Last week I was at a party where this old friend (who I really should just dump) – let's call her Fay – asked me which animal I might have been in a past life. I thought long and hard about it before replying – such things have to be taken very seriously. So serious in fact that I'm sure some COFA Art Theory kid is already writing a PhD on the topic. Before I got a chance to answer Fay's question, she started telling me that her past life was equine. Fay was indeed a horse called Zara. So that Fay/Zara couldn't see my disapproval, I rolled my inner eyes, and thought, what is it about chicks and horses? I don't get it; isn't that girly-horsy thing, like Tab and Swatch watches, just a little bit last century? Once every girl I knew either wanted a horse or wanted to be a horse. Ride a fucking bike, for godsakes! I remember when I was at school (the posh one of my imagination) little princess cunts like Mia, Sue and Julie weren't satisfied unless daddy bought them a pony, which is exactly what daddy did. I used to wonder if their daddies would adopt me. I'd do anything for a daddy who would let me ride.
If I was a child in this day and age, I'd be lucky to score a Tamagotchi from my parents, let alone a day-pass barebacking at El Caballo Blanco. Speaking of which, I was sifting through a week's worth of junkmail yesterday (you know the drill: endless invites to every gallery in the world) and a pamphlet about El Caballo Blanco caught my eye. How amazing that it still exists. I had just assumed (whenever it crossed my mind) that it had gone the way of Old Sydney Town or
Getting back to my past life animal. I won't divulge what my animal might be, for fear the reincarnation gods are listening and will start planning my next life accordingly - just in case I guess the animal and get it wrong. And to be quite honest, I'd rather come back a fridge magnet than an animal. Animals are so over-rated. Who'd want to be an animal when you're never quite sure if you'll end up dinner for another species, roadkill along the Great Highway of Wherever, or shot up with cancer or "the AIDS" for the Greater Scientific Good. Imagine coming back as a pet for either the disabled or dilettante. And seeing how much I hate French cinema in this life, it would be just my luck that I'd come back as the poster pet for the Brigitte Bardot animal welfare foundation in the next life if I don't play my cards right.
Fay was getting mighty pissed with me now for being too cerebral so I bought her another Southern Comfort and Coke to shut her up before moving to the other end of the bar to talk to Wendy. The thing about Wendy is that she actually has a bit of a horse face so I couldn't handle it anymore. After having a spew outside, I hailed a cab and went home. But I couldn't sleep. I had horses on my mind. Ignoring the El Cobalo Blanco brochure sitting on the coffee table, I flicked through the art invite junk mail and saw that Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery has a show of new work by Jenny Watson called Star Material – now there's an artist who knows a thing or two about the horse. I finally fell asleep knowing Jenny Watson could indeed answer my tough equine questions if I paid a visit to the Oxley stable.
Horse around, 2007
L: Oil and acrylic on rabbit skin glue primed
Chinese organza over damask, 280x126cm
R: Acrylic on prepared oval stretcher, 36x28 cm
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
With a mild headache, I took myself off to the gallery hoping for answers to the enduring riddle of why girls get their rocks off to horses. Is it just the big swinging cock or is there really something special there, more akin to an emotional connection? Certainly one woman I'll grant a hobby horse concession is Patti Smith, the first lady of punk. Her Horses (1975) album still makes me come to this day. In the film of her one woman show, Without You I'm Nothing (1990), Sandra Bernhard sums up Patti in a nutshell: "She was a prophetess. She saw so far into the future she could afford to take ten years off and not say another word".
So I'm at Jenny Watson's show on a sunny Saturday afternoon and, as expected, I encountered a painting of a girl on a horse. As Watson has been dealing with the same concerns (girls, horses and then some) for some twenty years, it didn't really take me by surprise. Yep, all the familiar traits were there: naïve paintings on fabrics and scrawled diary-like texts detailing the cutesy everyday minutia inspiring the work. Watson was big for this kind of stuff in the 1980s and with prices fetching in the realm of $20K these days, it's safe to say the horsy coming of age she had in the 80s will be as commodifiable well into her coming of old age. Which is soon, I suspect.
But come on, it's not all old stuff re-hashed. Watson makes a stab at pop culture currency by painting an iPod advert depicting a silhouetted figure dancing with her is… is it a Nano? Whatever the case, I bet it doesn't have 80-gig of memory like mine does! Watson has really captured something here; the painting was so authentic of contemporary "yoof culture", I could almost hear Jamiroquai or some shit like that wafting from the "rabbit skin glue primed Chinese organza over Chinese cotton". Do I hear Sophie Ellis Bextor? Whatever it was, it definitely wasn't Patti Smith.
Self portrait as an iPod ad, 2007
L: acrylic on rabbit skin primed Chinese organza over Chinese cotton, 128x77 cm
R: acrylic on prepared square stretcher, 30x30 cm
Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
Leaving Roslyn Oxley9 and wondering if perhaps Jenny Watson is responsible for the horse flu epidemic, I decided to nip this horse shit in the bud once and for all and jump in a Hansom cab and trek out west to Hawkesbury Regional Gallery to see Bloodlines: Art and the Horse, curated by Peter Fay. I need some context for the major equine love-in that is gripping this country. Stepping inside the space, I was confronted by such a massive lineup of artists that I was somewhat overwhelmed and there for at least three hours. All that was missing was the smell of manure (which is fine considering some of the work made up for that). If I had paid to get in, it would have been worth the admission, heck I would have even made a donation. Look, I'd even go as far as saying that it'd be worth a kidney or two. Bloodlines made me feel better that it's not just the girls who have a crush on the horse - the boys love their pony clubs just as much. Now that I've taken the plunge into "horse culture", I will de definitely betting at the next Melbourne Cup. For that major personal breakthrough I'm deeply grateful.
What's that over there near the door? How did I miss it as I walked in? Just as I'm leaving Hawkesbury Gallery, an unobtrusive and somewhat grungy little piece by Kate Smith takes me by surprise. The artist has pin-pricked a scrappy bit of cardboard to form three modest but powerful words: I Hate Horses.
Cardboard, 21 x 39 cm
Courtesy the artist