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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 5 November 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 5 NOVEMBER 2016 15 ART FEATURE The art chose me e state of Queensland, the talented artist talks about his work, m, and the red-tape artists face working with young models Well, in this LA show there was a massive nude self-portrait and it's kind of vainglorious and narcissistic, but that's kind of the point of it. But often in Australia that just looks kind of problematic; people sort of have a hard time with that, but in the States, people just think it's great – that's what you would make work about. It's kind of interesting. That painting was a David Hockney reference and he sort of famously went to LA as a British artist and made these works that were very LA, but from the outside – and I think I did that to a degree. That's probably why it was well received. Do you think that attitude is typically Australian? Is that also the case with audiences in Europe, or is it a throwback to our Anglo-Saxon settlers? I think it's possibly a British sensibility. But it's interesting to me that while I see it as this cautionary tale - which is classically Greek [see Narcissus] - it really speaks to our times. It's a social construct that we have; that's what I find interesting about it. Aside from your self-portrait, narcissism is a theme you have explored in your art before. What keeps drawing you back? I guess there's lots of different things. I mean, the very act of making a self-portrait is kind of a narcissistic gesture, but when I talk about narcissism it's not necessarily a social comment. I think it's interesting to consider the way it's discussed, and that's usually via social media platforms and what that's done to us as a society. But I'm interested in the very act of art making. The kind of painting that I'm making is a very narcissistic gesture, or it could be seen to be this very closed system; it has a vainglorious quality to it − it's utterly pointless when we have photography, and I like that. So the subject matter is kind of a reference to the gesture itself. I wasn't expecting that response, though it makes complete sense. Now, it's hard for one to discuss your work without talking about your daughter Phoebe. You've been known to say that she is your muse. It would seem, as with most parents, her birth had a profound effect on you. How did it change you, and your approach to your art? In lots of ways; ways that I wasn't expecting. You look at the sorts of things that I was making around that time, and I really thought the last thing I would do would be to start making art about her, or the kids generally. It was completely different to where I was heading. In that really organic way I just started to work with her and I liked it, she liked it – she's a really good model. And so we sort of collaborate a lot more now. There's been a bit of controversy surrounding some of your work depicting Phoebe, namely those in which she is baring skin, which may have been something you expected following the incident with photographer Bill Henson. As Phoebe develops, is that something that you think will affect your art and how you come up with ideas? I try not to let it. I did a painting of her a few years ago; she has no top on in the pool because she was being a mermaid and so was her sister, which was a typical afternoon thing that they would do. But a state gallery didn't want to show the work because it had a nipple in it and that's the kind of problematic area that we're in now. It's ludicrous; it's completely absurd because it's not remotely pornographic, it's nudity – those are two very different things. Yet there are all these new guidelines about working with children that would maybe prevent a major museum showing work like that because of fear and I think it's a very problematic time to be exploring work like that. When it comes to art and the way it is perceived, you've been quoted as saying that "art holds fast to the idea that it is relevant, important and enduring. I find this lofty self-importance tedious, and yet I am complicit with it". In your opinion, what role does art play? What do you hope people take away from you work? I actually don't think too much about that, and I try not to really think about a critical or commercial audience and I think my work is better for it. Part of that quote is that I think a lot of artists worry about making some sort of commentary that so often I think is just not working very well. A lot of my generation of artists are really drawn to political art, that I think for the most part just fails on lots of levels and I think we have to explain a lot as artists. We like to think that there is some sort of important message, that is the work is critically interesting, that we're imparting and I don't think that is always the case. Michael Zavros's next exhibition, ‘A Million Dollars’, will be held at Brisbane's Philip Bacon Galleries from 15 November to 10 December, 2016. For more information on the artist and his work, visit michaelzavros.com/ The Phoenix, oil on canvas.
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