In Truth Bomb: Inspiration from the Mouths and Minds of Women Artists, Abigail Crompton presents the work of more than 20 Australian and international artists that, in her words, tell a story of “resilience, tenacity, sacrifice and steely determination.” In the extract below, from the introduction to the book, Crompton outlines what drove her to drop a Truth Bomb.
by Abigail Crompton
In this book, as well as sharing a selection of their extraordinary works, I wanted to give you some personal details about the lives of the artists. I wanted to refer to their habits, their obsessions and philosophies, to the things that make them tick. I am an art fan, not an art theorist. In Truth Bomb I’ve included things from the mouths and minds of these women that resonate with my spirit.
Georgia O’Keeffe famously rejected the idea that you can make an artist overnight, that there was ‘nothing but genius, and a dash of temperament in artistic success’. (Ha!) ‘Great artists don’t just happen, any more than writers, or singers, or other creators,’ she once said. ‘They have to be trained, and in the hard school of experience.’
In this regard, there is a deep interconnectedness among the artists in Truth Bomb. Yayoi Kusama, then a young artist, wrote a ‘clumsy and reckless’ letter to Georgia O’Keeffe in 1955, and the letter she received in return inspired her to go to New York to pursue her art career, despite her mother’s disapproval.
Judy Chicago, another of the Truth Bomb artists, made a plate for Georgia O’Keeffe in her feminist masterwork The Dinner Party (1974–79). This work features a ceremonial table for thirty-nine historical female figures, and lists 999 more women of accomplishment, embossed in gold on the floor. It took five years to complete. Wow.
There is room – a lot of room – in Truth Bomb for humour. Silly humour, biting humour, black humour. Some of the most powerful spears of truth about gender have been delivered through art. For example, the Guerrilla Girls remind us – wearing gorilla masks and cracking lethal jokes – that art history has been written by men, that women are paid less, and that women artists have been left out. Humour is a powerful form of communication, one that is needed now more than ever.
Miriam Elia’s groundbreaking Ladybird-like We Go to the Gallery started out as a Kickstarter campaign to publish a satirical little bookthat highlights the depth of sexism in the art world. The content is noless in your face and direct because it is funny.
Then there are the fantastic oversharers like the wise, outrageous, next-level Judith Bernstein. Hail Judith! She was one of the early members of the Guerrilla Girls. Although she was given a hard time by fellow feminists for her phallic drawings and was effectively banished from the art world for decades, she rose above it all, stuck to her guns and experienced what she calls a ‘rebirth’ in her seventies. Judith is now a celebrated, highly collectable contemporary artist and renowned feminist pioneer.
Of all the artists in Truth Bomb, Kaylene Whiskey is perhaps the biggest enigma. She has her life in the modern art world and she has her life on Country in Indulkana, a remote Aboriginal community in South Australia. She lives in two worlds and her works explore the collision: David Bowie, nuns, boomerangs, the private world of her ancestors versus the glaringly public Western pop culture icons. Genius. Kaylene’s grandfather was an artist and she has always been surrounded by the practice of painting. And as her art star rises, she wants her success to inspire others: ‘That’s something I’m proud of; that young girls might look up to me and want to try being an artist,’ she says.
Many of the women in this book have had a good, hard look at themselves to find their inner truth. Anastasia Klose dressed up at the 54th Venice Biennale in a wedding dress with a sign that said, ‘Nanna, I’m still searching’. Yayoi Kusama is the master of the truth bomb, as she conveys how her mental illness allows her to see the world. Miranda July has been known to give herself pep talks out loud (usually under the guise of a conversation with her boyfriend) to define her personal truths regardless of judgement from others.
If anyone can teach us how to pursue the life and work of an artist, it is the women from around the world you are going to meet or reacquaint yourself with in Truth Bomb. They will motivate and empower you. They will challenge you to find solace in the shared human experiences of birth, death, love, anger, joy and sadness. Their sassiness and insight will fire your spirit. Their combined message?
Make art now!
Truth Bomb: Inspiration from the Mouths and Minds of Women Artists by Abigail Crompton is published by Thames and Hudson Australia.