Simon Klose describes his art work as being influenced by Western Modernism, which he considers ‘an explosion of thinking and doing which is without precedent’, adding ‘I would have been put into a lunatic asylum if it hadn’t been for Modernism’.
Simon, who retired not so long ago from a long career in the art world as a curator and gallery director, recently began painting in a bright, sunny studio on the first floor at North East Artisans overlooking Bridge Street.
“In all the time I’ve made art I’ve rarely had a studio, so to now have somewhere separate where I can work is both ironic and a privilege. My life is becoming less complicated, so a studio is a luxury, in a way.
On the other had it brings a kind of odour of professionalism with which I don’t always agree, am not always comfortable. I guess people who have a studio aspire to a kind of professional station in life which means they have intent, and ambition to be, an artist. I suppose it follows that a professional studio will be accorded professional respect, sales and a progress towards some professional recognition.
That has been a querulous area for me because I’m indifferent to doing that. It’s a need for extra space for me, but I’m aware that people wonder about what I’m doing, who I am?
I’ve had galleries and exhibitions before but as time has progressed more people have found the idea of me as an artist as a new idea, when I originally attended art school for about six years, and intended to be foremost an artist. Of course ‘people think you’re a gallery director, or a curator, that you are not really an artist’. I guess they are perceptions I have to manage.
Sometimes I feel a greater sense of freedom having moved away from full time public gallery work, that I’m becoming happier with who I am, or more of… It’s taken a while!”
Where is home, Simon?
‘Benalla is my home at the moment. I’ve never really had a place I’ve never wanted to leave. I’ve always left for work, also for family’
Where would you most want to live and create?
‘I like the companionship of a few friends, they don’t have to be next to me, they can be in other cities, it’s the communication that’s important. I really love nature, so being in a natural environment is very important to me, and Benalla’s not too bad for that… I don’t mind not being part of the big art, cultural scene. I’ve done all that. I’m quite content in my own company, I really don’t mind if I don’t see people for days on end.’
‘At the moment – dried fruit and nuts and green tea’.
‘Trecento’ painting, Italian painting of the beginning of the Renaissance in Italian history; and even earlier than that I guess, Sumerian culture which predates Greek culture; continuing right up to Malevich; Mondrian and heaps of others after that’
What was the first work you exhibited publicaly or sold as an artist?
My first exhibition was a group exhibition of student works from the Sculpture Department at Prahran Tech in 1967 or ‘68. I exhibited ceramic shapes, turned and bisque fired.
Exhibitions attended recently?
‘The last exhibition? Some works by Allan Mitelman at the Charles Nordrum Gallery in Richmond.’
Have you been reading anything lately about art?
I’ve been looking at the problem of aesthetics, Aristotle, Socrates, etcetera. I’ve been drawn to this because I haven’t found a thread of images or image which satisfies me and I have a natural inclination towards objects and matters related to objects. For instance, that particular work (Simon indicated a work on his studio wall) is an object which is really a painting about a physical fact, the particular space on the wall beside it which has been painted. It’s not a painting about an imaginary construction, if that makes sense.
I’m still trying to achieve complacency with the first set of premises, with very basic truths.
You have such a rich reservoir of images in your mind from looking at and analysing art for so long…
For a lifetime… When it comes to preferring and creating you have to make a lot of choices. Many of them are comparative. Some are innate stylistic preferences. While I find many of the images moving and compelling, I don’t have my own images which come from being moved or a compelling set of circumstances, but I do get excited about very basic truths. If I can find a way to capture them, then I make art suffer the results.
You make people think about basic truths…
That would be good, but I’m not sure if it’s true
You’re looking at what your art work is, stripping it back…
Trying to get to the centre
Years and years. I never leave it. I always feel sorry when people that have set out to become an artist, to being close to the arts and then move away from the arts, because I think they’ve left their love, even if their work isn’t of the first or second order… they’ve only got one life.
It does seem sad when people have a period in which they are very creative then walk away from their art…
I always wonder, why did they stop. Children, mortgages, professional responsibilities of running and galleries, teaching, it impacted upon what I was doing with my art, however when I went into a drawing folder or half finished work it was always there, waiting. I was never that successful in separating all the life strands out, but I always kept the candle going. I made some terrible art works, I probably still am making terrible some terrible art works.
We’ve almost answered the next question which is about telling me about what you are working on at the moment; do you feel you’ve answered that, do you want to describe it a bit more?
I’m finding ways to reveal what are some very basic truths, for me. If other people don’t get it, I’m sorry. I can’t help that. If I think I’ve done something that’s close to my thinking and feeling—there’s no better feeling in the world, really, for a little while, until my feelings overtake the artwork and I have to go on to make something else. But it is really wonderful when things work out.
I can just imagine you having a little opening in here, in your studio,
..just with three trusted friends…?
No. Three would be too many!
You know, It’s always testing when other people see your work. But, my first wife was an artist, my older daughter is an artist, and my younger daughter is a curator at Art Bank, so with us there’s a lot of looking and responding, measuring, testing, judging. My son is a pretty good critic as well….
My older daughter has asked for a work but I haven’t been able to produce it yet!
You see I gave a work to my youngest daughter called ‘Double Yellow’ which is two yellows next to each other, of different size and almost a sort of mirror image shaped but different. She was really pleased and I was really pleased that she was pleased.
I was telling my eldest daughter who responded ‘Dad, what about doing me a black one?’ and I said, ‘Oh ‘Double Black, yeah, okay, well, I could try it’.
So I’ve been working away on ‘Double Black’ but I just can’t get it right, I can’t get it right!…(Simon gets it from a table to show me) ….that’s how it is at the moment; I might just have to stop there and let it rest. Although it’s double black it actually has some dark green in it; some thinner paint and some very flat paint next to each other. This is a mistake that I’ve made here …You see you just have to make one little mistake in a work that’s fairly spare, and so you’ve just got to do it again.
And so that’s something you’re working on that at the moment ‘Double Black’…
Yes, It might take years… Anna’s a very fashionable Melbourne person who lives in Sydney, and Melbourne likes black, and because I Iove her so much I want her to have me in the way that she would best like to have me, as ‘Black’! I’m sort of cutting myself into that shape, if you like.
Simon, although this interview focuses’ on your making art, I’m wondering about the first exhibition you curated, the first painting you purchased in your professional life in the gallery sector?
I don’t remember the first exhibition I curated… there were so many. The first works I acquired for a gallery or collection was the marquette and drawings for ‘The Vault’ sculpture by Ron Robertson Swan. The ‘Vault’ beccame known as ‘The Yellow Peril’. I was a great fan of that sculpture and I still am.
How has your background/ background influenced your artwork/creativity ?
It’s been pivotal.
My mother studied art; my aunt studied art, my grandmother studied music in London and took art classes at the Gallery School in Melbourne.
My grandfather had a big printing business which was ultimately involved in commissioning the young Sir William Dargie to paint a portrait of the young Queen, printing and publishing all of the reproductions which went into every school and RSL in Australia. His partner at McLaren’s printing, James Beveridge, commissioned the painting of the young Queen, sending Dargie to London to paint it. It was timely when I once went for a job interview at the McClelland Gallery where Sir William Dargie was Chairman of Trustees. At the end of a lively interview he asked me ‘Is there anything else?’ I said ‘Sir William, We have a link”. He said ‘Oh, Oh?’ I said ‘Yes, McLaren’s Printing’. His face changed – he was taken back to the start of his career. He said ‘Oh, yes’ and smiled. He was such a nice person, he was extraordinary.
So all those conversations about things happening like that would have been part of your life?
Yes. When I was very young, my mother knew John Perceval, we used to go to round to the Murrumbeena Pottery when he was making angels and the Boyds' were making ramekins. Then there were musicians including Carol Zobek, which was good.
I had originally intended to study architecture, but my maths wasn’t very good, I just wasn’t taught very well I think. So at 12 years of age I took up art. In art school and later It was tough. No money and few prospects. People were kind and supportive but I did have a very difficult time… I’d had to spend time at a TB sanatorium, which took me away from a possible first teaching role and turned me into an outcast. TB was a notifiable disease - I was not a free person and all the people I knew had to have chest x rays and tests. There were years of poverty. But I was achieving some reputation as an interesting and committed artist and was being included in some important exhibitions.
Did they have rehab? An art room?
No, they had a pool table!
What’s the best part of being an artist, a painter?
The occasional successes in the studio, pleasing outcomes to projects. They are better than anything else in the world to me, really. The fact that the artist is totally responsible for all the aspects of the artwork. It can be intoxicating but onerous
What’s the worst part of being an artist, a painter from your point of view?
It used to be poverty, which I know affects many artists. I know poverty well from my younger years. I think it’s good that somewhere like NEA has gathered together people who are not immediately drawn to make their way in life through orthodox pathways. They have a chance to share ideas in a safe, supportive environment and make a contribution in other ways. I think it’s just very good, so I’ll always support it. It doesn’t mean it’s housing a large number of geniuses, that doesn’t worry me. Just as long as they have the time and space to make decisions which are their decisions. And of course, the advice, experiences here, lead to constructive outcomes.
A lot of people have mentioned poverty when responding to this question…
When I grew up, we went to Caulfield Grammar, my brothers and I, but our home had no hot water, no gas cooking, broken windows, leaking roof; . We used to have our showers at school, we couldn’t have friends at home, we really did live in abject poverty. My grandfather paid our school fees, my father was absent - I didn’t meet him until I was 21. . I don’t blame anyone, it was circumstantial, but we had to find a way to make the best of the circumstances . And we all did. My middle brother is managing indigenous housing projects in Queensland and the Torres Strait. He has three degrees. My youngest brother was a professional musician – he composed music for the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, played in lots of bands. He passed away from pulmonary fibrosis, it was really awful. He was so much fun, charming, really popular and a truly gifted musician. His whole life was music. There were three brothers in less than three years; I was the eldest. I got charged with trying to manage the other two. I was the odd one. It didn’t matter. They were wonderful to me when I had difficult times. When I think of my youngest brother I always smile, he was such a rascal.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about your work?
When I was at art school all my teachers and lecturers were very supportive, but I have only a handful of people who really have an interest in my work. I’ve never had and never expect now to have any wider audience, and frankly I’m quite pleased I’ve come to the resolution that this is fine… The best advice? To “do what you love and do it as hard as you can—to separate what you love from money, don’t stop because people don’t want to buy it or you can’t get a grant… that has nothing to do with your inner life or your purpose’
What do you find most challenging about your art, about coming to NEA, about working on your art?
At times it was difficult for me to separate my gallery work from art making and because my artwork is, in context, so extreme for regional galleries, for regional settings, I would try to keep them separate. Now I don’t have to conceal my art work, I’m relieved of that. That’s the biggest change. If I did go back to gallery work I’d be less inclined to be the person people want me to be, less inclined to be a gallery worker who preferred to conceal their art work…
When you’re struggling with a painting or object, where do you look for inspiration?
I usually have a broad feeling about the subject which I want the painting to embody and repeat back to me. All I can do to achieve a satisfactory circle of circumstance is, trial and error; trial and error; trial and error; draw, make, test; draw, make, test…
Who do you picture as the ideal viewer of your work?
I have a lot of dead people in my studio, from family to famous people. For me they are all alive, they keep me honest or at least aware of honesty.
Whether creativity in different areas can be taught is often debated – what’s your view?
It’s debatable! … I would like there to be greater respect for creativity, but I would like creative people to be more hard working to be honest.… Some artists, such as Whitely, drop the ball and become self-indulgent, take drugs, become irresponsible, taking their gift for granted and wasting it. I think that’s an unfortunate waste – everyone loses.
Where and when do you prefer to work on your art?
I don’t have a particular pattern.
What do you listen to when you work?
I don’t listen to anything. I have enough trouble thinking without having music. Other people can do it, it’s not a judgement. I play music. However, If I’m playing music physically, it’s not possible for me to jump up simultaneously and create an art work.
Do you buy your art supplies online, in an art store, or both?
Always in an art store – often it’s in a hardware store. I prefer the hardware store to the arts store because it’s cheaper!
What’s your advice for someone wanting to be an artist in your field?
‘Look at as much art as you can. Build a really deep vocabulary of experiences and knowledge; be true to yourself and work hard, work as hard as you can, you don’t have very much time… While you have to make a living, when you get married and have children, you might have three hours a week in which to do some drawing. Don’t fritter it away, do it, keep the language alive.
When not painting, what do you like to do?
All kinds of things related to objects like boats and cars; music and reading; being in beautiful places; discussing ideas.
If you could go out to dinner with any artist, who would it be and why?
Firstly, I’d have a dinner party! I’d have Fra Angelico, who makes simple images which bring me great delight but I’ve never quite understood why. Then I’d have Malevich who understood that the combination of everything in the world can be all black or all white. His mind… I would probably invite Jung because I don’t fully understand him, but he seems to understand so much, so I might learn something. The object of the exercise would be to add to my store of knowledge and experience.
What’s the art work that’s had the most significant impact on your life and work or an artist?
I couldn’t say… I’ve seen a lot. The period I think is the most exciting is Western Modernism – an explosion of thinking and doing which is without precedent. To be alive near it is pretty exciting.
I would have been put into a lunatic asylum if it hadn’t been for the existence of Westernism modernism being something I can point to! People would have said ‘He’s a nut!’
Do you have a philosophy for how and why you create?
‘Is it true? Do you believe it? Is it in some way beautiful?’
During our interview you have spoken about being influenced by Western Modernism, about your interest in creating works which represent first premises, basic truths. You mentioned that in the past you’d created a work called ‘Double Yellow’ as a gift for your youngest daughter, and that you are now working on a commission from your eldest daughter for a work you are calling ‘Double Black’, which is to be a gift to her. What would you like to move on to?
I have no forward plans. The process of work and commitment won’t change… the results will…
Finally Simon, at the beginning of the interview we talked about your taking a studio at North East Artisans. You seem to be making lots of use of your studio when you are in Benalla. I’ve seen the lights on while you are working in there at night if I’ve driven by and you often pop down to the Red Road Café for a break when you are working there. How are you finding it, is it working for you?
I am finding that I can work within the parameters quite well. I enjoy the people and they tolerate me…I don’t expect that there will be any kind of admiration or understanding of my work. It will be difficult for some people – it can be difficult for me. I would like to contribute to the thinking and ideas at NEA and am working quietly on this at the moment….but if it isn’t required or seems inappropriate, then I won’t mind….back to the studio – where I have full responsibility and accountability…to myself and my audience -- dead or alive.
Simon was interviewed in his studio at North East Artisans in Benalla on Sunday 12 May 2019 by Bev Lee.
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Juddy Roller Wall to Wall
Benalla Art Gallery
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Benalla Camera Club
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GANEAA (Goulburn and North East Arts Alliance)