Today’s Feature, May 3-5, 2007: Hazel Dooney

January 18, 2008 at 6:14 pm (Today's Feature)

Let’s make one thing clear…Hazel Dooney is here to stay. For years, Dooney has become a cult figure in contemporary/pop art circles. She is about as unique, unconventional, outspoken and independent as they come. Frankly, we like that. Where some people become artists, or find art, Dooney believes she was born an artist. Her success is living proof of this theory. Not even thirty years old, she has a booming career, manages her shows, her work, and her sales, has an immense following, a beautiful house, overlooking the water, surrounded by trees and wakes up every morning knowing that she controls her life. Her work at times may be dark or show signs of struggle, but as a person Dooney is not. People tend to confuse the content with the intent; often confusing the art with the artist. At one show, Dooney overheard two women discussing one of her paintings, “God, how messed up can one women be?” Dooney just laughs it off. After all, if every artist painted happy scenes, pretty flowers and sun-shiny rainbows, the world would be a warped sense of reality. Art is her passion and she paints what she feels…label it what you like. She has the perfect attitude for an artist; if you don’t like it, don’t look. But there in lay the problem, people can’t stop looking at Dooney and her work. It also helps that this independent woman is usually taller then most men she encounters and doesn’t back down easy. And plus, “F ‘ em if they can’t take a joke.” You got to love that! Read Dooney’s XXQs to hear more.

XXQs: Hazel Dooney (PEV): How and when did you first get involved with art?

Hazel Dooney (HD): I never know how to answer this question! I think I was born an artist. It was my earliest impulse as a child, and it’s been the core of my existence ever since. I have always drawn and painted and made things. As a child, if nothing else was around, I created sculptures from twigs and leaves, or drew in the sand. I’ve always felt compelled to make art and I don’t really understand it. It’s just what I do.

PEV: Was there a point or event in your life that made you say, [this is going to be my career]?

HD: When I was first at university, studying languages and anthropology, I spent time with both an artist and a student doing his M.A. in critical theory. It occurred to me that if I was anything, I was an artist too. I had to support myself – my family was quite poor – so I decided to live a life in which I made a reasonable living from making art. Of course, I realized that most people didn’t manage to support themselves from their art until they were middle-aged – if at all. But I decided to do as much work as I could in as short a time as possible, and focus on becoming self-sufficient and successful. It worked, pretty much.

PEV: You have worked in several mediums (watercolour, pencil and ink on paper, photography, found objects) but which do you prefer or find yourself more drawn to (no pun intended)?

HD: At the beginning of my career, I worked mainly with enamel on canvas and then board – very large, glossy, and accessible work, which was influenced by (in no particular order) Warhol, billboard advertising, Playboy pin-ups and television. The trouble was it was all about the surface of the work. My more recent works in watercolor, pencil and pen have been an attempt to rip away the shiny surface of my old work to reveal the turbulence and anger underneath. Photography has always been a diaristic medium for me, the same as video, and although I’ve sold a few of my Polaroid and color 35mm studies to ardent collectors, I’ve exhibited very few photographic works. That’ll change when I show next at the Renault New Generation Art event at Art Melbourne ’07. I don’t really have a preferred medium, but working with enamel has become tedious for me, so tedious, I won’t be doing it for a long time. It’s also bloody toxic and sick-making. I like working with different media, in different environments, for different reasons.

PEV: You have showed your work all over the world; Melbourne, New York, Houston, Osaka, Tokyo, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, just to name a few but what was it like the first time you saw your work in a gallery?

HD: A huge disappointment. I think one reason why I’ve worked so hard to be free of the traditional, institutional and gallery system is that I have always viewed it as a parasitic business that eventually leeches not only artists’ souls but also their independence. I felt I’d sold my soul when I first exhibited. I’ve exhibited in galleries many times since, but my relationships with them nowadays tend to be one-off and always at arms length. I have been very, very successful without them, handling my own sales, inventory management, client and public relations, and so on. These days, I almost resent paying even the modest commissions I negotiate with my exhibiting galleries: I look at it as renting space. I don’t think they do much else for me. They don’t have a clue about actually selling.

PEV: Of all the various kinds of galleries or showings you’ve been a part of, is there one kind of gallery (be it the size, location, audience, décor, etc) you prefer?

HD: I like large, blank, industrial spaces. I loathe the environments of most commercial galleries and nearly all art institutions and museums: most are so sterile, too similar to one another, and badly laid out. I like my shows to be multi-dimensional, like a good, non-stop party – I hate the pseudo-reverence that most galleries try to foster towards art.

PEV: How was adjusting to the scenes of Australia’s art world, versus that of New York or LA?

HD: Australia is parochial, mean-spirited and most of its publicly acclaimed or awarded contemporary works are knock-offs of far more original overseas works. Australian institutions and galleries also lack a deal of originality – and certainly they are more interested in having control of artists than nurturing and encouraging them. In the context of Australia’s suburban homogeneity – it defines what Americans refer to as ‘white bread’ – any kind of risk, but especially creative risk and originality, are actively discouraged. And we haven’t inherited our Anglo-Irish forebear’s tolerance of eccentricity. I prefer LA to NY. It’s partly its position as one of the few major capitals (along with Tokyo) on the Pacific Rim – which is, after all, my wider home. I like to think of it as a New World place, whereas NY for all its pretensions, remains resolutely Old World – old systems, old prejudices. For much the same reason, Shanghai and Tokyo are my absolute favorite creative cities. The American century is over now and like more and more Australian artists of my generation, I see my future as part of an Asian 21st century.

PEV: What city do you find to be the best for art appreciation? Why?

HD: For appreciation in the traditional sense, probably any city in Europe – simply because art is integral to its history and culture. In a more contemporary sense, there is an enormous thirst for innovation and invention in Tokyo that’s pretty hard to beat

PEV: Do you prefer to be in a certain atmosphere or setting when you work?

HD: I like to be alone, with plenty of fresh air and loud music.

PEV: What is in your CD player or on your iPod right now?

HD: Everything from Lynton Kwesi Johnson and Miles Davis – I love Bitches’ Brew – to Glenn Gould’s recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. I seem to be playing Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold a lot. Go figure.

PEV: On more then one occasion, you have been called controversial, violent and dark. How do you react to these kinds of statements?

HD: In my art, I am all of those things. And yet, in person, I am not. I have trouble with those sorts of statements only when they confuse the art with the woman. That said, there are a few art dealers (and maybe a couple of artists) who have reason to fear dark alleys if I’m in their neighborhood. I think part of it is the usual difficulty the male-dominated art scene has with any woman who is smart, self-reliant, and productive without the apparent support of a dominant male. I also happen to be quite an imposing – 6-foot-plus – physical presence and I don’t intimidate easily. F’ em if they can’t take a joke.

PEV: How have you managed success on such a large stage at such a young age (28)?

HD: I was advised, a few years ago by a very smart Australian internet entrepreneur, to prepare for success by having a good team around me to look after the parts I didn’t have the skills for. So I have a very good female business manager – an older woman who sits on the boards of several major corporations – as well as a good lawyer. I’m also a modern girl – I get technology and I know how to use it to manage the business side of my art 24 x 7.

PEV: Do you feel it is important for other women or even young girls to see an independent woman like yourself in the spotlight?

HD: I think it’s a lot more important for them to become self-confident and resilient enough not to need any role models. I do think artists, on the whole, male or female, need to be reminded that they don’t need to let themselves be sucked into the traditional system in order to succeed: I mean, we’ve reached a point where, just the other day, a well-known curator allowed himself to be quoted as saying that, in his view, curators and gallerists were what art was really all about, as if the art, let alone the artists, were somehow incidental. How f’ing rank is that?

PEV: How have your grown from your 1997 exhibit ‘Hazed’ and your 2006 exhibit ‘Venus in Hell’?

HD: Oh, in way too many ways to write coherently about it! For one thing, the artist who created Venus In Hell is a woman, not a young girl. There is a greater confidence in technique and a deeper intellectual understanding of what I am trying to accomplish. Ten years is a VERY long time for a working artist.

PEV: If you could sit down to dinner with one artist, past or present, who would it be? Why?

HD: From the past, it would have to be Picasso, for all the obvious reasons. In the present, hmm, possibly Hockney because I think his conversation and observations would be lively and educational and charming, or maybe, as much I loathe to admit it, Damien Hirst. Love him or hate him, he has reclaimed the power of the artist against the system.

PEV: On the rare chance you get a break and time relax, how do you wind down?

HD: I surf. I travel – usually by sea, on small boats – and explore around S.E. Asia. As I’ve said, too, I like to dance.

PEV: What is one thing, we would be surprised to hear about Hazel Dooney?

HD: I have a thing about couture handbags – and I’m learning old-school celestial navigation.

PEV: If I were to walk into your studio right now, what would I see?

HD: Very little, other than a large Indonesian day bed shrouded by a mosquito net, a sketch pad, and a tray filled with pencils, pens and tubes of watercolours. Oh, and a Harmon Kardon sound system linked to my iPod.

PEV: What is a normal day like for you? HD: Very routine. I get up around 7:30 and chat to my boyfriend online or by phone – depending on where he is in the world – and then I handle my emails while I have breakfast. By around 10am, I’m at work. Sometimes, if my boyfriend is around, we’ll have lunch together at a local cafe and then spend the afternoon in bed. Otherwise, I’ll work until about five, then go running or surfing, do some more emails or just dance around the house to let off some steam. I do like to stay up late and work, too. If I’m not working, I read. I don’t like to go out much. I hardly ever stray outside the small, seaside town where I live. I have a nice house: big, overlooking the water, surrounded by trees. It’s filled with books and I have plenty of electronic media. What more could a girl want!

PEV: Have you ever overheard someone talking about your work at a gallery or showing, when they didn’t think you were around?

HD: At my solo show, Venus In Hell, in Melbourne, last year, I overheard two young women, both artists, discussing my work. One of them was really upset by the graphic sexuality and violence in many of the images. She said, “God, how messed up can one women be?” “I guess we all feel that way from time to time,” her friend replied. “It’s just that we don’t feel the need to paint it!”

PEV: So, what is next for Hazel Dooney?

HD: I am going to spend a lot of this year in S.E. Asia. I’m thinking of buying a boat and living on it during the North-East Monsoon in Phuket. Next year, I have shows in Australia, Italy and Japan. But probably the biggest thing is my increasing involvement with large installations and environments rather than paintings – I love the architectural and logistical demands of the work. I like the site preparation and construction – it all feels, somehow, more substantial, more of a challenge. To find out more on Hazel Dooney, check out: (Note: Some content on contains adult material and is not suitable for children. Parental discretion is advised.)


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