(Damian Smith has an exhibition of new works in
February 1999 at the Fitzroy Gallery, Fitzroy Street. Melbourne)
Where were you born and when?
"I was born in Australia, in Melbourne in 1968"
What art school did you attend if any?
"TOP which is a Foundation Year at Victoria
College and then I did my degree in painting and printmaking at RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) and then
I studied two years of art history at the University of Melbourne"
When did you first come to England?
"I left Australia at the end of 1994, came to England, didn't like it, travelled, came back because I could work like most Australians on a two year work visa and I arrived in Martello Street shortly after that in 1995."
Why did you move here?
"A friend told me that there was a studio
for rent in Martello Street at MT studios."
Were you helped by an organisation?
"No, I wasn't"
And how did you fit into the local area?
"I would say that I didn't like everybody
Did you feel then that you were part of an artistic community?
Can you remember the train of events that led up to you living in the East End, the reasons, the impetus that started your move?
"I left Australia, I knew one person in London, I went to see her, her boyfriend said to me that there was a studio going in Martello Street and thats pretty much how I got it."
Do you exhibit work in the East End?
"The Whitechapel Open, at MT Studios and The Hidden Art of Hackney. I did a show that Jane Clark set up in Broadway Market at Bradbury's the hardware store which was about life in East London Fields.I have had other shows in London, I have just had a show at Australia House which was quite interesting. "
Damian Smith at Australia House
Between You and Me
Why do you think so many artists collected in the
East End between the years 72 and 97?
"I don't know a great deal about the history
of the East End but the only thing that I can think is that it is
Has your work changed during the period that
you have lived here?
"Immensely yes. I was coming from making
very refined artwork to making work that is much rawer, it is much
more immediate. Life is extremely busy for me in London, far busier
than it ever was in Australia, so the work I produce I try and produce
as quickly as possible. If I cannot say it in five minutes then I
find another way.Its speeded up, I've also become much more aware
about being Australian, whatever that means. I am interested in the
figurative tradition and I have worked for the Australian figurative
painter Arthur Boyd and I now run the Sidney Nolan archive."
Why did you stay in the East End?
"Well I live in a squat so I don't pay any rent, and
its two doors from my studio which costs £4.50 per week. we
pay the rates on the studio to Hackney Council"
Has the local council been helpful?
"Through their negligance they have been helpful.
What happened with the MT Studios (30 Martello Street (MT standing
for Martello Terraces) is that about 15 years ago people squatted
it and started paying the rent and the rates and the council accepted
that. Then the roof started leaking so people said they wouldn't pay
any more rent until the council fixed it. The council said fine, don't
and that has remained the agreement for donkeys years now. So their
negligence has been helpful."
What do you think happened to this area between
1972 and current time, if you have an opinion?
"I don't really know, I can speak about the last few
years, the change here has been really dramatic. It appears to me
that the money that was obtained to spend on this area has been spent
too quickly, not thought through. The council has no appreciation
of what they have here. I think this is an amazing area, I mean in
the last century it was Paris Left Bank, this century at this point
there is nowhere in the world like this part of London and I know
that.That is something very unusual. I mean they have put these live
work spaces around the corner and I don't really see them being rented
out. They are very nice, I actually quite like them, it would be great
if they were full, but they are not."
From when you first lived here until now
what do you think has changed?
"Its kind of weird,
because there is all this newness, but there doesn't seem to be any
substance in that newness. With Ellingfort Road, they have moved all
these people but now its gone pear shaped with half of the street
now living in caravans. Its as if the local council are doing what
they are doing and everyone else is doing what they are doing and
there is no cohesion."
there no other Way
Collection of: Shillam+Smith3
"Having moved from Australia to London I realised very quickly
that artists in the UK were very much trapped by certain aesthetic
and economic conventions that are difficult to deviate from without
It was very freeing to be outside of this situation so I decided to
really experiment with what I could do. What emerged from this work
for me , both in the materials and in the images themselves was a
narrative on transience and multiplicity. Partly this was to do with
realising that understanding oneself in terms of traditional societal
values is no longer possible. Living in Hackney where people are re-inventing
themselves all the time has re-inforced this positiuon for me.'Dog
Man' embodies some of the feelings about living in such a fluid environment
but also about trying to hold it together. In 'Mirror Man' the sense
of internal and external space has become indistinguishable, a kind
of loss of self, disintegration.
Making use of surfaces that I have found around my studio has been
fun but I did'nt want to take this on like say Rauschenberg had because
basically it had been done before. But I am interested in art being
something of a bi-product of living. I'm sure this is not a very fashionable
idea but I think that's because no one really knows what art is supposed
to be. So there appears to be some anxiety about letting it define
its own context.
I'm aware that the idea of multiplicity is receiving a great deal
of press these days, especially in the context of post-modernism.
But for me, the actual daily experience of it can be quite frightening
which in part informed 'Cyclical Murder' and 'Is there no other way'
What I really enjoyed about making these images has been letting go
of the idea of the end product and just doing it regardless"
Do you have a particular memory or ancecdote?
"Yes I do and its really weird. When
I first moved into my studio and before I lived in this house I
lived in a house at the end of the road. It was a really hard time
in my life, I was very fragile blaa, blaa. I was making images of
a murder and you can see that the body ends up underground.
Anyway my housemate went to Australia and became a born again christian
. Then he came back and confessed to murdering somebody and burying
them in the basement of the house. So, the police came along to
dig up the basement and they found the body . When I heard what
had happened the first thing I did was hide this painting (Cyclical
Murder as above)
Anyway later they came round to my studio regarding a break in and
said the murder happened years ago. I showed them the painting and
they said that they weren't surprised as people always pick up on
So for me it was a kind of gruesome confirmation of approaching
art in an organic way and I'm not talking about post structural
linguistic theory, I'm talking about my experience with myself through
the body.It shows that we operate in a non verbal way and that that
is what visual communication is about
Can you list any artists that have been
influential in your work?
Traylor an American
artist, he is classed as an outsider artist, he died in 1949. He
walked off a plantation and started making work in a doorway which
was his studio."
How influential do you think this area
has been on current Bristish art and do you think that influence
has been recognised?
has definately not been recognised by the establishment. I spoke
to the art critic Stewart Morgan about this issue and he was very
encouraging about writing up the area.I think
the Saatchi/Sensation phenomenon is very much linked to a re-imaging
of Britain as young, white and cool. But the significant artists
of an era are not always known in their own time. There are lots
of fine artists in London Fields who are not yet known. I talk to
Jane Clark, Herve Constant and John Frankland about art, they
all have very different focuses.
Smith and Jane Clark
For me this area is quite extra-ordinary and in a way I am too busy
to notice that because life is very expensive and I can't sign on.
The confluence of artists that I have met, the Reclaim The Streets
parties that spontaneously turn up (150 cycles silently outside my
window as I am about to set off for work) are amazing.Yes it is a
very special area"
Interviewed Saturday February 21st 1998
Other Educated Persons
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