Curator Danielle Hakim interviews Cassie Broad, Julie Burleigh, Eugene Carchesio, Gareth Donnelly, Clementine Edwards & Kenny Pittock
When curating this exhibition I selected works based on two limitations: that the artists already made small scale artwork and were Australian. Because of this, the artworks presented at Mailbox in small art are stylistically, materially and conceptually very different.
I spoke to the artists about the works they made for this show and smallness in their individual practices, below is an edited selection of their responses.
DH: Can you all tell us a bit about the artwork you chose to present in small art?
CB: I had recently moved into my own house with my partner when I was asked to be a part of this show, and was looking through photographs taken on our phones of the first few months living together, and really enjoyed the beautiful moments these photos represented, so I decided to produce some paintings using these images. I always use snapshots from my personal archive in my work rather than taking new photographs to paint from because I enjoy the randomness of the compositions. I get very emotionally connected to the spaces or places within my life so painting only the backgrounds from photos- removing people from the images -for me is a way of paying homage to a particular memory.
JB: Nothing to See Here was first shown in a solo exhibition at the Dolls House Gallery in Preston, curated by Sophia Cai. I had previously been making free standing dioramas but this gallery, an actual dolls house, had four rooms so I didn’t have to make my own walls and floors which allowed me to make small-scale objects to fit into the 'rooms'. I have rearranged some of those works here at Mailbox in a series of related scenes. The work addresses the domestic environment and how it reflects and extends sensations of chaos and disorder, peace and stability.
EC: These works were on my table awaiting a purpose … i asked them if it was ok if they were shown in a mailbox space and they had no problem with that.
GD: The works are from a 2002 series “Tiny Paintings” at the time I made the works I was interested in the physical limitations / parameters of painting. And by “painting”, I mean the traditional components...a stretcher, canvas, and paint. I was interested in how I could use those basic elements to create something that extended painting into the realm of sculpture or object, in that it was about the physical properties rather than the content. At the time I also did “Stretched out Painting” and “Gigantic Painting”. With the “Tiny Paintings” I was also interested in the point at which painting almost didn’t exist. It was a bit of a play on the “death of painting”.
CE: These works were originally wearable pieces (two necklaces and a brooch) but at mailbox they take on the function of sculpture as the necklace cords were removed and you can’t see the brooch backing.
KP: I knew wanted to respond to the gallery's previous life as an actual set of mailboxes and at the time I was thinking a lot about mailboxes because I'd just moved into a share house where we have a "No Junk Mail" sign on the letterbox, which was kind of upsetting me because I love junk mail so much. I didn't wanna ask my new housemates if we could take the sign down though because I'd just moved in and I didn't wanna rock the boat. So I guess that was the starting point, although if you look at where the work finished up you probably just see a silly pun about snail mail.(An update on the "No Junk Mail" situation is that the people who deliver pamphlets in my area don't actually pay any attention to 'no junk mail' signs, so my house has both a no junk mail sign and lots of junk mail, everybody wins, and I never had to mention it to my housemates.)
DH: Has smallness always been a focus in your practice? Why?
CB: For the most part yes. I have worked large scale before, however I enjoy working small scale for a number of reasons. For one thing I like being able to manoeuvre the board in my hand when painting – I feel most comfortable painting this way, rather than on an easel. I also feel the nature of the works are much more intimate and softly spoken when they are smaller. Like they are a little snapshot of a moment, rather than a large grand statement.
JB: Part of my practice is making functional ceramics (eg plates and mugs) so I already work on a small scale. I started making abstract sculptures out of the off-cuts left over from making functional pieces, as it felt wrong to 'waste' them! It kind of went from there. I started making abstract scenes that were reminiscent of stage sets, quite minimal and almost Beckettian. I will often incorporate miniature versions of my functional ceramics in these scenes, and use similar colour schemes.
EC: Not having studied art I made work at home at a desk for myself. I guess that meant I didn’t have the pretensions of scale. For me a matchbox was a space equal to a room. A portable room.
GD: While not always the focus of my practice, I do tend to favour the diminutive. I think it is the intimacy and immediacy of small scale works that I enjoy. I feel that so much contemporary art (particularly art that is shown in the state gallery system) is about spectacle, or the “blockbuster”...that big is better. Go into any state or commercial gallery and see how many works are “small scale”. You’d be hard pressed to find much under thirty centimeters in size. Why is that? I’ve always been drawn to the smaller but no less grand statements made by small scale, intimate art works.
CE: I came to art via jewellery so really, my practice has (pardon the pun) grown from the small. Brooches are a big thing in the jewellery world and not a big thing anywhere else in the world. They are little sculptures. Very impractical to wear (they snag on things and tear stuff), very good to look at. The intimacy of the small scale attracts me very much.
KP: I make a lot of 1:1 sculptures, my hope is that at this scale it kind of heightens their Trompe-l'œil effect, but also on a practical level it allows the sculptures to be arranged in any combination which makes it a lot easier to form larger installations. But probably the main reason I mostly work on a 1:1 scale is so that I'm able to discreetly insert the artworks into the "real world", in places like supermarkets and bookstores, which for me is usually the most exciting part of the work.
DH: When I think about the struggles involved with being an artist - time, money for materials, storage space, transporting work etc it seems to make sense to work small- is economy part of the reason you work on a small scale?
CB: Time is one reason why I enjoy working small scale – not because I don’t have enough time, I just get impatient and bored if I spend too much time on the same painting, and so I always enjoy the quick turnaround, just so I can have that variety when creating.
JB: Economy is a part of it, ceramics is rather an expensive medium sometimes. But also simply the size of my kiln dictates how big I can go. I've always been attracted to making small objects however, so it's not a problem!
EC: economy is not a consideration - just dumb luck - I have just done what I have done.
GD: Yes, definitely. There are so many things that interest me about small scale works, both the production and in the experience of them. All of the things you mentioned are correct...except for maybe time. I know small scale works can often be as painstaking and difficult to make as something 1000 times larger. Even if I am doing works that are larger, it is still usually governed by what I can fit in the car (with the seats down). If art is about ideas, why is it necessary to have that idea manifested through large canvases, fabricated sculptures or large digital prints that cost hundreds of dollars to produce? In a way I feel like artists that work predominantly in small scale have to work even harder, and not just to be seen. I feel that small works have to have a strong conceptual basis, there is certainly less to hide behind.
CE: Gold and silversmithing is a very expensive student pursuit. That said, I’m deeply practical, so the fact that I can pack down a solo show into a Tupperware tub and store it in my cupboard (I don’t have storage issues) makes me very happy.
KP: Yeah I think that's very true. For the most part I'm limited to using materials that can fit in my car, and likewise I can't really make ceramic pieces that are larger than the kilns I have access to. But having said that, even though I work relatively small, I make a lot of work so I still struggle with negotiating storage space,. Whenever I walk through a national gallery I always think about how some of these great artists must have had such incredibly accommodating studios.
DH: What is the biggest work you’ve made? What is the smallest?
CB:The biggest work I’ve made isn’t actually that big now that I think of it. It was a work I painted in art school. Its largest side was 1.5 metres, so compared to some artworks it is still quite small. It now sits in our bedroom at my in-laws house next to the beach, as it is a painting of my partner surfing.
JB: The smallest is a tiny pin-head sized miniature pill. My kiln shelves are 30cmx30cm, so the largest work I've made was a 30x30 abstract 'scene'.
EC: My pattern based work allows me to cover large spaces - sides of buildings even… These mailbox works are among the smallest i suppose. Then there are the ‘sound’ works which are ‘invisible’ (if that counts).
GD: The blue monochrome was the smallest stretcher I was ever able to make (1 x 1.2 mm) once I’d done one Tiny Panting (and I can’t really remember why I started), the challenge became how to make an even smaller one. I do enjoy playing with scale so I have worked in larger formats, making both larger paintings and sculptures.However, the previously mentioned “Gigantic Painting (2002) was about making an “oversized” painting, rather than a “big/large” painting. The idea was to make a painting as if the tiniest painting had been enlarged over and over again. So while it only measured about 1m x 1m, the surface was grotesquely thick with giant brush marks. The stretcher itself was incredibly deep with giant staples on the side.
CE: My graduate work was a two-meter arch spelling out ‘Hi I’m Clem’. Each letter was made with dozens of little resin brick-trays that I filled with trash and treasure. The smallest work I made was a golden burr – like the little burrs that get caught in dog’s fur at the park. I cast the burr in gold and made it into a brooch the size of my pinky finger nail.
KP: Last year I made a life-size sculpture of a vending machine, titled “31 dinner options while waiting for the last train home”. The machine itself is a sculpture, and then it's also full of 100 individual ceramic sculptures. The smallest work I've made, I'm not sure, maybe ceramic sprinkles. Or ceramic sculptures of the red stuff on a bbq Shape.