Serena I know you worked in Sydney at Roslyn Oxley for a while and that this is one of the galleries that represent Rohan and I also know you both lived (or were born) in New Zealand- how exactly did you meet each other?
We met each other in a dodgy bar on K (short for Karangahape) Road in Auckland after an opening at Artspace in the early 2000s. Rohan and I used to spend quite a lot of time drinking at another now-extinct K Road bar called Mr Luckies – we liked the white vinyl couches and pink neon lighting.
Why did you decide to curate an exhibition of Rohan’s work?
The Mailbox format seemed the perfect presentation platform for Rohan’s paint chips. When Rohan first started presenting these objects as part of his fictional organisation the Planet Earth Geology Department (PEGD) they were often isolated in individual baggies and presented pinned up like specimens. Mailbox’s small, individually lit compartments also ensured that these objects were elevated as art objects in their own right, rather than simply remnants of other paintings. Given the little partitioned slots, there’s also a bit of a peephole vibe going on – perfect for one of Rohan’s naked alien babes.
Have you worked together in the past?
While I was at Roslyn’s we took a showcase of Rohan’s work, including some PEGD boards in fact, to an art fair in Shanghai called Sh Contemporary. Rohan and I often minded the stand together, occasionally messing around with his Maiden – a giant sculpture of a big-breasted, bald female figure wearing a white cloak (designed by NZ designer Tanya Carlson if I recall correctly). She’d been laid out for months receiving coat after coat of paint so it was wonderful to see her erected - fully excised and realised.
Any plans for working together in the future?
I would love to work with Rohan again, his imagination is unmatched.
I know you’ve curated a show of Yvonne Todd’s work at the CCP for me there’s a certain synergy between Rohan’s and Yvonne’s work of something being not quite right or of a kind of sci-fi element, is this one of your areas of research?
‘Not quite rightness’ is a key component in a lot of good art for me. I’m drawn to stuff that’s a bit twisted and ‘wrong’. I remember visiting Rohan’s place a few years ago, when the alien babe photos were first in development. He had an image torn from a porn mag pasted on the living room wall. The image had been folded up concertina style, so that the woman’s body was harshly divided into two sections – face and genitals - covered here and there with daubs of paint and paint chips. I found the image problematic – and exciting. There’s definitely a synergy between Rohan and Yvonne’s work (though I think Yvonne’s ‘wrongness’ is less explicit) so it makes sense that Yvonne actually assists Rohan when he makes his photographs, as discussed below.
Any upcoming projects that you’d like to share?
I have one project that I’m desperate to get off the ground, involving an underground figure who to the best of my knowledge has never had a solo show in Australia before. The main issue in getting their work (and them!) here is the one that most people face when working independently – money.
Rohan I’ve seen your work only on a few occasions in Melbourne once at Heide in the Future Primitive show where you exhibited large paintings with your carvings and adornments and the other at TCB for the Benglis 73/74 show with the lenticular photographs of erotic alien babes.
You seem to have a diverse and multi disciplinary practice have you always worked in this way? I did a bit of google detective work and discovered you trained as a painter -what made you branch off into other mediums?
Yes back in art school I was under the umbrella of painting but I never did any painting until I was in my masters. I remember I wanted to make paintings but not being able to figure out a way to do it. Through a series of installations and performance works I found a way to make paintings. I think by asking questions through different disciplines than the discipline you are trying to work in is a good way to learn about that different way of working. I think this might sound a bit counter intuitive but somehow it worked for me. Because I worked in this way in the beginning I can often switch ways of working because I can see how something might work in a different way or how something sparks an idea to a different way of working. I like to develop new ways to make something. It feels less like work when you don't know how to do what your doing.
The photos are very elaborate the body painting and costuming etc. Do you have a team of assistants that help you?
For the photos I usually have a group of women to help. I have the rule that no other male is allowed on set, just to make the model feel more comfit-able because she is positioned nude with her legs spread on a massage table for quite a long time. I get someone to help me do the base colour and stick bits of paints on, glue on false eye lashes etc. I leave the more sensitive areas until last and I'm the only one who does that part It is the most fun part apart from seeing the photo finished.. I do all the pre production myself, design, set building and costume making. Yvonne Todd takes the photo's for me. I am afraid of taking the photo myself because I don't know how to use a camera properly. Yvonne also helps with my direction a wee bit. sometimes I run out of ideas after painting on girls for five plus hours. I like to keep the shoot quite loose and see what we come up with. Yvonne also helps with post production touching up here and there. I am bad on the computer. I take a lot of care setting up the shoot so there is never that much to touch up.
You say in your interview with Serena that was produced for this exhibition that you started Planet Earth Geology Department (2005-present) “from a need to somehow use all the rocks I produce as waste from other series of works.” I also noticed that you use paint chips in the photographs as costumes and body adornments are these made specifically for the photos with the costumes in mind or purely a way of reusing waste? In other words are the paintings and sculptures always the starting point?
I am a farmer. A paint farmer. I try to work in a way where what i cut off my paintings and sculptures is just as important as the works themselves. everything feeds into everything else. so yes the paintings and sculptures are the starting points to produce the materials to make new work. I have developed different ways of harvesting to produce different cuts of paint used for different kinds of work.
Any upcoming projects that you’d like to share?
Early next year I have a residency in Thailand in Chiang Mai. There I will learn Thai massage and try to develop new work to produce an installation where I perform massage and heal in my own clinic/healing center.
Rohan Wealleans is represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; Ivan Anthony Gallery, Auckland and Hamish McKay, Wellington.
You can see more of his work here: