Looking at a picture of Nike Savvas you might think you were engaging with a 25th Century Emo Princess with the booted strut of an androgynous Heathcliff.
My work is not elitist; it is accessible to everyone and anyone can take what they can from it.
Don’t mess with this chick or she’ll have you for breakfast.
Then look at her art and sure enough the deep futurism is there but the ferociousness and the leaden weightiness is not.
Talking to Savvas is also a contradiction, being a pitch perfect experience of natural human charm.
But who knows, she might that day have been on her best behaviour.
And for someone who has just won the prestigious Australia Council Fellowship Grant for Fine Art, ($120,000) there was no hint of imperial pride, just a matter-of-factness mixed in with a cheeky irreverence for anyone who might take themselves a little too seriously.
Her art broadly speaking, and she has covered a wide range of media in her career, has a dreaminess to its touch with an extremely thorough and delicate arrangement of the one item as a mind-boggling multiple.
The trip being for the work to transform (for the viewer) into a portal for the imagination.
Her installation Atomic: Full of Love, Full of Wonder (pictured here) is a great example of this, personally triggering an image of Barbarella bathing in a shower of DNA.
Savvas comes from Canberra and has a studio there.
When I launched into some vaulted analogy about epic architecture, urban geometry under a pall of suburban banality, Savvas was maternal and quick to protect her hometown and that she would have no time for Canberra-bashing.
Fair enough, so we got back to the issue of all that cash and what in the world she plans to do with it.
“This fund is spread over a two year period…I will be working on two major projects,” she said.
“The first, is a series of giant scale walk in op-art (optical) installations. The other is to create my very first monograph.”
A ‘monograph’ to those in the dark, is a scholarly piece of writing on a specific subject and in this instance on Savvas’ work.
“What amazes me is that after 21 years of practice and over 140 exhibitions and the accolades I have received I’ve never had a monograph produced. If I was in America or Europe I would have at least 10 monographs by now.”
This is a common situation in Australia, Savvas went on to say, monographs of any artist’s work, no matter how successful, are virtually unheard of.
“The reason is the publishers and the market is not supportive and the galleries are completely uninterested in producing them,” she said.
“Therefore Australian artists are very much on the backfoot in this area. The art market in Australia is also not very healthy and the population is not very supportive of its arts either. So, a lot of culture produced here tends to come out of local artist’s pockets.”
Indeed, Australia’s ambiguous relationship with its artists is shamefully prevalent and Savvas is understandably frustrated, like most of her peers, as to why this is so.
“In Europe buying art is considered a way of celebrating your wealth,” said Savvas, “as well as supporting their culture and its artists, but here it is not so much the case.”
The larrikin attitude that dominates this country as the water line of what is appropriate and decent has had a sad and sorry effect on our landscape.
This is also complicated by the infamous culture cringe insidiously practiced by even those who claim to promote the importance of ‘good taste’.
“Yesterday as a matter of fact I was reading an article calling artist wankers,” Savvas said, but then was at a loss why any artist, should have to defend themselves with such a remark, and you can hardly blame her.
That article unfortunately isn’t the first and you wonder if these grand inquisitors on their ‘wanker hunt’ seriously think that art is useless.
And that they happily would allow their world to be converted into a giant 7-11 carpark, filled to brim by Supre-ed suburbanites voting for their favourite Channel 10 idol on their pimped-up mobiles.
Savvas also said in defence, “My work is not elitist; it is accessible to everyone and anyone can take what they can from it.”
But when in the history of art has genuinely good art not been ‘accessible’?
Unfortunately words like ‘accessibility’ have been aggressively foisted up artists by a capitalistic lexicon that only believes in the bottom line.
There will of course be those a little snippy of such cash rich awards Savvas has recently won, and that she of all people shouldn’t really complain.
The reality is there isn’t enough of these awards by a long mile.
Because God knows we desperately need our artists to remind us that the ‘double rainbow’ of Australia’s collective imagination isn’t exclusively made up of the lemon yellow and blueberry colours of either Channel 10 or a 7-11 Slurpee.