28 July 2008

An open letter to the good artists

People often complain about the ‘gatekeepers’ of the art world – major dealers, collectors, curators who supposedly decide who gets picked up and who doesn’t. Many artists structure their work and their career around getting into the right galleries, the right collections, and the right institutions. Some people worry about the amount of art school graduates there are nowadays, seeing them as competition.

This is completely wrong-headed. It is important to remember that we are the primary sources. Curators, collectors, dealers, and the like are parasites. It’s not a symbiotic relationship at all. They need us, but we don’t need them. We were around long before they existed, and we’ll still be around long after they’re gone.

What matters is the body of work you leave behind after you’re gone. With a bit of historical distance, it will be obvious who the good artists were. If history is anything to go by, it is the people who follow their own path, who stay true to themselves, and damn the short-term consequences. It is the people who have something to say. Now you may answer, ‘Ah, but David those future people need to have heard of you first, and for that you need to be in major museum collections.’ Bear with me, and I’ll get to that.

When was the last time you went to a show at a public institution that made you sit up and take notice? There is a reason that they only show mediocre work. Public institutions are accountable for the public funding they receive. They usually try to do this by using viewer figures. This means that they are risk-averse. They play it safe and go for crowd-pleasers every time.

Go along to the City Gallery in Wellington and do the survey they have at the front desk. The first thing you’ll notice is that it is a marketing exercise. Try the ‘customer’ survey at Te Papa. At least that actually asks what you got out of the show, buried somewhere in amongst all the questions about advertising and product ranges. That’s all they care about – getting people through the door. Your interests and their interests don’t coincide. You don’t need them.

I'd be wary of the big collectors as well. They're perfectly capable of dumping your work at low prices when fashions change. Some have even been known to do so while you have a show on, completely screwing you. If they've done it before, they can do it again.

I wouldn't worry about the hordes of recent art graduates. People who think they can screw you over cos they are plenty more where you came from haven't thought things through.

You’re artists, people, artists. You’re meant to be creative. You don’t need to follow the conventional career structure. Create your own methods of getting your work out there. You don’t need to be dependent on gatekeepers. Nothing will change unless we change it. Don’t play their game. Create your own game. Make up your own rules. This is what it means to be avant-garde: it’s not (just) what you do but the way that you do it. We change the rules of the game. All the tools are there. All you have to do is use them.

The crucial thing you do need is something to say, something that informs what you do. It also helps to have a good knowledge of art history and a good general knowledge. Art works by associations, and the more things you have to associate the better. Read widely and well. Anything and everything can be source material. Good ideas can be found in the unlikeliest of places.

That's my two cents worth. Now I'm going to go teach my grandmother how to suck eggs.

Quote of the day

It was long known that nicotine acts on the same receptor as the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Changeux recognized that this could explain both nicotine's obvious benefits — greater concentration, relaxation, etc. — as well as the drug's more puzzling long-term effects. For instance, while cigarettes are dangerous to health, some studies show that smokers tend to suffer at significantly lower rates from Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Changeux found that nicotine, by attaching to the same receptors as acetylcholine, reproduces some of the benefits of acetylcholine by reinforcing neuronal connections throughout the brain. Nicotine is not exactly the same chemically as acetylcholine, but can mimic its effects.

- How the mind works: revelations

27 July 2008

House photos

Oh yeah, Rose has put up some photos of our house (and some more). We like it quite a lot.

More films

Klaus more than lived up to expectations. His delivery of the line 'Do unto others...' needs to be seen to be believed.

Yesterday, we went to Funny games, which was really good. Full on, but well worth it. The preppy game-playing psychos were perfectly cast. The opening credits said it all. You have the nice perfect middle-class couple playing a game trying to guess the nice classical music the other's put on, and then when the credits start full on metal Naked City erupt in over the top of it.

Today was We can not exist in this world alone [sic]. There were two directors, with five films each. I liked one of them, and very much disliked the other.

I'd forgotten about these two when listing the films I was going to earlier. Unfortunately, it puts me over ten in all. I'm really trying to cut down on the amount I go to. In previous years, I've gone to as many as 30, which is a ridiculous amount in two weeks. It means you can't properly appreciate them. There's no space around them in which to reflect. It's like going to a really good restaurant, ordering lots of really nice food, and then having a speed eating contest.

25 July 2008

A drawing of Klaus


In anticipation of the Klaus Kinski film tonight, here are some quotes (not all from the film):

I am not the Jesus of the official church tolerated by those in power. I am not your superstar.

Now I absolutely despise the murderer Herzog. I tell him to his face that I want to see him perish like the llama he executed. He should be thrown to the crocodiles alive! An anaconda should throttle him slowly! The sting of a deadly spider should paralyze him! His brain should burst from the bite of the most poisonous of all snakes! Panthers shouldn't slit his throat open with their claws, that would be too good for him! No. Big red ants should piss in his eyes, eat his balls, penetrate his asshole, and eat his guts! He should get the plague! Syphilis! Malaria! Yellow fever! Leprosy! In vain. The more I wish the most horrible of deaths on him and treat him like the scum of the earth that he is, the less I can get rid of him!

About 25 years ago, I was in an apartment, and next door, they put on the radio, so I struck the wall with my fist, but they did not put the radio down. I took a tool and banged until I made a hole through the wall. It was like a comedy movie.

What do you think, that a dollar in a savings account is freedom? Maybe you have understood nothing I have said.

Why do I continue making movies? Making movies is better than cleaning toilets.

I have to shoot without any breaks. I yell at Herzog and hit him. I have to fight for every sequence. I wish Herzog would catch the plague, more than ever.

I don't need anybody to tell me how to be alive.

Once, I took a taxi. I hate those limousines. They stink and their drivers have been driving dead people to the cemeteries.

People who do not see the terrible things therefore do not see the beautiful things, either.

This just in: Recently released medical records from 1950 have this to say about Klaus:

Preliminary diagnosis: Schizophrenia. Conclusion: Psychopathy.

One doctor at the clinic classified Kinski as 'a danger to the public' and another said he showed 'signs of severe mental illness'.

The first doctor wrote: 'His speech is violent. In this, his self-centred and incorrigible personality is evident as one that can't blend in civil circumstances. He remains consistent to his egocentric world view and declares all others prejudiced [...] The patient hasn't had a job in one year, but still speaks confidently of the new film in which he will star.'

24 July 2008

Film Fest

Yeah, so it’s Film Fest time again. I’m not going to much this year. So far I’ve seen two, and I have another five to go.

The gala opening night film was Man on wire, which is about a French tightrope walker who broke into the Twin Towers, spent all night stringing a wire between them (which sagged quite a lot), and then spent 45 minutes walking along it the next morning. He did eight crossings and would skip just out of reach of the cops trying to grab him.

The film was mostly interviews, some reconstructions of the break-in, archival footage of the preparations, and still photos of the main event. I really liked that there was no actual footage of it. You had to reconstruct it in your head, based on the photos and descriptions. The aftermath (in terms of destroyed personal relations) was subtly alluded to by a seemingly incongruous reconstructed sex scene.

The other, To each his own cinema, 36 three-minute films about going to the flicks, was a big disappointment, a parade of clich├ęs. The only good ones were the jokes.

Coming up, I have docos about Patti Smith and the 50s LA art scene, the latest Herzog (a late confirmation), Klaus Kinski going off, and The Man from London.

23 July 2008

Valve porn

Steve's put some more valve porn on his blog. I have to admit that Motorhead sounded pretty fucking good.

Some family history

My funny last name comes from Malta. It is pronounced ‘cow-key’.

Malta is a small group of islands in the middle of the Mediterranean. The best description I’ve heard is the population of Wellington in the area of Stewart Island. Malta has the oldest freestanding buildings in the world and seems to have been an important prehistoric cult centre.

It was first settled in 5200BC and has been colonised many times over the last two and a half thousand years: by the Ancient Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, the Knights of St John, the French (briefly), and the English. The Turks tried a couple of times, most notably during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. It gained its independence in 1964.

My grandfather Joseph Cauchi was born in Cospicua in 1897, when Cospicua had not yet been swallowed up by a spreading Valletta. He was the oldest of nine children. His father had been the CEO of the Bank of Malta. Most of my great-aunts and great-uncles who didn't emigrate lived in and around Sliema, which is a seaside suburb to the west of Valletta. One great-uncle, Johnny, went to live in Mdina and left his art collection to the nation: it's now open to the public. My dad remembers seeing some of his paintings when he was still alive. The walls of every room of his flat were full of pictures all the way up to the ceiling.

After the war in the late 1940s my grandfather served for a time as CGMO (Chief Government Medical Officer) in Malta. His name is engraved with those of other CGMOs on a marble plaque in the foyer of the Ministry of Health. My great-uncle Johnny qualified as a lawyer but for many years worked as curator of an art gallery – Dad thinks it might have been Malta's national gallery.

If you meet another Cauchi in New Zealand, they will be directly related to me.

21 July 2008

This one's for Victor

While I'm at it, what's with that shit email you sent me.

Okay, take me off your links list. But to send me an email telling me you'd taken me off your link list cos 'I'm too negative'? We'll ignore the psychological aspect of that.

Do your Stalinist revisionism in your own time mate.

Fucking ridiculous.

Fuck you all

I am drinking beer and listening to The Fall.

Fuck you anonymous commentator who didn't like the fly and didn't get it. Fuck you death threat.

Fuck you all.

'It's a business line not a chat line. It's Fall Sound!'

And I'm liking that Ransome painting quite a lot. I did that.

20 July 2008

And another

And another

18 July 2008

Some crappy studio pics

This one's mostly Paul Faris:

Some electronic communications

A text: 'u deserve to die for your angus review'

A link in an email: a wishlist for art 2008

15 July 2008


So there were a few things I couldn't find after moving: raincoat, pins, red oil paint, watercolour paper, and the original first draft of my comic. The missing comic is a little annoying, but at least I stashed scans of it on this blog. The red oil paint was in a box with the other oil paints, and that box was in another box. When I opened them up, everything else was there except the red (very strange). I went and bought some more pins to replace the missing pins, and now the replacements have gone missing as well. If I were paranoid, I'd think someone was deliberately messing with my head.

Oh yeah, I am paranoid, and someone is deliberately messing with my head.

12 July 2008

Telling it like it is

So I went along to check out the Rita Angus show yesterday arvo. I'd had high hopes for it but was bitterly disappointed. Part of it may be the way it was put together. There was far too much work in there, and far too much mediocre and bad work in particular. But that's not it – I can't just blame the curators. I was forced to come to an uncomfortable conclusion about Rita herself, and about New Zealand art in general.

What I like about Rita Angus is her non-compromising attitude to art. She took making art very seriously, and at the same time had some fun with it. She made work for herself. That's what we like to see. And if you never make unsuccessful work, you're obviously not pushing yourself – just mindlessly repeating a successful formula. But to have a survey of your life's work where there's barely a handful of good works? That's not good. You're a minor artist.

Let's face it. New Zealand art history is not very critical. It puts people up on pedestals and then genuflects towards them forevermore. Colin McCahon is a case in point. Most of his work is shit. Those cubist landscapes? How can you possibly take them seriously? Those stupid word paintings!?!

There are too many received ideas uncritically accepted in this country. Someone needs to put the boot in, tear down the idols. We have a very conservative, conformist culture. People don't like to rock the boat, especially in public and especially under their own name. Bollocks to that.

The art scene here is far too cosy – a nice comfy chair and cup of milky milo. Stop worrying about what other people think. Stand on your own two feet and drink strong black coffee instead, and maybe our art history will end up with more than a few good works scattered sporadically through it.

Some of us are trying to make good work, rather than make a career. What we need are critics and art historians to keep us on our toes.

06 July 2008

Painting at Vent

Pen, watercolour, gouache, and oil on canvas. No prizes for guessing what it's called.

03 July 2008

Time for a drawing

02 July 2008

I might have to steal this idea...

...for the loo in my studio:
visitors since 29 March 2004.