Interview: The Silicon Artists

Interview by Nicola Moir

The Silicon Artists are a successful Australian artist duo represented by Rex Livingston Gallery, Sydney. The duo comprises of wife and husband, Catherine Conceicao and Josh Bullen.

Spacemen Catwalk, 2006, oil, silicone and enamel on canvas, 182cm x 182cm

There is humour and playfulness in your approach to landscape painting with an unconventional narrative. For example, you often depict Spacemen within conventional settings such as in a forest or around a dining table. Do you use this juxtaposition as a means of reanimating the landscape?

The spaceman is a motif that is deeply ingrained into our artistic production. When a figure enters the picture it inevitably ends up wearing a space suit. 
Although the artworks are figurative, the figures within the paintings have lost their personality and adopted uniforms to portray the idea that modern life can lead to isolation. As technology speeds forward, humanity slowly removes itself from physical contact. Conversation happens whilst being in separate locations, female fertilization can occur without touch. Will social encounters eventually not rely upon the senses and be wrapped in an outer layer suit protecting us from external contact?
We are also interested in the idea that humans want to get off this planet. Is this about adventure and expanding upon experience? Or is it that humans are not happy with the planet we live on and seek other distant habitats?
Yes, so human endeavour is transforming and slowly reanimating.

Your recent exhibition references Monet for the portraits ‘Her lover and Monet’. How does this iconic impressionist painter relate to your work?
Monet is one of the most amazing artists to ever live. His depiction of landscapes had a dream like quality whilst still being awake. We noticed on our recent travels that Monet and the Impressionist exhibitions always had huge turnouts, participation that exceeds any other exhibitions we went to see. Of all the art movements in history, this period not only made radical changes but retained, from our point of view, the greatest connection to beauty. Ultimately, we endeavour to replicate what the impressionists achieved in landscape painting. If our paintings capture joyfulness and stimulate the viewers visual experience, we guess we might achieve what Monet had. 
Her lover and Monet are two portraits. One of Monet and the other his lover. These paintings are included in the exhibition to oversee our landscapes, to watch over them and hopefully to be admired.

Her Lover and Monet #1, 2010, mixed media, 90 x 60cm

Your titles such as ‘Tangerine Dreams’ make reference to an influence of surrealism. Where would you position your work in contemporary painting movements and which artists influence you?

Good question! It’s hard to say where ideas actually stem from. When we started collaborating it was more about experimenting with different mediums and exploring their possibilities. After a couple of years, peers started to emerge, artists like Dale Frank entered our artistic vocabulary and when compared, has very similar modes of expression and use of paint. Other artists not dissimilar to us, such as Sydney based artist Jonny Niesche are also pushing the boundaries of how paint should be used and reinterpreted. I guess one day, theorists will pigeonhole us into a movement. We just hope the work will fit into visual splendour and be appreciated for beauty to walk hand in hand with philosophical waffle.

Tangerine’s Dream, 2010, oil, silicone and polyurethane on board, 120 x 180cm

As a husband and wife artist duo how does your creative process work as a partnership? Are your roles defined in the creation or is there a continued debate?

We see every work of art produced like a marriage of two minds without the traditional ceremony. Each individual work has no predefined guidelines and it evolves though interchanging desires and wants. Any given final artwork will proceed though a multitude of ideas which combine either canceling out each other or manifesting within the work. We don’t record who does what as it’s more like a race that can only happen if there are two contestants. We guess the both of us finish first.

Your use of silicon as a media is unique. How did you develop this process and how does it compliment your meaning?

Silicon was introduced into our work partly due to desire but ultimately for necessity. When we first started collaborating, we experimented with polyurethane. Polyurethane has a mind of its own and can end up the way you didn’t intend. Areas in the painting would lose their definition as the paint expanded and flowed, this eventuated into an abstract explosion of colour. To stop this from occurring we started using tape to define areas, this worked but was messy and unpredictable. During this time, a lot of people were hanging out at the studio and someone suggested we build a barrier to stop the flow of large quantities of liquid paint. Hence, SILICON was adopted and became the perfect solution and has been used ever since in our production of art. Subject matter could then be outlined in silicon and polyurethane poured into respective areas. The silicon created a barrier between colours, this allowed the paintings subject matter to retain its original composition. Not only did the silicon work so well for us in terms of solving a problem for our art but silicon generally has also gone on to become so symbolic of our times. Silicon is a product that we believe is definitive of the times we live in. Silicon is synonymous with technological change, its use in modern production has forwarded the computer age and has literally redefined who we are as humans.

You were both educated in Sydney and have continued to locate here.  How does the Sydney landscape and art world influence your work?

We love Sydney! There is great opportunity here to be free and expressive. Being a young and growing city, there is also a constant need for re-evaluating and redefining of who we are. To be involved in the arts during this period of transformation is exciting and rewarding . When we were growing up there was an overall feeling that Australia followed artistic movements around the world, that has now changed. Australia’s artistic community is now initiating and speaking its own voice. Who knows what might happen in the future?

Without Arc The Atom Would Split, 2008, oil, silicone and polyurethane on board, 120 x 120cm

Your work has been shown at the Salon des Refuses, an exhibition of the best works rejected by the trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW for the Archibald and Wynne Prizes. What is your view of the well-known art prizes such as the Archibald and what is your opinion on the art represented by it?

The Archibald Prize is a great institution, not only does it give the arts great media attention and propel artists’ careers to new heights, it also encourages the art world to form new associations and hopefully long lasting friendships. The list of people who have sat for us would never have happened without the Archibald. We have met some fascinating people who have opened up and let us into their world. Portraiture is a special amalgamation between artist and subject sharing and combining their souls with the hopeful outcome of shared objectives. Although the Archibald is controversial it does tend towards conservative mediums, the traditional oil on canvas scenario. It is very rare to find mixed media paintings such as ours in the show.

Your work has been purchased by ARTBANK an Australian government arts support program. How important is government funding for the Australian art world and what is the benefit for wider society?

Funding is very important and purchasing of original works of art and display of these in public spaces has many benefits. People within society need to be visually stimulated whilst being represented in ways the society believes it should be portrayed. Art serves as a mirror reflection of society and it is important for society to be able to piece together its history and what better way to do this than a visual time line at a gallery.

What are your plans for the future?
To create more art and to keep travelling in order to be inspired.

What Would a Blind Man Say to a Deaf Man (after Maurice Denis), 2010, oil, silicone and polyurethane on board, 120 x 180cm

More images of the Silicon Artists work can be viewed on the Rex Livingston Gallery website.

Nicola Moir is an artist of Scottish origin and international repute, currently based in Sydney.

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