Rhett, in your work you have used paint, markers, newsprint, linen thread and a multitude of other media; is freedom an important aspect of your work?
I was formally trained as a painter. I always think about issues in my work as if I were painting; except I don’t feel bound by the medium. I am happy to use any material and process in my practice, relevant to the content or ideas in my work. It is the set of ideas that I am I interested in. I explore the best way to visually bring forward these ideas, and in doing so the appropriateness of the materials.
You lecture in painting at RMIT. Does working with younger artists keep your own work fresh? And does it give you an insight into future art trends?
Well not all my students are younger than me. In fact when I first started teaching I was often mistaken for a student in the first class, but I understand what you are asking.
I feel so lucky that each day I get to spend time with people who are grappling with the same stuff as me. That is trying to find an appropriate visual language for a set of ideas. For me making art is about the experience of living in the world. I don’t worry about ‘trends’ in art. But certainly I try to keep as up to date as possible about what is happening in contemporary practice, globally. I expect my students to do this, so I guess I need to know what is happening as well.
There are beautiful flashes of colour through your work. Where does that come from?
Yes, colour is important. It has always been important in my work. I am beginning to understand that for me, colour is cultural. I cannot get away from my early experiences of India; particularly colour, its combination. I see it in Persian miniature painting, in saris, in bazaar culture, my home environment, in soft furnishings; it’s everywhere in India. Sometimes it’s right up front and in your face, but sometimes, as you rightly describe, it’s ‘beautiful flashes of colour.’
Born in Bombay, your work has been shown from Swanston Street to Singapore and even Seoul in South Korea.
How does your experience of all of these different cultures add to you as a person and furthermore to your work?
I guess we all have a relationship to the global. Even if our relationship to the global is only through technology, we communicate in a global landscape. For me, my relationship to my culture is at the core of my art practice. I am Anglo-Indian. I have a dual ethnicity: half Indian, half English. I suppose I have always lived between cultures, two great cultures. Being born in Bombay is significant. Bombay is such a complex city on many levels; culturally, historically, geographically. I am looking more closely at this in my research. It is throwing up all sorts of interesting possibilities and certainly influencing the work I am making.
Your new exhibition ‘Here With You’ is a group show with fellow RMIT lecturers Robin Kingston and Fran Van Riemsdyk. What are the advantages of working with other artists?
I have known both Robin and Fran for so many years now, as artists, as colleagues and as close friends.
We have many shared interests both within our art practices and outside of them. It’s the conversations that are the advantages of working with other artists. It’s building and sharing of experiences. We each work in different ways.
For this show, we deliberately didn’t try and work thematically around a set of specific ideas. Instead we thought we might see what the show might throw up in terms of ideas. We didn’t try and predict this. It’s the starting point. The title of the show, I think, takes this same position. ‘Here With You’ is a song title by the performance artist Laurie Anderson. We liked that there is this inherent code of shared experiences, or the potential for shared experiences, (in the title of the show) between the artists, the artwork and the audience.
As a lecturer you would know the challenges that upcoming artists face. How important is regional art, and a space like Stockroom, to new artists and the wider artistic community?
I moved to Central Victoria from Melbourne about ten years ago. I didn’t think about being away from the ‘centre’- Melbourne. I don’t think like this. But I know it is probably how most people operate. I don’t think about ‘regional art’. Art is many things to many people; that’s fine. For me, I think about art and art practice from a critical perspective. That is why I wanted to show at Stockroom.
I think what Jason and Magali are doing with Stockroom is so important for the area, because they are taking risks. They are prepared to support shows which might be seen as challenging, or that don’t immediately show a commercial return.
They have created a space that allows artists who are seriously engaged with their practice to put forward their ideas.
With all the commercial pressures that exist in the world, this is becoming more rare. Stockroom is such a great model; it does so many things well, in terms of art, design, education, business, community.
Really, we are lucky to have Stockroom; it is a credit to Magali and Jason.
How can you best use the space for your art?
Well it’s a great space. We are all working sight/site specifically, so are aware of the space in the context of installing the work.
What do you hope that we take from your work, and the show?
Well, I haven’t shown this work before. I have been working on some ideas for a while now without getting the work to a ‘resolved’ state. When I actually install the work it will be the first time I will see it, so it’s a risk. I am in the middle of a PhD, so this work relates directly to my research. The title of my research is; ‘Shimmering Spaces: Installation Art informed by an Anglo-Indian experience.’ I guess I am using the opportunity to test a series of ideas that I have been working on. In a way, most of my recent exhibitions have taken this tact. I don’t really have any expectations about what one might ‘take’ from the work.
In a general way, I always hope that the work allows an entry for the viewer on multiple levels. For some people the materials might act as a signifier of content, others might be reminded of the spaces they have been to or lived with, objects might trigger memories or associations.
The work is experiential. I hope I create a set of conditions that allow entry for the viewer at a point that is relevant to their situation.
CATCH RHETT'S NEW SHOW "HERE WITH YOU" AT STOCKROOM FROM JUNE 15 - JULY 10