Thursday, July 6, 2017



Universal Smell.

I hesitate as I walk through the front gate, trying to decide whether I should turn right or left. I choose left, away from town. I walk with a sense of purpose, even though I have none, really. My boots slide in the mud sideways as the facts from the night before trail through my thoughts relentlessly.
A cloud passes over the sun as my foot hits the gravel.
I walk along the crunching edge of the road for at least 400 metres before I reach the dead thing.
It is partially submerged in a muddy puddle and something has eaten it’s tail off, revealing rings of red, pink and peach coloured flesh around a bright white core of bone. The dead thing’s fur coat is a curious shade of pale orange, an almost biscuity colour, which makes it hard to identify a species. A piece of corrugated cardboard which must have blown across part of it’s torso whilst it was dry has now become like a body bag after becoming wet, it’s soggy ridges hugging the small animal’s form.
I keep walking, thinking about the universal smell of dead things. Are their other universal smells? A that moment I am hit by a giddying wave of sweetness in the air, immediately identifiable as wattle flowers. Familiar, but not universal due to it’s unique Australian-ness. The special smell of the end of the earth, bottom of the world.
I mount the bank towards the cemetery, now heading North.
A row of pines on my right seem to invite me to grab a handful of their needles from a low-hanging branch.

I crush them between my fingers, then roll my palms together. Bringing my hands to my nose I am overwhelmed with the smell of Christmas, the most universal of all smells. 



Atrophy of Fear.

‘You always assume the worst’ he said after she had described her fear of being judged by others, one night after dinner, while the kids were in the bath.
‘But if I assume the worst then I am always pleasantly surprised when something goes right or when someone likes me,’ she answered matter-of-factly.
‘Yeah, except who wants to live like that? Always expecting the worst possible outcome? Assuming that people hate you? Instead, you could just trust yourself and others and be happy with whatever outcome.’
She thought it through as she walked from the kitchen, her socked feet on the tiles, until she reached the studio and sat at her desk.
Opening the plastic packet, cutting off and then picking up a lump of fresh clay. Cold and clammy in her hands as she thought about how someone else had once told her ‘just try to embody each day a bit more, make it mean something.’
She rolled the clay into a ball.
As she rolled she remembered the revelation she had as a young girl when she realised that no-one could hear her thoughts. They were her own secret. It made her feel bold and mysterious. Fearless.
She pounded the clay.
She thought about how she could turn that lump of clay into anything she wished.
At that moment, the cat jumped up onto her desk and sniffed the clay. He seemed very interested in why she would be exerting so much energy onto an inert piece of earth. He licked it. He looked at her with a questioning look, she laughed.

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.