Abbey McCulloch on the couch, Sharne Wolff with the questions..
Sharne Wolff: You’ve been an Archibald finalist twice and your portrait of curator and arts writer Alison Kubler Two 2016, is now showing in the Portia Geach Memorial Award. Tell us a bit about the process of making portraits.
Abbey McCulloch: Actually three times in the Archie but hey, who’s counting? They’ve all been great experiences getting to meet the subjects – even the ones that didn’t make the cut – so in some ways the motivation to have a specific encounter is behind my wanting produce a portrait at all. I think my idea of a person shapes the portrait, and playing around with that preconception is far more interesting to me than simply re-creating someone on canvas. I keep the sitting brief as there is usually something that happens in those initial moments of meeting someone that sticks with you and I don’t like to lose that feeling. There is this immediate wrestle with the person you expected in your mind and I like to play around with that. I also hope to capture some of the nerves as they’re there somewhere too – for both of us.
SW: How about this one of Alison in particular?
AMC: I am not sure if it is a deliberate thing but the subjects I often seek tend to resemble my works already and Alison is no exception. Her beguiling features and expressions are totally other-worldly. I also wanted to create an image that counters or at least steps back from the synchronised and glamourous aspects of her busy life. She is a perfect subject because of the mystery that exists there. How can Michael Zavros not have already exploited this muse of all muses?!
SW: I’ve noticed on Instagram that you’ve been recently been dabbling in sculpture. Is this a new body of work?
AMC: Part of getting older brings a sense of impatience and the clay works have been a part of working through that for me. The process itself has settled me down, it is super calming and these creatures that have materialised won’t let me go, they’re totally my work and in some ways they’re making the paintings and the drawings seem like preparatory pieces. Although I had some experience with clay during undergrad in college, it was only a few bowls and vases. I’ve only been doing these for a couple of months and it’s been quite a surprise. I had never thought of my work in 3D before, never considered being able to walk around my images, see backs of knees and heads. They’re blunt little things, anatomical loyalty is not a priority here at all, they’re totally on their own and yet so human. One fell off the table the other night while still wet and I discovered her in the morning in twisted pieces on the floor. It was like a crime scene, the way that she fell, all bent up, I felt sick. I’m not sure where I will show these. I have a clear vision for how I would like a show of them to look, but I won’t know until they’re all done. It is by far the most patient – and happy – that I have ever been with a series of work.
SW: You’re a proud Queenslander who lives on the Gold Coast. What do you love most about living there? What do you love the least?
AMC: Ha! The coast is a soft target. I’ve lived in the same house since I was a kid and I can still ride around on my bike with a lemonade ice-block, watching the surf, pretending life hasn’t changed since I was about ten. I used to love how quiet it was until a few years ago. The beach is still my reason for being here although it is getting harder and harder to experience it as it was, I just find my own quiet here when I can. When I’m in that mood I go down to the beach on rainy days or dark mornings just to avoid crowds of people and to picture it as it used to be – or even better – as it might have been before us white folk turned up with jogging prams and 7-11s! I love it here.
SW: Is there a character from a TV show or a book that you’ve always resonated with? Why?
AMC: Jeez, I’m not sure about that one, I’ve got a lot of time for Special Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks. I think I love him because it all comes back to his appreciation of small details, namely coffee.
SW: What’s your dream gig?
AMC: I’m not sure it would be a show, probably more like a long residency. I’d like to set myself up in a studio in the desert outside of Palm Springs for quite some time.
SW: What’s another question you’d like to answer?
I’d love a question about my upcoming show PERFORMANCE at Tweed Regional Gallery? The works in PERFORMANCE are about the ways that we perform for others – and ourselves. They are about our fictional selves revealing more about us and how our veneer can be more telling. I asked some friends to sit for me but I wasn’t particularly interested in capturing their likeness, I just wanted to play around with capturing something in their expression that showed them being self-aware. In each of these images I am trying to capture that strange moment where you realise that you are being watched by yourself. The person that you are trying to be has been caught out by the person you are. It’s like an out-of-body thing. We all appear to be working on improving ourselves these days and of course it’s not a specifically female thing but we seem to have so much awareness of what needs fixing, piling on corrections. This ramped up surveillance – while it is based around improving – can turn us into wanting something fictional and elusive. The images respond to the synthetic nature of these ambitions. I am obsessed with observing what we choose to build onto ourselves and I feed off this fiction with these new works.
See Abbey’s work: until December 18, Portia Geach Memorial Award 2016, SH Ervin Gallery, The Rocks, Sydney
From December 9 to February 26, 2017, PERFORMANCE, Tweed Regional Gallery, Murwillumbah