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Interview with 2013 Australia Council Visual Arts Award recipient Tracey Moffatt

Apr 16, 2013

Interview transcript between 2013 Australia Council Visual Arts Award recipient Tracey Moffatt and graduate art students Eileen Abood and Sancintya Simpson.

Eileen & Sancintya: Tracey, congratulations on being awarded the 2013 Australia Council Visual Arts Award.

Tracey Moffatt: Thank you! It is a great honour for me. My heart went boom boom with excitement when I got the phone call. I was so thrilled to be recognised and up there with talented important names in the Australian Art world.

E&S: Tracey, we met you last year while we were still studying at the Queensland College of Art in Brisbane, where you also studied. We were so lucky to have you come and speak with us, as you have a reputation for hardly ever giving talks, so it was a great surprise. We both found your advice on what it takes to be an artist in Australia, really practical and insightful.

TM: Oh Good!  I do give the occasional lecture just not all the time. The secret to success and sanity is to say “No” to everything. The only thing artists really have to do is try to get on with their new work. It’s always got to be the next ‘thing’, the next damn ‘thing’….this takes a lot of concentration. For me this is always a struggle. I am always getting sidetracked and I want to socialize all the time as Sydney is so gorgeous and interesting. Then when I stay home to try to work all I do is watch tele –  is six hours of tele a night too much?

E&S: No!  Ms Moffatt are you missing New York?

TM: I do and I don’t. I worship New York and its energy and I have great friends there. I do think that it is important for Australian artists to go there and experience the art scene as it really is super out of this world. But after I lived there for 12 years and despite its great arts and culture Spiritually it was not be enough for me. It was the pull of nature and land that drove me back here….I really am Indigenous to here, there is no denying the powerful ‘pull’ of ‘country’.

E&S: On the topic of country. Your latest body of work is titled ‘Spirit Landscapes’ (exhibiting with Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery, Sydney and Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York in 2013) To create the series we hear that you have been hiding away in an inner-city boarding house in Sydney.

TM: Yes I have  ‘taken rooms’ in a boarding house, the type where you share a bathroom down the hallway with guys. It is quite okay and my little room has a kitchenette where I can make my chicken salad for lunch. It can be a bit dark and dank at times…

SS: You mentioned that the feeling is ‘Kafkaesque’… do you mean that your new art series focuses on experiences of alienation, subconsciousness and metamorphosis?

TC: No I think I meant that the feeling was like Kafka in that I have had to lock myself ‘in’ in the dark and have my mind ‘go places’ to get my vast new body of work done. In a sense be alone and get depressed!

Since I’ve been in this room I’ve been so productive…the new work is almost ready to show.  The thing for a visual artist is to not have anything great or beautiful around to look at as it can be so distracting. Last year I was trying to make my art while living in my lovely apartment that overlooks the glorious Berry’s Bay in McMahon’s Point. All I would do is gaze out the window and marvel at the boats. Or I would shuffle up the street to the ‘scenic cafes’.

E&S: You have gained International art fame, but you must have been faced with challenges along the way. What has been the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome to get where you are today?

TM: Oh it is all still a ‘challenge’, to stay one’s self, and stick to one’s original vision in making and presenting new ideas in contemporary art, my extreme my ‘cocksure’ confidence does help a lot.

E&S: ‘Cocksure’ is a very masculine way of describing yourself.

TM: Yes indeed it is my butch side.

My confidence cannot be explained. I have no reason to be so, given that my upbringing was not been white and privileged. No Mummy and Daddy ever bought me a ‘loft’…to be ‘creative’ in.

The International art world can be so weird & snooty. I don’t tend to hang out in it much. I think that this has been the secret to my happiness…I’m  just not  ‘in’ it, therefore I have always kept my sense of humour. My enjoyment has always been in the actual making of my art works, the journey. Where my art has taken me has been my biggest thrill. I’ve been down frightening alleys on the ‘wrong side ‘ of town to get a digital print made and recently I drove alone though outback Queensland at night to make photographs as part of my new series Spirit Landscapes which deals with the Supernatural.

E&S: Do you mean ghosts of the past?

TM: Yes and No I can’t say ….I can’t discuss my new works before they hang on the gallery wall.

E&S: Last year, when you spoke with us you mentioned about not ‘talking up’ new work or over explaining it, as you believe it’s better for others to write about your art.

TM: Yes and it’s usually guy artists who are the most verbal isn’t it? Back to me commenting about the ‘art world’, (this rant from me will now be interpreted as : ‘artist biting the hand that feeds her’….just wait and see) for example I have been invited to Art Basel this year which is the world’s biggest most important Art Fair…and I know that I should go and I know that it is ‘important’…but I honestly don’t give a Flying Hoot  about it.  Instead I’m considering my much fantasied about trip to Samoa, where a bunch of us will visit our friend’s Grandfather’s Island and we will sleep with all the family on woven mats in huts. Then a week later we will all be sitting by the bar in the low budget tourist resort sipping cocktails.

Of course I will explain and claim that such a trip is ‘research’, which it is….sort of.

E&S: Thank you Tracey for taking the time to talk with both of us and for so generously sharing your advice. We look forward to seeing your new work later in the year and congratulations once again on your great and well deserved achievement!

Tracey Moffatt also said that so far this year in 2013 she:

Loved the film Hitchcock with Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins

Loved Francis Bacon show at Art Gallery of NSW

Loved the APT at the Queensland Art Gallery

Loves Archie Roach’s new album Into the Blood Stream

She is reading Nano House by Phyllis Richardson and at night when she is worried about life she drags out her Shakti Gawain book Creative Visualization of which she has been reading since 1989.

In 2013 she is trying to not eat any sugar.

Eileen Abood is a recent graduate from the Queensland College of Art. As an emerging artist and writer her interests focus on intercultural relations and art in the Asia Pacific region. She is currently completing her postgraduate studies in International Studies at the University of Queensland.

Sancintya Simpson is a young artist and writer from Brisbane, Australia. Her work is informed by her cross-cultural upbringing and centres on themes of hybridity and identity. She is a current recipient of the 2013 ArtStart Grant from the Australia Council for the Arts.