Congratulations on winning the 2021 Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize! This is the third time your work has been selected for the finalist exhibition. Was your approach different this year?
Thank you so much! My approach was very different this year. I felt so encouraged by being selected as a finalist twice before, with two very different paintings, that this time I decided to make a painting specifically for this year’s prize. It was a little challenge I set myself during lockdown, to see if I could get in for a third time with another very different painting. I could only dream of the amazing result!
What inspired the title of your winning work - 'Ok, so is this a fresh hell or are we just adding to the regular one today?' ?
This title references the experience of working in customer service and with the public during the last two years. I have thought a lot about how to remain professional and courteous, but also firm and fair, with customers that seem to have forgotten I am a person too and we are all living in this garbage fire together. My motto has become 'cause no harm, take no shit' and I am talking about working in an art materials store which is potentially the mildest job of the lot! We are all experiencing different levels of trauma.
Can you share some insights into your painting process?
I don’t pre-plan compositions at all. They emerge and take shape as I make various decisions directly on the canvas as I go. I remember when this process started to evolve for me at art school during a time when I was experiencing a string of highly stressful extenuating circumstances one after the other. I realised that the only thing I could control was my own reaction and response. I started to understand that painting for me was a metaphorical practice for working through thoughts, problems or situations and reaching some sort of resolve or resolution.
I have many canvases on the go at once, all at various stages, so if I start to get frustrated with one, I can switch over to another and move through it. I know I will eventually return to each work after some space and will then be able to see things more objectively. Over time I have developed a real trust in myself and my process.
What does this process look like in the studio?
Are there strategies that help you get in a zone where intuitive painting is enhanced? I tend to work long days as my studio is in my lounge room. It’s a battle sometimes to get in the zone and out of my own way, but I’ve come up with a few tricks to combat this. While I paint I listen to podcasts, audio books, music, sometimes I’ll have a favourite film or TV show playing in the background, sometimes I need silence, sometimes I need to dance to feel in my body and sometimes I just need to go outside. A lot of these things depend on where I’m at in the various stages of a painting.
I have noticed that you often work with a limited colour palette. How do you choose what colours to work with in each painting?
A limited colour palette is one of the boundaries that I implement so I can explore the freedom and value within those limitations. The choice of colours can happen in various ways. For example, I might see a specific combo of two colours, in different forms, for a few months and realise that I have to pay attention as this connects to other things. My studio wall is covered with images and photographs connecting all the dots like I’m solving little mysteries. Tonal relationships and colour connections really drive things forward for me. I find a lot of clues in colour and answers in tone and shade.
You once said that ‘painting feels like a performance’. In your winning work, a painted shadow line separates the composition in the foreground from a block of flat colour in the background conjuring a stage set that might fall at any moment. What part does theatre and performance play in your work?
Painting feels like a performance that no one sees. All of the labour and decision making has happened in private and in the past. It’s very physical, psychological, emotional, revealing and sensitive. When a work is exhibited for people to see, much like performing or being on stage in front of an audience, I feel vulnerable and exposed on a really personal level. When the work leaves the studio, it begins this whole other life with an audience and subsequently, my own relationship with it is essentially over. It’s like a little death. I have to make peace with each painting and say goodbye before I let it go to be free in the world.
Your winning work was described by the judging panel as ‘a magical ecology of forms at play in an energetic and elegant composition’. What inspires the motifs, forms or characters that find their way into your work?
I was stunned and thrilled at this description and absolutely loved hearing these words in relation to my work. The motifs and characters are really hard to avoid and ignore once I’m in the work. As soon I as I see them pop up I have to decide whether they are nonsense or vital information. I’m figuring it all out at once. It’s kind of like seeing things in clouds but it’s in paint and a lot of the time things occur once I’ve removed a section of the painting that I’ve laboured over and become frustrated with and so an accidental little form appears that triggers another direction or train of thought. There is hope and light in these moments for me. I read a lot and I watch a lot of things, so I feel like many of the forms I gravitate toward inform each other in conscious, subconscious and inevitably unconscious ways that feel really rich and exhilarating to me.
My influences and references make themselves known in different forms. It’s the ambiguity of this visual language and the freedom that it provides that pulls me through each work to the other side of it. It’s a form of connection and communication with history and the now and it means my work maybe meets people wherever they are at and can mean different things to different people at the same time.
Many contemporary artists are working across a variety of media in their creative practice, yet you have remained dedicated to the medium of paint. What do you love about working with paint in particular?
I love paint so much, it’s such an emotional connection to the medium that’s tricky to explain. I love that painting is totally its own thing, but it needs me to make it happen. I love mixing colours. I love the various consistencies of oil paint. I love playing with light and shadow and creating an illusion of depth and form with pigment and brushes. I love its limitations and I love its endless possibilities. I love how paintings can allow us to time travel to the past and force us to be present in the moment. Paint has this weird power to evoke such a vast range of emotions in different people at the same time, sometimes rage, sometimes joy, sometimes disgust, sometimes indifference.
What does winning the AGMPP mean for you as an artist?
It’s an incredible honour to receive such a prestigious prize, it’s certainly a special moment for me. Its exactly what dreams are made of! I was so happy to be selected as a finalist this year as it was a goal I had hoped to achieve. Being selected again for a third time made me feel I was on the right track or something. Painting is so solitary so to have this external recognition is just incredibly moving and unexpected. It’s really encouraging.
The Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize is on display at Bendigo Art Gallery until 13 February 2021.
i Kirsty Budge, 'Ok, so is this a fresh hell or are we just adding to the regular one today?', 2021, oil on canvas, 166 x 200 cm. Bendigo Art Gallery. Winner of the 2021 Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize. Image courtesy the artist and Daine Singer, Melbourne