See also John Dahlsen’s Artists Business and Career Strategies

John is my chosen artist who practices in an area of the arts different from my own. The interview took place in his studio which is located on his stunning property in the Byron Bay Hinterland.

What area of creative practice do they partake in?

John is an environmental artist working with statements about the environment and beauty. He is concerned with both activism and aesthetics, a colourist using challenging materials such as beach found plastics, he comments ‘beauty is the hook that slaps you across the face and then you realise what’s going on’. John talks about the alchemical process of transmuting base materials into art and how it is beauty that is the trustable quality that guides this process. He describes himself as a performance artist; the action and meditation of collecting his ‘palette’ in public spaces is an integral part of his work.

Do they have a business name?

No, John considers himself a practising visual artist and ‘trades’ as John Dahlsen.

Where is their business? How is it set up?

His business is structured as a Sole-Trader. He has a dedicated studio on his property in the Byron Bay Hinterland.

Do they manage all of their creative practice or are other professionals employed?

  • John has an accountant who manages the financial and business aspects of his creative process.
  • When working on public arts projects John is in the role of Project Manager and as such is working with teams in a collaborative way, sometimes employing engineers, accountants etc.
  • John has a casual employee who assists with canvas stretching, priming etc.
  • On occasion John has employed professional writers to author contributions for catalogues and essays regarding his work. He understands this to be beneficial in keeping his currency in the art cannon.
  • He employs a Web Designer who manages and administers his site.

How many hours do they work?

John dedicates at least 3 days a week to his art practice but notes that there is     a sporadic element to his creating which is less predictable and sometimes consuming of his energy and attention. His relationship and dialogue with each piece or series determines the pace rather than any imposed chronological timeline.

How has their business developed?

John painted for seventeen years before venturing into creating with found objects. His work over the last twenty years has been a development and exploration of this unlikely media. About ten years ago John began authoring books related to his experience in the artworld and in the subsequent years has completed his doctorate and now enjoys lecturing with the University of Canberra.

Are they commercially viable?

John considers himself very viable as a practising visual artist. The Global Financial Crisis saw many gallery closures and this has affected the market in general and John’s sales in particular. John has been very resourceful in the lean times and taken on auxiliary projects such as authoring/publishing books and creating pop-up galleries. This downturn in the art market also became the catalyst for John to undertake a PhD in Darwin.

What advertising, or marketing do they use?

John has an extensive website (over 1,000 pages), he has made videos, participated in many interviews and written countless essays. He considers making the most of opportunities to be a required part of his professional attitude.

Make a list of the physical resources needed for each type of business. Briefly describe how these are set up in their workspace. If you are not interviewing them in their studio/workspace, enquire about their set-up.

  • Quality materials (eg. Belgium linen)
  • Museum quality stretcher frames
  • Well organised storage

Determine and summarise the types of behaviour, skills and knowledge each creative practitioner demonstrates.

  • Working with found objects has challenged John to invent systems to organise his materials and a professional discernment that brings a high degree of integrity to his art.
  • John experienced a major learning curving when he undertook his PhD, at this time he describes unexpectedly learning how to be an academic.
  • John has a diverse and practical skill set, he enjoys being actively engaged in whatever endeavour is required and whilst he has always kept his art practice as his primary pursuit he has made this possible by being incredibly adaptable and resourceful.
  • John’s philosophy to life and art is process oriented, responding rather than reacting, allowing life to talk to him to find balance.

List significant opportunities each creative practitioner has experienced during their professional career.

  • During the eighties John shared a studio with fellow artist John Beard. This relationship challenged John’s own sensibilities and he went on to enjoy a very successful exhibition at the University of Western Australia. John considers the body of work he created for this exhibition to be of great significance and representative of his best work to date as a painter.
  • John has a long-time passion for making furniture from driftwood. He was collecting driftwood on a Victorian beach many years ago when the washed up plastic waste came into his awareness, he began collecting with the intention of taking it to a waste and recycling centre. Somewhere in this process the colours and forms of the refuse seduced him and revealed a new direction for his creative practice.
  • Gallery Director, Ali Yeldham encouraged Dahlsen to enter the Wynne prize with his work ‘Thong Totem’ … this was a catalyst for exhibiting internationally and infused John’s work with an energy and vitality that was for him at that stage unprecedented.