transmuting in blue suede shoes

I knew Alex a long time ago, before he was Alexander Bartleet, next in line to the ever-alluded round table of ‘made it’ contemporary NZ artists. One day we were 11 in badly designed Ponsonby Intermediate terracotta tees, the next (like, 14 years later) our clever mothers met at a dinner party, got to talking about their darlings, and pushed us both into a quasi meeting/peer-support/look-at-us-now private reunion. On the money as always, mum knows best, and despite his preference for telepathic communication, he really is a bouquet in jeans. Fearful of the ‘severe weather warning’ we met indoors, at his family home in Pt Chev for a wine.

Portrait of the artist as a young man: I don’t feel any pressure to be within a scene, or to become what other people think I should be. I’m about the work, I’m not trying to sell the work. I’m trying to sell ideas. It’s about keeping motivated for the next project, having the energy to invest in it and developing and realising thoughts.

LONDON BERLIN PARIS AMSTERDAM: Being over there you kind of, always have that thing of seeing too much art and being scared by the whole perception of being an NZ artist in comparison to artists overseas. the artwork there was inspiring, a lot to take in, there’s too much, you can’t see everything. At the end of the day you need to just walk around the city, eat good food and chill out. Walking around with a cousin, or a good friend who lives in London, their responses were totally different. Different art in different cities was very different. It took a while to get adjusted to Amsterdam. Berlin was a top pick for contemporary galleries, and Paris of course, the smaller galleries were great as well. I wasn’t overseas long enough, to get a feel for where I could be in relation to living there or working there. It was too much. Huge galleries, huge artists. I’m not exactly there yet, obviously London takes months to figure out.

The business of art: Some galleries, especially in Auckland, they have an attitude where the gallery dealers want you to just concentrate on your work and they take the role of selling your work and promoting you. It’s nice in theory, but for young artists now, we have so many ideas and interests not just art, different influences shared by other communities and parts of society, you have to learn the business. Once you know how it works, you can take your ideas into a different place and get involved with other people and projects. Some things are appropriate in a gallery. Some things aren’t. 

Have you always been this hungry – is this just you in any setting? I suppose my energy has clicked with art and visual arts, when I started to gain some momentum and was recognised for it – I thought sweet! Whether it’s art, or music, or sport, bar talk, meeting friends – I do share that same energy with other parts of my life it’s just, down to having the talent to pursue or not. That’s another story. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to pursue all of this, go to university, meet other artists, travel. I think conversation is huge. People have to choose one direction to focus on at a time, which is quite frustrating I guess. It’s hard when you want to eat the world at once isn’t it? Several lives would be fantastic!

Family: They’ve been amazing supporters, my parents are both in creative fields – landscape design and architecture. It’s great, they share that same creative buzz talk, when I have ideas they’re open and very honest. That’s usually a good thing! Every opening, every piece of art, they’ve stuck by me. Mum is the best, she happens to be great at selling my works too haha. Is it hard to be a sibling of Alexander Bartleet? My brother’s more of an entertainer, he’s the cool funny guy of the family, a real traveller. He’s in Canada working in hospitality at the moment. Which is great. My sister did a fashion degree, we worked together on a piece that she graduated with at AUT. The main work, that I loved, was a pair of jeans – digital print on cotton. They’re just beautiful. It’s a full print of one of my works. That idea of transferring art onto fabric is really in right now. She’s in Melbourne.

Crazy dark horror? School’s a funny place, I didn’t exactly do well academically, well not as well as I could have. You’re so young, and yet you’re forced to choose at 17, what to do and who to be. University is suddenly right there. You need to carve out a path from nothing. They weren’t my best days. I didn’t exactly know what I was learning at the time, but I took in a lot of information. I can look back now through my art and find links. I’m interested in science, there are methods of study and discovery I bring into my work, that’s one thing that’s stayed with me. It wasn’t art, it was music, or restaurants, or sport. My next step back then, it was totally different to where I am now.

On everything: I don’t necessarily have everything that I wanted by now. I think of projects, and bigger ideas, I dream about things I still really want to do. I worked in advertising right out of uni at an ad agency I liked the team spirit – the bacon factory – everyone in a tight hot and sweaty room on a Wednesday afternoon. We used to share all of these fantastic ideas, chat, compete, everyone was positive but quite forward. I miss that team, in the future I want more of that. Film, music, language, different forms. What’s missing in Auckland is shared creative spaces, for different artists to work together and create differently, to approach projects as a team alongside individual ventures.

For fun? I love getting away, going out to gigs…I work at Khuja Lounge and that’s a great distraction, a great release. By myself, working on my art, everything’s silent. Working in a crowd relaxes me.

Stairway to heaven: I’m fulltime as an artist at the moment, I’d like to work more with other artists. I enjoy commercial galleries, having dates, deadlines, concrete things to work towards – but groups like Cut Collective have a wonderful energy, a group of people working towards something amazing. I like having shows and having a separation, sole control, but I’m definitely more of a collaborative artist. The best thing would be, more of that.

Ideas 24/7 even in your sleep? Hopefully only the first hour of when I’m trying to get to sleep! But yeah, I’m an ideas guy, I think of the most unimaginable things at terrible times. Like when I’m working, or sleeping, usually when there’s no paper around to write it down! It’s finding those interests, people that share them, being able to talk about something and not feel too guarded. All my mates know this – I say things without knowing full facts or statistics, I’ll just put it out there! Give it a go, test the waters, play with paint, play with music. 

So many people treat art as a place to escape their real lives, what’s interesting about you is that you’re living the opposite – your art is your complete real life and this other world that people seem to be combining themselves in, is the escape: I think I’ve found this great avenue, a new direction that no one else has necessarily gone into – there are other artists that I feel really close to, but it’s about finding what you believe to be special and unique and taking that direction to the limit. I’ve been lucky to have this style, to develop it, and progress it, if you have an idea and you exhaust it – you think oh great what’s next? Where do I go? Working with this kind of surface, this very textural form, you’re never going to get the same arrangement. I’m still figuring out what these paintings are about. Coming back to science, I’m still discovering what these objects are about and why I’m so interested in them. That’s what keeps me going. You always want to see your paintings as if it was the first time. People walk into galleries, they see my work with fresh eyes. I always want that. This system is a way of still keeping it fresh, there’s a random element to my process, you don’t get exactly what you want. I don’t think there’s an end. You can’t be afraid. You could go forever on a work. 


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