Quiet terror in the suburbs

messy workbench in Ray Monde studio

I’m working late into the night on a new series that focuses on the suburbs. It was inspired by a recent trip to Madrid where I saw a lot of works by Picasso at the Reina Sofia – Pity and Terror, Picasso’s Path To Guernica.

What struck me about his early works was that they were often limited to a single room, they were painted as a closed space.

It got me thinking about the closed spaces in wide, brown Australia. For me this led me to the suburbs, in particular suburban backyards. I grew up in the country, where paddocks rolled away from the house, where the nearest neighbour was across the creek and up the hill. Backyards were foreign to me.

While I visited cousins in the city, my first true experiences of the suburbs was when my oldest brothers moved to Sydney at 15 and 16 years old to start apprenticeships.

I spent a lot of time in South Wentworthville where backyards rolled away as far as the eye could see, where the Great Western Highway dragged a thick black line between the houses and where everyone spent time in the private-public space of their backyards.

collage by Ray Monde

The thing that struck me was how strange life was in the suburbs, tiny postage stamp sized lives with people living their dreams in open-closed spaces.

Weird shit also happens in backyards, I was guilty of this myself, getting drunk and running around naked. There’s a quiet, disconcerting terror of the suburbs, captured beautifully in the novel by Sinclair Lewis, Main Street. There’s a facade of normality, masking private terrors and desires. This is what I’m exploring here.

Collage by Ray Monde cricket in backyard

What makes a great work of art?

What makes a great work of art? How do you separate the best from the base? What makes an artwork worth $110.5 million such as a recent piece sold by the artist Basquiat? And what work is worthless?

This question was brought into sharp focus at this year’s Archibald Prize when Mitch Cairns portrait of his wife took out the $100,000 prize. Other well-known artists such as Tim Storrier and John Olsen harshly criticised the winner.

Carins’ work certainly wasn’t my favourite this year – though he didn’t deserve the grubbing he got.

For me, the standout works were the overlooked ones. This colossal work by Marcus Wills of Thomas M Wright was extraordinary. It reminded me of works of Saint Sebastian – a martyrdom was looming. I also loved the juxtaposition of this protagonist with domestic elements sitting meekly around him – a metaphorical bull in a china shop. This leads me to one of my key points about what makes a great work of art…

IMG_6879Great art tells a story

The thing about great art is it speaks to the person looking at it. It can tell a different story to different people but it needs to say something. It doesn’t have to be a great story, it doesn’t even have to be an interesting story and it doesn’t have to be what the artist is trying to say. What is important is that the artwork does something to you, makes you feel something. The story might be that there is no story it still says something.

Vincent Namatjira

Great art is true to the artist

What I love about Vincent Namatjira’s work is that it’s clearly his work. There’s no mistaking his style and his craft. No one is ever going to confuse his artwork for someone else’s and this is what makes great artworks great. The artist is revealing his or herself in the work. Great artwork is work that is identifiable, that carries the scars of the artist, their very being is written across it.

Noel McKenna

Great art stays with you

The final thing about great art is that it doesn’t leave you, it hangs around in your mind and you see the real world through the artist’s eyes.

Noel McKenna, who was shortlisted for the Wynne prize this year, creates moments that stay with you. They have an uncanny knack for locking in your mind and influencing the way you see the things around you, they help you reconsider everyday objects or ask you to take another look at something or someone you pass by every day. Great art gives you a new set of lenses to see the world – and that is what makes great artwork great.

Forget the popularity of the artist, forget the price tag that hangs off it. Great artwork is great because it does something to you, leaves you with more than before you saw it – and for me, that makes art priceless.


This is what happens when artists collide at The Other Art Fair Melbourne

It’s rare to get up in the face of artists. See their work. Hear first hand what their work is all about.

When you’re at exhibition openings in galleries, it’s sometimes hard to know who the artist is, let alone get a chance to speak with them and dive into their mind.

Ray Monde artist
Ray Monde at The Other Art Fair

Yet this is exactly what happen at The Other Art Fair (TOAF). When it was quiet, I ducked off from my stand to talk to other artists, see their work, hear their stories and revel in their creations.

Hugh Ramage
Hugh Ramage and Cookie at The Other Art Fair

It was great meeting artists like Hugh Ramage, Brendan Larkin, Shannon Johnson and Stacey Rees, Tyrone Layne. And catching up again with the wonderful Jo White and Shane Drinkwater who I met in Sydney.

Stacey Rees artist
Amazing portraits by Stacey Rees

It’s such a tiring experience, standing, talking for three days straight to strangers. It’s really something artists shouldn’t have to do – they should be laying down the upchucking of the dark imagination, yet the truth of the art world today is that you have to back yourself, you have to get amongst it. How else are you going to live off your art and give away your day-job that gnaws away at your soul?

Gearing up for The Other Art Fair Melbourne


I play silly mind games with myself. I always have since I was a kid.

Last year, before The Other Art Fair Sydney, as I undressed to get into bed, I threw my clothes towards the dirty clothes basket and thought “If I get them in, I’ll sell one of my pieces”.

My clothes didn’t make it into the basket. Not a sock.

You can imagine my surprise when I sold all my works. More than that, I had really rich, engaging conversations with people about the work. Shared my stories and saw how they were taken in – and I discovered my childhood experiences were shared by lots of people.

So this year, as I’m frantically prepping for The Other Art Fair Melbourne, I really don’t have time to think about how my work will be received in ‘fancy, arty Melbourne’, instead my total focus is on the work, trying to get it just right and to be as hard on my work as I am on myself.


I’m looking forward to catching up with some of my art mates I met in Sydney and seeing their beautiful faces again.

I’ll keep focused on the work and the stories – and who knows what will happen with art and the public collide?

Is Dan Kyle the next Arthur Boyd?


I’m going to say it right now, I love Dan Kyle. He’s a young guy, living in the mountains taking an obsessive look at the Australian bush around him. To be honest, it’s not the man I love, it’s the artist.

He paints trees again and again and again. The pale trunks of eucalyptus trees like ghosts stalking the landscape. They’re silent witness to what’s going on about them, the birds, the rainfall and the incursions of people.

They stand in judgement, looking at us to look within ourselves.


Well, that’s how they make me feel. That’s the funny thing about the Australian bush, I have never felt alone in it. I have always felt watched. It’s weird because I spent my entire childhood playing in the scrub, building cubbyhouses on the banks of Burrell Creek, yes there were always quiet eyes in the forest.

Dan probably has a completely different take on this work. I’ve never spoken to Dan and I have never read about his work – I’ve only looked at it. Followed his works as they progress on Instagram.

It’s rare to find works of art that make you feel something so powerful and that’s why for his use of colour and subject, I really think Dan Kyle is going to change the Australian landscape, show it to us in ways that only Arthur Boyd has dared explore before.


What happens next?

Beach scene

I love now. I love this moment. I love the start of something new.

This week I started a new series. A series exploring childhood experiences – one more time – but this time it’s going to be better.

It’s going to be better because the more I think about my childhood, the more my memories become clearer and the more I uncover long forgotten experiences.

It’s also better because the more I create, the better I get. My skills improve, my colour work gets better and the more confident I become to take risks, to do stupid things, to do fun things, to do what I would never have tried a year ago.

It’s going to be better because more people have put their faith in my work. More people have made a connection with my work, loved it so much to want to buy it, take it home and hang it on their walls.

Now I have such a fierce drive to show them, to prove to them that they made the right decision, that this will go on and on. Better and better with many, many more new beginnings.

This pic is the first background to my first new work. It’s a beach scene – blue water, white beach, blue sky, reliving the feeling of drowning.

A glorious dark start to a new, new beginning.




Walking the tight-rope of an art commission

Getting a commission is an exciting prospect, being asked to create a bespoke artwork for a benefactor is exhilarating.

But it’s also a strange burden.


Normally, when I create artworks, it flows, it’s a representation of what in my mind, a story I’m trying to tell, a feeling I’m trying to conjure up.

With a commission, it’s not so straight forward. There’s a bit of second guessing, will they like this, what colours do they prefer, will this fit with their other works.

Every thought like this is a bit of a speed hump, a tiny stumbling block that can bring an artist unstuck.

Forging on is the only way forward, there’s no way to create art by committee and so you put the inner voices behind, leave the second-guessing to the critics and finish the work.

Then I leave it for a while, sit it somewhere prominent where I’ll see it all the time. Check it out while I’m drinking my morning tea, pass it by on my way for a pee, I live with it for a while and if I still like it, if it still feels right, then it’s ready.