Sometime in 1995 – I fondly think of it as April Fool's Day, though it probably wasn't – I started a drawing programme based on my reading of the painting manuals of Cennini, Piero, Alberti, and Leonardo. I was living in this kind of anarchist commune thing just north of Dunedin, you see, and some young guy who'd taken too many psychedelic drugs freaked out and claimed I was the devil. Seriously. 'All he does is sit there and fuck with people's heads,' he cried as he was restrained. (I might be exaggerating slightly, but that's the quote I remember.)
I thought, 'That's true. I suppose it's time I started doing something with my life.' True about sitting around, I mean. I do not resile from fucking with people's heads. Back then, I still tried to persuade people of things. When some idiot says to you, 'Don't worry about the future because, when the UFOs come, they'll save all the vegans,' I felt compelled to tell them exactly why that is a vile proposition.
So, in accordance with the advice I'd read, I set about learning to paint by drawing after the best paintings I could find and from nature. When I left school in 1987, you see, my head was full of silly ideas such as that painting was dead and the only valid art forms for a late capitalist society were punk rock videos and science fiction short stories. So I did art history and philosophy as preparation for writing science fiction. And look how that turned out, ha ha!
Funnily enough, when I left school in 1987, Mum was doing an industrial psychology course and, being of an experimental bent, tried out some measurement tools on me. She was a little dismayed when I scored 0 out of 10 for ambition. That's cos the stupid test measured ambition solely in terms of career success. I am actually quite ambitious, and was then, though that ambition has changed – I want to do the first fresco on Mars, for fuck's sake!
Being a rambling git, I've drifted far from the point. Which I need to take a moment to recollect. Oh yeah! Ten years.
So, around this time 10 years ago, I got a boot up the pants. I thought I had plenty of time for this long-term project, but the start of the resource wars and the turn of western societies towards authoritarianism happened a lot sooner than I expected. And now I'm doing my MFA, rereading all those books I read in the early 90s.
At Massey for the last two and a half years, they've been repeatedly telling me that I'm not really a painter (cos, I suppose, I'm not like the painters they usually deal with) and that my interest in art history is a problem because it makes my work 'anachronistic'. One person told me that my 'attempt to recreate' the avant-garde was 'sentimental romanticism'. I just smiled and nodded. Like I said, I gave up trying to persuade people long ago.
However, I am not trying to 'recreate' the avant-garde as anachronistic escapism, motherfuckers. I AM the avant-garde! It's a genuine contemporary response to the situation I find myself in, using relevant historical models. I mean, really, just imagine putting my pictures with ones from people of equal ability from the periods I work with in a time-travel group exhibition! Ha ha ha, fuck they'd look out of place! It's a ridiculous argument that's simply not worthy of a serious response.
Academic artists broke the avant-garde in the 1960s and 1970s, because all the good artists went into music instead, so we have to rebuild it from scratch. In a vaguely related way, we also have to rebuild painting from scratch more generally. And, you know, we are living in a time of great transition too, just like the early 15th and 20th centuries.
That's how I see it anyway.
But maybe I'm just insane. In the late 90s, I went to a barbecue at a friend's place. This being New Zealand, a friend from boarding school and his mother were there, cos his sister (the butter girl from the ads in the 80s) had just moved into the flat. My friend introduced me to his mother, saying 'Remember him from school?' His mother said, 'That's right! You were the crazy one.'
I didn't know what to say to that. Still don't.