Interview With Maz Dixon

Maz Dixon, one of our most popular and long-standing artists, was delighted to invite us into her home-studio at North Bondi, to give us a sneak peek at what she’s currently working on! The softly spoken artist answered our many questions about her enigmatic paintings and how she produces them, giving us insight as to what inspires her.

Maz’s work sold out at our pop up exhibition at The Lab in September last year, be sure to get your hands on one of her collectable works before they go flying off the shelves again! During Art Month, she exhibited in a group show at Waverley Library, a retrospective of their former artists in residence.

In her home, amongst her own works, Maz has some paintings by other artists with whom she has exhibited. For example, in her living room there is a small painting by Ben Tankard, who was also a finalist in the 2012 Sulman Prize (Maz was a finalist twice, in 2012 and 2014). She explains that she attended his solo show at Me. Space a few weeks ago at Me. gallery, a combined studio and exhibition space in St Leonards. “I was kind of drooling over their facilities” she confesses, “my space is great in that it is a short walk to work but it can be a little cramped”.

Her studio is an annexe off the back of her first floor unit in Bondi, a cosy space that suits the small and detailed works she is currently producing. Her larger paintings are hung on any available wall of her art-deco home. As her studio faces west, it receives plenty of sunlight although it also restricts the artist’s working hours to the early morning or late afternoon in order to avoid the heat. This can work to her advantage though, as her preferred medium demands long periods of drying time. Consequently, Maz has several paintings on the go, swapping seamlessly between them while the others are drying. Maz creates small-scale oil paintings on wood, featuring figures and landscapes appropriated from vintage Australian postcards. She transfers these figures onto panels of Tasmanian oak through a long process, scanning the postcards into Photoshop, manipulating the digital image, then printing them onto transparencies and finally tracing these projected outlines onto the support. Her desk is covered in vintage postcards, transparencies, print outs, reference images and paintings in various stages of completion. Working out the composition in a digital format takes the most time, once it is printed out or projected, the painting of the surface takes generally a few days. Maz uses some thinning and drying mediums to speed up the lengthy process of painting with oils.

Currently, Maz is working with different media, branching out into the world of ink-jet transfers. Maz was inspired by the frescoes in the Italian city of Bologna, using the ink jet transfers to achieve a similar texture and effect. Instead of tracing the figures from laminates, Maz draws them directly onto the printed image of her digital composition, using a polymer matte varnish applied on its surface to which the pastel will adhere. “Although these are quite messy to work with, they are heaps of fun” Maz smiles, showing us a stack of pre-framed works.

Where does the artist get her visual references and source material? Her postcards span a hundred odd years of holidaying in Australia, featuring rural and coastal icons such as the Big Pineapple that can be easily recognised in works such as Colony #21 and Secret Rendezvous. Many of these postcards carry old messages scribbled on their backs, some of which are heartbreaking. “Dear uncle, I am sending you this postcard to Canterbury. I don’t suppose you know Mr Brown is dead and Mrs’ Browns baby. It was in the paper”, she reads off the back of a postcard showing a wooded valley in Victoria. What Maz prefers is the wackier, dated photographs from the 1960s of ordinary occasions and places in Australia, for example one from Albany with a photo of a whale carcass, that she has appropriated into a few recent paintings, Colony #2, #12 and #14. This postcard caught Maz’s attention, standing out amongst the monotonous postcards of beaches, war memorials and local industry. A reappropriation of these images provides a point of comparison in the history Australian culture, at once stunning and nostalgic. She buys her postcards mainly off Ebay, and occasionally from op shops when on road trips in rural Australia, for example Mr Pickwick’s in Katoomba. “Mostly it’s just Ebay, it’s just so easy!”Maz is also draws inspiration from the photographs of Frank Hurley, an adventurer and former World War I photographer, who out of financial necessity ended up in tourism photography. She can see some similarities in composition between this artist’s earlier photographs from expeditions such as Shackleton’s voyage to Antarctica and the later commercial ones. 

When asked about her new works, Maz explains they are mainly studies for the time being. She is currently experimenting with a new process, blurring the backgrounds in the digital stage of her paintings, and rendering the figures in sharper detail. The artist also explains that this new way separating the landscape backgrounds in to small colour fields is very similar to the under layers of her earlier paintings. Having worked in a certain style for a few years, Maz feels a need to push her paintings in new directions, exploring different media and techniques. She is even considering creating a stop-motion animation using her transparencies, although it is not a priority for the moment.

It seems that Maz is keen to create a more structured narrative with her postcard figures and contexts, either in her paintings or in new media. In her earlier works, Maz deliberately extricated the figures from their photographic locations, refusing the imposed rhetoric of the image, which was telling someone “how to be in a place”. She is happy to leave the narratives enigmatic and open to interpretation. Her newer paintings however, feature larger portions of landscape and the figures’ interaction within this context is clearer. Whether it is deliberate or not, even her most recent paintings suggest some sort of narrative, particularly through recurring figures such as the man in red Speedos. Maz’s works are mainly conceived and displayed as a series. She regroups certain themes for example those paintings presenting some of the macho elements lurking under the surface of some postcard images from the 1950s. “A lot of tourism imagery is very passive”, Maz explains, “it’s about looking at things, but occasionally you come across some indicators of the photographer’s personality, especially with characters such as Frank Hurley”. For the artist there is also an element of personal history to her work. The locations that feature in these postcards were so popular that they can be found in the backgrounds of many vintage family photos, Maz’s own memories have already converged with the images on these postcards on several occasions. Using her own experience and her Anglo-Saxon heritage, Maz’s works draw upon an awareness of how uneasily this culture sits in the Australian landscape and the inefficiency of efforts to dominate it.

You can buy Maz's works here.

Words: Lucie Reeves-Smith