Interview With Maz Dixon

Sydney based artist Maz Dixon explores the divide between the fabricated images of mass produced souvenir media and the reality of lived experience. Maz’s diptych Colony has been selected as a finalist in the 2014 Sir John Sulman Prize currently showing at the AGNSW. Maz will also be exhibiting in Art Pharmacy’s The Arts Lab exhibition (September 4-14) in collaboration with Sydney Fringe.

Maz, would you like to introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Maz, I’m a painter and collage artist from Bondi. My artwork is based on vintage postcards. I’m interested in the disconnect between souvenir media and the destinations they depict.

How did the idea for the ‘Colony’ series come about?
I have a collection of postcard view folders, which are basically single postcards made up into folders of about 10 or twelve images, sometimes with a bit of a blurb about local scenery or industry. They mostly follow a similar pattern or template, with a picture of the local high street, an aerial view of the town, the local park, etc.I purchased one of Albany, WA and was flicking through it and it followed this pattern right up to the point where suddenly there was a big, dead sperm whale. Apparently while the local whaling station was up and running this was thought of as something interesting tourists might want to see! I’ve since come across a couple of other folders with similar images, dead whales with people looking on or flocks of seagulls gleefully descending from above. I was struck by these images of violence that are rare in these folders, they mostly show peaceful, sleepy towns or holiday spots with white middle class families – people like me - relaxing in them. It got me thinking a bit about how we’re always told there’s something to be scared of in this country, whether it’s the wildlife or people on boats. I thought I’d poke a bit of fun at this attitude.

How do you typically approach a new work?
I work everything out on my computer first. I usually pick out little chunks of landscape or figures from different postcards and spend a bit of time cutting and positioning them. I then use Adobe Illustrator to break them down into shapes and outlines, and use a projector to trace these shapes onto a board in pencil. I paint the shapes in really bright colours (everything around the figures gets painted red, with blue over the top). The final stage is doing a thin, naturalistic painting over top, so that you can see the lines and shapes underneath. It’s a pretty labourious process but for me it’s essential to this idea of converting ‘official’ mass-produced souvenir imagery into something more individual and personal. It allows you to see very clearly the process of this conversion.

Have you visited many of the places in the souvenir media you deconstruct? Was there a particular instance where the mass-produced missed the mark for you?
It’s an interesting question because the postcards I collect are from before my time, so even something like a folder of Sydney contains images of places in the city that don’t look ‘right’. But I will say that Big Things are best viewed from a distance, possibly from a speeding car. Some monuments just work best when that air of mystery is preserved.

What materials do you like to work with?
I’ve always loved working with oils, I’m afraid I’m one of these people who hates, hates, hates acrylic paint! In the last few years I’ve started painting on panels instead of canvas, and that’s really changed the way I paint. It’s such a nice smooth surface to do the initial drawing on, and it’s excellent for doing a thick glaze that allows you to see the drawing and underpainting quite clearly. I’ve also started doing inkjet transfers and putting pastel and gouache on top of that. While the process of doing the transfer is time consuming, adding the colour on top is quite liberating compared to the intensive process of painting.

Could you tell us a little about the studio residency you undertook in Italy last year? Did it give you a fresh perspective on Australiana and the constructed touristic image?
The residency was great. It was just outside a small village called Greve in Chianti. It’s called La Macina di San Cresci. It’s run by an amazing couple, Mimma and Duccio, who restored a century church and surrounding buildings in the middle of the countryside. The studio is 10th basically in a cavernous stone space overlooking a valley full of vineyards and it’s ridiculously beautiful. When you travel for a while you realise that Australiana is just a kind of local variation in a global language. In Spain it’s all about bulls, in Italy it’s all about ruins and the Pope, and in London it’s all about red buses, black cabs and Princess Di. It’s all a few national emblems that most of the population really don’t think much about from day to day, but forms an easy shorthand for outsiders to sum up their limited experience of the place. Just slap it all on some fridge magnets and tea-towels.
As far as a fresh take on the constructed touristic image is concerned, I think postcards of Tuscany are pretty accurate in everything except for the giant wasps that hang out near fruit vines. Oh my God, those things were huge.

I understand you produced some postcards for Waverley council library. How did you get involved in the project, and how did you navigate the gap between mass-produced and reality in your own postcard works?
The project was a part of a studio residency I did with Waverley Council. Part of the residency was a community benefit project, and I designed postcards that were meant more for the residents than the visitors. I wanted to give the locals who live in this touristy hotspot a fresh look at the things that they walk past every day without really noticing, like the reservoir on Bondi Road or the ornamental architecture that’s way above eye level. I read somewhere (I can’t remember where unfortunately) that making the point of really looking at things you walk past everyday can be like taking a holiday, so I kind of flipped the focus for these postcards away from the beach that everyone knows about and more towards the everyday bits of architecture that the people here live with.

Do you find your degree in Egyptology has played a role in your artistic practice?
It certainly seems you bring a critical or studious approach to touristic constructions. That might have been what first got me interested in this sort of thing. While I was studying for that degree I was lucky enough to go on a tour of Egypt organized by the university. We went on a lot of group things and strangely the other tourists were not nearly as interested in things like 18th and archaeology as well as art which probably does affect the way I approach art making.

What are you doing when you’re not creating? What other hobbies do you have?
I’m doing something in the studio just about every day, but when I’m not in there I’m reading, walking, eating, drinking...nothing very active really. We’re hoping to go travelling again next year so we’ll save all our adventurous energy for that!

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects you’d like to share with us?
I’m going to be concentrating on finishing the Colony series for a while, and I’m also looking at producing a small video piece based on the similarities between view folders that I was talking about before – making a stop-motion animation of a street based on all the high streets in my folders, a beach based on all the beaches, etc. I think I’ll be working with souvenir media for a while yet.

You can buy Maz's work here

Words: Lauren Castino