Annette Bezor

Annette Bezor has been painting since the 1980s and during this time she has produced large-scale works that showcase the faces of many women. Some of her subjects are recognisably famous and they can be seen depicted in moments of heightened beauty and momentary elevation. The transfixing pose of each subject finds its way through the overlays of erosion, rainbow colour blocks and circular gold leaf impressions. The techniques applied allow the viewer to peer through the slightly obscuring markings to see the subjects at face value.

Annette Bezor’s art-making process requires time and so she is now producing 10 paintings a year. Continuously searching for new techniques and keeping her mind open to influences, she says that she is an artist who “never stops”. Bezor recently spoke to Artist Profile about some of the works included in her recent exhibition at Hill Smith Gallery, Precious Luck.

What initially led you down the path of art-making?
It wasn’t clear. I didn’t do art at school. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I came from a very working class background, no art in the house. I later found out that my mother is quite talented but I didn’t know that and I fell into it really. I knew I could draw, I’ve always known that I could draw and then I discovered art school, and it was as simple as that. It was quiet incredible, I found a place where I felt at home and I didn’t know it existed.

What have been the most significant influences on your practice?
I have to say being a young woman in the 70s, finding art school in the 70s and the amount of change that was happening in the world, in the art world, feminism, the freedom that women had that had never happened. I would not have made the work I make without the women’s art movement being in Adelaide. There was a big art scene in Adelaide in the 70s and it just gave me the platform I needed to be the person that I needed to be, having come from such an impoverished background. I was an undereducated woman, an intelligent woman, but I didn’t have things given to me. As soon as you go to art school you are surrounded by this incredibly intellectual atmosphere. In other ways it was really hard because the pressure of the time was all about Abstract Expressionism. Because I was a naive person to be at art school really, I was quite surprised that I got in. I wanted to do figurative work, I was very romantic and certainly became tougher fairly quickly.

Can you discuss your artistic process: do you plan all your works beforehand or do you commence and change them as you continue?
In the really early days I used to make collages of things I’d find. I’d get the model, I’d photograph the model, I’d make a collage, I would paint what was there. I knew what I was going to paint but I found that quite boring. I wanted to let the painting inform me. When I actually make one of these backgrounds now, I don’t always know what I’m going to put over it. I make this background and it has a life all of its own. The other thing is that I don’t stop. If a painting doesn’t work, sometimes I won’t work on it again for five years. I’m never finished until I put it in the rubbish bin or in a show.

Your practice involves paintings of women from classical and contemporary periods: how do you select your subjects? What qualities are you searching for?
I started off using my friends as models and the work was very narrative and quite political. I did have that feminist background and there were strong messages in there or I would know what I wanted to say and so I would choose an image that was appropriate from a magazine if it wasn’t appropriate to have a friend as a model. Work is always autobiographical in some sense so whatever has been happening to me prescribes what I’m painting. You’ve got to have a source somewhere and I don’t intellectually pluck things out of the ether. I experience things and then I paint them, although they’ve become much less literal as I’ve moved on. I’ve moved away from that strong narrative. It’s much more a two-dimensional surface now that I play on and I let the painting have its own way a lot more now than I used to, I used to control it. It’s not a very strict choice, I’m not an intellectual although I do have some strong concepts in my work. It’s quite arbitrary, I move around, I look, I live, pick things, one painting moves onto the next painting. As I moved through my career, techniques became very important to me so I became as involved in paint as I did in the subject and the concept of the painting. It’s an almost accidental thing. I paint what I want to paint.

What are you attempting to fundamentally express with your appropriations of women presented in their cultural context?
I think that if I talked about that in any real sense I would be preaching. I am not actually teaching anything in my work. I can’t say that I intend anything. When I’m actually involved in a painting I’m not going “This is going to do that”. There are some paintings that I think are quite obvious like ‘Flawed’. I think ‘Flawed’ is possibly the most obvious painting in the show. She’s also got that erosion over the face and you can actually see through the skin to the background. I think that my paintings are mysterious and I’d hate it if they weren’t and I think that everyone gets something different from them. Their meaning comes from the writing that is done about them. Stacks of writing has happened. It’s actually the people who then run with whatever I’ve done and they use their brains to talk about it.

Paintings such as ‘Lookers’ and ‘Precious Luck’ contain markings of erosion; what are you trying to achieve with this effect?
This is really important to me; this is the direction that is going to go on for the next couple of shows. I do have several directions that I’m going in but certainly this needs to continue. I make a background with acrylic paint and I scrunch the canvas up quite tightly and I use different layers of paint. It probably takes a week and a half with the use of a little air blower and I pour paint and then I’ll dry that layer and I’ll pour more paint over it. I might at some point take it out onto the lawn and open it up, have a look at it, scrunch it up again, pour some more paint over it, let it dry. What this creates is this really grungy, crunchy background and I paint over the top of that. When the over-painting is dry, I sand through it with an orbital sander, which is a very brutal object, it brings the underground through the skin. The reason for this is because what it does is it’s like seeing all of the veins under the skin. I’m talking about the fragility so in the painting ‘Flawed’ for instance of Kate Moss, I’m talking about her fragility. So she’s beautiful but beauty is transient, it’s fragile. She’s human, there’s blood pulsing there and she’s scared because we are all scared, even the person who seems the happiest in the world. It’s just showing the fragility and transient nature of things and the humanness of everyone.

And the reason for the gold leaf impressions?
Gold is luck. I’ve been using the gold leaf for a couple of years now and I’m certainly going to keep using it for it a bit. When you look at the circles, the way that they’re positioned, the gold is a halo. They also become a target, I’m taking it from being sanctified to being a target which is what a celebrity, for instance, Kate Moss. She’s got the halo behind her but then she has this circle in front of her so she’s everything. She’s a sanctified supermodel, she’s flawed, she’s self-destructive, she’s a target for the media, it’s all of these things. The gold is a perfect medium.

Is your practice changing? If so, what direction is it heading in?
Technique, backgrounds, the gold leaf and the overlays are still fairly new, my next couple of shows will probably still involve these ideas. I’m only painting about 10 paintings a year now. I’m heading towards abstraction which means that in a show that I might have in two years’ time, there will be a painting in there that is an abstract painting, but not out of place. It will still relate to what I do and people will still see some kind of natural progression. There will always be some kind of little inclination, figuration coming through because that’s my heart. I also want to play with paint more. I’ve actually built this implement that I’m going to play with. It all sounds so mysterious! This excites me. One day I’ll have a show and it might be next year and I’ll think, “Now it’s time to play, I’m just going to do three months of mucking up”. Whenever you start playing with technique you have a lot of failures and a lot of people don’t know how to have failures because they are very frustrating but the only way to develop things is to have failures.

Annette Bezor is represented by Hill Smith Galleryand Australian Galleries.

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