You've written on your site that you're 'still painting that very first self-referencing painting – and I can’t or won’t finish doing so until I feel I’ve got it - which will probably never happen.' Reflecting on this, what do you feel might be the obstacles to achieving finality?
Viky Garden: I think it’s my way of saying I never want to finish – or that I’m aware there really is no end until the big sleep. All of these paintings are a continuing conversation I’m having with myself and deep down in my marrow it’s not something I want to stop. Each time I start a new work I’m giving myself total freedom but at the same time I’m literally looking to myself for answers as to how this latest relationship – mere pigment scraped on canvas, will resolve – what question will it ask?
Do you vary the ways you work – and / or the materials used - when you begin your latest self-portrait, or is there always a set routine?
VG: Until a month ago, my studio used to be a room in the house – so it was very easy for me to nip in and out at any time and within seconds, be working. Now I’ve got a separate studio out in the yard and it requires dedicated time. I make a point of getting all the admin/chores sorted in the morning and that gives me the afternoons to spend in the studio.
For the first 25 years I painted with oils because I had this insane bias against acrylic paint. Something along the lines of ‘good artists use oils’ – an embarrassing prejudice based solely on the idea that one learned technique has more value than another. But I found that I was using smaller and smaller brushes and working with my nose to the canvas – I was slowly suffocating. I felt the need to challenge my approach but wasn't sure how to go about it. So I stopped painting.
This is a financially suicidal thing to do and I don’t recommend it. But for two months at the end of 2015, that’s exactly what I did. With time, I slowly began to give myself permission to think in broader terms until I got to a point where nothing was standing in my way (it never had been of course, I was the sole obstacle). In those two months over summer, I played a lot of backgammon. I’m certain it helped in a contemplative way because in February 2016 I went back into the studio, put away the oils and paintbrushes and began painting with liquid acrylic and using bits of cardboard. I didn’t want anything to remind me of the practice of oil painting – no paint in tubes and no brushes. It was an enormous risk because I had no idea how to paint with acrylics or even what it was I was hoping to achieve.
If there’s a set routine, it’s a loose one with a much more random approach to what’s going to appear on the canvas and why. Working with abstraction has given me much more opportunity to discover ‘happy accidents’, those wonderful moments of time where a splash or smear of paint can determine or reveal an aspect of light or form that conscious thought and practice often stifles.
Have there been occasions when your art and the music of your husband Steve, of Rattle Records, have come together in multimedia projects?
VG: We tend to stay in our own paddock with our work. The only time there’s been any overlapping is when my photography has been used for Rattle cover artwork and my choosing Rattle music for two of my Youtube clips. We both work from home so we’re together all the time and often Steve’s work can be intense (he not only runs Rattle but he engineers and produces most of the music). To be honest, I’ve never thought about the possibility of doing any kind of project together because there never seems to be enough time in the day. That’s not to say that if something presented itself we wouldn’t consider it.
From your website, I see you have also sculpted variations of the female torso. Are you also the model for these and do they represent, as much as the paintings, this same ongoing search?
VG: In the summer of 2013 I produced about a dozen small sculptures. At the time it was as much about giving myself a break from painting as it was the desire to learn a new process. The great thing about the torsos was that for the most part, I was able to think less and simply produce. There’s something to be said for the physical process of producing work in this manner – making moulds and casting pieces (each torso is in a limited edition of 5) and finally, sanding for hours on end. I was curious and keen to teach myself how to make sculpture. Apart from a couple of works, they are mostly female torsos – it wasn’t a conscious decision to base these on me, but the tendency for me is always to do what I know. These are like talisman pieces, they each fit in the palm of my hand and are beautiful forms to hold. I’ve since had one of the pieces printed larger (using 3D technology) so that in the future I can made an edition of it.
So far, what have your self-portraits helped you learn about yourself since the age of fifteen?
VG: It’s so tempting to say ‘everything and nothing’. Everything in the sense that they are a visual record of my life for the past 30 years. While I haven’t been too obvious with my narratives, I clearly recall what was happening at the time when I look back at the majority of my work. If I was to say nothing, it’s because ‘needing to know’ keeps me standing in front of that easel. In all this time, nothing about ‘our’ language – the language that exists between me and her – has changed. I’ve learned that what feels personal, even intimate, is really universal – aspects of love and loss, the transitory nature of everything, change and impermanence. Collectors aren’t buying ‘a portrait of Viky Garden’, they’re seeing something that resonates their own life experience.
Do you think you'd still have wanted to be a painter if consistently using yourself as the subject hadn't originally occurred?
VG: Life is serendipitous; opportunities arise and if we have the talent, time, and understanding, we make of it what we will. I didn’t get the chance to go to art school, however at eighteen I met Steve and for as long as we’ve been able to, we’ve given ourselves the freedom to make our own path and trust our own vision. In a parallel life I could very well have gone to art school, applied myself and perhaps found influence in a different discipline or practice. I’ve often wondered, if I wasn’t painting at all and could choose a different interest, it would probably be based around some sort of archaeology. I can think of nothing more meditative than carefully revealing and discovering aspects of our past, what makes us who we are now. In many ways, I find its very much the same purpose painting serves.
A big thank you to Viky for her time and contribution.
You can find Viky's official website here: https://www.vikygarden.com/
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vikygardenartist/