NZ born, Sydney based artist Mark Alsweiler has been busy creating new painting and sculpture works for his upcoming solo exhibition ‘Gold Moth’ in Sydney (then Melbourne) this month. Amidst the chaos we sat down for a tuna melt and coffee in his Paddington studio to talk about his work and what keeps him on his toes.
Interview by Matt Rabbidge Photos by Luke Brennan
It’s been a good seven or so years you’ve based yourself in Australia now?
Yeah I think its just over six, the first few years I was back and fourth between here and New Zealand a bit. Actually its pretty weird that I have been here that long now, would like to live overseas somewhere else soon but I like it here too.
In the first place, what made you want to move over here?
I had finished a University degree in Dunedin and was just mucking around really doing a few paintings and design stuff for fun and would always see what was happening on the art front in Sydney through the likes of Monster Children and China Heights. Seemed they were showing everything I was into that really wasn’t’ available to me in the South Island of New Zealand.
A bit more to offer then?
A lot more. I’d also been on a trip to America during uni holidays and went to New York, which blew my small town mind, I’d never really been to a big city like that before. I ended up buying the Beautiful Losers book while I was over there, felt like such a huge inspiration, feel like it helped me decide what I wanted to do with myself.
A book and city life changed it all for you?
Nah, I knew I wanted to do art when I was growing up. The book and city made me want to move to New York and get amongst it all, Sydney ended up being a bit more realistic so I just moved here with the hope of getting a show and Mark Drew and Ed Woodley at China Heights were kind enough to give me one. Just settled in easy after that.
I know you originally hail from NZ’s deep south, do you feel like the place still gives you inspiration for your work?
I do miss the ease of New Zealand a lot. I have a ‘grass is greener’ problem where I would like to live in the middle of nowhere back home. But then I know if I did that I would miss people and the city so that’s tough sometimes. I think missing the scenery and countryside from back home comes into my work at times. I reckon I’ll head back there when I get older.
Bit to do before then I bet, starting with this upcoming show Gold Moth, what are you planning to exhibit?
Fair bit actually, I have about twenty hand carved wooden figurative sculptures, a bunch paintings on paper and then one big canvas painting. The sculptures are made from salvaged hardwood.
Yeah right, feels like you have a heavy lean toward making timber works these days. The last few years your paintings in particular seem to have made a slow transit from detailed townscapes full of characters and colour to seemingly more considered, less clustered work. Do you think slowly but surely you’re aiming to just work with timber full time?
I don’t think I’ll ever just settle with one thing. Right now, the sculptures are more fun for me because it’s a little more like a hobby out in the garage type of thing. My paintings are more precise and considered, you have to sit there for ages doing them and for that reason it feels a little more like work. I like the mix of both, especially in a show context.
Tell me more about now though, why are you enjoying working with timber so much?
It’s just a nice process start to finish. Choosing the timber then cutting out the wood, shaping and sanding then painting it. I feel pretty satisfied being involved in the full creation process. I would like to make a few huge wooden sculptures in the future too.
Any mishaps in the learning process? You still got all your fingers?
Yeah had a little dilemma not too long ago actually. I was running at about 10percent brain power after a night out and jumped a hand saw into my thumb, which cut it down to the bone. So I’m a lot more careful these days.
The last six months you had yourself a pretty deluxe studio space of your own. Pretty sure that was the first time you’ve worked on your own. What was it like being solo after such a long time over at Higher Ground Studio, sharing with ten or so others?
I do miss working out of Higher Ground and drinking too many Moconna’s with everyone. But I think for me in hindsight over that time I wasn’t fully focused on the work having other people around. I usually get a very clear idea in my mind of what I want to make and I try to keep that original idea going everyway I can. I might play the same album over and over again for days just to keep that original idea chugging along. Also if I am working by myself I might have a break and sit on the couch but I’m still focused and thinking about what I am going to do next. Whereas in a group studio situation someone might come over for a chat and break that work pattern. So I think working by yourself you are just a bit more inside your mind and focused. Which for me means I am a complete weirdo at the end of the day. It might take me 30 minutes at the pub with mates to come right again.
Late last year RVCA announced you as one of the new Artist Network Program additions to a strong artist stable alongside the likes of Barry McGee, David Choe and Sage Vaughan. It’s definitely a big honour, do you see this as any kind of intimidating? Or just a strong inspiration for you to make new work and keep refining what you do?
A lot of my favourite artists are involved with RVCA so its still pretty weird for me to get my head around it. Its somewhat intimidating, I definitely had a few mild meltdowns thinking about it too much. But now I’m settled and some time has passed I’m just plain happy to be working with such a supportive company like that. RVCA would be my number one pick out of the bunch so I’m pretty lucky.
What else have you got planned for the next while?
This show heads to Melbourne next. There is also talk of a return to the motherland New Zealand for a show with Mild Manners which would be cool as I haven’t exhibited work there since I moved to Sydney. It’d be pretty ideal to do some more travel too, I’m keen to do a stint living in Europe before too long.
Gold Moth – new work by Mark Alsweiler
Opening this Thursday 19th June from 6pmRVCA Downstairs Gallery84 Oxford St, Paddington
Drinks on Kirin Cider