Saturday was Marrickville Open Studio Trail. D and I came across this entirely by accident as we headed out on an impromptu search for coffee and food after some walking about then sunny Dulwich Hill. We found ourselves in Constitution Road heading towards the well-situated and correspondingly well-priced [10% surcharge on weekends, and you can imagine what I feel about that] “Sideway” Cafe which presides over the remains of a long otherwise deserted commercial hublet in that side of Dulwich Hill.
As we passed Johnson Park, and even within sight of the cafe, we spotted the studio of Gilbert Grace, who is in fact responsible for the map (at present only a link) above, which gives a route to visit all 35 of the studios which were open in Marrickville on Saturday. We were hungry, so we ate first, then returned to the studio.
Maybe, as a mere renter and a person without children, I pay too little attention to my local area. Apart from that, MOST is surely a venture which might consider itself aimed at people like me, but any news of it had entirely failed to reach me. I don’t know if Gilbert’s studio received many visitors in the course of the day.
Well, the studio is his flat – a front room with a northerly aspect overlooking the opposite park. I warmed to quite a lot of Gilbert’s pictures, if only for the rather naive reason that I was familiar with so many of the urban-pastoral locales (that’s one of his at the head of this post; more at the link). It was also interesting to feel the concatenation of interesting objects and a kind of hand-made practicality which in my very limited experience is a feature of artist’s households.
Gilbert is a wiry fellow, and he must definitely be a fitter cyclist than I am. He has devised a bicycle route to retrace the steps of Brett Whiteley’s life, which basically entails taking the ferry to Huntley’s point and then riding a fairly hilly cross-section of the lower north shore foreshore back to the Harbour Bridge, and then ending up at the Whiteley studio in Surry Hills. I don’t think I’m up to that ride quite yet, but if so, I think I would prefer to take up Grace’s suggestion that it might be more interesting to take the ride in reverse, with a variant entailing return via the ferry from Woolwich. I’m sure that, if Grace waited for the ferry at the hotel, he would make sure to be there on a weekday and avoid the weekend crowd.
There was something a little odd about being in somebody’s home as a stranger. I felt obliged to constrain my curiosity, even though a point of the occasion must surely have been the performative aspect of an artist’s life and situation.
I always wonder about the economic situation of a free-lance artist. How can Gilbert manage it? Is he (as is the case with many artists) able to practise his art because his capital needs in life (and particularly housing and studio space) have already been taken care of? Rent is definitely one thing which drives most of us into wage slavery.
There was also the awkward tension between artist and the artist’s public – how is the artist going to get the public to pay for it all? This manifested itself in my fear that I was wasting his time by giving only interest and no custom.
D asked about the prices. If Gilbert makes his living from selling his art works, he makes that living from people who must be richer than I am. That of itself strikes me as an interesting fact, because whatever the exact incidents of his financial situation, Gilbert himself seems to live a life of artistic frugality – a kind of “slow-food,” low-consumption high contemplation life. He provides the following brief statement at the link above:
Art is language. Art is not a spiritual endeavor or vocation. I make a conscious effort to create tangible objects in a professional and workmanlike manner. I incorporate personal concerns for quality of life, the environment and economy of materials in the finished product.
How does such artistic frugality coexist with the necessary patronal extravagance?
Artists generally like to think of their art as a necessity, at least for themselves and often for others. Squaring this with an economic position as a producer and supplier of a luxury, mostly to the rich, must be constantly vexing.
This is the Whiteley ride (at least it should be the map itself, but it seems you need to click on the link):
You can click on a link there to see the vertical cross-section or profile of the ride.