By Gail Robinson
If the role of contemporary art is to create art that fits with our current world, then the simultaneously engaging yet confronting drawings of the human condition by the artist I am about to interview fulfil that criterion perfectly. He creates this intriguing and highly regarded work in the hills to the east of Perth, Western Australia and that’s where I am heading to meet him today.
I pull into a gravel parking space in front of Antony Muia’s home and he is waiting to show me to the studio he built just three years ago from stone. On the way he explains that he is still marvelling at it after working on the living room floor for over a decade in the midst of his growing family. “I work out here every day now, he says, “Although for a while I didn’t know myself, having so much dedicated space. And I missed the company of family.”
The importance of this connection with domestic life is evident in Muia’s drawings which often depict imagined domestic scenes. Even here in his studio the creation of his work has its own familial rough and tumble about it with scuffs and smudges and mistakes routinely taking shape in the intricately expressed final drawings.
There are several pieces in various stages of completion around the studio in preparation for his forthcoming exhibition commitments so I ask him to explain his process for creating these drawings.
Muia says that body movement is important in the development of a drawing which begins with a watercolour wash in broad brush strokes across the surface he is using. “I want the marks to be gestural – I like their randomness to inform the drawing,” he says. “They help me to make decisions I wouldn’t otherwise.”
“Mistakes enliven the work,”
He likes to make more than one drawing on this surface, leaving some of the lines from his first drawing in place after he has drawn over it.
“Mistakes enliven the work,” he says. “I like the idea that the marks I’m not happy with show through. If I’m not happy with an arm I’ve drawn I’m happy to redraw it and leave the original one there. It adds interest and drama and that’s relevant to me. It’s about working out what art is and that’s important to me.”
“non-art doesn’t exist”
Muia’s exploration of “what art is” dates back to the late eighties when his drawings first caught the attention of the Art Gallery of WA and respected curators like John Stringer. Despite the inclusion of his work in such fine art collections, Muia is currently interested in creative practices that wouldn’t be regarded as “high art” and considers his own work “low-culture” alongside practices like landscaping, cooking, hairdressing, and gardening. “There are so many creative practices like these,” he says. “I see them as beyond creative, sometimes they are art.” In fact he prefers the view that “non-art doesn’t exist.”
It is in this vein Muia collages photographs and his old drawings to prepare new ones and has extended his drawing practice to begin working with stone, a medium he has been labouring at alongside a stonemason in recent years. “It started when I wanted to relate objects and images to each other,” he explains of his first work in this vein, Stockpile, which was exhibited with the Art Collective earlier this year. “Now making stuff out of stone is a strong part of my artwork.”
Given that Muia has long had an intimate relationship with line I ask him how he relates his carved text and piles of stone to his drawing. “I like to think all the stuff I do is drawing based,” he says. “Maybe what I like about a pile of rocks is that it is very different to a drawn line. I like the way the drawing and the rocks affect each other. I can also see similarities with the forms that appear in some of the drawings.”
The nudity that often appears in Muia’s drawings [ for example Sicilian Boys which won the Artrage Erotic Art Prize in 2007] has deemed his work to be considered as confronting to some viewers. I ask him how he feels about that and he seems surprised at the reference.
“Confronting? I hope so because I personally like art that’s relevant and confronting and provokes me,” he says, referring to the performance artists including Regina José Galindo who are his current inspirations. “She makes art that is important, relevant, difficult and poignant, I’m in awe of her,” he says.
“I’m trying to recontexualise the nude”
I ask him if he sees his nudes in the same way as Frances Borzello, who described the nude as “a triumph of fiction over fact”.
“I’m trying to recontexualise the nude,” he replies. “I like the way that art changes the context of what the nude is about”.
But surely it means something to him, I say, curious about what he is thinking of when he is drawing them.
“I’ve always been interested in a sexless nude, he says. “That’s the undercurrent when I draw them.”
I contemplate this as I leave and it occurs to me that if you remove the sex from the nude what you have left is exquisite drawing and imperfect form – and that’s something this era could use more of.