Sunday, October 11, 2015

Essay by Eugenia Lim for my upcoming show- WORK-LIFE Balance at The Other Side, opens October 16.



 I

In my experience, artists and architects operate within a magnetic field. Attraction and repulsion – one representing unfettered freedoms and impracticality; the other the whip of ‘the client’, choosing functionality and form above creative expression. Yes, these are stereotypes, but yet, there’s truth within the generalisations. While the 21st Century is all about disciplinary breakdown: art, architecture, design, politics, philosophy, science, you name it, all in bed together in the race against time to save humanity from itself, this attraction/repulsion is important. It’s the tension that keeps you questioning, that keeps you scratching your head, reminding you that you will never have all the answers.


II

As Tai Snaith describes it, artist Jo Scicluna has ‘colonised’ her partner Paul Morgan’s office, carving out space for conceptual intervention within the architect’s workplace. I prefer the word co-opt – art insinuating itself into the constructed world of built environment specialists. I’ve seen this tussle play out first hand: in my own, never-complete home shared with an architect husband in which cascading books, clothes and memorabilia are never quite contained by form-ply shelves or hoop pine boxes; and in Tai’s home shared with her architect husband – her 520 hand-painted tiles adorning the kitchen splashback and her tactile, paint-spattered studio occupying the innards of the otherwise immaculate, architecturally renovated Californian bungalow. From a framed letter penned by Paul Virilio (whose sentiment has remained unknown – it was penned in ‘the French’) through to an altogether creepy test tube of a man’s pubes, the original objects Tai responds to in Work/Life are a motley assortment. Some hold profound meaning and metaphor for their owners, others rely on coincidence and sheer novelty. Through assemblage, drawing, watercolour, and handmade porcelain, Tai has given the domestic objects of Jo Scicluna, Paul Morgan and his staff a fierce sentimentality, introducing a human touch and artist’s curiosity to explore the relationship between people and objects, art and design.

III

There’s another magnetic field at play – one that is ever-present for the artist, particularly for the artist mother. The tension between art and life, domesticity and independence, capitalism and socialism, altruism and individualism, the biological and the intellectual. A recent study by progressive think tank The Australia Institute found that the balance between work and life is deteriorating for four in ten Australians – we are donating around $110 billion in free labour each year, giving more generously to our employers than we do to charity. Rather than working nine to five, we’re taking work home with us at night and on weekends. The information age has untethered us from the office, but it has made the demands of work omnipresent, always. For artists, who perhaps always sit uncomfortably in the context of a workplace, there has been a localised push towards professionalism, artist-as-entrepreneur, art as marketing, art as the mere proving ground for advertising campaigns. For artist mothers, the pressure from external and internal forces is to be both masculine and feminist, to keep active, public and present, to deny or keep hidden the unruliness of children in an almost thoroughly un-child-friendly art world remains, despite the first, second, third and now fourth waves of feminism.

Eugenia Lim

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Churchie- Highly Commended

In exciting news, I flew up to Brisbane last Friday to receive Highly Commended in the prestigious Churchie National Emerging Art Prize at Griffith University.
Here I am with judge Rachel Kent (chief curator at the MCA in Sydney) and on the left, fellow highly commended recipient Shar Sarwari. Congratulations to winner Michaela Gleave.

Below, me with my work 'Portrait of a Sunday painter' in the show, photo thanks to Sebastian Moody.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Portrait of a Sunday Painter


My recent show at Bus Projects was all about a woman who never really existed.

Giogia de Vivre was someone that I always wanted to find. She made work for the love of it, she was a mother, she was an illustrator and she was not always happy.

At a loose end, not being able to find this woman in history, I decided to make her up. I invited 6 other artists to write part of her life and I painted many portraits that might be her.

Then I put them all together into a book.

Some of the final portraits and texts are below.

More can be found on my website www.taisnaith.com


On Discovering Giogia de Vivre
by Alicia Sometimes.

A friend had bought me the long lost out of print book Art Wilderness for my eighteenth birthday. It was a copy that must have languished in a Prahran seconds store for nearly half a century. It was well loved and well notated in. Underneath a magnificent portrait of a woman wearing a bristly pear coloured scarf there was an inscription, ‘Giogia de Vivre?’ in black ink. It was a question followed by this quote, ‘Only art is half the sentence’. I shut the book and thought of the woman and the menacing scarf almost hollowing out her breastbone, wistfully tormenting her whole existence. Maybe I imagined this last part, as the title for the work was, ‘Becoming a Model Mother’. I was haunted.

A few years later I saw the name Giogia de Vivre in a book composing elegiac patterns in art. It was theory on the Golden Ratio, Fibonacci numbers. It was just a brief description but again it too decided to creep into my bones and settle in for a while. It read, ‘Artist, mother, painter’ but no other detail. I wondered who could be just those three words. Who could not feel claustrophobic and be driven mad by wearing only three labels and nothing else? Had she worn that scarf? Was this her choice to be remembered by only these three accomplishments?


I then traced down as much as I could, which wasn’t much more. But I did stumble across these letters written to her lover. In them she is clearly free. Doubt filled but free. She is more than the artist, mother and painter. These words only offer a glimpse, but this glimpse has inspired my writing. The poet is in the paintings.


At 18 years old, Giogia de Vivre enrolled shyly at Prahran Technical School to undertake a degree in Fine Art. Her talents at the time seemed modest, she was technically competent of course but her work was vaguely stilted and self-conscious - a little afraid. As one of only a handful of woman at the time permitted to undertake the course, she kept largely to herself, her eyes cast downwards as she fumbled clumsily through the corridors with large folios always tightly bound shut.

In classes, Giogia with her flawless and probably painfully taught posture eagerly listened, and actively but quietly sought out constructive criticism. Usually after class had ended, she would sort of sneak up behind the teacher whilst he was packing away the still life references to ask a very specifically crafted question, her mousey haired ponytail bouncing uncharacteristically. It was always as if she had been rehearsing the interaction in her mind for hours so as when she spoke and gesticulated, she really did seem rather sure of herself. As time passed, this false conviction grew true.

After first year had concluded, Giogia was invited by the head of the faculty to exhibit her work, small-scale paintings, in the end of year exhibition. Not every student was selected to participate in this showing and there were whispers amongst the more prominent and praised students that the choice of including her was misguided. They discussed her work as being “quiet” and lacking in intellectual substance. They felt the faculty choose “safe” works rather than their own, which they of course believed to be boundary pushing and progressive. Giogia was aware of their judgments but was oddly unaffected. She never appeared to thrive off the approval of her peers, only her predecessors, and the announcement of her inclusion in the end of year exhibition had her gliding - not so clumsily this time - through the corridors.

Giogia attended the end of year exhibition opening drinks alone. No family, date or friends, and it certainly didn’t appear to faze her. She wore an unexceptional navy blue shift dress with a small polka dotted pattern, starched to perfection, and it looked to have been home made for the occasion. Her presence wasn’t unlike her initially unassuming still-life paintings. Both her and her work sat back, but harbored an almost iridescent glow, a constant warm light, that proved near impossible to ignore.

Giogia never returned to Prahran Technical School after she completed first year. The reasons for this are debated. Rumors were that she had either taken up a secretarial role interstate, encouraged by her apparently conservative parents – or that she’d been whisked abroad by a man she’d scandalously just met… Neither seemed to fit the diligent, unshakable drive and dedication she’d forged for her art practice, and her resolute tendency to make sensible and calculated decisions.

After one year at Prahran she left an impression of being fiercely private, softy spoken, yet – eventually sure of herself, and quietly but furiously dedicated to her practice. Obviously we now know she burned slowly into prominence, and it seems that perhaps in youth and in life itself she was too warm to touch, like the sun, best looked at in a photograph or not at all – to just be content with basking in the product of its efforts. Her presence made people feel uneasy, particularly because she appeared so mild that no one was comfortable being made to feel that way by this relatively typical-seeming woman. But, she emanated a strange heat, heat that produced that inimitable glow to made people squint and second-guess, and eventually grow to appreciate and revere her work.

Minna Gilligan


For many, Giogia de Vivre will be familiar only for her role in the famous Barry Rogers photograph. The domestic setting, the smoking eroticism and the subtlety of the image are at odds with his usually brash documentary images of Australian landscapes and lifestyles.  Despite this, it is one of his most famous images, regularly reproduced, owned by the National Gallery of Victoria, The National Gallery and even The Met.  When a rare print appears at auction, it is snaffled for a record-breaking price.  When de Vivre’s work received attention in the 80s, feminist commentators were critical of her role in the sexy image but subsequent feminist analysis saw it as much more than mere objectification and it was championed as a rare representation of female desire.  The provocative photograph inevitably inspired speculation that De Vivre and Rogers had had an affair.  Neither of them ever spoke of such a relationship and Rogers’ tell-all biography made no mention of De Vivre at all.  While the making of many of his images was discussed in detail, his only reference to ‘Nude with an umbrella’ was to mention auction prices and a rave review that appeared in ‘The Herald’. Lyndal Walker.



HEARSAY: 20 comments overheard about an artist


“Her work lacks structure. There’s just too much feeling in it…too much emotion.”

“She aspires to be reductive and wants to make minimal, clean, clear looking things but she can’t control herself. She’s got too many random thoughts and ideas.”

“I don’t want to sound negative or anything so I have to mention that she once made some pretty compelling, naked, performance videos…”

“Back in the day, when she was a dewy, luscious young thing, she insouciantly pumped out these fragile, glittery anti-monuments to love. Parkett commissioned one for its limited edition series. She seemed like she knew the laws of the labyrinth back then.”

“There were a few things that weren’t good for her, the wrong path taken instead of the right one, the rubbing up against it, the wearing into of it, of herself, the one that she tried to make perfect.”

“I have this feeling that there’s more going on than meets the eye. I went round to her apartment once and there were signs of a scuffle. Nothing was said.”

“She’s so upright and formidable. She scares the shit out of me. She seems so stern and miserable although twice I caught her smiling to herself which suggested some kind of amusing inner life.”

“The intellectual façade really operates to conceal the fact that she’s barely able to articulate anything of any consequence. She strikes me as being slightly retarded.”

“Audaciously, she once offered some unsolicited advice to the curatorial director of a mammoth, new, Asian art museum about their collecting policy for 20th and 21st century art. She suggested they reverse the entrenched gender imbalance typically found in the collections of the world’s major art institutions. His eyes glinted as he weighed up how many Krasners he could get for the price of a Pollock. She had his attention. He went on to oversee the formation of, arguably, the best collection of art in the world with the entire gender spectrum represented.”

“I heard tell that she’s been mixed up with some pretty bad men in the past.”

“I remember seeing a live performance in Zurich where she primly appeared in her tight, white lab coat and horn rimmed spectacles. All of a sudden she ripped open her coat exposing her chest with a gaping wound over her heart. She plugged it with pollyfiller then smoothed foundation over the surface rendering it invisible. We all gasped.”

“In 1977 she was arrested and charged with vagrancy. Maybe she was living on the streets, anyhow, she was making funny little camps in overlooked city corners. It was hard to tell if it was an art project or she was genuinely down on her luck.”

“I’ve got no time at all for that abject stance. Is she hoping for some kind of positive attention? No one likes a loser.”

“Her life improved when she abandoned making large, unwieldy, sculptural mounds and became a painter. That all-consuming burden of recycling everything had really held her back.”

“I would have to lump her into that category of ‘women who care too much’ somehow…..or is it ‘women who do too much’?  - the phrase?”

“She works at night, in the dark, when her babies are asleep.”

“She’d absorbed the observations of the Guerilla Girls too well for her own good and spent her entire life as an artist not only working without the pressure of success but without the expectation of success.”

“She never stops. Her career actually DID pick up after she was 80.”

“Her life was greatly enhanced when she learned to say NO! That is… she ceased to automatically and generously oblige marketing functionaries. She said NO to trite interviews and questionnaires. NO to features on design blogs and NO to relentless requests for statements and bios and studio visits.”

“Towards the end, as her work became sought after, she finally found intelligent support, and with generous supplies of materials and plenty of space she just flourished. The last paintings are so vigorous and strong… you got to wonder what she might have done with her boundless energy if that had come to her as a young woman….”




Sarah crowEST 2015







There’s something so silent and pared back, but still wonderfully vibrant about de Vivre’s later work after she famously gave up ‘drinking and people’ and moved to Samos alone. The subject shifts from the early sunlit interiors marked by those thick vibrant blues, reds and yellows to small works with the wonky washes of black and those almost psychedelic eruptions of colour at the horizon. I don’t think they are interiors anymore, but its hard to tell (which I like), they feel more like landscapes but could just as easily be a view of the window next to her bed in the dark (you know the room from that famous photo by Giorgio Svoboda) or else nocturnal visions of one sort or another: nightmare, hallucinations, hypnogogic states, dreams lucid or mundane,
 I love thinking of her alone in that small house by the sea, that she at last found her own company enough after all those tumultuous years full of passion and pain and excess. I think she was brave too to live alone in a country where she couldn’t speak the language, often not seeing another person for months on end. I actually tried to visit the house a few years back but got lost somewhere along the way and ended up wandering, lost for hours among the olive terraces. Eventually I made my way down to a small bay where (luckily) a guy gave me a lift back to the main town in his fishing boat. He had no idea that she had been a painter but had heard stories of The Hermit, he called her ο Ερημίτης and he was surprised that I had come all the way from Australia to pay homage.
He pointed her house out as we went past on the boat. It really was the middle of nowhere, but what a beautiful nowhere; all rocks and water and air, olives and pines. People talk about her being an amateur and making her work for love as if these were bad things. To propose that love has no currency - that’s an economy I’d be very happy to step out of and I guess that is exactly what Giogia de Vivre did and why I am so fond of her and her work.

Veronica Kent.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Eyes on the Prize



I was chuffed to have been shortlisted for the inaugural Bayside Aquisitive Art prize this year.
Here I am pictured with one of the judges- Frances Lindsay (on my left) and the lovely Kate Tucker (fellow artist also shortlisted) and her baby on my right.
The main prize went to Kevin Chin and the local prize went to Stieg Perrson. But there were many other great entries, including Rob Mchaffie, Katherine Hattam and Prudence Flint and Reko Rennie.

Monday, October 27, 2014



FICTIONAL BIRDS

exhibition at C3 at the Abbotsford Convent
Open october 29 - November 16, 2014.


“Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, 
but still attached to life at all four corners.” Virginia Woolf.

This intimate series of gouache and watercolour portraits are painted on the crispy browning endpapers and dedication pages torn from old novels. The portraits of women are both anonymous and familiar, as are the faces of many creative women from history. The birds are like their animal avatars; both nesting and migratory, constantly trying to decide between the domestic and the soaring, giddying heights of freedom.  

It was hard for her to imagine her real goal. At some points she thought she saw a glimpse of it, only to find herself in a heavy, apathetic fog the next. She felt terribly guilty taking time, but she made herself do it. Nestled in there, in the dark. She heard every tiny sound. She saw star-like specks of light. She imagined a world where time stood still and life could float effortlessly, ageless and without direction.

Gouache and ink paper, hand painted frame
$490


It was only when she read about psychotic narcissists that she could feel good about herself- put her life in perspective. She had a constant struggle between desiring fame and wishing she was someone else, someone humbler and homelier.  At other points her shame was a force to be reckoned with, overrunning her whole self and blocking her path at every opportunity.

Gouache and ink paper, hand painted frame
$490

She found it hard to remember who was who. She knew she was supposed to recall the regulars, but they all seemed to blend into an amorphic mass of strutting monologues, all wanting the same thing from her.

Gouache and ink paper, hand painted frame
$490

Her voice was loud and escaped from her in bursts. Rants. Some called it blowing off steam, others called it plain rude. It seemed to bubble up from some deep dark place inside her.  After it spilled out her mouth she felt momentary exhilaration followed by regret. By morning the next day she felt like a complete goose and it would take the whole day of hating herself before she could achieve even the most menial of chores.

Gouache and ink paper, hand painted frame
$490




She first appeared like a simple statement; at once whole and unbroken. When you got to know her she was very complex, fragile and full of potential.

Gouache and ink paper, hand painted frame
$490




She always thought she wanted a family, one day. So she built a lovely nest in a kind of subconscious anticipation. She selected a suitable mate and eventually spawned offspring. Then she spent the next ten years relentlessly trying to prove that she could still do what any single bird could do.

Gouache and ink paper, hand painted frame
$490


If you are interested in purchasing any of these works, please email me at tai@taisnaith.com







Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sunday Paintings




I have recently had the pleasure and honour of installing a solo show in the wonderful Chapter House Lane windows opposite St Paul's cathedral in the city (of Melbourne).

It runs until the the 27th of September, so if you can, please get down and check it out.
Here are a few words I have written about the ideas behind the show.



SUNDAY PAINTINGS

If you require the service of a tradesperson on a Sunday you expect to pay twice as much as you would on any other day. Yet a ‘Sunday Painter’ is an indisputably negative title. Is a painting that is painted on a Sunday worth more or less?

With these new, large works on paper, I am taking a frank look at the true meaning of the term ‘amateur’ – (to do something for the love of it, rather than money). 
My process was to start with 3 failed paintings from storage and re-works them to a new state, mainly on Sundays. This installation in three parts takes an obtuse, pictorial look at the way we prioritise, utilise and mythologise our free time.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


On the weekend I was honoured to be asked to write and read a letter at the wonderful Women of Letters event at the Regal Ballroom in Northcote.
Joined by the hilarious Collette Mann, Margaret Roadknight, Dr Anne Summers by video, Tracey Spicer and Jacinta Parsons- we all had to pen a letter 'To our Cliffhanger Moment.' 
For those of you who couldn't make it, I thought I should put it on my blog.
I was the only one to use images (typical) along with my letter.

--------------

Dear Cliff,


Is it OK if I call you Cliff? I know that over the past few years I have referred to you by a number of names;

 ‘The moment I got my first grey hair’
 'The moment I started taking sugar in my tea.’
or,  affectionately ‘The moment that SHIT GOT REAL.’

And actually Cliff , when I come to think of it- there were many moments preceding you where I got a glimpse at your edge. In most cases, it was kind of like someone-else’s cliff- if you know what I mean- Cliff hanger by proxy- where the life changing moment happened to someone very close to me, close enough for me to feel the bold gust of wind that snagged their shirt and pushed them over your precipice- and each time I was well and truly shaken by it.


This poster reminds me of the first time.

It was when I was in about grade 3. My best friend’s older brother had it on his bedroom wall. He was much older than us, old enough to have a poster that had a swear word on it. Even though he was older, we used to tease him relentlessly about his acne, about how no-one liked him. We were cute and precocious and he was a moody, stinky teenager and a boy.
Then, one day he reached his cliff I guess and threw himself off it, to his death, in front of a train.

This was the first time I realised you could either hang on or let go.


Around the same time, we were really obsessed with Milo and Otis, the film about the ginger cat and the pug. Remember it?



 Did you know that they reportedly killed over 20 kittens in the filming of it? Literally threw them down a waterfall in a box.

They could never get away with that these days could they?


Anyway, I digress!

The next real moment came later, during art school, and was more of an existential one. I clearly remember feeling like I was on top of the world-


we were all in our early twenties, we had to chose at least 4 parties a weekend to attend, we lived on a nutritious diet of porridge, beer and paddlepops and we were on track to living the dream. Then, one art history lesson, my favourite lecturer stood before a packed auditorium of third year students and declared

‘ Only 3 of you in this room will actually become successful artists in your lifetime.’

I could almost hear a cacophony of cliffs cracking underfoot as people’s dreams were pushed over the edge by their doubts. I clearly remember thinking, ok, I’ll just deal with that one when the time comes, hopefully never.

Then, just after art school, I experienced, once again by proxy, perhaps the most literal of cliff hangers you could imagine.

My recent ex-boyfriend at the time, a notoriously free spirit, was spending his first New Year’s Eve without me since our break up. I was pretending like I couldn’t care less where he was or what he was doing, but of course, in reality I was sober and waiting for a phonecall.

It came on New years day, in the morning. He was unconscious and in intensive care. After partying all night at a music festival on the coast, just after sunrise he had taken a stroll with his dog along the cliffs, to see if there was a good spot for a refreshing dip. Ducking under the safety rail to get a better look, the edge crumbled and he fell 10 metres onto the sharp rocks below. His dog did a lassie and ran back to the campsite and alerted the others.
The cliff face was so sheer that the emergency services had to airlift him by helicopter- his limp, naked body swinging above the thousands of coming-down party goers, looking on in disbelief.


The doctors said that due to being so inebriated his body was relaxed when he hit the rocks and as a result there was no spinal damage or brain damage, just 3 broken ribs, a broken arm, leg and neckbrace.



But you came nearly 10 years later Cliff, my Cliff, on the morning of August 25th, 2010.

After spending most of the evening before up a scaffold painting a mural, then going to bed early and without dinner, my waters broke at about  3am.
Even though it was almost 4 weeks before my due date, I was pretty calm and oddly OK with it all. I’d been to calm birth classes, how bad could it be?
I was actually excited. 
That is until I saw the look on my obstetrician’s face when he sussed out the situation down there.
Put it this way, he called the anethetist before he explained it all to me, to save time.
It was a real emergency. The first one in my life, I remember thinking as they hooked me up to the machines and slide me on to the operating trolley.  The baby was what they call ‘footling breach.’


He had one arm up, one wrapped around his body, his head up, one leg kind of up and the other foot almost out my cervix.
All of a sudden, what had been a lush bucolic field of ideas of rhythmic breathing and holding hands with my partner through labour turned into a sheer, cold cliff face- to which I was hanging on with one terrifying word- EPIDURAL. Followed by C-SECTION.


‘But I don’t want a caesarian!’ I protested naively. To which the doctor replied 

‘Do you want a dead baby?’

I almost fainted a few times, first when they shaved off all my pubic hair, then again when I saw the giant needle, then again when they shoved the giant needle into my spine, mid contraction.
But the most terrifying moment came after all the cutting and the passing of implements and tugging and beeping machines and polite doctor chatter. It was the moment the baby was held up, his body bright blue, eyes closed.
I remember holding my breath and only finally gasping for air when my son did.



And then we were safe. My partner, my son and I. Huddled together, alive. On firm ground. A family.

And you, Cliff, were a fleeting moment that could have gone either way and you have indeed changed my life forever.

So thank you,

Love Me.