JH: I find it really interesting that you can move between all these different mediums and forms, you do it quite freely.
JD: Yes I give myself total permission. I don’t have a commercial gallery breathing down my neck saying John could you stop doing that or can you please, now that you’re painting beautiful paintings of Byron Bay, can you please just make lots of them. Or can you stop painting these landscape’s and go back to your plastic things cause your known for your plastic things.
I mainly show in museums these days. In international museums, I had a recent a show at the Anchorage Museum in Alaska and that travelled through United States to a number of other museums. That was part of a group show called “Gyre” and was all about the Garbage Patch in the Pacific and artists who use ocean litter plastics. So there were twenty of us from all over the world who participated in the show. I also show in regional galleries. I will be showing in Brisbane in the Buddhist Centre next year, they’ve got a beautiful big gallery out there. I’m not a Buddhist but I love Buddhism. Even though Buddha did say he didn’t want any sculptures or images made that people would adore. That’s what he said. Everybody’s got some in the garden these days that’s an interesting one. That show will be touring down to Sydney to the Buddhist University down there. It also has two major big galleries joined together and I’ll be showing there.
JH: Is the work associated with something that has reference to Buddhism?
JD: Well yes the work encourages in the viewer a sense of silence and meditation and it’s something that is very deliberate on my part. My PhD was all about environmental art, that’s the title of it. “Environmental Art” Activism, aesthetics and transformation. The transformation part was the one that invited the viewer into another space inside as they looked at the works. As they engaged with the work they could go into a state of meditation if they really got the works. Some people have said that without even knowing, they’ve said to me “your work is an invitation to meditation. You provoke people, you get their interest because of the materials you use. Which is tempered by the aesthetics you bring to it. So it’s quite beautiful even though you are using rubbish and at the same time, the trick is, what your doing is, your inviting them to meditate”. And I said wow, you really get the work. Because for me that’s really what it’s all about. I’m very aligned with the whole Buddhist nature and meditation, being silent and still inside. Still in the mind instead of walking around with a completely chattering mind. Being disturbed all of the time for some reason or another. The other thing is the Buddhist centre in Sydney is located on what used to be a dump. They’re totally excited about it, the whole centre is based on what used to be a refuse dump. I’m excited.
JH: Do you require a certain space to create, or to me you seem like your an artist who can create anywhere?
JD: Well, yes I like to be flexible. I’m about to go to Indonesia in June, the Australian Consulate is flying me over to do some workshops with Indonesian communities and with artists and university students. I’ll be delivering a keynote speech at a symposium over there also. Then running some workshops to basically teach these community members how to work with found objects, especially beach found objects. In this case I’m going to focus on Styrofoam, there’s Styrofoam washing up everywhere. Over my career I’ve made a lot of works with this medium. I’m quite excited to just isolate that as a material that I want to work with. This is mainly so I can keep a sense of aesthetics – I’m only there for a week. I’m in Bali for 3 days at a workshop and will be speaking at a seminar on “Waste to Wealth” then I’m going to Lombok for three days to do another seminar. I’ll be creating and donating a series of artworks for the Indonesian government give to the Indonesian Institute of Arts (ICI) over there.
Its going to be a really good thing and good things come of this kind of activity and ‘giving back’. I like to give back. I like to give up artwork up for auctions I like to donate artworks to institutions. I’m at a point in my life where I can do that. When I was younger I couldn’t afford to. Now I can. I’m not asking for a fee, I’m just doing it and it’s going to be a really wonderful thing. I will have an exhibition this time which will lead to a larger exhibition that will travel through SE Asia.
JH: So what advice would you give somebody who was a younger artist, looking to continue on with their art, maybe do some projects similar to yours or follow down a similar path?
JD: I think probably I would start with something very simple. Keep saying yes, learn how to say yes. I find as younger people tend to be a little bit more measured and they’ll often way up their choices, sometimes saying, they’re not sure whether they can do this because of self -doubt or, whatever it is. I say just jump in and say yes just workout the difficulties later. If you say no to something or seem hesitant you’ll miss out on the opportunity. I’m a big yes sayer, just deal with it later if you can’t end up doing it or figuring it out and it’s just not possible whether alone or with other people, just deal with that later.
And also look after your health. I say for anybody as a young person there’s a temptation to just give yourself, your body, a really hard time. I did so I know from experience. Also just take care of your health, and the earlier that you do that the better and don’t be scared of making money. I say that, I’ve written a book about it, it’s called “An Artist’s Guide to a Successful Career” – Strategies About Financial and Critical Success. That’s what the book is all about, how to be an artist, the business of being an artist. Often I’ve heard, so many times, artists going through art school and they were never told the business of being an artist, how to arrange your finances, what happens if you have a big sell out at a show? Do you just squander that money, or do you start a little portfolio, buy a property buy a flat or a unit something? Start the process of managing your money wisely so you can enjoy wealth. l, and a lot of artists I know do this. I also confront my students about this all the time. What is your attitude to art and money? If you were to be successful would you have the attitude “everybody is going to think I’ve sold out”, for example that sort of thing, and to ask yourself, what is my attitude, how do I price my art? All these different things and I can tell you a little secret right here. The National Association of Visual Arts (NAVA), have a very clear document that they freely give out and it is basically the amount per hour at different stages of your career, as an artist you should be asking for, every hour you put into your work in order to be able to come up with a number. If you have a canvas and it takes you 10 hours to do or 20 hours to do, and your’e basing the figure and your position at that moment, midway through a degree, and that’s very early career, you‘re looking at $23.50 an hour. A lot of artists don’t want to put that together, you know, saying “what about the inspiration” or “I can’t charge that much” and they forget about putting a price on the actual materials first, you get that and, then you get the hours spent. A lot of artists put ridiculous prices on things because they get all emotional, and say “that’s my baby I don’t want to let it go”.
So this is the sost of thing I also engage myself in as a lecturer and author.
JH: What’s one place in the world you think every artist should see?
JD: Ok I tend to be a fairly traditional with that I would say, India for sure… I’m only kidding because I said New York the other day.
India is so full of color and so full of laughter and joy and extreme poverty and some ridiculously bad things going on, with people smuggling and all sorts of different things. It’s a place of tremendous heart. You go there and you feel like “oh, I‘ve come home” you don’t know why. It’s really rich, the food is unbelievable.
As something to do, it’s a little bit like going to mecca. Go to New York! Go and spend some time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York. Have lunch there with a friend and go to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the Whitney and a few things like this and just spend a week there. Go to Chelsea and some places like this, go to some of the commercial galleries and just see what’s rocking. Also Berlin. There’s some very exciting things happening there.
JH: Many thanks to John Dahlsen for the interview.