After 10 years of unlearning, I found my own vision by travel, obsessive looking and direct social interaction, in fact, 5 months living on an island in Venice with Jo was an art education in itself.
Tell us about your background …
Around 1978, Jo Davidson and I were living in our old Holden station wagon, ‘The Mongrel’. Driving back and forth along the coastal roads from Adelaide to Rockhampton, we got to know a few good spots for camping – one being the Wilson River around Telegraph Point.
In 1985 we got a job assisting Lawrence Daws paint a mural for the performing Arts Complex in Brisbane and with the resulting payment, headed south to look for a perfect swimming hole with an adjacent house. It took about three months of looking, then we found a place with two potential studios and a magnificent swimming hole on the Forbes River at Birdwood. We have lived here for 25 years and have had two children as fine companions, who have since moved away to Melbourne seeking education, culture and city life.
Where did you train … what were the creative or life processes behind the standard you’ve developed your art to today?
I initially trained as an artist in 1965 at the Art School of South Australia in Adelaide – a school renowned at the time for its hard edge colour field orientation under the influence of Syd Ball and the New York School of thinking.
My vision then was more Eurocentric, and I found more satisfaction in a subsequent post graduate course in Melbourne, where there was a more lateral social and aesthetic approach.
However, after 10 years of unlearning, I found my own vision by travel, obsessive looking and direct social interaction – in fact, 5 months living on an island in Venice with Jo was an art education in itself.
From 1968 – 1978, I was a painter. During the three years of travel in Europe and a brief stint in India, I was captivated by sculptural images, which were not in the domain of museums, but in the public arena … architectural facades, churches, courtyards and parks. So from 1980 – 2003, I became a sculptor. In 2003 I resumed painting … It now seems the only sensible thing to do in life! I can philosophise, speculate, revere, explore and invent images, all on a small square of canvas.
Typically, what themes or moods do you usually like to capture with your art?
I see myself as a witness to change. History of art documents the surge of civilization through time, and the last fifty years of technological change has and is opening dimensions as we speak. My paintings now are a way of juggling fact and fiction … a way of divining sense in the passage of time.
Describe the types of artwork you produce and what types of materials you use to create them …
During the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Long Flat dump was an inexhaustible source of materials for making sculpture … various metals, plastic, rubber, wire, old books and fabrics. On one occasion I found a complete Brush Box floor – 20 or so 4 metre lengths of 150 x 30 mm planks – which were transformed into numerous laminated figures.
Now, as a painter … for luminosity and intense colour, the alchemy of mixing and the option to alter and change the image, oil paint is ideal. I find oil paint challenging to use and very demanding if you attempt risky moves.
Where do you source ideas and inspiration for your work?
Art never sleeps! The inspiration or solution to a problem can be hidden away or blaring like a billboard. It’s a matter of recognising the information as an image.
Which individuals do you feel have had a significant impact on your art / career? How have they affected you personally, or your work?
My partner, Jo Davidson and I have allowed each other to be artists for nearly forty years! It is not an easy path – particularly financially. However, through honesty, openness and persistence, we are still artists! Our kids, Jasper and Nixi are a constant source of inspiration. They provide a generational change in music and image, which is confronting and rewarding.
As an avid reader, I find the works of William Gibson and Cormac McCarthy particularly pertinent to my work and our time. Gibson presents images of life slightly ahead of its time, and McCarthy’s works have the vision and thunderous density of events on a global scale.
The upcoming exhibition at the Glasshouse will feature both your work and that of Tony Coleing. What is your association with Tony – you’ve held joint exhibitions with him before?
Tony and I met in 1985 at Ray Hughes Gallery in Brisbane, where we both exhibited. I shared a huge studio with Jo, the old drafting office for the shipyards at Kangaroo Point. Tony and I began a collaborative drawing, which we would work on for days at a time and which grew over the years to about 4 x 2 metres.
We moved the drawing to Sydney, where Tony had an old tobacco factory studio, and over a couple of years of sporadic drawing sessions, the drawing doubled in size and was about 8 x 4 metres when completed in 1990. The drawing was included in the first collaborative exhibition at the Port Macquarie Regional Gallery in 2001 and was hung on a specifically designed and built curved wall.
What do you feel viewers will see as the major points of difference between your works and Tony’s work?
Tony’s work has always been uncompromising, provocative and abrasive. Two examples I remember clearly … in one exhibition all the works were framed with rough pieces of imitation plywood with ‘signed under frame’ rubber stamped on the front. Another exhibition featured collapsible shelves on the wall supporting sculptures made of delicately balanced shards of glass.
My work is more esoteric, with obscure references to art history, culture, science, science fiction and the future. When we first collaborated, I was shocked and appalled at some of Tony’s decisions … now the differences are the wonder and the lure of our work together.
What is your favourite piece of work displayed in this exhibition, and why is it a favourite?
Our collaborations are based on extended conversations about politics, art, the nature and future of the universe, etc. With a lot of notation and a lot of humour … works evolve which encapsulate these conversations. I particularly like The Forking Bridge. It is a simple piece, but as it turns out, quite indicative of our time. The fork only appeared at the end of its making, as our opinions differed.
Overall, what do you hope people will witness / experience after visiting the exhibition and viewing the artwork on display?
Art documents the evolution of civilization and as such, continually changes, continually requires redefinition and hopefully allows the viewer to ponder the irreconcilable questions of origin, identity and the purpose of life.
Stephen Killick & Toy Coleings’ exhibition Recent Forks will be on display at the Glasshouse from June 4 until July 10.
Interview by Jo Atkins.