We are demanding time of someone, to look at something, and if they look at it and if they love it enough, they might actually buy it, and have it on their wall. But often I go into certain galleries where there might be installations…and it might be a lot of crap, basically.
Yeah, what makes it art? The curator probably.
That’s right! [Laughs].
You and I could have a long and complex intellectual discussion about the things that are on this table. And we could move the glass a little bit, or move the magazine a little bit, and we could take 20 pictures of this table with slight changes of things, and we could have a kind of aesthetic conversation about the pattern that’s made. In the end, it’s two books on a table, move on! [Laughs].
[Laughs]. So you had your first exhibition at 40, and you’ve said you’ll never retire. I think there is something really great in your philosophy, that people in their sixties and seventies need to keep on going, keep on taking risks.
It should be the best time of your life! You should take more risks. No one escapes the hills and valleys of life, no one. And I’ve had plenty of hills, and a few valleys. But you can’t dwell on them. I’m 76, there is not a minute to waste. Although the truth is I’m somewhere between 14 and 28, in my mind [laughs]. And I think that one of the great stimulating things about art is that it allows you to have that drive. Some painters, when they get to my age, they just continue to paint the same picture. Well that’s ok too. If that’s the particular song they want to sing, that’s fine. But not for me. I want to find things that really excite me.
For my first exhibition, I made 12 t-shirts to give to the press. People liked them, so I made some more. Eventually I had one shop, then licensing arrangements in Japan and America, then 15 shops and 160 people working for us. But really it was young Japanese girls who first understood what I was doing.
They responded to your work.
They responded to the work. Young Japanese girls in the early 80s were changing Japanese society. They were feeling much more powerful, they didn’t want their husbands to go to the pub every night. They would go back to Tokyo from Australia and they would be carrying my bags. Which led to the editor of a Japanese magazine asking whether I would do a logo for a magazine called Hanako, and whether I would do the cover. What he meant was, he wanted my work to be on every cover.
Now, most magazines in Japan, they’ll go for maybe a year. My work was on the cover of Hanako for 13 years. Every week, on the newsstands in Tokyo, with a circulation of almost a million. And even though Hanako is a much more fashion-related magazine now, they still use my logo. And they still credit my name on it!
On their logo?
On their logo! I own the copyright for their logo in my hand. If I had written the words for an Australian magazine, they’d have given me $20 and…
“Be on your way.”
“Be on your way son!” [Pulls some copies of Hanako off his shelf]. Here is a strange painting about, what does it say? Flying Fish in the Outback. And yet it’s there, on a magazine.
On a Japanese magazine!
On a Japanese magazine. A cover. Or you know, Picture of my dog on a couch! Or punk koalas! No one else in the world has done this, and had their work on so many covers. Weekly!
Obviously your work really took off in Japan, and in Australia as well, but then it kind of went in and out of fashion a little bit. Was that hard for you?
Yes. But it’s an inevitability of a degree of success. When you first start off and people see it, they absolutely love it. They think it’s fantastic. And then it starts to grow, and then people start to knock it off.
When it becomes mainstream.
Yes. Then you do the licensing arrangements. You do the bed linen for Sheridan and people love it, and then almost inevitably it falls out of fashion.