To walk a path that is shunned or feared by others, one requires great strength in character and steadfast self-belief. Hazel Dooney’s decision to reject the conventional method of selling her art, by refusing to be represented by a gallery, set her on a path rarely trodden. As is the case with many leaps of faith, her rebellion proved to be her success and, in the years since, her work has become some of Australia’s most coveted. At once confronting, thought-provoking and unabashedly voyeuristic, her works flirt between the genres of pop, punk, erotica and just a hint of manga.
Sex is something that lingers on the mind of Hazel Dooney, regularly. Her provocative works of art, often labelled ‘shock pop’, have made her one of Australia’s most debated and successful modern artists. Perhaps stemming from her disappointment in the inhibited conformity of her own generation, Hazel’s works confront viewers in a way that makes them consider their own relationship to sex and its place in the public realm. Her 2008 solo show, entitled PORNO, featured a collection of black-and- white photographs depicting various forms of sexual activity – including cunnilingus and masturbation – featuring the artist herself. While many artists use themselves as the subject for their art, few expose themselves in such a manner.
It is this fearlessness and self confidence that has impelled Hazel’s career along its rapid trajectory. Her willingness to question, to debate, to challenge the status quo, and defy conventional society figureheads within the art world has incited both endearment and anger. Regardless, it has made her 2005 decision to shun traditional gallery representation and take the reins of her own commercialisation, an undeniable success. In early 2011, Hazel was placed at number 41 in the Australian Art Auction Record’s list of the top 50 most traded artists by value across Australia and New Zealand. Not only was she placed just below the legendary Lloyd Rees, but she was also one of the few women, and artists under 35, to grace the illustrious line-up. And as she attempts to pioneer a new paradigm for the sale and commercialisation of art in Australia, Hazel continues to play her role as pop-cultural provocateur with aplomb.
My artistic style described in ten words is ... ‘to art today what The Ramones were to music in 1975’. Or so the New York-based ‘No Wave’ filmmaker Amos Poe wrote about me recently. And yeah, that’s 11 words, not ten.
As a child, I dreamed of … being elsewhere. The sparse, empty stretch of rural Queensland in which I grew up had its attractions but I longed for the exotic – Paris, Marrakesh, Istanbul, Shanghai. Think (as I did, even then) the adventurous Isabelle Eberhardt, with paintbrushes.
My father … always encouraged me to take no shit from anyone. Especially men. He was a strong influence on my art, turning me onto Vampirella, Barbarella and other, intimidatingly strong, hyper-sexualised 1960s comic-book heroines when I was at an impressionable age.
My mother … is my antithesis.
The first art piece I remember seeing was … probably in a book. I can’t really remember what it was. I had no access to ‘real’ art until I was in my late teens. Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles was the first I saw on a gallery wall, and it altered my way of looking, not just at art, but at the whole world.
An experience that made me cry was … the death of my father, earlier this year. I found it hard to stop for a long time.
Success to me is … just as Freud (Sigmund, not Lucian) says it is for all artists: fame, money, and endless opportunities for sex and revenge.
The greatest challenge I’ve faced to get where I am today is … being relentlessly truthful about what I share of myself in public. Unfortunately, it provides a lot of fodder to an art business that thrives on bitchy gossip and innuendo.
I’ll never give up because … I have no choice. I am driven to make art. Besides, as the legendary tightrope walker Karl Wallenda once put it: ‘Life is on the wire. The rest is just waiting.’
I’m most proud of … having achieved a career that is independent of the traditional commercial gallery system. Oh, and teaching some of the limp- dicked, late-middle-aged, male bullies who operate within it not to get in my f—ing way.
My imagination is fuelled by … sex. Rather more than I would like it to be, but there you go.
A person who inspires me is …
the French dancer, Sylvie Guillem. She is intensely disciplined, physically tough, expressive, fearless, and always performs without a net.
The last time I was surprised was … when I was ‘recognised’ by women at a nail shop in a suburban mall. It was my first real brush with tabloid-style celebrity.
I will never be represented by a gallery because … they’re a doomed anachronism. It’s not that I won’t exhibit in them – they are, after all, nice, blank spaces. But I won’t ever accede to the exploitative terms under which most operate; terms that effectively indenture an artist (and a hefty cut of
their income) to a dealer and his cronies.
The first thing I do when starting a new artwork is … think. A lot.
My favourite sound is … hard to pin down: I was going to say ‘surf breaking on sand’ but then I was reminded of the intensifying, breathless gasps of a woman nearing orgasm. Love that.
I am inspired everyday by … the relentless process of drawing and painting, of producing the work. No matter what.
I find peace when … I sleep. Well, sometimes. I’ve made no secret of my mental illness and for long periods the notion of ‘peace’ is abstract, at best.
I would like to learn how to … be calmer, more tolerant and understanding. Then I think, ‘Oh, f— it’.
Now, my dream is … to spend the next few years living in some of the places I dreamed of as a kid. Particularly Paris and Marrakesh.
If I could share one piece of wisdom with the world, it would be … something the novelist, JG Ballard, wrote: ‘Never confuse the map with the territory.’
Sex … I like complexity. Flesh… Best experienced from within. God … If my belief in one was measured on a sliding scale between ‘being’ and ‘nothingness’, it’d be maxed at ‘nothingness’. Love … For me, uncommon and always singular. Book … Indispensable and never digital. I love the tactility, smell and clutter of them. Mortality … My own is always in mind.