Your images seem to be concerned with beautiful nightmares. Where from life have you drawn inspiration?
The past, ancient and traditional artforms, museums, film culture, folklore, and yes even a few nightmares.
Any particular incidents amongst that mix?
Well, I recently stumbled upon my mother’s collection of Man Myth and Magic Encyclopedia magazine c. 1970, which encompasses all of these subjects. Re-discovering this publication inspired further research into godly and spiritual beings, which led to the Gods and Monsters series.
Baba Yaga is a spooky kind of bloke with his infant eating antics. What drew you towards him?
Baba Yaga is actually a mythological Slavic witch character much like the old witch found in the Grimm Brothers fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. Baba means grandmother in most Slavic languages and at the moment I am interested in discovering mythical creatures related to my Ukrainian background.
Ah so not a scary old man but rather a malevolent old woman. She is kind of a malevolent archetype really isn’t she? And she resurfaces transculturally all over the world. In 1729 Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal” where with gusto and subtle humour, he proposes the solution to Ireland’s poverty as the consumption of its surplus offspring. Can you think of a contemporary figure that vaguely fits the description of this archetypical monster?
Wow, this Jonathan Swift guy sounds scary! And yes, with the Baba Yaga story I like how the folklore changes and translates differently into various cultures, in some versions she appears as a young beautiful woman and others as a theriomorphic creature. I don’t really have a contemporary figure in mind that fits the description of a child-eating witch. But maybe the media today is something like that?
Note to Murdoch: you are a child-eating monster. How does your treatment of child-like figures in your work reflect this projection of vulnerability in the context of someone like Baba Yaga?
The child-like figures can be seen as both singular and dependant beings however it is intended that they also hold god-like and monster-like qualities. In the work titled ‘Triglav’ the child figures and the god (Triglav, who is also a Slavic god) connect together to create one super being.
What are you reading at the moment?
Right now...magazines, just finished an article about the making of the feature film Raging Bull in this month’s Vanity Fair. My last good read was ‘Young Stalin’ by Simon Sebag Montefiore. I am mostly into reading biographies and interested in past lives these days.
Past lives as in people who have lived in the past, or are you thinking more about your own evolution of spiritual self?
Past lives as in people who have lived in the past. Bio’s can be a great history lesson depending on the subject. I am also fascinated with early photography. If a biography has both then it’s a winner.
Oh good. I thought this conversation was about to divert off course into a discussion about reincarnation. There is a surrealistic nostalgia in your work that bleeds a sense of history. What is your relationship like with your grandparents?
I was closest to my Ukrainian Baba (granny) who passed away just last year. Baba’s house was full of kitch ornaments, painted eggs, old photographs, wooden carvings and all of her furniture was covered in traditional Ukrainian patterns and doilies. She didn’t speak much english so that made things tricky but our relationship was good, she had a great sense of humour and most visits would include her telling a long dramatic story in which she would switch from tears to laughter within seconds. The last story I heard her tell was on her deathbed. It was about a donkey that was stuffed with gold nuggets!
Your Baba sounds wonderful. Her house sounds like it was full of colours and textures. Do you think these objects have had a great influence on you aesthetically?
For sure, many objects have been influential especially now that I have a range of these objects now in my home. I have the most amazing tea set that is gold and bright orange, some funny vinyl record covers and lots of decorative vases.
You have been implored to increase the scale of your work by powers that be, instead favouring to delve into an even more tightly organised practice for ‘Gods and Monsters’. What propelled you towards this shift?
Some larger scale works were planned for the ‘Gods and Monsters’ series but they did not fit in with the show. There was not a conscious shift to tighten my practice but I do actually like making small-scale work, it’s great to see people get close-up and examine the images.
How do you feel about your work being on such a large scale in the shop window at Incu?
It’s amazing to see the images large and the quality of the prints worked really well considering they have come from such small-scale watercolours. The experience has been really inspiring in terms of thinking about scale and alternative spaces.
Photograph by Sally Poon
Do you think it has made you want to increase the scale of your work or hasn’t really made any difference?
Yeah, some larger works are in process right now. I am aiming for a good balance of both in the future.
The newer, more abstract elements to this series are quite different to what you’ve done before. Where did these come from?
The geometric shapes depicted in this series were loosely inspired by the science fiction novel ‘Chocky’ by John Wyndham. As a kid I watched the BBC TV series (based on the novel) and it has haunted me ever since.
Chocky was an odd shaped being that appeared only to a young boy named Matthew. He was invisible to everyone else and was basically an alien that would communicate and manipulate him. I haven’t seen the show for a long time but I remember the little boy started making these strange pyramid shapes out of clay or something because Chocky was controlling his mind.
Your work is very fine, but also loose and representative rather than directly referential. An arm is never the shape you expect an arm to be, but it is wholly believable as an arm. Is your bedroom neat or chaotic?
It’s sort of neat, but somehow never completely organised. I am constantly freaking out about getting rid of dust and sorting out the bookshelf.
Would you rather wine or jellybeans?
Have you seen or read much Commedia Dell Arte?
Some, it would be great see and read more. I do love a good pantomime though.
Yes, I can see some visual references to pantomime theatre in your work. What are some favourite pantomime moments in your memory bank?
Oh, they are quite vague now, I remember the buffoonery and slapstick comedy, the outrageous costumes, overacting and yelling out “he’s behind you!”
What does it mean to you to mask a character’s face?
I find real masks quite frightening, especially traditional masks intended for a ritual or ceremony. Masking a characters face explores power and the power of play. In some works the use of a mask is linked to a spiritual presence.
What about the assumption of a deceptive self-identity? If Baba Yaga can change forms across the world in cultural mythologies, can masks represent multiple identities?
Definitely, that is also an intention. I like to refer the use of masks as ‘many faces’.
Your work is quite cinematic in its freeze-frame momentum. Is that in any way a carry through from your previous work in video media?
Definitely, and I am really looking forward to developing a marriage between the watercolours and my video projects.
It’s interesting because the link is not immediately apparent to most people who are familiar with your work in moth media, but really your watercolours can be read like the storyboard for a film. Are you conscious of this or am I reading too far into it?
Yeah, you could say that. I think this series can be read like that. I am conscious of the images as film ideas and because the ‘Gods and Monsters’ series is a tight collection of works a storyboard element may be evident.
There is joy and melancholia in your colour schema. What do your pallet pockets look like in your studio; messy pooled versions of your actual work or are you quite clinical?
I am not clinical with colour at all. Generally my colour palettes become dirty quickly and I end up with loads of paper tests with slashes of colour and layers of shapes and doodles.
Tonally your colours are so interesting. Is there a favourite colour you’ve magically concocted and are really pleased with?
Shades of purple and violet especially with hot orange.
So our favourite colour is purple, but I’m curious if you have had to defend it to people as I have. People call it the colour of the sexually repressed, the royal, gay pride, the spiritually divine, the antiapartheid movement, in Thailand it is associated with Saturdays, in the holocaust it was used to brand non-conformists. It seems to stir emotions in people much more than yellow (with the exception of naff cads like Coldplay). What is your experience of the colour purple?
Purple is great…who doesn’t like purple? I have not had to defend the use of purple in the watercolours at all. Usually I have to defend reds and blues. An important purple experience was Purple Rain by Prince and the Revolution. Prince was and is an important purple experience in general.
The ‘knee-faces’ in “Heads Up” are very eerie. From where in your brain did this emerge?
Overall, I am pretty obsessed with heads but these ‘knees faces’ sort of emerged after I had a bad fall off by bike and hurt my knee. It was a pretty deep cut.
Funny, I asked because I looked down at my knee and saw a scar, a scratch and a bruise smiling up at me. Yours sounds much more painful. Where were you riding to?
Back home from my studio space in Rosebery late one Friday evening. The stack was in the park so I was lucky!
The dialogue between men and women in your work seems sexless and yet you are exploring the moral grounds between good and evil. Where does sexuality fit into your metadramas?
Sexuality is not something I tend to focus on. I have never really thought about the characters being sexless, so this an interesting point. Some of my subjects do focus upon male characters however the loving charms of watercolour soften the subjects into a more feminine form.
Do you have siblings?
One brother, Wade. He is an artist also and had an amazing show at Carriageworks last year featuring robots.
The emptiness of the faces in your work provides space for your audience to project their own feelings and imaginings into these archetypical characters. How do you want your audience to feel?
I really like that people can project their own feelings, if the audience is able to get into the characters and images then that is the best achievement I can imagine. I do like it when the viewer laughs though!
What do you think they are laughing at?
Not fully sure. For past works I think it’s the googelly eyed faces that get a chuckle.
What is the most interesting snippet of audience feedback you’ve received?
What would some of your characters say if they could speak?
Come with us!
Images courtesy the artist and Chalk Horse.
Until 20 March
94 Cooper Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
Also on display at:
256-257 Oxford Street
Paddington NSW 2021