[originally posted on Kickaction.ca]
The world of blogging can be a wonderful place. Case in point: you connect with an awesome feminist artist who runs a blog named Cervixosaurus. It can’t get much better than that, can it? Read my interview with the Australian artist Louise Upshall to find out!
What kind of art do you do?
I make small collages and oil paintings that I use to create installations. I also make zines.
Fashion played a big part in your grad show. Why did you decide to focus on fashion, as opposed to other subjects?
I’m specifically interested in fashion magazines, which are the source material for all my work. There are so many different issues that can be explored through fashion magazines. On the one hand, readers are enticed by the fantasy and glamour the magazines promise. Yet many of the values they promote- the beauty myth, consumerism etc- are destructive and unrealistic. This ‘greyness’ relates to how I feel about fashion in general.
Lately I’ve started thinking a lot about the storytelling and symbolic properties of clothes. One of my current projects is a series of cut-out women in large skirts who are going to be walking along the floor or on ledges. I’m exploring what I can get out of the magazines, and whether I can use the generic images to create something personally meaningful.
How has being a woman influenced your artwork?
My work used to focus on the representation of women in magazines, but now it is becoming more and more about the female experience. Although I detest biological determinism and gender dichotomies, I still think that there is a female essence. Or rather, that being female permeates my life. Our experience is so tied up to our bodies-having a uterus affects my self-identity, but also how the world treats me.
It’s frustrating that so much art is made from the ‘male as neutral, female as other’ viewpoint. In our society in general, woman are taught to objectify the female body in a similar way to how men do- to consume images of it. And the women in fashion magazines are presented in a really controlled way- they are mostly young white models in designer clothes and their images are generally photoshopped. They are used to sell products and don’t have any individual identity. I’m interested in opening up this very constricting representation.
I want to use the female body to talk about how it feels to be female.
Since I am based in Canada, I know pretty much nothing about the art history or the art scene in Australia. Can you tell me more about both? Who are your favourite Australian artists?
At the moment I’m reading a book of letters between the incredible ink artist Joy Hester, and famous art patron Sunday Reed, from the 1940s. Their whole circle was full of scandal-Joy left her husband, ran away with her lover and gave her son Sweeney to the Reeds. Meanwhile Sunday was having affairs with the famous painter Sidney Nolan right in front of her husband. There are even rumours that she helped him paint the Ned Kelly series.
I really admire Vivienne Binns. She was really active in the women’s art movement in Australia and one of her most well known works is a psychedelic vagina dentata painting. She is 70 years old and I was lucky enough to have her as my supervisor in third year.
I also love the art of Richard Larter and his late wife Pat. Pat was a pioneer of mail art in Australia. Richard makes large crazy paintings based on collages with lots of glitter and pattern. He sometimes juxtaposes images from porn mags with photos of politicians, or often photos of his wife Pat. He paints her in very explicit poses, which she chose. If you look at his paintings you can see the love between them, and the sense of collaboration.
A more contemporary Australian artist is Del Kathryn Barton who makes creepily beautiful work. One of my lecturers said that she paints like someone who just discovered how to orgasm! (This was meant to be a disparaging comment but I reckon it’s pretty awesome)
Tell me about the zines and the creation process for them.
For my most recent zines I’ve been making poems from fragments of sentences cut out of magazines. It’s kind of like collage with words because I just move the scraps of paper around until I find some that look (sound) good together. Each page of the zine has some text and at least one collaged figure. The images aren’t exactly meant to illustrate the words, but I do want them to talk with each other.
And while the poetry writing is like making a collage, on the reverse side my art making process is also a bit like writing poetry. A poem is a distilled experience, and it is evocative. Similarly, in my art I’m interested in how much information the viewer needs. The poet plucks out words that do something together, and in my collages I try to combine images that work together. I’m inspired by Nancy Spero’s description of ‘images of poetic ritual.’