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I’ve never spoken to Mick Turner, but our email exchanges over the past few months have given an insight into the type of person he might be. His show at Junior Space Room o’moths will hopefully give a few more answers to my suspicions about a man who is inherently creative and compelled to make things. It would seem that for a career in the spotlight, Mick is quite comfortable to remain out of it. While many will know Mick for his musical achievements this is only one element of his creative nature. We spoke with Mick about why creativity is in his bones and the importance of the message, not the medium.
To start with, quite broadly – why do you create and choose to exhibit?
I’m not sure what drives me to be creative but it’s always been there and I suspect it lives deep in my genes. I discovered the joy, doing fingerpainting in prep and haven’t looked back. I didn’t exhibit my paintings until I was 43—before then I’d just given them to friends. If they were something I had kept, they were used for album covers. I’m a fairly shy person and I didn’t like the idea of exposing to criticism what was personal expression. But I found exhibiting actually gives you feedback on an essentially a solitary process and opportunity to communicate. Exhibiting also feeds my work ethic and gives making art and defining myself as an artist a level of credibility.
Why do you think you were suddenly spurred to exhibit? Did something in your life trigger this?
In 2003 the previous 10 years of intensive touring with Dirty Three was slowing. I had moved back to Melbourne after living overseas and I was ready to branch out. My friend Caroline Kennedy encouraged me to be part of a show she was having at Marios café in Fitzroy.
Practically speaking – how do you shape an idea and plan a piece?
For something I haven’t done before, I imagine the piece and then I brainstorm how I can construct it. As I didn’t go to art school this process often involves learning new skills and experimenting with new materials. My work often develops through a combination of my original idea and what the materials and techniques allow or reveal. For my sculptural piece Hodan & Omid I had to teach myself welding and also to make fiberglass cloth soaked with coloured resin do what I wanted it to. This was pretty much by trial and error and it was a messy, frustrating, stinky battle and ultimately very fulfilling.
Generally I find there’s no point in being too specific or detailed when planning a piece, even a painting, as the process has such a large effect on what eventuated. It’s better to think in broader terms such as how you want a piece to affect and what you want it to try to say.
You’ve mentioned you sometimes paint and work until you’re bored – what does boredom do to your work?
There’s a creative approach I’ve learnt which involves working an idea until it becomes mundane and you start despising it. Working through this process eventually triggers a lateral shift and this is often when I manage to produce my favourite work.
You talk about being concerned with what you want your artwork to say – does this change throughout the working process?
Only when the subject is a social issue am I concerned with how its message, if any, might be perceived. I think the best you can do is express what you’re seeing in your own way, an honest rather than contrived approach is more powerful and reaches further. Working through a piece and telling a particular story, can lead to a better understanding of what is being seen.
Recently, I’ve been exploring the way colour can affect [the viewer] and I’ve always been drawn to the image of moths with their mystery, beauty mixed with ugliness. So I started working on an idea to make a lot of moths and use them as exercises in colour and see what might happen.
Room o’moths has a political element to it – tell us more about the subject matter you’re exploring in this body of work.
For a long while now I’ve been alarmed at the horrible injustices committed on refugees incarcerated in Australia’s detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru by our elected governments. One vote every four years is not enough. Grumbling disapproval but giving in is not an option, as I know we will be judged by our children on how we act on this issue. I refuse to let them or myself down by doing nothing.
The question is what should one do? I don’t feel any confidence on what to do or how to approach this, but here I’m trying something, as an artist I’m trying to express what I see, and expose the questions that it asks, I’m pointing to the question: ‘what can you do if you know your government is inflicting gross suffering on innocent men, women and children?’
In your experience does music or art give you a greater voice to provoke discussion?
Either done well works. There has been some great art such as Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ and music Bob Dylans ‘A hard rain’s gonna fall’.
I guess your art or music as a voice for a social message comes back to the debate around the role of art as agency (which, as you said has been around since Guernica and before). Today the amount of content sources can be pretty intense. How do you think art, brings a different perspective?
The visual image is a powerful thing, it can invoke a deep emotional response. Perhaps an objective image has more credibility than an idea presented subjectively as it doesn’t have a lecturing agenda.
Aesthetically I’ve always been fascinated by and drawn to religious art, even political art like that of the former USSR. These have been a source of inspiration for many of the pieces in this show.
Mick Turner’s exhibition Room o’moths was on display at Junior Space from Thursday 8th to Wednesday 28th June.
Images thanks to Mick Turner and photographs of show by Bec Capp. Interview by Lauren Brumley.