Artist

Jeremy Hawkes

Jeremy Hawkes artist statement:

It’s 2013 and there’s certainly no time like the present. The internet, globalism, economic rationalism, the rise of the religious right, unrest and revolution in the middle – east, plastic surgery, reality TV and the cloning of the Kardashian virus has changed the way we think about ourselves and our world forever. Is this a good thing? Are there even such things as good and bad anymore? I God dead? Where the fuck is my moral compass and can I get it in touch-screen? So many questions to which the answers are as irrelevant as the latest Hollywood blockbuster. How, then, in this time, does an ‘artist’ approach a subject, negotiate culture through our bodies, or begin to ask  questions about ability / disability?

I’ve always been an artist. As a child I would do endless paintings of balloons, owls, turtles, snakes – anything with a skin, a pattern of surface that defined the form. Later, when I went to Art School in Lismore, NSW in the early 90′s I already thought of myself as a painter. Realising quickly how bad I was at this, I switched to sculpture with the thinking that in this studio I could learn some practical skills: welding, bronze casting, power tools.. I quickly found a love of working with wood and over the three years my work got bigger, more complex, tessellated and decorated. Average studio marks, but high achievements in academia made me realise that I was no Picasso, but that I had a good grasp of the language of art and culture – a somewhat depressing realisation that I’ve never quite gotten over.

Just over 5 years ago I was injured at work and my life and art-practice has never been the same, nor ever will be. I have had numerous surgeries on my cervical (neck) spine, endless procedures, injections, scans, tests and the like. The result is severe spinal spondylosis with complications and a resulting impaired central nervous system leading to chronic pain and a dependence on opiates. No longer can I be the strong person I was, wielding chainsaw and angle grinder with abandon. No more sell-out exhibitions, no more public commissions and, as I saw it, no more art.

In this way I can deftinately say that having an acquired disability has impacted directly and absolutely on my art practice. Am I now an artist with a disability? A disabled artist? A differently-abled artist? I’m still not sure. I cannot but continue to think, on good days, that I was lucky to have 35 years of excellent health and that I was not born with this condition. I cannot but help think in what I term the vertical model of disability (and I have no doubt that there are many who may take offence to this) – I can walk, I have all my limbs, they function quite well most of the time and there are those who are ‘worse off than me.”

At other times the pain and muscular atrophy is so bad I cannot get out of bed for weeks at a time. The condition is degenerative, I have lost most of my strength, it is dangerous for me to engage in any real physical activity, I tire extremely easily and depression can leave me without much will power or concentration.

I’ve always loved drawing and have pursued this as much as I can, though with a real loss of confidence and concentration. I have begun to work in different, gentler sculptural media and tried to think about how I approach art-making and the different attitudes and ideas that can be adopted. So far, without much success, but I know I’ll get there. I think all artists have periods of high productivity and periods of where the thinking about art is in effect the practice of art. But, I miss exhibiting. I’ve taken up painting again and discovered that I am as bad as many other painters I see who are quite confident to show their work. I’m attempting digital media, thinking about various courses in animation etc. but have yet to get started in any real sense.

In December last year I was further diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

This has cast a bit of a spanner in the works to say the least. The spasms in my hand and arm (my good hand, of course) make it difficult to draw or paint for long periods at all. I can change my style, I can embrace this curious condition into my mark-making, there is, potentially, a lot to explore. There are always boundaries that artists must work within; constraints that can help to frame a process rather than limit it. In my head it all makes sense, but in practicality, I confess to being somewhat overwhelmed. Perhaps there is a real difference in ‘acquiring’ a disability(ies) than having lived with it for your whole life, I don’t know…

This exhibition for me is a terrific reminder that I am still an artist. That I have a huge body of work behind me, that I have spent most of my adult life working hard at my practice. It reminds me that I still have many, many choices and options although as yet I have yet to really find my new ‘voice.’ It’s an amazing opportunity to contribute culturally and to be part of an incredibly important discourse that covers so many variances; what is the role of the Body in art? What are, and more to the point, why are there different categories in art full-stop? Am I now an artist-with-a-disability, or a diabled-artist, or just an artist, who like all artists, must work within various constraints, be they physical, economic, rural vs urban, language background, ethnicity etc?

It’s bloody hard work being an artist. I’ve never understood nor accepted why artists must compete with each other. We were taught this at University and it continues when you leave. The opportunities are limited, it’s for all intents and purposes impossible to make a living out of being an artist in Australia full-time and it’s a game of who you know rather than how good you may be. There are a huge number of enormously talented artists who will never be famous or much recognised – those artists who work out how to play the art world game have a much greater chance of succeeding, but must we, collectively, accept this as the status quo? There are fewer and fewer artists I know who take a more Marxist approach, and will share information and opportunities, will try to work outside the gallery / funding circus and whose approach is one of sharing and encouragement.

It’s terrific that funding is now available for artists with a disability but it’s not enough. Organisations like Arts Access provide incredible and much needed support and resources, but I can’t help but think that if such organisations were to fully realise their principals and goals, they would no longer need to exist. Mentorship is, for me, the support I need most. I need to re-think and re-learn what it is that I can actually do and where it will fit most appropriately. Once again, competition is fierce as opportunities are limited and in my experience tends to go to those artists with a well established practice and career trajectory rather than those who are in a position of trying to find out what the hell it all means.