We were blown away when first viewing Will Cole’s comic appropriation series a few weeks ago – here were brilliant pieces of art that lampooned the state of the art world with a sense of wit and intelligence that would make Quentin Crisp envious. Punk as fuck, they do not give answers, instead they attack – with a wink and a smile – portraying many of the hard truths of the modern art world. A world sadly not unlike every other, were in this day and age money and power are king.
Coles’ latest incarnation of the series features nude figures fucking, sucking and undressing whilst stating phrases such as “The gallery that can create an artist can also destroy that artist.” With earlier works in the series featuring scenes of war and soldiers – often with Will shown taking violent revenge against his art world enemies. Taken as a whole the series is a perfect mix of sex, death, politics and comedy. Images akin to political action posters – ready made and meant for dissemination, to act as a message and call to arms.
(Picture below of Will Coles – gun ready for those art world enemies!)
Well, we decided it would be a good idea to learn more about the series, so we asked him politely to explain the what, why and how.
Read Will’s thoughts on the series below…
The series shows a real tongue in cheek understanding of the modern art world…
– what was the reason for making the series?
I keep making these kind-of collages because it’s still relevant.
‘Investment Art’ is destroying art, the art world has become completely financialised. It wasn’t like this until a few decades ago, even then it’s taken several decades to get to the kind of bullshit art prices we have now.
See a rather good doco called ‘The Mona Lisa Curse’ that lays down the facts on what & when & who.
– what tips would you give to a young artist navigating the current commercial art landscape?
Getting a gallery isn’t essential & is only the first rung on the ladder.
Curators are the DJs of the art scene, find them.
Get into art prizes, find out how to get your work into state or fed art collections (e.g. if they accept a donation you can get a tax deduction for the agreed value.)
Learn how to write media releases, get decent pictures taken of your work, use social media, say something but only when it’s relevant, don’t just talk for the sake of it.
– any personal tales of your adventures in the art world that you would care to share?
Too many I’d get sued for!
One retarded classic was when I got shortlisted for the Blacktown Art Prize. I entered a wall hanging sculpture to be told it must be re-entered as a painting because it hangs on the wall & is painted (it’s white & relies on shadow to read the lettering.) As a sculpture it would have to sit on the ground or a plinth. But don’t worry, one of the judges is from COFA so they might consider my sculpture a painting if it hangs on the wall.
It didn’t as they got confused & treated it like a sculpture i.e. put it on a plinth & lent it against the wall.
– do you have any favorite art world scheisters?
Not really, the usual bunch of white privileged tossers, bored middle/upper class money that decides it wants to be an artist.
– are there any artists who you feel have successfully navigated the art world without ‘selling out’ or compromising their identity – if so whom and how was this achieved?
Plenty in street art & graff.
Mike Watt is busting his arse, making so much & all of it good.
Kaffeine out of Melby, cool chic that just does her thing, commercially or street.
Junky Projects, the Melbourne street art/graff community would suffer without him.
Camo out of Sydney, gets up a lot & evolving fast.
Phibs, a legend that others try to steal the skills of.
Phil James has definitely kept it real, great stuff, has painting skills & ideas.
Adam Hill doesn’t get recognition he deserves, a personality that almost eclipses his art but it’s part of him, dude should’ve been rich years ago!
– in your opinion, is it possible to be a successful artist by ignoring the factors you mention?
Have money. Be born into it or marry into it. How else could someone do a BA & an MA, leave without a debt & instantly afford to have Australian special effects companies make their work for them or have projects outsourced to China, email an image or CAD file to Beijing & get a sculpture shipped back a few weeks later?
– do you feel there is a link between pornography and commercial art – what is it and why does it exist?
There’s not enough porn in contemporary art! It’s so fucking dull now. So many self righteous twats boring people in the name of art, that’s fucking criminal.
Art used to be full of porn since the first cave paintings & carved figures, now it’s navel-gazing dullness.
I could draw the usual conclusions, gallery owners as pimps, taking a percentage, but I’m fine with that, as long as there’s no bullshit.
You’re still selling your ideas, your personality, often that’s all a lot of contemporary artists have, no skills & a manufactured personality to sell in slices for art collectors to own a piece of you.
Where do you source the original images from?
Scanned from French, Italian & Spanish porn comics, usually drawn in the ‘60’ & ‘70’s.
Sometimes you realize the skill of the artist, the compositional strength, the boundaries being pushed, it’s surprising how much they manage to achieve with so little elbow room.
How do you produce the series and is it a product of digital or traditional methods?
Find, scan, clean up, text & tweak in Photoshop, try to keep it basic, not too polished or it starts to lose its edge.
What are your plans for the series – prints? To be used in street art?
Maybe print but I’d be happy if they just migrated out into the via online.
The audience is important, first & foremost these are meant to be seen.
What does the term ‘Art Whore’ mean to you and why?
Not sure! Like a brand whore? No, it sounds more like something that was an insult but has now become owned by the user, a verbal & visual ‘fuck-you’.
What does pornography mean to you and why?
Hardcore, softcore, fetish, BDSM, it can be good or bad, victimize the object of ‘affection’ &/or the viewer.
Like I said, it’s been around forever as far as humans are concerned, we’re mammals driven by instincts.
All that really matters in this (& all matters?) are two words : consenting adults.
There is a marked difference in your porn re mix series, and your war comic re mix series – with the porn ones being general comments and the comic ones being much more specific…
…care to explain this schism for those at home?
I was kind of pissed off back then about the cliquey closed world of Australian contemporary art, both Sydney & Melbourne.
A lot of the established artists were simply Australian versions of famous overseas artists yet galleries preferred to show them rather than different (better) art by younger artists.
I grew up with war comics, I loved them, whilst all the other boys were interested in football teams I was interested in tanks (don’t know, don’t ask!) My grandfather was a successful sculptor that also made toy soldiers for major toy companies.
I feel the war ones are actually more generalized in a way, hating the art scene as a whole while taking potshots at their heroes. As you experience the art world you realize the more you know the less you know. Art colleges are reduced to a primary networking experience, curators are apparently more important than the artists being shown, that sort of thing.
You single out artists in the comic series… What exactly are your issues with some of the named artists / art world figures?
– Tracey Emin + Damien Hirst
Emin & Hirst, all part of the YBA ‘Investment Art’ bullshit, horribly overhyped & as hollow as UK’s ‘New Labour’ government of the time.
– Charles Saatchi
That Saatchi now defines what UK art is, that a man who used to collect jukeboxes now collects art (due to one of his wives) creates – & occasionally destroys – artists, is proof of a failed art community.
The only filter left is money.
He can afford to donate art to major public collections, knowing it will raise the profile & therefore value of the artists he essentially often owns. He can also dump lots of particular artists work on the market & destroy the artist’s value. That is when you know it’s about art as investment & not about the content or quality of the product.
– Sidney Nolan + Tracey Moffatt
Nolan seems very much a one trick pony, in some ways Whitely & Moffatt were the same, made their best work early, so good they were accepted internationally, but then got lazy & just did variations on a theme for the rest of their lives, simply making what sells but slowly diluting the strength of the content.
– Yves Klein
Klein was really a bit of a fraud, & the whole douchebag thing of dragging naked women around a giant canvas in front of an audience, it looks like a bunch of overpaid sexist shite in retrospect.
You have inserted yourself into the series – often as a gun toting punisher, exacting violence upon your art world enemies…
* why the decision to include yourself in the works?
I felt I needed to personalize the assault, to make sure there was no mistake, this is how I felt. Lots of people laugh along but most are happy to toe the contemporary art line. So many people are so scared of being on the outside looking in that they’ll do & say anything to be included. There was a great essay written on the use of ‘art wank’ speak, that it was a tool of exclusion, often used mostly by those at the bottom of contemporary art desperately trying to be part of the club.
The final nail(s) in the coffin is making art colleges home for middle & upper class kids, that the most important factor is ‘can they pay the fees’, not ‘how much potential do they show’. Half the students on my course were working class, that wouldn’t happen now. Financialised colleges & no more college grants mean so many of the great 20th century artists would never have got the start they needed. The output will just be bored ca$hed-up people with enough money to make bad art.
I was told years ago by a director of a major commercial Sydney gallery that if you were a ‘street artist’ you would never get shown by any major Australian contemporary art gallery. It wasn’t about the work, it was about control of the work. It seemed strange then & now that one of main players would admit to such a narrow view of art.
* if you could give yourself comic book superhero powers, what would they be and why?
‘The Punisher’, the remake is an beautiful film, he’d make a good art avenger!
* who is the “Seton” who often partakes in the punishing along with yourself in the series?
Alex Seton’s a friend & we shared a studio back then.
What link do you feel there is between art and war?
Sex & death. Porn & war. It’s human history, it’s what we do as mammals.
Art is an expression of life, of ideas & experiences.