CAMPERDOWN: Darlinghurst-based artist Dirk Kruithof’s solo exhibition LOCK’D is fun, grungy and confronting. Birthed during Covid lockdown, it’s also littered with contradictions, rife with musical references and revels in the repurposing of found objects.
This is a Covid-lockdown born exhibition with most works created from March 2021 on. What got you started and kept you going?
I feel like I’m always making work in some form or another, even if it’s sort of just messing around in a fairly unstructured way, scribbling ideas down in my workspace … But lockdown gave me more opportunity to focus on it as everything else had completely dried up for me.
I’m also a musician (a guitarist in the post-punk band Rubber Necker) and, as there were no more live shows to play and no pressing rehearsals, my focus on painting became more acute.
Financially and psychologically it was a dire situation for the arts, but there were several months where, with Covid payments, I was actually better off! Then that ended abruptly.
It was such a weird time. There were definitely good and bad aspects to the situation and challenges and changes – like nearly four months of home-learning for my son – but I did find it therapeutic to be making art. Art-making has its own momentum and it seems the more I do the more I need to do.
Why is the show called LOCK’D?
When I was first putting the show together I came up with the tragically unimaginative working title “Lockdown”, which I then abbreviated to LOCK’D, which sounded way cooler. It became clear I would tie the show together with that loosely connected theme,
There’s a painting called “Saint Solitudinous” and other paintings referencing Covid, home-schooling and vaccination. But there’s also quite a large section of non-lockdown themed paintings in the show dedicated to musical heroes of mine, icons I painted from the punk and jazz eras that I was listening to as I worked, to help fire me up and give me energy in the working process.
You’re an inner-city artist with a gritty/grungy/graffiti flavour to a number of your works. Why focus on the urban?
I guess having grown up and lived in Sydney all my life, the “urban” is ingrained into my mindscape. Plus my love of pop art, abstract expressionism, and a lot of the music I love was born into and so has that urban flavour. It’s a kind of harsher aesthetic I’m on about, more hectic – and there don’t seem to be too many trees in there. It’s artificial and industrial.
You work using acrylics, markers, oilsticks, spray paint and collage on street signs, cardboard, old records and cassettes, hubcaps and magnetic audio tape – anything on everything by the sound of it! Where do you find these materials? What do you love about found materials and their grit and grime?
I’m a serial hoarder! I love repurposing materials. Quite a bit of it comes from the street, found materials, plus people give me things they don’t want. Freecycle is great for accumulating that stuff too. People are constantly getting rid of everything they no longer want. I clean it all up and try to make it into a useful working surface. There’s a section of work in this show using wooden bed slats I’ve joined together to paint on. They look like pallets or crates or sections of fence. I like the fact this material is getting a second life. The “joins” make it look like fences so it feels like you’re still out on the street.
In the Chrissie Cotter Gallery (CCG) promo info for the show, John Hardaker writes, “Kruithof’s brash handling of the oilstick (a fave of Basquiat) lends them [the works] an immediacy and a vibrancy that jumps at you.” What’s oilstick? How does it add that vibrancy?
Oilstick is simply oil paint that’s been compressed and hardened into sticks, like a marker or pen. So, they’re really great to draw or write with. You can get some great colours and you’re basically “drawing” with paint. So, I can get a graphic linear quality and use contrasting colours to make it really “pop”. The line work can appear more spontaneous than I can achieve with paint out of a tube.
Tell us about the “Smoking Props” series – which artists feature and why?
It’s a section of the show where I’ve painted and drawn some of my musical heroes onto those wooden slats: artists I often listen to when I’m painting, from my own collection on vinyl, CD or cassette (yes, I’m old school!). A lot of 1970s and ’80s people – Bowie, Lou Reed, Blondie, Grace Jones, Nick Cave, Ari Up. Also Lee Perry, Mingus, Captain Beefheart, Bo Diddley and others.
I noticed a theme in their promo shots and album photos – the cigarette as a kind of prop, a symbol or signifier of “cool”. I chose to highlight this (now arcane) fashion of having the cigarette front and centre, not as a judgement but more a reflection of changing fashion in society and pop culture. The cigarette is now kinda seen as the “bad guy”, where it was once glamorous. Alcohol has escaped the “bad guy” syndrome so far it appears. I’m definitely a fan of all the artists I’ve painted.
What would you like to say about other series in the show?
There are a few recurring themes in my work: The daily grind of city life – having enough money to get by, the noise, the energy, the advertising. And the “street”, which was a place to wander and reflect, and which didn’t change too much during lockdown. It was a sort of place for me to get grounded wandering through Woolloomooloo, Kings Cross and Darlo.
Can you tell us about the text you scribble, scratch and apply over your work? The satire? The jokes?
I want my paintings to have a “conversational” tone. Different viewpoints at once. Contradictions. The appearance of more than one person having worked on it. The text, words and “jokes” are sometimes intentionally quite bad, they can be there goading, deflating or sabotaging my own pretensions, or generally being critical of things in the painting, myself or society.
How do phrases like “a pop art loutishness” and “pop expressionism” resonate with what you’re trying to do?
Pop expressionism is probably an accurate way to describe it. Or grunge-pop. They sound like something that the work could be described as. “Pop art loutishness” was a great turn of phrase care of John Hardaker that made me laugh. I made up a few: cool street grunge, hot expressionist pop. A friend of mine called it ghetto folk, which was a good one. Labels are always tricky but we always seem to end up labelled as artists. I’m not against labels.
Which artist is doing something unexpected that you admire?
Clayton Thomas will be performing a short improvised set on the double bass on my opening night, which should be brilliant. Always unexpected in his approach, I’ve heard him make his instrument sound like a four-piece percussion group.
Why should people come to your show?
I’ve always wanted my work to be accessible to anyone, although that may be naive of me! You don’t necessarily need to be artistically literate to “get it” with my stuff, I hope. The paintings are fun and colourful and you can enjoy them simply for that. It’s not academic.
I think of my work as another thing that vies for your attention, like social media, music, podcasts or television – sometimes it’s topical, sometimes trivial, or even illuminating and educational when its going well. Just dip in and out of it with as much attention as you want to give to it. Opening night should be a good party anyway!
LOCK’D by Dirk Kruithof
Chrissie Cotter Gallery, Pidcock Street, Camperdown
Thursday September 29 to Sunday October 9
Opening Night Wednesday September 28, 6pm
Gallery hours 11am to 4pm, Thursday to Sunday