Anastasia Klose with Natalie King
The Happy Artist
Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
19 March – 18 April
Natalie King: Can you tell me about the title of your recent exhibition The Happy Artist at Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne?
Anastasia Klose: The title The Happy Artist leapt into my head one day while at the office, and I couldn't get rid of it. To me, it's the perfect title for the exhibition, because it has so many different interpretations. At first glance, you might think it was an ironic title, as a lot of my subject matter is about petty grievances in life and struggling on and that sort of thing. But in fact the title is not ironic, because being an artist is actually the happiest thing I could be. Self expression and creating things and constructing my own world are a very liberating thing to do. I love the notion that in our culture, "artists" more than anyone else are permitted to be the most themselves, and the most 'extreme'.
Yet the title is also ambiguous, because it might make one feel irritated at artists. Should artists be happy, just pleasing themselves cut off from 'the real world' just wanking on? To some,
the idea of the 'artist' conjures up images of someone silly, vain, deluded and out of touch. I am interested in this cliché, perhaps it has a grain of truth. But I like that someone would want to be an artist despite disapproval and seeming foolish. I suppose I think being an artist is at some level a noble pursuit, especially when the artist carries on despite being talentless. So yeah, the title seems quite naff and harmless, but I like to think it might raise these sorts of queries if you really thought about it. (Or maybe not!)
N K: Can you comment on the hand-made aspect of your work especially the way you use hand-drawn placards interspersed with personal items?
AK: I use everyday materials because I like that they are cheap and accessible. I like the look of them, and I can relate to them. I have always made art with whatever is on hand. Also, I have always liked looking at handmade placards as protests _ they are very direct and simple, original and sometimes funny _ and they convey a strong and accessible message to a large audience. Those sorts of placards are in the back of my mind when I make my own.
The personal items I put in exhibitions are usually referred to within artworks in the show. For example, the pink fluffy doona I am sitting under in The Happy Artist image is mentioned in a poem entitled 'Coburg, sex capital of the world'. The pink fluffy doona is a sad and funny object because the cat I live with tries often has sex with it, but he is neutered, and the act seems quite desperate and futile and crazed. The pink doona has become emblematic of this failure.
NK: What about the pathetic yet revealing slogans 'wanker boss' and 'I can't believe things turned out this way either'?
AK: 'Wanker Boss' is a placard I made for an installation I made with my mum, Elizabeth Presa. The installation was entitled 'Hard Rubbish, Hard Life - the installation' _ we set it up on our nature strip during hard rubbish time, and it was a very spontaneous act. The idea was to put all our failed artworks out on the nature strip, along with our hard rubbish, all in an arrangement, to see if anyone would take our artworks. Well, no one took them, but we had some good responses from passersby. I made the 'Wanker Boss' sign because I wanted to engage with people walking past. I knew they wouldn't be expecting to see this sort of thing in a hard rubbish pile, and I wanted to take them by surprise. (And I hoped most people could relate to this sentiment, because sometimes work is unbearable). This installation is written about in The Happy Artist book.
'I can't believe things turned out this way' is a placard made for the lounge-room. It is supposed to sit near the TV, so when you are watching it after work, and feeling down about life, you can look at this sign and smile (wryly!).
NK: Who takes the photos in the suite The Happy Artist? Do you see these as self-portraits?
AK: The Happy Artist image is from a series of photos I had taken in my room. They are taken by my good friend Bec Argyle, (not an artist) specifically to be on the invitation for the show. They are self-portraits, but they were taken to give a sense of what the exhibition is about.
NK: Why do you incorporate props such as the baby sheep?
AK: The concrete lamb is part of my The Order of the Universe staircase. Lambs are innocent and gentle and have no control over their fate. They make us feel protective, and like we should be gentle. That is why I wanted it to be part of my The Order of the Universe installation. A plastic owl was also added because owls are mysterious, they are the sorts of birds that are in fairy tales, and they are beautiful. I wanted the installation to be innocent, and naive. When I painted it, I was thinking very much of the work of Henri Rousseau. He never saw the jungle, but would paint it from his imagination. People did not know what to think of his work - the audience's ambivalence interests me, and I admire Rousseau's courage to continue making his paintings.
NK: Can you discuss the way you incorporate poetry and books in your work? I am also intrigued by the video work Lives of the Great Poets in which you describe the tragic demise of Coleridge, Poe and Clare.
AK: I read the poems of Catullus when I was young and they left a deep impression - he was the original confessional poet, and his poems are so funny. As a youth, I was into the Beats, and also studied poetry at Melbourne Uni, which is where I really developed a lasting relationship with my Norton Anthology of poetry. What can I say, I have always liked reading poetry, and in The Happy Artist show I return to a lot of my childhood loves (reading, drawing and writing) through art.
Lives of the Great Poets was made to commemorate the great epic and romantic lives of these poets. Their lives were so sad and blighted, but they were also so gifted. I feel as if no one knows about these poets anymore, and this is why I wanted to make a work about them. The golden era of poetry has departed, and this interests me too. It's such an unfashionable medium (at least, no one I know really gets into poetry), and to me this makes it uncorrupted, and full of potential.
NK: The Shortest Straw comprises thirty-two posters arranged haphazardly across two gallery walls with images of a hills hoist in Coburg, an overflowing ashtray outside Liquorland and a cat reading a battered poetry book. How did you conceptualise these images? They seem absurdly funny yet tragic.
AK: I take photos all the time, these ones just seemed appropriate for the exhibition - a lot of the images are referred to in poems, some aren't. I always carry a camera with me, just in case I see anything pertinent. I take photos of everyday things - they seem important when you see them often enough.
NK: What about the way your work exposes feelings such as humiliation, disappointment and ennui?
AK: Yes, I like to try and be honest about things. Disappointment and ennui are my subject matter, but this does not mean I feel 'humiliated' or 'embarrassed' making these sorts of works. Sometimes I wish I were a guy, making this work, just to see how people would respond. Maybe the reception would be different. I often wonder at how my gender affects the way people read my work - it's something I suppose I will never know.