Last Saturday, bleary-eyed, we got up early and drove for an hour to Canberra in the ute with Trim, our kelpie, in the back to have breakfast at the National Gallery of Australia.
Patricia Piccinini’s SkyWhale was being inflated and was about to glide across the capital in a flying sculptural tribute to Canberra’s 100th birthday.
We’d been invited to breakfast and I had expected ‘breakfast’ to mean us and a cast of thousands. To my horror and delight, we were ushered into the member’s lounge and sat next to Patricia’s husband and sculptor Peter Hennessey. Sitting opposite us was Vivien Lovell and her husband from the Courtauld Institute.
While my partner, Chris Kirby, chatted away and delighted those around him, I was mute and frozen. I was wearing a flannelette shirt and jeans, FFS. I still had sleep in my eyes. I’m not very good in ‘fancy’ situations, I am worried I’ll say the wrong thing, be judged or snooted upon. To compound my freaking, someone began to ask about my art. What could I say in such incredible surroundings surrounded by such incredible people?
Patricia spoke about the huge challenges the balloon manufacturer’s had in getting the teats to droop and the magic randomness of evolution. All the while her children clung to her legs and supported her. You could tell she was still a little uneasy about speaking publicly but there’s a salve in knowing the subject inside out.
The big lesson for me is to just relax and love your work. Art is always going to be judged, often harshly but you’ve got to do it because you can’t imagine doing anything else. And if anyone asks me about my practice again, I won’t deflect and feel weird, I’ll tell them about what I do and conjure up Patricia’s radiance.
Here’s a little clip of the Skywhale in six seconds