Work and One’s Work
Sean Rafferty, Alex Kiers and Paul Williams in conversation
We began by talking about a text titled “I’ve always found inspiration in places where I worked”, published in Robert MacPherson: The Painter’s Reach, which accompanied the artist’s 2015 survey at Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane.
“When I was a Colour Field painter, I was painting and docking through probably 63 to 68, at Cairncross, at the big dock, with those big roll-on, roll-off vessels… big tankers, they’re all flat bottomed, they’re up on the dock, the dock gets pumped out, a couple of hundred men sitting underneath with a tray and a big double roller with this anti-fouling [paint]… I would go home from there where there’d be all this incident. Everyone would be covered in it. You had to put [the paint] on and load it over an uneven surface. So the paint would come down. It was very beautiful. It was red but when it hit the ground it was silver… everyone was covered in this stuff… I used to wonder how I could take that from there and go home and do my little homage to Greenberg, how I could control that? In those days, I could cut a Plimsoll line up a long vessel with a double roller on a 20-foot arm. How could I come home and do that?”
SEAN RAFFERTY: At the beginning of this text, MacPherson talks about his time as a night services manager for the Brisbane City Hall. It freed time up during the day to make artwork. His art was also influenced by the things that he was doing in this paid work. They weren’t direct translations, it wasn’t like that. The works were more about processes and the idiosyncrasies of process-driven exercises. MacPherson also talks about working night shifts because it was quieter and gave him “time to think, dream and draw.” In the past I have had jobs like that, where it was repetitive process-driven and didn’t absorb my creative energy so I could reserve that for my artwork. Is that an idea that you guys can relate to?
ALEX KIERS: I don’t particularly like mindless jobs, otherwise I just think about the fact that I’m working too much. I don’t think I can necessarily relate to MacPherson. When I’m at work and I am doing a really tedious task in a gallery, I’m thinking about all the other things that I want to be doing. I’m not concocting ideas, I just wish I was trying to paint or whatever else.
SR: Is that the same for you, Paul?
PAUL WILLIAMS: For me not so much. Some elements sure, they occur outside of installing, but have been reinforced by being an installer, such as being introduced to ideas of precision and quality of materials, or how a space operates. I have definitely found that strange things happen, where you see work in a different way. You seem to pick things apart a lot more.
SR: So when you are mounting shows as a job, you think about how your work could be seen in that kind of context, and then you start critiquing the way that people are doing it?
AK: Definitely. I think, in terms of informing practice it is mostly for me just making things clean. I guess you notice meticulousness in presentation. Someone like Kenzee Patterson for example, is incredibly neat in his presentation.You can definitely pick up on his background in art installation.