By Annette Wagner
The inspiration I gain from passionate artists who actively, consistently and unrelentingly, explore their practice, while supporting the greater arts community, is beyond measure.
Admiration for Tai Snaith is deservingly fitting. With reflection and optimism, Tai translates her world through her art and dedication to the arts community.
She currently has no less than three projects on, between managing the logistics of her her young family; 'Art Attack', the weekly arts review program she co-hosts with Ace Wagstaff as part of Richard Watt’s show Smart Arts on Triple R; and she is working on her third picture book.
To say she keeps busy is an understatement. Her focus is an incredible attribute. Tai completed her BA in Fine Art with Honors at VCA in 2002, and she didn’t return to her art practice until her late 20s. Since then she has worked within arts organisations Express Media and the Next Wave Festival, and has exhibited and curated her work extensively in solo and group shows.
I approached her earlier this year to contribute to our Australian Women in Art series and I’m thrilled to finally have her informative and insightful responses to my questions.
Tai’s authenticity and courage are evident and she inspires us to aim for our dreams and bring ideas to life. She discusses her experiences with the gender imbalance within our arts industry and her inspiration generators. Good advice and encouragement goes a long way. Many creative people attribute growing up, and continuing to make room to dream as being important in exploring and forming creativity.
Image by Hilary Walker.
What in your personal life influenced you to choose and pursue a creative career?
Growing up, I spent half of my time in the city with my mum driving fast cars and going to the beach. When we visited my dad we were on the farm with cows and horses, so I had the best of both worlds as a kid. I guess the freedom on the farm was very formative in the way that I formed as a person and a thinker. I love horses and I spent many hours on a horse - galloping, wandering and dreaming. I even used to lie on my horse backwards and read my book while she was eating grass. I was always obsessed with drawing as a kid. I pretty much drew all the time I was not on a horse.
Actually, come to think of it, I made lots of different things as a kid - painted rocks, wax sculptures from dripping candles, constructed and designed environments for animals that I collected (frogs, crickets, lizards, rabbits, mice). I wrote dense and imaginative short stories. I was always pretty sure I would be something creative as an adult. There was never really any question about that. Tricky thing has just been working out what kind of creative I am!
Wilting Facade by Tai Snaith
Since graduating from VCA with honours, you’ve consistently maintained and actively pursued exhibiting, curating, residencies and reviewing the arts. Your commitment to seeing these projects through is demonstrated from the arduous task of grant and proposal submissions, to creating the work and installation. Exhibiting is often not a fast process. How do you find this process now? Has it got any easier with practice and do your networks you’ve established over time help?
It’s still difficult. And you’re right, it’s not a fast process. It takes a lot of perseverance to keep making work and finding ways to show it. Even just the process of following through an idea or finishing a painting without losing interest or courage. I am actually considering going back to do my Masters in the coming years, as I still have the desire to learn more about critically positioning my work and trying to tie all the loose ends together conceptually. Making the work is one thing, but talking about it and writing about it is at times very challenging. I actually have a long term dream of writing more fiction, I have always really loved that too. Maybe even a novel one day.
As well as your exhibitions, in 2012 your first children's book, The Family Hour in Australia was published by Thames and Hudson. From concept, research, writing, illustrating, pitching the book to Thames and Hudson and receiving a hard copy of the book in completion, how was this process and how long did the book take you?
The first picture book took me about 10 months. With a young baby, not having a clue what I was doing with either the baby or the book, I made most of it in delirious fits of drawing during my baby’s nap times. The second book took me about 8 months, with a toddler and a newborn! I still have no idea how or when I did that book- In my sleep?! I actually have very little memory of it now. The process of creating a picture book is quite an investment for very little return financially in the short term. But that’s not really why you do a book. The idea of planting a seed and watching it grow over time is a nice idea for me.
The idea of planting a seed and watching it grow over time is a nice idea for me. Also, getting into the minds of thousands of children is also pretty special. They are a lovely audience, the best kind really. I am working on my third book now and in some ways it is kind of like having a baby! And similar gestation period too.
Were you ever discouraged or had setbacks that derailed your career? Was there something that kept yourself optimistic and motivated?
Yes, I have had many. At art school I was very confused, I had no idea who I was. Lecturers made it even more confusing. For quite a few years after finishing art school I didn’t really make any proper art work. I struggled working as a waitress and in a bookshop and riding the rollercoaster of going out to a lot of parties and the associated highs and lows. To be honest, I feel like I have not really got a good hold of who I am until recently. At least not until my late 20’s. Also, I think during your 20’s there are more restraints in terms of money, which makes buying materials, renting studio space and being ‘professional’ almost impossible. I feel like those tough times are over, which is nice and I feel very fortunate to be where I am.
What keeps me optimistic is just the joy of making. I love making things. Creating worlds, bringing ideas to life. Creating things that no-one else can, no matter how much money they have. Expressing abstract thoughts in new languages. It is a gift and I am never bored of exploring it.
At an event on ‘Creativity After Kids’, held in 2015 and coordinated by Darebin City Council, you were on a panel with some other amazing women including Lorelei Vashti, Robin Penty and Rachel Power, which I was lucky enough to attend. The conversation was fantastic, all- encompassing and offered great insight and reflection on managing pre-schoolers through to young adults, with domesticity and family, while acknowledging the need to allow time for personal creativity. How do you continue to manage your time and creative output with two children and all that this entails, and do you think that they have contributed to your work in some way?
I think we all find ways to manage, whatever our situations might be. Some people manage careers AND families with serious illness. Some have to care for their parents full time. Some are haunted by bad luck. I feel like having kids has been challenging in many ways, but in more ways it has really given me a truer sense of who I am and definitely untapped a hunger and a drive that I didn’t really know I had. If you really want to do something you always find a way to do it.
At this event, you also touched on then the gender imbalance represented in Australia, especially in prizes such as the Archibald Prize. Do you think there is a gender imbalance in Australia supporting female artists operating in our current contemporary art system and have you ever felt inequality for being a female artist in Australia? If so, how or when or what was the scenario?
Yes! There is serious imbalance, STILL, in the art world. It is slowly being addressed, but I see it almost every day. Women are still treated patronisingly when they are single and like baby factories when they are mothers and often in good faith ‘given time’ to stop their careers in order to care for their children. What I don’t understand is how people think this is helpful? I often hear people (old male curators usually) say (and have said to me) ‘Just take some time out, your art can wait- the most important thing is to be a good mum. Don’t worry about meeting with me, I know how hard it is to just get the washing on the line.’ Like that is all a woman is good for once she has a baby. Which is absolute bullshit. The most important thing for a creative woman with young children is to keep a sense of yourself and often, for an artist, that is to keep making your art. And to have a reason to. It is the only thing that kept me sane through having kids! Women should not be made to feel guilty for spending part of their limited energy focusing on their creative work and taking time to keep it alive. I strongly believe this makes me a better mum in the long run anyway.
Lovekiller by Tai Snaith
The horrendous and unquestionably unfair recent Australia Council budget cuts, will see grants to individual artists and projects decrease dramatically over the next 12 months time, and potentially beyond - a thought I’m reluctant to mention. Before these cuts, and even more so now, do you feel that Australian female artists will have fewer resources, crucial financial support, to go into making and producing their art?
I think all Australian artists, including writers, dancers and actors and subsequently audiences and broader society will suffer from these recent cuts. I was lucky enough to have my first volunteer position at Express Media as a teenager and then one of my first jobs as a producer at the Next Wave Festival, both of which have recently lost their funding after years of providing platforms and launching places for creatives like myself. Without these organisations I would not have been able to work in the arts. I would probably be working in advertising. God forbid. I fear these pure, grassroots cultural incubators will increasingly be forced to become co-opted by corporations and subsumed into capitalism like everything else. Sad times.
On a more positive note, you have a new exhibition opening here in Melbourne. What is this exhibition about, and where can we see and support it?
I actually have 3 projects on at the moment, or coming up. One is an exhibition called ‘Concrete Agenda’ which I have curated and am also part of, for C3 gallery at the Abbotsford Convent. I am pretty excited about this show, it's a group of artists who I really respect including Kate Tucker, Laura Skerlj, Belle Bassin, Olga Bennett, Pia Murphy, Alice Wormald and Nell Pearson.
The next show my work is in is a group show in Sydney at a space called Home @735 in Redfern where I will be exhibiting a series of new fictional portraits paired with abstract ceramic assemblages for the first time. And at the end of July (Saturday 30th) our house (BKK Dolls House, designed by my partner Simon Knott) is one of the feature homes to be opened up to the public for Open House Melbourne and I will be opening up my studio and also displaying a series of new my works upstairs in our bedroom! June and July are quite busy, but now that I think of it, so is November and December- lucky we are going on holiday in September!
Where do you often find the most inspiration?
I find most inspiration from just starting to make. I love the process of making. I also read a lot of fiction and art books and I walk along the Merri Creek a lot listening to podcasts. These would be my main inspiration-generators.
Lastly, what is the best advice you have ever been given?
Be kind to yourself.
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