Yannick Blattner is the current artist in residence at the Museum of Brisbane. His practice is concerned with Australian male identity and Queensland's sub-tropical culture. In this interview, Yannick generously takes some time out of his residency to have a chat with the Verso team about how it's all going for him.
Verso: How did you decide to become involved in the visual arts?
Yannick: I’ve always drawn since I was a child. By the time I left school I realised it was the only thing I’d ever done with any kind of consistency. I guess, for lack of other things to do, I decided to pursue art. There also became a point in my life where I decided to focus my energy at something. I decided to stop being a slacker and to start trying - art is what I aimed my energy at.
Verso: Did you do any tertiary study?
Yannick: Yeah, I went to art school. I went to QUT (Queensland University of Technology) in Brisbane, I finished in 2014. I played uni very slowly too. I did a four year course over 6 years. Initially I got booted out of art school because I wasn’t a resident. I was a permanent resident but not a citizen. The rules had just changed, so I couldn't do HECS. I owed money and so I bounced out of art school and went overseas, before coming back and trying again.
Verso: What’s your most proud arts achievement?
Yannick: Probably finishing uni - I got first class honours. School didn't do much for me, high school didn't do much for me. I left my home town as soon as I finished school. I didn't like it and I didn’t think I would go to university - I was the first person in my family to finish university.
Verso: Where was your home town?
Yannick: I was born in Speyer, Germany, before moving to Australia. I was back and forth a lot between Australia and Germany. I did my schooling in Gympie on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
Verso: What are the main concerns of your practice?
Yannick: The main concerns of my practice are in a pretty constant state of flux. My practice is becoming less and less linear since I left art school - it is starting to dot away to other concerns. I’m interested in Australian identity, Australian male identity and some of the contradictions and conflicts of that. Now I'm looking more broadly at cultural concerns specific to Queensland, like subtropical culture - taking the imagery, objects and symbols of that culture and tweaking them to invert things on themselves. I’m very interested in culture as commodity as well as function vs form - I take to that a lot.
Verso: Do you have a studio as part of your residency?
Yannick: I do have a studio here. It’s a board room, which is very large (15 - 20m long and about 5m wide) and has very nice lighting and hardwood floors. Normally I work in a room in my house and I have a downstairs area for storage. I'm not used to being able to spread out this far! I'm working on a couple of things at any given time, but because of the limitations of my own studio space, I don't really get to have those things around me all of the time. I get to have all my stuff, all my other work and old work here too.
Like I said, my practice is very non-linear at the moment. It’s very disparate. But, not really at the same time. When I look at these works sitting together, I begin to see there is a line and I can draw connections between things. I’ve started to realise - and this is probably true of most people’s works - but my work is stronger together. It is stronger as a body. I think, now that I've been able to sit all of the work together, I’m realising it’s not actually as disparate or non linear as I think.
Verso: Can you describe your making process?
Yannick: I have a notebook. In my younger years it was a sketch book. My whole notebook has become to-do list after to-do list. It’s usually just jotting down ideas so I can go back to them. Then I can ask myself why one particular thing is sticking around as opposed to something else.
The conceptualising phase is most crucial to me. I’ll touch base with artist friends and they might say ‘hmmm that’s a lot like so-and-so’s work’ and i’ll have to make an argument for or against it. So, there is a dialogue I have with my contemporaries who I respect and admire. I have a handful of mentors and I work in different galleries - a lot of people who are in the arts are in my life.
When it comes to making, painting is the backbone for me. It’s cathartic. When I sit and paint and I'm up working late into the evening, it makes a lot of stuff click. I’m then able to move towards the object based things, which come together much more quickly.
Right now I’m working on a sculptural piece I'm really happy with, but it started as a video. I'm kind of spending all my energy on this one thing. Sometimes I think I move on too quickly. So in recent years I’ve been trying to slow it down a little and not push past stuff without it having come to full fruition. Sometimes it needs to marinate a little longer.
Verso: What about art keeps you coming back every day?
Yannick: To be blunt - I’m out of options. I decided a while ago, if you’re going to be in art, you’ve got to make the happiness of doing it your currency. The act of making and achieving and making progress - it fills the god shaped hole, so to speak. It’s just that thing I do to satisfy myself. It’s not always fun - a lot of the time it’s a lot of work. I had a rough day yesterday, but I'm back here today because you want to have a win.
Verso: Do you have tips for other artists?
Yannick: I’m not in much of a position to give tips. The best tip I ever got was - just don't stop, you’ll be fine, keep going. Already, in my life, people are stopping. I know people who’ve gone through uni but never made an artwork if it’s not for a uni portfolio. All these people - you have to keep moving. None of it matters if you're not making work. If you're not drawing that pleasure or that happiness from your time in studio, and you’re wondering when you’re going to make it - you’re not going to, forget it.
The only concern is to make work, to produce work. A lot of people get stuck on other things. So many people are professional grant writers. The practice is what matters. A lot of people don't put their money where there mouth is.
Verso: You’ve got to be honest and put everything behind it.
Yannick: That’s the other thing. You’ve got to be honest and blunt with yourself. That’s where art school helped me. You’ve got to get to the truth of what you’re trying to do and say. You’ve got to stop looking over your shoulder - it’s a marathon not a sprint. You've got to focus on your own lane.
Verso: What artists/writers/ and/or creative people are your trophy people?
Yannick: I like a lot of object based artists - Claire Healy and Shaun Cordeiro, Maurizio Cattelan, Marc Bijl. There was a theorist who I liked a lot when I was going through art school - a sociologist called Raewyn Connell. She is a foremost expert in hegemonic masculinity. She does a lot of case studies which are mostly Australian, which has helped me get to the bottom of the destructive elements of hyper masculinity, which is now more of a subtext in my works.
Verso: Do you have a five year plan?
Yannick: My five year plan gets shaken up all the time. I'm in a relationship so my plans are pretty fluid, it's not just up to me and what I want to do. But the basic five year plan for me is - I just want to keep making work. I’d like to do a residency at some point down the track, hopefully a little bit more travel. I've been burning the candle at both ends for some time and everything is piling up towards the end of this year. So I’m going to have a little break to decompress from art a little, which really will mean research as opposed to making.
Verso: What's next for you?
Yannick: This residency goes until September 14th - then I display the work for the next 8 weeks after that. Then on November 4th I have a solo show at The Walls Art Space on the Gold Coast. Then another commercial solo show around April next year. After that it will be a bit of chill time. I've been making and showing work consistently for the last 6 or 7 years.
You get that feeling that if I don't keep going it's all going to stop. I have that imposter syndrome - you know, one day you’ll be found out as not being a real artist. So you have to keep moving and proving it to yourself everyday.