This the first post in a new series on contemporary Australian Women in Art, by creative all-rounder Annette Wagner.
Like most of you, I’m inspired by so many amazing artists, both male and female. I especially have a long list of Australian female artists that I sincerely admire, and have many questions I’d like to ask each and every one of them. It’s no secret that being an artist anywhere requires dedication and determination, however, I want to understand specifically what it takes to be a female artist, here in Australia. It’s no feminist stance; it is merely a closer look and more importantly, a show of support. I’ll be chatting to women currently exploring, actively creating and nationally and internationally contributing to the art world. I’ll ask them questions that aim to explore their beginnings, influences, career highs and lows, finding representation, challenges of being a female artist in Australia, being acknowledged overseas and what they are doing now that we can all support.
I’m very pleased to introduce Jacqui Stockdale, our first contributor. I’ve admired Jacqui Stockdale’s work for a long time as it evokes something quite powerful from her poised stills, like a theatrical performance unfolding.
Jacqui has won the Doug Moran Contemporary Photography Prize 2012, is a past winner of the Belle Art Prize and the Hutchins Art Prize. She’s had residencies in Barcelona, her work has been shown at the Louvre, Paris and is in collections nationally and internationally.
Best known for her theatrical portrait photography, figurative paintings, drawings and collages, her practice explores cultural identity, folklore and the transformative nature of masquerade and ritual in society. Her most recent work, The Boho series, currently showing as part of the Adelaide Biennial 2016, is a series of portrait photographs, which are part performative direction and part collaboration.
Collaboration with the subjects, including Paul Kelly, Missy Higgins and the striking physical presence of Arun Roberts who Jacqui discovered and felt compelled to include in her series. She has also collaborated with friend and artist Kate Rhodes who worked with her to transform the imminent magical object, a spear, embedding it with personal objects, elevating its underlying meaning and importance. Collaboration with Rose Chong Costumes, which transforms the subjects and transport you to her setting along with her enormous painted backgrounds of Australian bush landscapes, reminiscent of the Impressionists from the Heidelberg School. The framing sets the stage. Combined, the outcome engages the audience and completes the theatrical translation.
After recently meeting with Jacqui, she explained how almost fortuitously this project came together, with both subjects and objects presenting themselves to her during the process of the series. The success of this is evident with all elements coming together, and working well, demonstrating her skill, confidence, intuition and most importantly it allows the viewer to be lost in her performance.
What in your personal life influenced you to choose and pursue a career in the arts?
A combination of having a natural flair for drawing and painting as a kid, encouragement from both parents and an artistic sensibility. The fear of having to choose to be a nurse.
What other jobs did you have before you committed to your art full time?
I worked at KFC, was a cleaner and a life model.
How many proposals did you write before you got your first grant/residency/exhibition?
Good question! In my attempt to write a grant, I would feel ill and dizzy. It took a long time to get good at it, maybe two decades, but now I am fluent. I’d say I wrote about six before I landed a yes.
I discussed this further with Jacqui when we met, and she said that getting assistance from others helped enormously. People who were stronger writers, or were familiar with proposal writing and she stressed how important their support has been, and continues to be, to review her work and provide feedback.
How did you achieve gallery representation?
Once I finished my art degree at the VCA I moved to Hobart and after two years I was approached by Dick Bett and represented by Bett Gallery. It was a good start.
Was there a turning point in your career that made you believe that the status of an artist is equal to a ‘worker'?
I’m not sure if it is equal, it’s just very different, and there are pros and cons to being either.
Were you ever discouraged or had setbacks that derailed your career?
Yes, of course. There was a time in my mid-thirties that I felt like there was no one out there. I had just returned to Melbourne after 10 years of living in Hobart, Sydney and Darwin and expected to be picked up by a gallery straight away. When this did not happen, given I was working solidly, I began to get really down. You can see in the work I made from that period how dark I was feeling.
But maybe the work was really rich with meaning, not sure! It started to pick up once I was approached by Helen Gory Galerie in 2006.
What are your least favourite and most favourite things about being an artist?
Least favourite thing is dealing with my tax, most favourite is working on my own terms and having the luxury of living a very creative life.
What do you do to keep yourself optimistic and motivated?
I dance swing and tango, do ten yoga salutations in the morning, then give thanks to the day, run really slowly around the hood, eat good food, breath deeply, jump on the trampoline with my son, laugh with friends and have ping pong parties every so often.
Do you think there is a gender imbalance in Australia supporting female artists operating in our current contemporary art system?
Yes, but I don't feel it personally.
Do you feel that Australian female artists have fewer resources, crucial financial support, to go into making and producing art?
Yes, I think they do, particularly within the realm of motherhood and needing to take more time away from their practice to raise children than men do, though this is gradually shifting as men step in. I know some women who feel guilty about going to the studio while their kids are in childcare. It made me work really hard during those hours, but I always managed a manicure/pedicure. I must say that regardless of these inequalities, I have always surrounded myself with very positive, independent female visual artists (and musicians). Their drive to forge on rubs off on you.
Beyond the specific political and ideological issues involved in the subjection of women, what does success really mean and how is it achieved to you?
Success to me means working steadily on my practice over many years and making a living from my art (as well as being subsidised by teaching, grants, nice patrons).
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
10% talent 90% perseverance.
Jacqui has recently collaborated on film and animation with Michelle Jarni, producing a short film about the process of her ‘Super Naturale’ series of portraits. You can also check out her new series The Boho at various locations in Adelaide and Melbourne.
Annette Wagner is a designer, marketer, creative consultant, artist and writer. She is also on the board of the Creative Women’s Circle. Obsessively passionate about the arts and the creative process, she is determined to not talk art-speak and instead focus on supporting and sharing concepts and insights most creative types crave to know.
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