Interview with Visual Artist Josh Lord – January 2016 by Lisa Romeo
Australian visual artist Josh Lord is currently based in Melbourne and is enjoying both a national and international career that spans three decades. Mainly influenced by pop art, dada and surrealism, Lord has however stapled his own unique style of work not capitulating to any one genre and it is well appreciated by a widespread audience.
I attended Lord’s last major solo exhibition in late 2014, ‘This Used to Be the Future’, at D11 @Docklands art gallery in Melbourne. Based on the science fiction sub genre ‘Future History’, his works expressed bold mission statements such as:
“When did good will turn into another false public display of nobility and moral decline’ ”,
“When did all these millions of voices become silenced and love become the warm embrace of machines spawning children carrying automatic weapons shooting out their ‘rights’”,
“When did this become the future”. The exhibition was a great success and Lord sold 80% of his work.
Today in Josh’s studio on a sunny Melbourne afternoon I want to find out what Josh has been up to since 2014 and his plans for the future.
Josh, tell me what you have been working on since the last successful exhibition at Docklands?
Since the Docklands show I have been developing new ideas but also taking elements from ‘This used to be the Future’. With the new works I have been doing some cut ups for different periods of time and looking at how we have become this modern day consumer society where we all seem to be scratching away at the super-heap of status symbols built on shaky moral high grounds. What I have been trying to build upon with these new works is the idea of what we will leave for future generations, what will we look like – a parody of Dante’s Inferno Fourth Circle of Greed carrying heavy weight of empty goods with unrecognizable need and it is pointless trying to speak to them.
When and where will you hold your next exhibition?
At the moment we are working on a couple of proposals and there is some interest to put on a show either in Melbourne or overseas this year, but we haven’t set a date as yet.
What is the reason behind using musicians as subject matter in your paintings?
I wouldn’t really say that musicians are my subject matter, as that would imply that I did portraits, I’ve only really done three portraits of musicians, Sam Sejavka, Ash Wednesday and Mick Harvey all entries for the Archibald prize. It taught me a valuable lesson that winning a prize isn’t everything but the fact that Ash, Mick and Sam would see me as an artist and give me their time and have faith enough to let me paint them. Let’s face it my work isn’t about making people look pretty or glossy like photorealism, it has a grittiness about it, people either love or hate it.
You collaborate with musicians when incorporating live music as a big part of your exhibitions/shows. When did this begin and what inspires you to do so?
I think it really started back in the late 90’s I wouldn’t say it was a new thing, but it was for me. I felt at that time going to and putting on exhibitions was like going to a wake with awkward people standing around not sure what to say but only “love your work mate”. I was doing a show with a mate of mine, a fellow artist Vince Berlingeri and Vince and I became friends with a new Qld band by the name of SubAudible Hum. We asked them if they would like to play a kind of Velvet Underground/Warhol thing at our exhibition in Melbourne, I think we paid them in beer. They really made the night something to remember, it ended up being more like a Robert Rauschenberg happening.
Years later I got to meet Kate Buck who introduced me to a lot of amazing Melbourne musicians from the 70’s onwards as she was a part of the Little Bands scene. My next show was at Bower Gallery in East St Kilda that was run by artist Emily Wright. By that time I really wanted to do something with music and film so I asked Kate if she would like to help and she was really up for the idea. I also asked a mate of mine Gareth Thomas who now works for Weta, to make a film for it. That show was titled ‘Shootin from the hip of Insanity’, little did I know what an impact this would have on me.
Kate sounded like Lydia Lunch combined with Einstürzende Neubauten and the throbbing gristle of her backing band and Gareth’s film with images of war mixed with happy family stuff, wow. We held an after party at the Lyrebird at which The Ovals played (a neo-psychedelic band) and to my surprise The Ears agreed to play (a Melbourne post-punk band of the 80s, who’s front man Sam Sejavka was the inspiration for the Michael Hutchence’ character in the film ‘Dogs in Space’). They had just played a gig at the Corner Hotel in Richmond for a sell out crowd, which sadly I missed so for me to see them play for the very first time and at my show was beyond words.
I believe further collaboration with musicians followed. Can you talk about those and whom else you came together with?
After ‘Shootin from the hip of insanity’ I started talking about doing a group show with some of the artists who came along to my previous show. Like some talk it goes somewhere or just ends up being talk, so I called up artist Michael Peck and he was keen if I could get the gallery in Paradise Hills in Richmond. I called Michael back in 5 minutes and said yep we are on, shit I better get some artists, so I ended up getting 10 visual artists who mixed from established to up and coming, two film makers and four bands which were Bucky Ball Baby (Kate Buck), The Ovals and The Ears and for the fourth – at first it was going to be a pub rock band until a phone call with Andrew Park, then the synth/keyboardist for The Ears, who said “NO! Man it’s a bloody art show you need an art synths act”.
He told me about a friend of his who was one of Melbourne’s pioneers of electronic/synth music from the 70’s and had worked in Berlin as a touring member of a massive band. Within an hour I got a phone call and this voice that sounded like a matinee idols says “Hello Josh Lord, this is Ash Wednesday speaking” we spoke for around 2 hours, looking back now that seems like a very short phone call for Ash and myself. So the opening of ‘Melbourne’s Burning’ exhibition was amazing and a very obscure night…. well for me as I felt it was a good bye to something or leaving an art scene behind as I think I had become jealous of other visual artists and I really didn’t like that feeling, a kind of race to the top, well that is what it was for me.
After the initial meeting you worked once again with Ash Wednesday on your solo show in 2014. Talk about post ‘Melbourne’s Burning’ exhibition and your further collaboration with Ash.
After ‘Melbourne’s Burning’ I truly knew who Ash Wednesday was so I got in contact with him and asked if he would be interested in collaborating on a solo project, which he was so he came over and I told him of my ideas and that I was changing my whole style and it would take 6 months. To that he replied, “No, 2 years”. I hate to say it but he was right DAMN IT! Through the 2 years of developing the works for the next show I must say Ash was a great mentor/teacher and I must have been the worst bloody student, the patience that man has WOW. In that time I had the opportunity to meet and paint Ollie Olsen, (composer, singer, sound designer). We started talking about the show and what Ash and I were planning to do and in a cheeky way I asked him if he would like to work with Ash and I, to my surprise Ollie said yes. So Ash, Ollie and myself settled on the title for the show being “This used to be the Future” and it would be held at D11 Docklands. After that show I truly felt as if I stood on the shoulders of giants.
In 2015 I started working on new works which led me to meet Hugo Race (musician, singer/songwriter/producer/screenwriter) and I did a couple of paintings of him and through our conversation Hugo mentioned if I would be interested in doing some paintings for a video clip for a song he wrote called False Idols, just the name alone was awesome to me. Then Hugo sent me the track and I instantly loved it and the song was the inspiration behind the painting I did with the same name. The video uses 11 images of my paintings. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nO4y374i1M. I am also currently working on artwork for Harry Howard (Bass guitarist in Crime & the City Solution, These Immortal Souls) and his band Harry Howard and the NDE’s next album cover.
In 2000 you made a decision to leave Australia and work overseas. What did you get out of that in terms of your work thereafter?
Overseas, we are talking about the boot camp for artists, my goodness it was a bloody shock to the system. Well it taught me to think outside the box and look at things from an outsider’s point of view. I think at times we can get so rapped up in what is going on around us that we can’t see the solution that is right in front of us. As an artist I find that I need to develop my ideas, not just painting pretty pictures of beauty without a biography, I feel it has to mean something.
I know you have sold a lot of your work overseas in the past. Is there still a market and interest for your work overseas?
Yes there is, the way to look at it is this, here it’s kind of like MEH! Another artist, but overseas Melbourne artists are referenced quite a lot as inspirations, you become the exotic one with a different culture it’s the same as someone coming over here with a new idea, we all jump on and say “WOW that’s cool”, because at the end of the day locals anywhere they are will take their culture may it be art, music or film for granted not because they dislike it but because it is their everyday.
What/Which contemporary artist inspires you today?
There are so many, but their busy doing their thing, so I should be too and I should stop trying to find things that are wrong with my work through theirs.
What is the main driving force behind your work?
Oh those people who live in ivory towers that are built on the shaky moral high grounds.