Pat Hoffie’s forthcoming exhibition My Faith Don’t Mean A Thing will showcase recent works by this highly accomplished Brisbane-based artist. On display at FireWorks Gallery will be twelve modest sized paintings. These works continue the theme portrayed throughout Hoffie’s work in recent years; the viewer is questioned about their deeper notions of home, whether it be homesickness or simply the yearning for one’s homeland in contemporary Australian life.
Nine of these artworks are meticulously framed acrylic on board, some displayed on “homemade” easels; this conceptual cluster is illustrated in the attached installation view with the artist herself in the foreground. The easels are constructed from recycled VJ boards and architraves sourced from old ‘Queenslander’ homes.
The paradox and tension that Hoffie illuminates in these paintings is one of a lurking uneasiness versus stylised comfort; relaxed modernist architectural interiors are all depicted with neighbouring views to the harsh exteriors and textures of various Australian Immigration Detention Centres such as Manus Island, Nauru and Baxter. (See images attached) The artist comments, “My Faith Don’t Mean a Thing is about how the feeling of safety and at-home-ness in our everyday lives is totally encroached on by the awareness of what kind of costs we pay for that privilege”. My Faith Don’t Mean a Thing prompts the viewers to look wistfully at themselves - where we comfortably sit within our own culture, whilst contemplating far different existences that are perhaps never too far away from home. Gallery Director Michael Eather comments, “…a stylish melancholy confronts the bleakness of razor wire and refugee camp detritus. The viewer feels cold comfort for being on the inside.”
Since the 1970s, Hoffie has been working nationally and internationally across numerous platforms and mediums. Trained as a painter, this will be Hoffie’s third exhibition at FireWorks Gallery following on from Target Practice in 2015 and Service Industry in 2016. Parallel to her prolific career as an artist, Hoffie has maintained an extensive academic career since 1990. Since recently leaving her post at QCA Griffith University, she has wasted no time committing full-time to creating art. Hoffie demonstrates a consistently strong conceptual and philosophical commitment to her art practice whilst always presenting her arguments in cheeky and compelling scenarios.
Interview notes with the artist & Jane Balkin, September 2017
JB: So Pat – this is the third solo exhibition you’ve had at Fireworks – this one is an exhibition of paintings. Do you see this as a departure from your more object-based works?
PH: Well actually there’s a stream of continuity that connects those three shows. I guess you could say that all of them were about the idea of the domestic and the idea of home. The first one, titled Target Practice in 2015, was about our dream of home and our fear of introduced species in whatever form they come in. The next one, titled Service Industry in 2016, traced the disappearance of everyday household names that I grew up with – Vegemite, Golden Circle, Yakka and a whole heap of others – that have disappeared from Australia in the wake of manufacturing crises. And this one, My Faith Don’t Mean a Thing, is about how the feeling of safety and at-home-ness in our everyday lives is totally encroached on by the awareness of what kind of costs we pay for that privilege.
JB: You seem to work in series, is there a reason for that?
PH: I guess an idea comes up from just muddling around in the studio and then I end up grabbing it by the tail and then I start researching stuff until it kind of exhausts itself.
JB: Can you be a little more specific here in explaining how the process unfolds?
PH: Well with Target Practice I’d come across all these lovely old cardboard archery targets in someone’s shed. They’d all been shot to bits with holes, and they were very simple black hand-drawn prints of animals. No-one uses them any more because they’ve all moved to very swish high-definition computer prints of the animals. All the animals are introduced species – from water buffalo and wild boar to goats and foxes and cats – they were like ‘marked men’ with a bounty out on their heads/ There’s a ring around their vital bits, and most of them were completely blown to bits around the heart area. So I’d collected all these petit-point images of very European ideas of the perfect home – all pastel colours and prettiness – and I used the targeted animal to frame the stitched ideal homes – as if you had to blast your way through the intruders to get back to your idea of perfection. All of which was completely ironic.
JB: And in Service Industry?
PH: For that I cut out all these little men in the shape of the DIY ‘dumb waiters’ that were used to hold ash-trays. They are the epitome of racist icons – always painted black, and usually in livery. I made mine white – or at least different shades of pink - and dressed them in the high-vis uniforms of the companies they used to work for – eighteen of the Australian manufacturing companies that went broke in the last decade. They’re there waiting in their new roles as part of the service industry for overseas companies. The saddest bit is that they’re waiting to be ‘ashed’ but no-one smokes any more. The research for the show lay in tracing all the histories of the various companies, and I wrote them on the little ‘log ends’ of the plinths each of them stood on.
JB: And how did you start this body of paintings for My Faith Don’t Mean a Thing?
PH: I started painting on bits of board I’d salvaged from Bunnings. I kept working on these images of a sense of home that was threatened. At first it was bushfires that were setting the home alight, then there were images of some kind of alien presence outside, then I started painting tents and internment camps and just kept going. I started referring to the images of specific destinations of specific internment sites on the web.
JB: The title of the work seems ambiguous
PH: Well that seems fine to me – I feel divided about the subject. The subject itself is ambiguous. I guess all painting is at some level an act of faith – a faith that it might still be possible to see things differently, or maybe see connections more clearly. I mean, we all know that ultimately art is very small beer – but it just doesn’t stop you wanting to keep making it.
JB: So would you describe the work as political or personal?
PH: It would seem pretty corny to describe it as political – that seems so impossibly naïve. But I guess to describe it as personal would be just as corny. I mean, I don’t want to take up that popular role as a female artist who gives you little clues about how tormented her everyday life is. Maybe it’s safer to say I’ve always been interested in how the materials you choose to work with carry a history and a set of associations, and that it’s fun to mess these up a bit. I like ideas, and I especially like it when ideas start cohabiting a material presence. And I guess if the image or the object can make a calling in an emotional way as well, then it can begin to work as art.
JB: You seem to have used wood in these last three series – was that intentional?
PH: That’s true – it may not have started off as intentional, but in the end I find myself gravitating to wood as a medium. In the first series, Target Practice, I framed the works in box frames made from VJ boards from old Queenslanders. I’m drawn to all the layers of colour and the evidence of pre-use, and it tied in well with the notion of home. In Service Industry, the army of little guys were all wood – they were intended as ersatz domestic furniture, even though I wall-mounted the entire exhibition as a wall installation. And for My Faith Don’t Mean a Thing, I’ve made all these easels for each of the paintings from pre-used parts of old Queensland homes again.
JB: You talk a lot about home, and you also seem to talk a lot about it in terms of Queensland. Is that intentional?
PH: Well I’m not sure whether it always starts off as intentional, but I guess it’s inevitable. It’s where I spend the most time.
JB: So do you intend the work to be political?
PH: Again – It doesn’t seem to start that way. But if you try to reflect something about the world you are living in, it’s bound to happen. I mean, every morning I get up, I put on a coffee and I turn on Radio National and that’s how the day begins – a stream of news about how this country is dealing with its process of self-actualisation – who it chooses to keep out; who gets let in, who gets ahead; who gets pushed further under; who gets to own homes and who doesn’t. It’s just the landscape of the everyday. We know this but we live like that/ we know that but we live like this. The work’s just reflecting the kind of Catch-22 that comes close to being disingenuous.
JB: But you’ve created these works to go on sale. Who would you envisage buying them?
They’re domestic products for domestic spaces. A good friend of mine – an artist – describes paintings as ‘domestic companions.’ I like that description – I like to think of these as being like little history paintings – they reflect a moment in time. With a bit of luck we’ll be able to look back and say, “I remember the time it used to seem like that”. And if the little painting is still hanging in your home, it can say to you, “I told you so”.
Artist Pat Hoffie was trained as a painter. Over the course of the four decades she’s been exhibiting, she’s worked with a number of mediums, often taking her work to sites and audiences well beyond those of the traditional art market. For her forthcoming exhibition at Fireworks Gallery, opening in early October, she’s returned to the tradition of painting. In this interview a colleague AC asks her whether this choice to return to paint on board might be a conservative move.
AC: You started your career as a painter over 40 years ago, exhibiting in commercial art galleries. For some years after you seemed to turn away from that focus when you moved towards works that were either too big for ordinary commercial galleries, or that were located in the streets or at festivals. Is this move back to domestic painting a move towards a more conventional approach for you?
PH: I think that every choice of medium carries its own history and set of references. The choice to work with more-or-less traditional looking paintings was made because it’s totally in keeping with the ideas I’m working with at the moment. I mean I’ve been interested in the role that art has within the domestic sphere for some time now.
AC: When did you start to hone in on this interest?
PH: Well I guess you could trace it back to the You Gotta Love It exhibition at Artspace in Sydney in 2013. The subject for that came from an observation of Australians holidaying in Bali and the kind of tourist items they collected from there to bring home with them. Some of the statements on the bumper-bar stickers in the back streets of Kuta were mind-blowingly frank – there were bald-faced sexual statements, racist sentiments, aggression, peculiar passions -confessions of all kinds turned into stickers for cars.
AC: So how did you turn this into art?
PH: They seemed to be in such sharp contrast to some of the delicate cultural expressions of that country. I had them carved in wood by guys whose descendants would have been – and in some cases still are – temple carvers. They do this very ornate carving – curlicues and animals and sometimes little contemporary figurines – that’s been passed on through the culture from father to son. When the Ozzie one-liners were re-interpreted in finely carved wood in gilt they looked even more shocking. But together they gave a more confronting understanding of how we can appear to other countries in the region. I mean, we keep banging on about being part of the Asia-Pacific region, but we do very little to find out about what that might mean in a cultural sense.
AC: Those were on a domestic scale too.
Yes they were in terms of being single pieces – later on I added to them with other signs made in Australia when George Brandis made that famous quote “People Do Have the Right To Be Bigots, You Know”, so they operated as a total wall installation in Canberra, and later at QAGOMA in Brisbane. In that context they took on another meaning. But it was still about incipient racism and lack of understanding.
AC: Do you agree that there’s some continuity in the ideas in that series in 2013 with the themes you’re dealing with in this exhibition?
PH: Yes there is – although it’s moved on a little and it’s from a different perspective. I mean, the mistrust of ‘others’ is still here. There’s as sense in this new show that the closed-door comfort we all aspire to might come at a cost.
AC: So would you describe the paintings as your way of throwing light on a current ethical dilemma in Australia?
PH: No I don’t really think so … I mean, it’s just the way I feel I’m experiencing life at the moment – there’s a pull to fit in with this largely European dream of aesthetic perfection, but all the time there’s this other stuff outside the frame – or the window. Maybe I’d rather think of it in terms of my own personal ethical dilemma about producing little works to occupy the domestic space of someone who can afford it while beyond Rome burns, as it were. I grew up in an era where we thought art might be able to change things, and it’s a hard belief to shuck off, no matter how skeptical you’ve become.
AC: But you seem to have taken pains to draw from very particular imagery taken of Australian detention centres across the country and overseas – on Manus and Nauru?
PH: Well I started with images of tent-cities, and then I got more and more interested at tracing particular internment camps for refugees. They’re not all refugee camps – Baxter prison is in there for example.
AC: You’ve provided each of the paintings with substantial frames and an easel to present it on. Why did you do that?
PH: I got interested in the ‘object-hood’ of painting. I wanted to play up the way we still venerate it – we display it in a certain way as though it is capable of saying something extra. I ‘m still interested in that myself. I’m still prepared to keep the faith that art can change things in some way .. even if it’s just taking things from another perspective.
AC: So why did you call the show My Faith Don’t Mean a Thing?
PH: Well of course there’s got to be some kind of irony there. I mean, from a rational point of view you know that acts of faith change nothing, but then you still engage in them. Prayers pray; hopers hope; artists make art. There’s examples of that kind of irony throughout history – Beckett’s probably one of the best examples – in the face of that dark yawning chasm of potential meaninglessness, you do the stupid thing: you write your little play, or you do your little dance or you make your little painting. It’s all we’ve got. And for the time that you’re doing that – the potential meaninglessness is held at bay for that one bit longer.