who is passionate about the interaction, reactions and discussion that these public art works generate.

 Tell me about your background, how did you spend your childhood?

I grew up on one hundred acres of bush in North East Victoria. My parents built a house out of recycled bridge timber and SEC poles.  All our cooking was done on a slow combustion stove, even in the middle of summer, so the first eighteen years of my life were spent collecting wood, climbing trees and building cubbies. For most of my childhood we didn’t have a television so books, stories and board games were the things that we did as a family in the evenings.  While no television has meant that I miss quite a few popular culture jokes and embarrassingly often sob and get scared at the movies (as I was never desensitized) listening to my parents stories about their childhood and our extended family taught me all of the life skills that children get from well written television shows.  However, the best thing about oral story telling is that you visually get to unleash your imagination.  With no available images the characters and their landscape can look however you want them to look!

‘Throne’ Installed in Federation Square, 2009

 

 

What got you started?

I moved to Melbourne after high school to do an undergraduate in Creative Arts at Melbourne University.  After 18 years in the bush, and country towns, I was really excited about the city.  Creative Arts was a great degree that allowed students to major in Theatre Studies, Media Studies, Visual Arts or Creative Writing.  It also combined rigorous theory with creative, hands-on practice.  After experimenting with all of the areas I ended up majoring in Visual Arts with a sub major in Theatre Studies.  In my honors year I wrote about the Situationist International, who created site-specific public art works post the Second World War as a way of protesting against the redevelopment and increased privatization of European cities.

 

I was also very aware that many of the highly intelligent and generous people I grew up with found the formal setting of the art gallery with its white walls and strict rules both alienating and intimidating.  Public art gave me the opportunity to make art that communicated with these people, it also allowed me to enter into a discourse about the places that we live in and experience every day.  I started to see that art had the power to help people reconnect with their public space and local milieu.  Interestingly, I had always thought that I would be a critic discussing these issues, until I was commissioned by the City of Greater Dandenong to make a work while I was doing my Masters at RMIT in Art in Public Spaces.  I loved that process so much that I completely changed direction, and while theory remains a very important part of my practice, I became an artist.

 

‘Neighbourhood Watch’ Storey projection 2010 and 2012

 

What are some of your most popular installations or murals and why?

I think one of my favorite public art works is Rachel Whiteread’s House (now demolished).  House was a concrete cast of an entire Victorian terrace house in East London. Whiteread regularly casts the negative spaces of objects, highlighting ideas of memory and loss.  For me House is one of her most powerful works because of the site that it is located on.  It was the last of hundreds of Victorian terrace houses to be demolished in the area to make way for a high-rise development.  Because the houses were public houses, the people in them had no autonomy over their destruction.  Many of the families had lived in them for years and they saw them as their family home and, while moving from them to a high-rise may have meant more modern living conditions, they were losing places that were filled with history and memories – they were loosing a life style.  Whiteread’s impenetrable House was a monument to these disenfranchised people who had little opportunity to be heard.  It was an acknowledgement of their grief.

 

A little closer to home, I think Martine Corompt & Philip Brophy’s work No Answer is also a very memorable work.  Installed in Lush Lane in 2006 for around six months, the work was commissioned by Melbourne City Council as part of their Laneway Commissions.  The work was comprised of eight public phones that were mounted on the wall at the end of the laneway, above the height of a person.  Throughout the night and day the phones would ring, however their height made them unanswerable.  When the work was installed, Telstra was pulling out most of their public phones.  While this move did not affect those of us that could afford a mobile phone, it seriously affected those that could not afford one (or a landline for that matter).  No Answer poetically highlighted this issue.

 

Why is Public Art so important?

I think the aforementioned examples really highlight how public art can be used to give public issues a public voice, and to help people deal with the changing environments that they once truly connected with.  Naturally it also has the effect of rejuvenating locations (which was the whole concept behind Melbourne City Council’s Laneway Commissions).  There is also a lot to be said for simply filling people’s lives with the unexpected – giving them the opportunity to smile or unleash their imagination.

‘Speed Check’ Permanent work installed Oakwood Park, Noble park 2008

What sort of people do you work with?

One of the most rewarding elements of my job is the diversity of people I get to work with.  Basically, I hope I have the opportunity to work with all sections of the community but at this point I have probably engaged more thoroughly with young people (particularly at risk young people) and communities affected by large scale infrastructure projects.  One of my favorite projects thus far involved the hotrod and car enthusiast community around the Knox area.  I’d love to work with them again!

 

Tell me about some of the reactions from the public:

One of the great challenges of public art is gauging the way that it is interacted with and reacted to.  Unfortunately, I think we are all far more likely to write a letter of complaint when we don’t like something.  Having said that, occasionally, after installing a work, a really generous member of the public will leave a message on my website.

 

Most of the feedback I get is during an install – when I’m working on site.  A couple of years ago I spent two weeks painting a mural in a breezeway that led to a public toilet in Dandenong.  Because I was there so long, I had regular conversations with the community.  The most rewarding part of this process was hearing people’s initial concerns about the location and my design, and how they evolved overtime as it was completed.  On my final day, people would say things like:

“I used to feel unsafe here so I thought this thing was a waste of money but it really improves this site.”

“When I first saw the colours you had chosen I didn’t want to tell you but I thought they were terrible.  Now they are all on the wall they look great – I guess that’s why I’m not an artist.”

 

‘Cecilia Secretly’-Digital Print 2010

 

Reactions from collaborators:

I think the thing that frustrates me the most is commissioning bodies that underestimate their public – who choose not to commission interactive and contemporary works because they believe that their public will not understand.  The more you work in the public realm, the more you realize just how intelligent and intrepid communities are.  If you take people on the journey with you, and include them from the very beginning, there is nothing stopping you from installing innovative, contemporary works anywhere.  I think my favorite reaction from collaborators is when they are surprised by their community’s positive reaction to work.

How many years have you been working and how has it changed?

I finished my Masters and started practicing full time four years ago so little has changed in my time.  For many more established artists, the big change would be commissioning bodies’ shift from long-term permanent works to ephemeral works.  Overwhelmingly, I think this shift has been really positive because it has allowed artists to take risks and has meant that artists, other than sculptors, have been able to work outside the gallery.

From where does the funding come?

Almost all of my funding comes from local government.  However, I have also been commissioned by body corporates of large buildings and by private organizations like Federation Square.  I have also occasionally self-funded projects that I really want to do.

 

Are governments, councils and fundraising groups eager to fund public art projects?

Melbourne has some really innovative and generous local governments that have sound public art budgets and pioneering commissioning practices.  Melbourne City Council and the City of Greater Dandenong are two that I regularly work with.  Knox City Council has some really innovative and large-scale youth programs that they run, such as their Knox Festival Artist in Schools program.  They also have two public art platforms that they use to display the works of their community.

 

Do you have any advice for young artists or anyone wanting to contribute?

If you are interested in getting involved within your own community, contact the Cultural Services Coordinator or Place Maker within your local government.  In my experiences, local government loves to know who in their community is interested in being involved, and they are very good at finding ways to involve enthusiastic locals.

 

 

Black Mark

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By Celeste Hawkins

Have you ever wondered exactly who is trawling the streets of Melbourne, ducking and diving through Melbourne’s street art scene and reporting back (regularly), to the public? Or, what brings us these little tastes of news and views in the world of Public, Commercial galleries and Artist -run spaces? Or why one man devotes so much of his time to advocate, promote and celebrate Melbourne’s vibrant art scene? Well, you are about to meet, 47 year old Mark Holsworth, who describes himself as, “an over educated, under-employed, long haired bohemian type”. However, he is definitely voluntarily employed in the blogosphere as Melbourne’s Black Mark, Art Culture Critic.

 

 

Please tell me about a typical busy day in the life of Mark, the Art Culture critic!

It is often not that busy; I lead a very domestic life. Try the Black Mark diet; you can eat what you like provided that you carry all your shopping home on your back. In between that, I try to get some reading and writing done, maybe some painting but I’m doing less of that these days. I’m not constantly going out to exhibition openings; I spend an afternoon or two a week looking at galleries or just exploring Melbourne’s streets.

And what about the name ‘Black Mark’, it seems to be a play on words but does it have a deeper meaning?

It has a more shallow meaning. It was a joke by the biker neighbours on my name and my habit for wearing black clothes!

What got you interested in blogging in the first place?

I can’t remember exactly, it was many years ago. I had another blog on Arts Hub before this one. My wife had a blog (now she has several and teaches classes on how to use WordPress), and she suggested that I start one to write about art exhibitions.

What sort of typical problems do you come up against when forming a criticism or opinion on an art related issue that is contentious?

The Bill Henson fracas was the first big contentious issue that I had to write about. It was difficult because I had to write about it quickly and post it before the end of the day; and I had to write something original in order for the post not to be swamped amongst all the other stories on the subject. I also had to form an opinion that I hoped would prove accurate over time and could easily be defended from both trolls and intelligent people. Fortunately, I knew something of the history of art censorship in Australia and that helped a lot in framing the post and predicting the outcome.

Please discuss your readership:

I’ve seen stats for this, lots of stats, but they don’t always give a clear picture. There are several overlapping groups who read the blog; the people into street art, artists, art gallery visitors, teachers and school kids. Sometimes I see what I can do to annoy them by writing about topics that the street art people aren’t going to be into, like the kitsch clocks of Melbourne, or just annoying the contemporary artists by writing another post about street art!

What are your favourite articles to write?

Those that I’m full of passion for what I’m going to write. The most difficult articles to write are group exhibitions without any curatorial direction.

Have you had any visitors on your blog from overseas?

There have been interesting comments followed by even more interesting emails. Earlier this year I met up with Snyder, a visiting US artist who reads and commented on my blog. Recently I received an email from an academic in Holland writing a book about Ned Kelly and wanting to get copyright permission for the Ned Kelly by HaHa.

I like to see how many people from Africa view my page a week –a little over a dozen views. I have pretty good readership in every other part of the world, except for China. All WordPress powered blogs were blocked in China, but as of April 2012 and last week I had my very first view from China!

What are some of your most interesting or memorable comments?

Shifty wrote about the way that public sculpture influences people’s movement in the city. I wrote a whole new blog post about that and I’m still thinking about it. There have been a lot of very good comments from Urban Monk, CDH (although recently he helped cause a bit of flame war in my post about women paste-up artists) and Alison Young who writes the blog Images to Live By.

Please highlight your most memorable event or issue to cover:

Accidentally meeting CDH in a laneway while trying to complete his puzzle map was a memorable encounter.

How would you define the Melbourne community of art bloggers?Are there any similarities or disparities?

Many do a lot of interviews or post a lot of photographs. I write original copy, do almost no interviews and post fewer photographs.

Where do you see the future of art style blogs?

 I would like to see more , so that exhibiting artists could expect their show to be reviewed by at least two blogs. I would like more art blogs written by people from different backgrounds. And more covering specialist areas of the arts, like Melbourne Jeweller.

You mentioned in a recent RRR interview that Melbourne’s art scene was “Healthy, robust and growing”. Please discuss what particular aspect of the scene has experienced this growth.

Considering the global economic downturn it is surprising that more galleries haven’t closed, instead the number of galleries has actually grown. The growth in specialist galleries is an indicator of the robust nature of Melbourne’s art scene; there are galleries that specialize in video art, sculpture and street art.

You also mentioned that after four years of blogging you’re motivated by the ’desire to see new things.’’ What are some of those?

New art is an obvious answer. When I started this blog I thought that I might set myself the challenge of visiting every gallery in Melbourne, I haven’t done that yet. I want to see more corporate art collections and art in other unusual locations; I wrote a post last year about Monash Medical Centre’s art collection.

Please discuss the changing face of street art, which you are most concerned with.

I’m interested in how street art will develop, such as the new varieties like street sculpture, urban interventions and the maps and trails that go with them. I’m also looking at how it is documented, sold, collected and exhibited.

Justin Lee Williams: New Project

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What is it about the portrait that can make one feel such strong emotion? Sometimes a portrait will border on disturbing, yet draw us back in, again and again. Is it something in the eyes or the prevalence of sunken cheeks? Who is the subject and how much of the artist themselves is present? This is something I would like to explore further down the track. Justin Lee Williams, a hills dwelling artist with a graphic arts background is influenced by the myriad of human and animal life around him. His latest book ‘Attachments’ depicts some of those attachments that he has formed with his subjects. If you would like to explore some more of his world, you can visit here.

Luisa Rossitto shares her creative process…

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By Celeste Hawkins

You can see more of Luisa’s work here 

 ‘Faintly-European’ Brisbane based artist Luisa Rossitto shares her deep connections with her work and how she draws on inspiring images and dreams to bring her ideas together. Her mediums of choice are watercolour on paper and she is currently working on her next show with Helen Gory  in Melbourne. Thirty year old Luisa defines creativity as: “an ability to see things, ideas and solutions that other people miss”, but believes that everyone possesses it to some degree, “whether they recognize it or not”.

  Do you have a consistency to your process of creating? Or does it change according to your state of being?

There is a certain structure to how I work. As with everything, I try to work on a rule of about sixty percent to plan, set a routine and schedule and about 40 percent left up to chance, folly, disaster and salvation!

 Describe your usual creative process…is their a routine to how you compile your work?

I usually start a new show by spending a day or two exposing myself to new imagery; literally flipping through a pile of books about a metre high, making snap decisions about which images I need to copy and which I don’t. New work invariably emerges from vignettes constructed from this ongoing stockpile of images.

 Make a list of the things that inform or feed your creativity…

Things I find on the ground, awkward photography, plastic figurines, clouds, flowers and leaves and dead branches, national geographic, horror movies, neuroscience, fifties advertising, caves, patterns printed on silk, folklore, idiomatic language, set design, fancy dress and stage performance.

 Current influences……

Lately I have been rediscovering my art school love for Niki de Sant Phalle, Henri Cartier-Bresson and David Shrigley. But I’m constantly stumbling upon new people I enjoy- Stacey Rozich I found just this morning catching up on my blog feeds.

Influences past…….

Nick Cave’s music was the first that really captured my attention as a teenager, and I still remember something he said in a biographical documentary I recorded onto VHS and replayed a million times. Though I don’t remember it word for word, he talked about the importance of staying true to your vision of things, knowing that at times you will rub shoulders with fashion and at other times you will not. His bravery in the things he does has always been great source of comfort.

 Luisa provides an example of the process behind her work:

 Spectrum disorder is a continuation of a theme I’ve visited a number of times. It explores the struggle between order and chaos, disruption and perversion, the existence of all things on a continuum between extremes. I began with an image of a models face from an advertisement. I made copies of the face, cut the face up the middle, pasted it in my diary, and experimented with drawing different representations of schism in the triangular space. I recalled an image I had collected a long time ago of fighting hatchlings, a cuckoo in a hostile takeover, and felt this added to the sense of internal struggle. I dug up two sources from my collection; an archival image of an Australian women’s pogo club and an image of children in fancy dress. I knew that I wanted to create a “cast” of characters across the composition. Colour use is also connected to the theme; rainbow hues connect to the spectrum theme, and the opposition of red and blue in the sunglass lenses represent the binary opposition in play. I love to use red and blue as opposing forces. In my mind, this always connects back to the secondary science textbook image of the heart, pumping oxygenated (red) and deoxygenated (blue) blood. The image at the centre, creating a crown, is based on the famous high speed photograph of a milk droplet, a lucky and victorious moment. Every image chosen tends to have a history and story of its own, as well as a meaning to lend to the overall composition.

  How do you begin, when starting with a blank canvas?

I will typically have a rough plan, drawn in my journal, which will comprise about 60 percent of the final work. I start by sketching out the main sections of the image onto my surface, and then begin painting these areas while I contemplate what will take place in areas of the work yet to be resolved. The types of images I make are too exacting, not compatible with someone who experiences “white fright” or fear of the blank canvas or paper. I make myself dive in there.

 Do you ever reflect on your work, for example through journaling, to find out why you might have got stuck?

I have a very active critical voice. This reflective process is normally alive and well even as I’m working on the image. I always consider what I might have done instead but know that I have to trust my largely instinctive decision making processes if I am to avoid inertia

 Have you ever experienced “artist block” and how have you overcome it?

I don’t experience this in terms of ideas- I have never been at a loss for new material or themes that interest me- but I do have trouble sometimes deciding which are the ideas to act upon and which are not. Again, the ability to trust in myself and the outcome has been something I’ve had to actively nurture. I accept that while this doesn’t always work, the amount of times that it does validate this process. The worst thing I can do for my practice is to do nothing- something is always better than nothing.

Do dreams or other dream like experiences play a role in your creative process?

Definitely. I often get the answers to issues in a work in the short window of time between lying down and sleep. I’ve become so good at it that I can tap into this headspace almost at will, sitting upright at my desk. I also drew under hypnosis at an art gallery in New Zealand- embarrassing, but delivered me the key to a resolved work.

 Has the process of creation from any particular artist or artists that you might have read about, informed your approach to how you create your works?

Not exactly, but I recently read a little about Chuck Close in a psychology magazine which reinforced the importance of intrinsic motivations in creating work. I didn’t realise he had a condition, prosopagnosia, which prevents him from remembering and recognising peoples faces. Of course, you don’t need to know this to enjoy the amazing photorealistic paintings of faces that he creates, but we have this to thank for his fervor and his passion for making work.