All posts tagged art

  • The Weekend Australian Magazine story: ‘Different Strokes: Anthony Lister’, April 2016

    A feature story for The Weekend Australian Magazine, published in the April 9-10 issue. Excerpt below.

    Different Strokes

    Renowned street artist Anthony Lister was paid to beautify public spaces – then he was arrested for it.The Weekend Australian Magazine story: 'Different Strokes: Anthony Lister' by Andrew McMillen, April 2016

    One of Australia’s great modern artists traipses up and down the inner-city streets of his home town wearing a high-visibility yellow vest atop a white polo shirt and shorts. His tool today is not charcoal, paintbrush or aerosol can but an extendable claw that he uses to pick up rubbish from the footpaths and gutters of Spring Hill, Brisbane. On this gloomy Saturday morning in mid-February, Anthony Lister is ­performing community service because two weeks earlier a magistrate found him guilty of ­wilful damage by graffiti in a case brought by Brisbane City Council – which first encouraged Lister to paint its traffic signal boxes in 1999.

    The irony of this situation is not lost on a man who rejects the label “artist” in favour of “adventure painter”. Lister donated his time for that council initiative, painting 120 boxes in total. In the years that followed he was paid to paint more of them by the Department of Main Roads, earning him enough to set out on the path to international renown. Yet in an abrupt about-face several years ago, BCC endeavoured to make an example of the artist whose work they once encouraged. This morning, a man whose artistic ethos is to beautify degraded ­public spaces with paint is now tasked with beautifying them by picking up rubbish.

    A middle-aged Queensland Government worker meets the crew, comprising Lister and three fellow ­community servants, at a Corrective Services building on Little Edward Street at 9am and chaperones them on a winding route through the neighbourhood. Had the government worker typed Lister’s name into Google, he would have found recent news articles which note that ­Lister’s bold, provocative works hang in the homes of Hugh Jackman, Geoffrey Rush and the musician Pink. He would have seen that Lister’s individual paintings can sell for up to $20,000, that Art Collector magazine has listed him as one of Australia’s most collectable artists, that ­Complex named him among the most influential street artists of all time and that luxury brand Hermès gave over its window in Collins Street, Melbourne, to a Lister installation last year.

    As the community servants pass the Australian Federal Police headquarters and St Andrew’s War Memorial hospital, their black plastic bags grow heavier with each squashed aluminium can and discarded plastic bottle they snatch with their extendable claws. Lister, a boyish 36-year-old and father of three, smiles often and ­presents an air of playful charisma that infects those around him. He speaks quickly, at a near-manic pace. He is an idealist and an optimist who, in recent years, has taken it upon himself to act as a mouthpiece for street artists.

    Past Brisbane Grammar School and the ­bustling Roma Street railyards they walk, noting the dearth of tagged graffiti that once coloured the walls neighbouring the carriages and train lines; they are now painted a uniform grey. The group tramps past six signal boxes that Lister painted around the turn of the century. They have since been refreshed with other artists’ work, but he remembers them well. There are around 1000 of these throughout Brisbane, and after painting 120 of them for BCC for free, an agreement with the Department of Main Roads allowed Lister to charge $250 a piece for 40 of these paintings, earning him his first $10,000 as an artist and setting him on the path to financial independence.

    “He did a tremendous job with the signal boxes and should be commended for it,” says David Hinchliffe, Brisbane’s former deputy mayor, who first commissioned Lister’s work on the BCC boxes in 1999. “He should be given the keys to the city in my opinion.” All up, Lister left his mark and his surname on about 160 signal boxes, turning drab, utilitarian electrical cabinets into unique canvases that added colour and personality to the days of thousands of drivers idling at red lights throughout the city.

    In court, Lister admitted that he painted two Fortitude Valley walls, a Paddington skateboard park wall, a city firehose box and a steel garage door in Elizabeth Street. He says that of the five sites, two were painted with the permission of the buildings’ owners, while two were additions to other artists’ works. The charge that stuck related to one of Lister’s iconic faces, drawn on a firehose box in January 2014 in black Sharpie and tagged with his name. The police complaint and restitution reports for each of the five incidents, recorded between 2010 and 2014, show that none was deemed offensive. “If I’d been more criminally minded, maybe I wouldn’t have written my name on the wall,” Lister notes.

    To read the full story, visit The Australian. Above photo credit: Jonathan Camí.

  • The Weekend Australian Review story: ‘Etched In Memory’, October 2015

    A story for the October 31 issue of The Weekend Australian Review. The full story appears below.

    Etched In Memory

    Glenn Ainsworth’s art is an exercise in beauty, tragedy and catharsis

    Baxter Ainsworth, as sketched by his father, Glenn, in 2014It was the night before the stillbirth of his son that Glenn Ainsworth realised he needed to sketch Baxter. He and his wife, Nichole Hamilton, were staying overnight in Buderim Hospital, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, in February last year. It was a Wednesday, and that morning the couple had been told Baxter had no heartbeat. They were offered sleeping pills, but both refused. Instead they lay together, numb with grief.

    “We just both lay there all night, watching the bloody clock,” says Ainsworth , a softly spoken 38-year-old. “That’s when I knew what I wanted to do.”

    Hamilton gave birth to Baxter on Thursday, February 13. “We were dead tired; we’d been awake for two days,” says Ainsworth . “I was just staring at him, trying to burn him into my head. You know that your time’s limited. You’re not going to see him after that day.”

    At first Ainsworth chose not to tell Hamilton of his plans to sketch their son, but when he did, she wasn’t surprised. Art runs in Ainsworth’s blood. Inside the garage of their two-storey home at Peregian Beach is a studio where the civil engineer paints and sketches, honing a talent he first picked up between rugby league matches while growing up in Biloela, a rural town in central Queensland. With Baxter’s sudden death, the couple were ushered into an exclusive club that no one joins voluntarily.

    “I thought stillbirth was something that only happened in Third World countries,” says Hamilton, 40, beside her husband of 10 years. “Nobody talks about it, and that makes it harder for friends and family to know what to say.”

    In time, the couple found their way to Sands Queensland, an organisation that provides support to parents who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn death. It wasn’t long before Ainsworth decided to offer his skills to those who had joined the club. “It just grew from there, I suppose,” he says. “I thought it might be a nice opportunity for other people: if they can’t do a sketch, I’ll do it for them.”

    Says Nicole Ireland, president of Sands Queensland: “Glenn wanted to do something. He suggested that parents could make a donation to Sands, and he volunteered his skills to sketch their babies. A lot of people are more comfortable displaying drawings rather than photographs.” Parents can order a “free spirits” personalised portrait, hand-drawn by Ainsworth, based on supplied photographs. The proceeds go to the organisation, which is funded through Queensland Health’s community self-care program as well as via member donations. “(Glenn and Nichole) obviously have great support around them,” says Ireland, whose son Nicholas was stillborn 10 years ago. “But (Glenn would) have to balance his giving back with his grief.”

    In the couple’s home, adjacent to the rooms downstairs where Hamilton runs her physiotherapy clinic, Ainsworth sits at his computer and opens a scanned copy of his sketch of Baxter. His eyes trace the soft curves of his baby boy’s face, hooded in a blanket, his tiny hands grasped together just so. “Some of them are quite difficult, because some of them are quite young in terms of the gestation period,” he says quietly. “A lot of the bubs get a bit bruised, and have skin tears and stuff like that, which is just awful. I look at the pictures, then don’t do anything for a couple of weeks. I just have a think about it.”

    He starts with the face, making sure to get the proportions right before adding other details. Sometimes he draws composite sketches based on several photos. At the parents’ request, he can sketch around tubes and cords, thus removing their child from a medical context. He has completed 11 sketches so far, averaging one a month, and usually has another two or three waiting in the queue.

    Moving across to a filing cabinet beside his workspace, he flicks through folders until he finds his original drawing of Baxter. He holds it carefully at the edges, silently taking in his priceless drawing of a boy who was gone too soon. In the shock that followed his stillbirth, neither parent considered taking a photograph of their son. Hamilton’s sister did, though, and in the months that followed those few photographs became the couple’s most important possessions. A framed copy of the sketch of Baxter hangs now in their bedroom. “I’m glad that Glenn’s art has a chance to help people,” says Hamilton. “It’s a beautiful thing to share. I love his drawing of Baxter.”

    When asked how long each drawing takes to complete, he laughs and replies: “Put it this way: on an hourly rate, I’d be on about 20c an hour.” But it’s not about money.

    Ainsworth tends to lose track of time down in the quiet of his studio, with performers such as David Gray, Lady Antebellum and Amos Lee playing softly from the speakers. He sketches with a range of pencil grades and isn’t picky about brands or styles, opting to buy whatever the local art shop happens to have in stock. He is a self-taught artist, and doesn’t pay much attention to the work of contemporary professionals, though he is particularly fond of a New Zealand landscape artist named Tim Wilson.

    The grieving process hasn’t been easy. Hamilton says that for the first year, she cried every day. Ainsworth’s experience was much the same. “I’d get in my car each morning and cry all the way to work, and on the way home, 40 minutes each way,” he says. “I burst into tears all the time now.”

    Talking about the experience in his home with a stranger isn’t easy, either. Hanging on the wall of his living room are some of Ainsworth’s artworks, including photorealistic paintings of a sea turtle and clownfish. “You’ve got everything ready to bring a baby home. You go from the highest feeling to the lowest,” he says. “I’m just climbing out now, after 18 months.”

    Losing Baxter has made the couple stronger. “It’s welded us together,” says Hamilton, smiling at her husband. “I couldn’t have survived it without Glenn’s hugs and help.”

    The father still experiences the odd moment where the memory of his son hits him like a punch to the sternum, prompting him to ask himself: Holy shit, did that happen? They both find it hard to hear other parents making complaints about their children.

    “To hear your baby cry, you’d give anything,” says Ainsworth.

    About 106,000 couples experience reproductive loss each year, yet it remains a difficult topic of conversation. Indeed, Ainsworth and Hamilton are highly attuned to how uncomfortable this topic can be. When new patients arrive at her clinic and ask whether she has kids, there’s now a moment of hesitation as Hamilton measures whether to tell the truth. It’s much easier to talk about a dead grandparent than a dead son. “It’s not our discomfort anymore, it’s theirs,” she says.

    Since that February day last year, the couple has learned a few things about how to best support bereaved parents. Just be there. Be an ear. Sometimes a hug is the best response. Ask the parents: What was the child’s name?

    For the artist, his is a project wrapped in beauty and pain.

    “It’s something to immerse myself in,” says Ainsworth, returning to the computer and showing some of the other baby boys and girls he has drawn. “It’s this little guy’s birthday next week, I think.”

    He pauses. “It’s an awful thing: no one should ever have to bury their child, irrespective of age. With stillborns, you don’t get to share any of those memories. I do these sketches for my sanity.”

    For more about Sands Queensland, visit sandsqld.com

  • The Kernel story: ‘How The World’s Greatest Hand-Fart Musician Captivated Millions On YouTube’, October 2015

    A story for The Kernel, published in October 2015. Excerpt below.

    How The World’s Greatest Hand-Fart Musician Captivated Millions On YouTube

    Gerry Phillips got to travel the world making noises with his hands, and Iron Maiden loves him.

    The Kernel story: 'How The World’s Greatest Hand-fart Musician Captivated Millions On YouTube' by Andrew McMillen, October 2015. Illustration by J. Longo

    Beneath a tin shed during a hot summer in Melbourne, Australia, a bespectacled, middle-aged man sits on a stool before a small crowd. He pairs a white shirt and shoes with black slacks, looking every inch the kind of unremarkable guy you’d pass on the street without giving him a second glance. Today, though, the cameras are trained on him, as are the eyes of the 20-strong production crew. He’s here to play music, and he’s traveled thousands of miles to do so. His name is Gerry Phillips, and his music follows him wherever he goes, because his instruments are a part of him.

    His task on this December morning in 2007 is to perform the “Infernal Galop” from Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, a rousing, bouncy number most associated with images of high-kicking can-can girls. To complicate matters, however, he has been asked to play a different version—one he hears for the first time only a few minutes before filming begins.

    The cameras roll, and as the string introduction plays out for a few bars, he applies a touch of baby powder to his hands before passing the tiny bottle off to a stagehand. Three times he squeezes his hands together, smiling slightly when they produce a sound best described as flatulent.

    And then he’s off, the muscles and tendons in his mighty hands rapidly contracting and relaxing with a dexterity that approaches the sublime. A microphone underneath his shirt captures the space between his palms filling with air and being emptied just as quickly. Against a kitsch living room backdrop, this unlikely musician works that temporary vacuum to deftly perform the “Infernal Galop” in a style few have ever heard. The music that he makes is so surprising, so breathtaking, that some in attendance cannot stop themselves from laughing. Nobody plays music like Gerry Phillips, a man whose hands have been heard around the world.

    After one final, triumphant note, the crowd breaks into applause, and even Phillips seems surprised to nail it on his first attempt. “Wow,” he says softly, returning his instruments to his lap. Off-camera, someone says, “All right!” An onscreen tagline appears: “Exceptionally average.”

    Even eight years later, Kristian Jamieson remembers this day well, because he’s the one who booked Phillips to fly around the world and appear in an advertising campaign. Jamieson, now 41, is creative director at a communications agency named Marilyn & Sons. His client was Pacific Brands, and the product was Dunlop Volley, a popular but unremarkable brand of Australian footwear. “We wrote the line ‘exceptionally average’ because the campaign was based on being brutally honest about the product,” Jamieson recalls. “But at the time, everyone was wearing them, from hipsters to tradesmen.”

    The original concept developed by Marilyn & Sons was for the camera to slowly pan from someone’s head to their feet in a single shot. “But halfway down, we wanted them to be doing something amazing,” Jamieson says. “So we started Googling people who can do crazy things with their hands, and we came across Gerry playing this ridiculous music.” At that point Phillips had been posting videos for a year. To date, his YouTube account has amassed 24 million views across more than 170 videos. Impressively, virtually all of his videos are shot in a single take: There are no edits, and if he flubs a note, he starts over. And he’s covered a broad range of musical styles, from the classic heavy metal of Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper” (3.4 million views) and the Super Mario Bros. theme (2.6 million views) to ’80s pop hits like A-ha’s “Take On Me” (947,000 views) and the tricky instrumental piece “Classical Gas” (153,000 views).

    To read the full story, visit The Kernel. Above illustration credit: J. Longo.

  • The Weekend Australian book review: ‘Women Of Letters’, curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire, December 2011

    A book review for The Australian, reproduced below in its entirety.

    Love letters for weird families and those nights best forgotten

    Women of Letters: Reviving the Lost Art of Correspondence
    Curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire
    Penguin, 412pp, $29.95

    A fine cross-section of humanity – largely womankind – is on display in Women of Letters, a book born from a series of live letter reading and writing events “celebrating wine, women and words” in eastern capital cities in 2010.

    The events were founded by writers Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire through their desire to “showcase brilliant female minds”, and also in the name of a good cause: all royalties from the sale of this book will go to Edgar’s Mission, an animal shelter in Victoria.

    Comprising 69 authors, many of whom are well-known Australian musicians, writers and actresses, and 16 topics, Women of Letters contains many surprises, joys and profound learnings. Here are but a handful of moments that this reviewer felt most appealing:

    Comedian Judith Lucy’s letter “to the night I’d rather forget” taught her “the invaluable lesson that it is never a good idea to combine alcohol with being a f . . kwit”. In a letter “to my first pin-up”, Adam Ant, former Triple J Magazine editor Jenny Valentish reflects on music journalism: “writing about tortured artists for a living, my keyboard is constantly awash with salty sentiment . . . I’m like a professional enabler for these people”. Actress Claudia Karvan and comedian Virginia Gay take a literal interpretation of “a love letter” by addressing theirs to the concept of love itself, with very different outcomes.

    In a letter “to the moment it all fell apart”, musician Amanda Roff strikes on speculative fiction so absorbing that John Birmingham would give a nod of approval. “I remember lining up outside Melbourne Zoo, waiting for the army to sell the last of the meat,” she writes, taking the reader deep into her post-apocalyptic world.

    This freedom of the open brief offered each writer the ability to choose how much of themselves to reveal. Many opt for brazen honesty. Singer Missy Higgins is particularly touching when writing “to my turning point”: she discusses her first experiences with depression. “I’m thankful to you, dear Turning Point, for . . . showing me that I’m not alone, that it’s OK to be sad.” In “to the letter I wish I’d written”, musician Georgia Fields asks, “Why am I still, at 27 years of age, so paralysingly terrified of what people think of me?” she writes. “Why can’t I just relax and be myself?”

    The few blokes who appear in these pages generally opt for sentimentality too, especially when writing “to the woman who changed my life”.

    Bob Ellis writes to his wife: “You are more than I deserved, and I less than you deserved, and this is too hard.” Rocker Tim Rogers is brutally honest in his self-assessment while writing to his ex-wife. “I wanted to thank you for what you’ve done to me. It wasn’t intended to be a love letter. But what changes someone more completely than love, and loss?”

    Comedian and actor Eddie Perfect comes up with a great line while writing to his wife: “I don’t know what a family is, how to define it, other than as a collection of people who bind themselves together and get weirder and weirder until no one understands them.”

    The highlights are so plentiful that I must mention a few more: Crikey editor Sophie Black writing “to my first boss” about her 1993 work experience at New Idea (“in one working week, at five dollars a day, I learnt enough to put me off journalism for the next decade”); Jennifer Byrne’s decision to read a heart-wrenching letter written in 1910 by a dying explorer on a fraught expedition to Antarctica; Noni Hazlehurst writing “to my ghosts”, which turn out to be the “gloriously impulsive, intuitive, emotional” voices in her head, and radio broadcaster Fee-B Squared writing “to my nemesis”, her bad back.

    Women of Letters offers a joyous bounty of many voices, writing styles, laughs and regrets. Having read this book, I feel as though I know humans and their various conditions much better.

    Andrew McMillen is a Brisbane-based freelance journalist.

    This review was originally published in The Weekend Australian Review on December 31. For more on Women Of Letters, visit their website.

  • A Conversation With Alex Grey, American visionary artist, 2011

    In early January 2011, I was scheduled to interview the American visionary artist Alex Grey [pictured right] for The Australian ahead of his first Australian art tour. The problem was that at the time, my home city of Brisbane was in the midst of some of its worst-ever flooding.

    Due to a sketchy internet connection, I didn’t want to risk the possibility of a Skype video call dropping out mid-interview, so I sent through some questions for Alex and his wife Allyson to answer via email. Their answers formed the basis of my 800 word story for The Australian, which you can read here.

    Our full email interview is below; Alex’s answers are included verbatim, without editing. Examples of Alex’s striking art are embedded throughout this interview.

    ++

    Andrew: Many readers of The Australian would be unfamiliar with your work. How would you describe your painting styles to those who haven’t seen it before?

    Alex: My best known works are paintings that “X-ray” multi-dimensional reality, interweaving biological anatomy with psychic/spiritual energies in visual meditations on the nature of life and consciousness.

    Is there an intellectual rationale behind your work? Has this changed much over the years?

    My work has been called visionary because I’m a painter inspired by glimpses into the subtle visionary realm, which is the source of all sacred art. There is more of a spiritual motivation to the work. The philosophical framework from which one could view the artwork is an integral and consciousness evolutionary perspective. This is a crucial time for humanity when all the world religions are becoming familiar with each other. Art can play a special role in bridging these traditions, thereby helping to make peace in a volatile climate. A planetary civilization is dawning. We need fresh iconography that points to a sustainable relationship of humanity, the web of life and harmony amongst nations.

    What do you aim to communicate in your art?

    Life is multi-dimensional and all beings and things are interconnected. The cosmos is a continuum in which every creature plays an important part. Our bodies are marvelous gifts of biological evolution that we have the good fortune to experience in our brief life span. Life is a miracle. Love is the highest principle and experience and is the way of all religious teachings.

    I’m interested in each of your painting methods. What materials do you use? After visualising a piece, where do you start, in terms of the actual painting? Do you prefer to spend long periods of time painting, or is it split up into many shorter sessions?

    We both paint with acrylic but prefers oils. We paint on linen and on wood panels. In Alex’s art, everything starts with a vision that results in a drawing and a redrawing over and over again until it is refined enough to transfer the image to canvas or wood. We both love painting for long periods. Sometimes when we have painted together for as long as 20 hours straight.

    We are also founders of a church on 40 acres of land with over a dozen employees and many volunteers. We have many responsibilities that fill our days. This is not a distraction from the artwork. This is a realization of the “great work” which is to build a temple of art that we call the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors.

    Do you listen to music while you work?

    Almost always. Sometimes we listen to wisdom teachings on audio.

    Which artists do you listen to?

    Bach, Beethoven, Shubert, Shpongle, Ott, Fats Waller, Led Zepplin, Tool, loads of trance music, Toires, Heyoka, Crystal Method, Animal Collective, Bob Dylan, Canned Heat, Joe Satriani, John Fruscianti, Moby, Peter Gabriel, The Beastie Boys, Clash, Stones, The Beatles. George Harrison and Sting are mystics. Recently, at Daniel Pinchbeck’s documentary film premiere of 2012, Sting came up and hugged Alex. We were starstruck.

    Our daughter Zena queues us into a lot of new music.

    Your larger pieces are often reduced in size to appear in various media – books, calendars, postcards, and on the web. Do you find this dismaying at all? Is anything lost in the art, when it’s reduced from the original size?

    It’s a representation of the work for the purpose of reaching a wider audience. Reproductions are not just smaller, they are NOT the original. To the see the original is a more direct hit. There is still power in a reproduced image, though. It’s just through a glass darkly. An artwork has power when it is iconically viable from the size of a postage stamp to the size of a billboard.

    We produce or license images and sell them to benefit the building of a sacred temple.

    Many people – myself included – first found your work through Tool album covers. I believe your work has been used by some other musical acts, too. Was there any hesitation in being involved with these projects?

    Or am I just THAT sort of Rock Whore? Am I just a trollup in a beret? Just kidding.

    No. People had told me that I would love TooI. I was having an exhibition in Santa Monica when Adam Jones became interested in my work. This motivated me to listen to their music. I was kind of a late comer. Allyson and I were immediately bowled over. We’re huge fans and look forward to seeing them on our last night in Australia.

    I’ve met Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys. We are both rather avid scholars of Tibetan Buddhism and we hung out once at a Dalai Lama event. That was so cool.

    We love the guys in S.C.I. and are particularly friendly with Michael Kang who we often see at festivals like Burning Man. What fine musicians they all are. It’s an honor to know such artists.

    My work appeared on the last Nirvana album cover, In Utero. I heard that Kurt Cobain liked my work but I never met him or went to a Nirvana concert.

    Are there any Tool collaboration projects forthcoming?

    No. There is nothing planned at this time.

    I believe you both teach (or taught – past tense?) Visionary Art at The Open Centre. What are some of the values that you try to instill in the students who take your courses?

    We have taught visionary art at many centers all over the world. We recently taught a workshop in Moscow with a Russian translator and then in Mexico City with a Spanish translator. We look forward to teaching a three-day Visionary Art workshop in Byron Bay, January 25-27 [2011].

    At CoSM, the art and spirit educational nexus is called MAGI — Mystic Artists Guild International. We teach art as a spiritual path. We just had a workshop before the Full Moon ceremony called, “Visioning Your Highest Intention.” The purpose of MAGI is to form a higher social organism of inspired minds capable of building sacred space together. Sacred space has always been created by the intertwined wills of people dedicated to a divine purpose. Creating and sharing sacred art can be a form of worship and service, introducing a transformed world view to community and activating cultural renewal. The MAGI bear gifts of beauty for the newly born vision of planetary civilization and universal spirituality. Mystic artists are called to an authentic and disciplined manifestation of their visions.

    I’ve read in High Times that you work in your loft, where you prefer to have your family and library nearby. How do you deal with distractions while working? Do you have an ‘artist at work’ sign posted somewhere?

    Allyson and I have worked within eye shot of each other for thirty-six years. We are each others best friend and most honest critic and advisor. I like to work near all my source material of imagery and philosophy.

    Zena grew up here. When Zena came, Allyson and I had already been together for thirteen years and had already developed our rhythm as artists. Zena has been the greatest gift of our lives.

    What is a distraction? The path to building a temple is a big project. The project IS our art so we are always making our art.

    We are trusted filters for each other. We always have the others best interests at heart.

    Arguably your most famous works, The Sacred Mirrors, took a decade to complete. What do you recall from that time? Did you realize that you were creating works that would come to define you as an artist?

    Painting the Sacred Mirrors felt life defining. Allyson inspired and later named the Sacred Mirrors series. The idea would never otherwise have been realized. At that time, they were the most affirmative statement I could make as an artists to connect the human and the divine, a dissection of the self through the layers of body and soul. The paintings pointed in the direction of a new kind of figuration for me, something I call, “Transfiguration,” the physical body in relationship to transcendental light. The work has a universally sacred aspiration.

    The other beautiful thing that the Sacred Mirrors memorialize is one of our most profound psychedelic experiences. The Universal Mind Lattice visually recounts a meltdown of the physical body into the white light torroidal fountain and drain of energy. What really completely reformatted our psychic hard drive was that Allyson and I did drawings of the same place. We both saw our infinite interconnectedness with the great web of all existence, a love energy flowing through all beings and things.

    What is your proudest artistic achievement?

    Yet to come.

    I was reading an article about the New Year’s Eve just passed, and the scope of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors [CoSM] in Wappinger. It seems like a massive undertaking, yet having not visited, it’s hard to picture. Could you help me out by describing the space?

    The mission is formidable and ultimately doable. Collectors have actually donated works back to CoSM to be part of this great project. Many artists resonate with the practice of art as their spiritual life.

    CoSM lives on 40 wooded acres in the Hudson Valley of New York, 65 miles north of New York City, walking distance from a railroad station running from Manhattan’s Grand Central Station. CoSM has six buildings and a barn and one by one we are make them beautiful and enjoyable as we design and prepare to build the sacred temple. A small staff lives on the property and many volunteers come to joyfully serve the project. We started holding Full Moon ceremonies in our home in Brooklyn in 2003, had a spiritual creative art center in Manhattan for five years, and now an artists refuge.

    What does the Chapel mean to each of you?

    The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors is yourself, the temple of your body and the temple of your spirituality. Art is a fusion of those elements. God/love is what brings them together. Love is the secret name of God. When you surrender to love you see through God’s eye. That is what you see when you are staring at a Sacred Mirror.

    Building a Chapel is the work of a community. If we all get along we can make something beautiful together. If we do not get along, our progress is impaired in making something beautiful and of having a sustainable relationship with the planet.

    Unless I’m mistaken, you seem to both now thrive on the notion of patronage – you’re financially supported by your fans and followers, who pay you to express yourselves through art. Was this always the goal?

    We travel because we are invited. To make art and have others love it and want to see it is a terrific honor. Every creative person yearns to live by their creativity. Our art is our ministry. We decide what art we are making and we make it to serve the greater good. Many creative people are considering the ethical energy that they are putting into their manifestations. A moral element deepens the narrative.

    Do you remember if there was a particular moment when you realized you were a self-sufficient artist, who no longer had to take on projects for commercial clients?

    I live and work to serve others.

    At 17 I painted Fun Houses. At 19 I painted billboards. At 21 I worked in the Anatomy department at Harvard Medical School, preparing exhibits on the history of medicine and disease and preparing cadavers for dissection by medical students. At 26 I was a medical illustrator and for ten years I taught anatomy to art students at New York University (NYU). Chapel of Sacred Mirrors became a non-profit organization in 1996 and at age 45 I stopped doing medical or other types of illustration work. Since then, I paint, sculpt, study, teach, lecture, write, work everyday as a co-founder and director of CoSM, now a church.

    What would retirement look like for you two? It seems hard to imagine you giving up your public roles as CoSM owners and operators. Finally, what would you each like to be remembered for?

    For as long as we are breathing we will be working on this project. Why retire from a life you love? We’ve been given a project to dedicate our lives to. What a gift! It will involve many visionaries who are our friends. Everyone is welcome.
    We’d like to be remembered for a universal spiritual message that reunifies the sacred visionary imagination with the art of our time.

    Of course, we’d like to be represented by the completed and sustainable building of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors.

    ++

    To learn more about Alex Grey, visit his website.

    Elsewhere: my story for The Australian about Alex Grey’s first Australian art tour, published in January 2011.

  • Mess+Noise album review: Art Vs. Science – ‘The Experiment’, March 2011

    An album review for Mess+Noise. Excerpt below.

    Art Vs. Science – The Experiment

    On debut album ‘The Experiment’, Art Vs. Science understand that repetition is the foundation of dance music – but it’s a trick that wears thin, writes ANDREW MCMILLEN.

    Popular culture generally exists to meet demand. Most artists spend their lives attempting to offer works that resonate with as wide an audience as possible. By tapping into popular sentiments, savvy artists can short-circuit the often lengthy process of artistic acceptance. Case in point: Art Vs. Science, who – legend has it – formed on the spot while its three members stood watching Daft Punk playing in Sydney some years ago. The crowd was going bonkers for two dudes in robot suits atop a glowing pyramid. They probably stood and wondered aloud: “Why not us?”

    Following on from a high-profile spot at Splendour In The Grass in 2008, thanks largely to debut single ‘Flippers’ – whose goofy chorus was comprised entirely of “Hey! Ho! Use your flippers to get down!” – and nearly topping the 2009 triple j Hottest 100 with ‘Parlez Vous Francais?’, Art Vs. Science have emerged with their first album, The Experiment. True to form, it’s packed from top to tail with brash electronica, delivered with their now-trademark dance-punk attitude. Here, we hear guitars furiously tapping away at fretboards during oh-so obvious breakdowns that lead into slamming synth-led choruses; all custom-made for hands-in-the-air dance festival sets. (By the by, this is a band who’s known for performing live covers of ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ and ‘Boom! Shake The Room’ to tents full of peaking munters).

    In isolation, The Experiment is a dull record, because these songs won’t come to life until they’re heard and felt in a live environment. A five-minute instrumental rave-up like ‘Meteor (I Feel Fine)’ sounds foolish playing on your home stereo (though interestingly, it’s the closest they’ve gotten to sounding like Daft Punk). Several songs here are based around single words or short phrases – ‘Higher’, ‘Bumblebee’, ‘Sledgehammer’ – which seem to be included for the sole purpose of giving crowds something nonsensical to shout amid the pulsing synth din.

    For the full review, visit Mess+Noise. For more Art Vs. Science, visit their website. The music video for their song ‘Finally See Our Way‘ is embedded below.

  • The Australian story: ‘Alex Grey art tour’, January 2011

    An artist profile for The Australian. Excerpt below.

    Grey area of spirituality’s personal connection

    To look at the art of Alex Grey is to look inside oneself, literally and figuratively. The American artist is best known for his psychedelic paintings that combine human anatomy with allusions to infinite time and space.

    Grey, 57, describes them as “visual meditations on the nature of life and consciousness”. They are intricate images depicting open-cut bodies, bathed in glowing light or what Grey calls “spiritual energies”.

    “My work has been called visionary because I’m a painter inspired by glimpses into the subtle visionary realm, which is the source of all sacred art,” he says. “There is more of a spiritual motivation to the work than an intellectual rationale.”

    With his long, ponytailed hair and dressed head to toe in black, Grey looks nearly as striking as his art. He has a warm, avuncular presence that may recall Gandalf or Albus Dumbledore: fitting, really, as Grey portrays himself as wizard-like, a man who strives to be seen as not quite of this world.

    If his art looks familiar, it may be from the album covers he has designed for the American band Tool: 2001’s Lateralus and 2006’s 10,000 Days. The band is about to appear at the Big Day Out, and while Grey is not part of that line-up, he and artist wife Allyson are in Australia at the same time for a series of art workshops.

    Grey has been a career artist since he was a teenager. At 17, he painted carnival funhouses; at 19, billboards. Two years later he got a job in the anatomy department at Harvard Medical School, where he was charged with preparing exhibits on the history of medicine and disease, as well as preparing cadavers for dissection by medical students.

    His observations there informed his own art-making, leading eventually to Sacred Mirrors, a series of 21 life-sized paintings. It took 10 years to complete, but his job as a medical illustrator ensured that his skills were constantly in use.

    For the full article, visit The Australian. More Alex Grey at his website.

  • IGN Australia story: ‘Advice: Careers in the Games Industry’, December 2010

    A story for IGN Australia, which I compiled as a result of asking members of the Australian game development community for their games careers advice while writing my previous story for the site, about the games education sector. Excerpt below.

    IGN Advice: Careers in the Games Industry

    How should you go about entering the games industry? IGN talks to the pros.

    As a supplement to our feature story about the Australian games education sector, IGN asked 10 members of the game development community for the best advice they could give to those looking to gain employment within the local market. Our thanks to everyone who participated in creating this feature.

    Jane ‘Truna’ Turner – coordinator, IGDA Brisbane / co-founder, 48 Hour Game Making Challenge

    Play games. Read books. Watch movies. Understand your world, so that when you’ve learned some hands-on, practical skills, you have ideas to make new, exciting forms of games. Generate your own enthusiasm, and your own, new industry. Don’t go and be a little worker; go and make your own world. I think games are just beautiful. Design is powerful. Game design is utterly powerful. You’re playing with culture and philosophy and fun and image and audio; the whole kit and caboodle. Don’t just think about making new forms; think about pushing the boundaries with it.

    If you go to uni, you’re in the ideal position, because Duncan Curtis – one of the guys who started 3 Blokes Studios – I think it was him that coined the phrase ‘the uni advantage’, which is: there you are. You’ve got your mates, you’re used to not sleeping, you’re used to living off noodles, you haven’t got a mortgage yet. You can actually afford to set up a little company and see what happens, and explore. You need to do it for a portfolio anyway; why not start making experimental pieces, put them up on Congregate, do some iPhone dev, do some Android dev? Little, fast, experimental work.

    John Passfield – Chief Creative Bloke, 3 Blokes Studios / co-founder and former Design Director, Krome Studios

    One of the big things we look for when we’re interviewing people is their portfolio. Whether it be as an artist showing your work, or a programmer and having a playable game; that just puts you so far ahead of other people when you’re applying for a job. And even a designer, if you have a little walkthrough video. One of the guys we hired at Krome for Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 2 – Rob Davis, a graduate, who’s now working at Microsoft Games Studios in Seattle – he had a walkthrough of a Ty The Tasmanian Tiger level that just blew everyone else away. He’d thought about it, and made a level up. He couldn’t program, or really do art, but he did a simple little walkthrough video, and explained his thought processes. That was amazing. It gave him such competitive advantage.

    So many people come for an interview, but they don’t really have anything to show. And clearly, if they’re going for a particular job, it’s really important to have something [to show] that applies to that job. If you’re applying for an iPhone developer, even if you can’t program, if you just mocked up an iPhone game on screen in Flash or something, or as an animatic using whatever tools you’ve got, that would definitely put you way ahead of other people – as long as it’s an interesting [game] concept. That simple process of coming prepared with an example of your work, targeted to who you’re applying for. That’s how you put yourself ahead of people. The staff we’ve hired at 3 Blokes are those who’ve had workable demos up on a place like Newgrounds or Kongregate.

    When I’m looking to hire, I look for enthusiasm in the medium, the platform that we’re making games for. That’s really important. And also – team fit. Games is a collaborative process. And obviously, if you’ve started a degree program, it’s important to see that you’ve finished a degree. It’s really good to show that you’ve finished something. Degrees are good, because it shows that someone has the wherewithal to stick it out. Holding a degree answers a lot of questions about somebody when they come in.

    For the full article, visit IGN Australia.

  • IGN Australia story: ‘Australian Games Education: A 2010 Report Card’, December 2010

    My second feature story for IGN Australia. Excerpt below.

    Australian Games Education: A 2010 Report Card

    Do you want to work in the games industry? The good news is that over two dozen education institutions across Australia offer games-related degrees. But how valuable is having a degree? Are they keeping up with the changing face of development in Australia? And with so many studio closures how many jobs are there anyway? IGN AU finds out…

    In the wake of Krome Studios’ significant downsizing in mid-October, one fact became very clear: finding employment in the local game development industry was going to be harder than ever before. Though Australia’s largest gaming company surpassed over 400 employees across three studios at one point, their gradual decline eventually returned the vast majority of that talent back into the national job pool.

    All industries move in cycles, and though the Australian game development sector is at a low ebb right now, it’s myopic to believe that things will stay this way forever. Though Krome’s wave broke upon the shore and left a great many stranded – as the saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall – other sectors of the local industry are experiencing periods of unprecedented growth. Krome’s downfall served as a two-prong reminder: that large-scale game development is a high-risk business, and that relying upon overseas publishers’ work-for-hire cheques in a volatile world economy is among the riskiest business in the games industry.

    Disheartening though the events of October 2010 were, as I sifted through the detritus of vindictive former Krome employees and their shattered CEO Robert Walsh, one question kept flitting through my mind: what did this all mean for students graduating with games degrees in 2010? Here they were, about to enter the job market – many of them bleary-eyed, owing to marathon all-nighter sessions spent completing their final projects – only to be shuttled to the very end of the queue. They’d stand behind former staff from Krome, and the handful of other development companies who’ve shuttered in recent years; behind anyone who ever took on a temp QA (quality assurance; game testing) role; behind existing games graduates, many of whose only industry experience is submitting their portfolio to every studio with an email address, and – if they were lucky – participating in a brief internship, arranged on behalf of their educational institution in their final trimester.

    What else but passion could drive these people? To give up several years of their (often young) lives, to willingly put themselves tens of thousands of dollars in debt, just for the slight chance that they’ll be able to make a living making video games in Australia? The answer must be passion, if not madness. Yet here they are: hundreds of them, each year, graduating with degrees in games design, art, animation and programming. On the other side of mortarboards, robes and well-deserved handshakes awaits uncertainty, self-doubt, and a high likelihood of unemployment – within the game development industry, at least.

    Put simply, making games for a living sounds like fun. Given that gaming is the world’s fastest-growing entertainment medium – last year, for instance, Australian consumers spent over $2 billion on video games – it’s unsurprising that tertiary education providers were keen to institutionalise game development, just as they’ve done for practically every other form of creativity. As I discovered, though, investing in a games-specific education in the hopes of obtaining employment within the local industry is a decision of similarly high risk as building your company’s business model around ever-shifting economies and the mood swings of international publishers.

    For the full story, visit IGN Australia. At 6,000 words, it’s the longest article I’ve written. A huge thanks to everyone I spoke with for this story.

  • A Conversation With Damian Kulash, OK Go singer/guitarist

    OK Go singer/guitarist Damian KulashOK Go are an American pop band. I don’t want to cheapen their career by naming just its apex, but it’s the easiest way to refresh your memory: they’re the band behind ‘Here It Goes Again‘, better known as ‘the treadmill video‘.

    On February 13 2010, I spoke to OK Go’s singer/guitarist Damian Kulash [pictured right] on behalf of Rolling Stone Australia. He’d been up all night shooting a second music video for their song ‘This Too Shall Pass’. The first video couldn’t be embedded anywhere outside of YouTube because of the restrictions put in place by their parent label, Capitol Records, which is owned by EMI Music. The band’s response was to upload an embeddable version to Vimeo, write an open letter to their fans explaining the situation, and seek outside funding to conceptualise and film an entirely different music video. [You should click the above links to watch the videos, if you haven’t already seen them.]

    Shortly before Rolling Stone’s May issue went to print at the end of February – confusing, right? – OK Go left Capitol Records, effectively undermining my story’s relevance. [More on that experience here.]

    Below is the full conversation I had with Damian, which is one of the last interviews the band gave while still signed to a major label.

    Andrew: Before we start, are you totally sick of talking about this whole issue?

    Damian: The politics of the music industry are… tiresome. I’ll put it that way. It’s important to me and I’m fascinated by it, but I’d much rather be thinking about making things, than how to distribute them.

    What kind of response have you seen from your fans in regard to your letter?

    It’s been pretty positive. My letter has been received by some people as a polemic, or as a big screed, but truly, the letter was just an explanation to our fans about why certain things weren’t available to them, because I think people really didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t see it as a big political move; it was just an explanation to our fans, and we’ve gotten very good response from them. I think they’re just happy that we treat them like adults.

    What kind of response have you seen from the record label? I read your interview on New TeeVee where you said your main contact at the label wants as badly as you do for the video to be embeddable.

    I think most folks at the label probably share our opinion that things should be easily distributed. There are a lot of competing agendas within the record label, so I’ve gotten a wide range of responses. The digital department of EMI France actually tweeted the letter and was distributing it because they felt it was a defense of their position. Other people felt like it was an attack. It’s a big company, so there’s been a wide range of responses.

    Beyond your fan base and record label industry people, the general public has also paid attention to the letter. I refer to your quote in Time about how you think there is a quiet majority who are just interested in seeing how the music industry works these days, and seeing your explanation from the inside.

    That’s definitely been the basic response that I’ve felt. I obviously can’t quantify it, but the loudest comments in the music industry in general are mostly from people who hate labels and who hate major labels and feel the industry is set up to screw musicians. I don’t feel like that’s generally representative. I think it’s easy to hate the machine. You really get those comments from people that actually try to make a living making music. It’s mostly people who have this purist idea of what music should be to them; give up their day jobs because they want their musicians to be absolutely conceptually totally pure and not ever have to worry about money for them.

    I read your Mashable interview where you said that a year or two ago, EMI switched the embedding stuff on all of your videos, but you didn’t pay much attention as you were making your new record at the time. Looking back, do you wish that you had paid attention? Would you have done anything differently back then?

    OK Go singer/guitarist Damian KulashWe have to pay attention to how our records and our videos and everything is distributed because we make ‘em and we care about how they get out there, but I wouldn’t be a student of the music industry’s technicalities if I wasn’t convinced that the animating passion in my life is making things, and how the distribution of them affects that. I know it sounds incredibly circular, but I don’t particularly care if the music industry works until I make something and it fucks up the way I want that thing to be shared with the world.

    I’m glad that when I’m writing music and recording music, in between records, I’m not spending my time trying to figure out the solution to the logistical problems of the music industry. Those are some things that we have to pay attention to out of necessity, not because we like paying attention to them.

    There is a quote from you in the letter where you say, “Unbelievably, we’re stuck in the position of arguing with our own label about the merits of sharing videos. It’s like the world has gone backwards.” As musicians, you must feel that having these kinds of conversations about the business side of music drains your creativity or your time that could be better spent creating music.

    It seems to me like there are a couple of things. One, the music industry is very clearly in an incredible crisis and that’s what makes this story complex. There is a lot to talk about because we’re up against what appears to be a sort of unresolvable problem. People want to talk about it. Two, I think a lot of us feel incredibly passionate about music and by its nature – almost by its definition – the important part of music kind of defies words. To me, what makes music sort of magical – what makes music the thing that I live for – is that you can communicate things like music’s four-dimensional emotions instantaneously. It’s like emotional ESP.

    I think when something comes along, something to talk about in music, something very rational or logistical and sort of left-linear logical, that’s attached to the distribution of music or to the manufacturing or production of music, then at least there is something to sink our rational brains into and some people really want to talk about it. Maybe this is something of a stretch as an argument, but we do a lot of interviews and it’s impossible to answer substantive questions about music because music is a feeling, not an argument. Whereas, everything that surrounds music – how it’s distributed, the politics, and the money behind it – gives you something hard and logical to talk about. I think that’s sort of why there is so much fascination on these things.

    Bob Lefsetz wrote in response to this situation that “if the labels want to maintain control, they have to first get the hearts and minds of the artists.” As an artist who deals with labels on a regular basis, do you share his view?

    OK Go singer/guitarist Damian KulashYes, in essence they do. I think that the value in music from which we derive the money in music can no longer be generated by limiting access. The way you assess value in most commodities is related to supply, the whole supply and demand curve. The reason you have to pay to have most things is because someone else restricts your access to them or you have to pay for the access to them. There are certain things that don’t follow that model and music has sort of jumped the barrier, I think.

    Twenty, fifteen, or even ten years ago, music was a physical thing that could be bought and sold. Even if conceptually the music wasn’t, there was a way of controlling access to it: you either owned a CD or you didn’t. Either you had access to it or your friend did, or you got it from a library. More likely, you bought it and had access to music.

    Now that has sort of broken down and the music industry is not going to be able to get that genie back in the bottle. You have to find a different level to work with, and I think that – whatever the financing situation is, no matter which body is financing the logistical mechanics of music – that body will have to have a better relationship with musicians and record labels. Record labels deal in very black-and-white terms with this restricted access thing, and now everyone is going to have to believe in a new model simultaneously, otherwise money won’t be generated for music.

    By now you’re all too familiar with the arguments surrounding this YouTube issue, having lived them out and told the world about it. If you can comment on it, I’d like to know how EMI rationalise the ‘disable embedding’ decision to the average web consumer – the one who just wants to share their cool videos with their friends?

    There has been a conceptual shift between videos being advertisement and videos being product. They’re sort of ‘on the fence’ still. All labels still want their videos to be seen far and wide, but they also want to be paid for them to be seen far and wide. Whereas once upon a time it was just amazing that there was a website out there [YouTube] that would actually help you distribute your advertising. Now, there is a website out there that is actually distributing your product without paying you for it. I think that’s how they justify it. They want people to see it like: “we paid for that thing, how come you won’t pay us for it?”

    Do you think that the thought of the average web user even comes into their equation, or is it all just discussed in terms of profit and shareholders, as you alluded to in your letter?

    They’re not such morons that they can’t take into account what people want. Labels don’t have a singular mind. It’s not like one big beast with one agenda. I think a lot of people at labels understand what people want and are frustrated with the way things are working. I think there hasn’t been a very clear-eyed assessment of that shift in music videos from advertisement to product, or in general, of the attempt to blur promotion and monetization. There used to be an obvious revenue stream, and that was selling records [CDs]. Since that is shrinking so incredibly fast, now all the things that you essentially pay for to promote that revenue stream are now things that they’re trying to turn the tables on and get money for actually having done.

    I don’t think they’re incapable of thinking about what people want. I think everybody suddenly is trying to eat the hamburger at the same time that they’re still milking the cow. You can’t have it both ways.

    Final question Damian, and it’s a bit of a philosophical one, so take a deep breath. If labels continue to herd viewers into absorbing their artists’ content in specific web destinations like on YouTube, what are the wider ramifications for the nature of sharing content online?

    American pop/rock band OK GoFirst of all, I’ve been talking this whole time as if I have a kind of answer, like I know exactly what’s going on and there is an obvious path forward. I don’t know what the ramifications will be. The first step that seems obvious to me is we do need something like record labels to perform some of the functions record labels traditionally have. This is what I think the critics of major labels often miss, is that for all of their exploitative, greedy, and short-sighted policies, they did provide a risk aggregation for the world of music making. They invest in however many young bands a year and most of them fail. Those bands go back to their jobs at the local coffee houses without having to be in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal debt for having gone for it.

    If we don’t want to be just a domain of the independently wealthy and people who can take time off from their jobs for a couple of years to see what happens, or finance their own world tour while they figure out exactly how to make the number at the end of the column black, then somebody has to be doing this risk aggregation.

    Historically, when a band did well, or an artist did well, the profits could be so substantial that they would cover the other nineteen losses that the failed bands meant for a record label. A label could take the very extreme numbers of the music industry: you might have a less than 1% chance of success, but if you do succeed there is a massive reward, and it sort of evens them out over dozens or hundreds of artists a year.

    Something sort of needs to be doing that unless we want music only to be the domain of the independently wealthy. I think then you have to figure out what that means for content distribution. Somehow, some sector of the business has to be able to make a significant reward off of the success of that one-in-twenty, or that one-in-fifty, or that one-in-one hundred in order to keep the system running.

    At the same time, we all want this magical, wonderful, instantaneous global distribution – via the internet – to make music ever easier to get to and to make it more universal and more accessible. We have to figure out how to get the money that people are willing to spend on music into the hands of musicians, and into the hands of those risk aggregation bodies.

    Right now, it seems people are willing to spend money pretty freely on music. They just tend to do it more on hardware or on their broadband connection. People are willing to pay for extremely fast connection to the internet so they can download big files. They just don’t particularly care for paying for the file themselves, or see that as something they should be doing. People will pay a lot for an mp3 player. They don’t expect that part to be free, so to get people to value their music in that way, then we should figure out how to look at the system from a macro perspective and figure out a reasonable way forward.

    Thanks Damian. I admire your ability to speak coherently about the music industry, especially after an all-nighter. [The band had been up working on the second video for ‘This Too Shall Pass‘, which is embedded below.]

    I don’t know how coherent I’ve been, but if you can whip that into shape and make me sound like I was, then more power to you. I appreciate it.

    [You can read more about this story for Rolling Stone Australia here.]