It’s 2 in the afternoon at the Signature Prints studio. I’m rummaging around for a camera to record my interview with the Artist in Residence – Gav Barbey. This is not the first time I’ve met the Melbourne born, Sydney based Multimedia Artist but this is the first time I have sat in front of him, awaiting approval to begin this talk. He smiles and strokes his beard. I breathe in and nod for him to begin.
“I think in ideas. A friend once told me that and I’ve never forgotten it.” Gav, eccentric with his statements as he is with his art, began his journey as a young dyslexic male in the 70’s. “I always will gravitate to the theatre – I think it’s where I do my best work. It’s all encompassing and a multitude of other disciples can reside there.”
Gav has had a very colourful life, spending time overseas in countries such as America, South America and Africa. With his work he is able to explore his creative expressions in the places novices may not find commercially appealing. He clearly states a loathing for the business end of the Art world; “I hate the revenue bit about the business. It has nothing to do with the expression. It’s societal where we’ve made money this wonderful fictitious thing – This artistic, creative ideal that rules us completely.” Gav’s hands are emotive and large, sprawling out towards the background of bespoke and luxury handmade textiles that the Signature Prints studio produces. It is a fitting place for an intimate conversation about Art as a lifestyle.
“It’s a tricky beast and a very old beast.” He pauses for a moment, “The Gallery is dead also.” He doesn’t seem to be fazed by such a glaring statement. I am though. “Society has lost touch with the Artist. Who are they? What do they believe in outside of their art and how does it relate to their work?” I smile in confused agreement. “Back in Picasso’s day everyone knew him personally and even Brett Whitley. It’s only recently this phenomenon of the ‘Agent’ has sprung. They were hiding the Artist away from the client.” Gav is a Picasso enthusiast, as demonstrated in the Drawing workshop he hosted earlier today and will again in the afternoon before the guests’ screen-print into colour and pattern madness.
“The Government is now the third wheel in this equation. Where the Gallery used to be in the middle of the Artist and the Client, the Government is now taking on this role.”Philanthropic ventures is not something Australia, Gav finds (in comparison to America), is prone to. “We are not equipped,” he stated, “to delegate the money towards Arts driven projects. “ Gav is a Painter, Film Maker, Sculptor, Fine Art Artist (he was trained at the prestigious NIDA) and a writer. “The ‘tortured artist’ thing adds to this drama – it’s a great sales pitch, isn’t it?” I have to agree, as an artist myself, it does concocts a mysterious and dangerous element to an otherwise romantic and established medium of presenting life as we know it with life as we wish to see it.
“These rituals around Artists are a bit funny.” I ask him if everyone is an artist; “This argument has been held in deep discussion since day dot. The word “art” has fucked everyone – art is decorative. Art is decorative to push an emotional understanding to the masses.” Gav maintains Picasso was just having fun, not revelling in his torturery but enjoying the freedom to move from style to style which is something we shun now. Pigeonholing is a key factor to the slow financial progress of the Artist. “This is what Picasso is saying: I want to experiment! He knew a lot of disciples and that translated as his best work.”
Storytelling has a purpose. “Is making a rocket and sending it out to space, Art? It certainly is in my opinion. It’s about taking all these incredible creatively crafted understandings, disciples and expressions to basically put together one expression – which is man wanting to go up and explore.” I ask him who he’d love to collaborate with and immediately Andy Goldsworthy sings out of his lips. “I love his work being ephemeral and I love nature. He encapsulates that perfectly – The True Artist is ephemeral in nature.” This brings him back to his theatre roots. The constant exchange and collaboration. “The viewer is the artist – I am the viewer.” Gav is very much reverent to the idea of Gifting. He sees this as acknowledging the created for the creation by the creator. “Creating the exchange is the key. The spirit of the piece is the tangible thing that will be curated and carried from person to person – it’s exciting!”
We break for a moment, I frantically write the pertinent moments of this discussion. I must remember to explain his ease of vernacular. He is a master keynote speaker; unintentional, in a juggernaut sort of way, about his presence and modernity over his craft. His beard, as if a microphone, accentuates on a visual superficial level, his personal style. I must remember not to spin yarn about his clothing. An Artist must remain inconspicuous and subversive in order for their work to speak more than themselves.
His final thoughts collectively approach the future of Art. “It’s a societal modem that ‘retail is everything.’ The market is dictating the masses and the masses are mystified. Art expands human consciousness and creativity. Can the human spirit survive? My work is constantly on the move – it has a didactic element to it which is not dictated by material.”
“I am seeing what needs to be seen, which, is really titbits of nothing... and everything. I guess that’s how I sustain my art, my work and my life.”