Hazel Dooney: A Courageous Uncompromising and Successful Visual Artist

Articulating the work should be the main focus of using new media, with sales a welcome side-effect, not the main purpose.

Hazel DooneyTo get to know about Hazel Dooney is easy. She arguably is the most transparent artist, in regards to how she reveals her life and how it aligns with her art, one might encounter.

If you take the time to read through her prolific revealing Self vs. Self blog, you will realize it is not easy to be Hazel Dooney.

Not only does she live a transparent life, she also produces her work and conducts her business at a frenetic pace despite a bi-polar affliction that easily could be the reason for never achieving success or even trying for it.

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While the international success she has achieved undoubtedly is the envy of lots of other artists, it is unlikely many are willing to follow her example. Study her blog and career and you will find her art, life and career inextricably entwined in a most deeply personal consumptive manner. For many, if not most, the price she pays to be the artist she wants to be is too dear.

Catching a break or being lucky does not guarantee success

Dooney is a wunderkind of sorts who caught a break in her early 20s that helped catapult her career. However, breaks are not guarantees. It still takes abundant talent and great ambition to spin opportunity into a meaningful lasting career. Add to these attributes an uncompromising challenging vision and an enviable successful art career often is the result.

It takes courage to be controversial, outspoken, honest and independent all at once

By taking on subject matter with sexual overtones that sends a message, which can confuse those not attuned to it, Dooney puts herself amidst controversy and confrontation at times. She is the only artist I know who can in a blog post accurately describe a clueless sexist would-be patron as a dickhead, and make the comment neither crude nor out of context.

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Recently, Clint Watson republished a post from Dooney’s blog in his Fine Art Daily Newsletter. The title of her blog post, Hostage to My Independence, struck a nerve with him. He used her example to encourage his readers to contact their collectors more often. Here is a brief excerpt from it:

If there’s one drawback to handling my own sales and marketing, it’s the hours each week I have to put aside to promote and sell my own work.

I blog and tweet with a regularity that puts some professionals to shame. I ensure that my web site, which is intended to be more an exhaustive reference resource about my work and career rather than a sales tool, is kept updated. There is a monthly e-newsletter – Studio Notes – to write and email to over 7,000 subscribers each month, as well as a monthly media release to another two or three hundred individuals.

But the core of my non-art activities are dozens of phone calls, emails and meetings with existing and potential collectors.

Learn from Dooney’s example of how to use social media to help shape your career on your terms

When you read Clint’s repost, you will discover despite a very hectic schedule Dooney found time to add a comment to give more clarity to how she operates to the Fine Art Views repost. The gist of her post is simple. Due to the control she desires over her career, it takes an enormous amount of energy, time and talent to manage it all and maintain her disciplined painting schedule. On further reading her blog, you also will find she has used available new media tools to shape her career on her terms as opposed to one beholden the traditional gallery system.

I have written about or mentioned Hazel Dooney in past Art Print Issues and Absolute Arts posts. The first mention was to talk about the free downloads she offers to all in a post about what I called stealth marketing. She generously gives away high-quality resolution digital files that collectors print using their own printers.

She will even sign and return those pieces sent with a self-addressed stamped envelope. I think this is a wonderful idea that helps her extend her audience by breaking down barriers to those who otherwise might not come into her realm of influence. It is a gift to her fans, especially those who could not afford it. It also is a smart marketing that helps her gain publicity.

Managing the message… you can’t always control it, but you can add your own distinct thoughts to it

With my original post about her, I found out one should be careful about referring to Dooney’s activities as they relate to the business of art. She will fiercely defend what she does and quickly rebuff those who she feels misappropriate her actions, especially those who would seek to capitalize on them.

For instance, she took umbrage to my descripition of her activity as stealth marketing in a post titled, Missing the Message. In it, I used the example of British artist, Banksy, and her practice of offering free high-quality downloads. That exchange led to a guest post from me on Absolute Arts titled, Art vs. Marketing — making Hazel Dooney Cringe.  Naturally, there came a good-natured retort from her: Google-eyed.

A more recent Self vs Self post Snake Oil shows Dooney remains fierce in the face of those who would misappropriate her work and words. This excerpt from that post neatly summarizes her thoughts on art vs. marketing. I could not agree more:

Articulating the work should be the main focus of using new media, with sales a welcome side-effect, not the main purpose. 

Adding new a new medium to your oeurve can help you find new collectors

Recently, Hazel took the time to email me with information she felt would be of interest to my blog readers. She is right, I do think creating works at new price points is an activity worth promoting.

As with every successful artist I’ve known, she takes the care and promotion of her career as a serious and important part of her daily activities. Her note demonstrates improving sales are possible in difficult times. Her solution is to create pieces at more affordable price points by coming up with a series of multiple stencils. Not surprisingly, she eschewed the notion of using giclees.

Being a self-proclaimed media tart, I know she is fully aware there is promotional value in providing suitable information for a blog post from me. Here is what she had to say. (Ed. Note: Her prices have increased since she sent this, mostly to reflect the change between Australian and US currency and dwindling supply.):

Dear Barney,

Just a brief note to alert you to something that might be of interest to your blog’s readers. For the past three years, despite the global economic downturn, my paintings have done very well at auction in London, Sydney and Melbourne. Even very early works have achieved 1,000 per cent over their original purchase prices. Unfortunately, my paintings have climbed out of reach for many would-be collectors, especially those my own age and younger.

My response has been to produce my first, large-scale multiple, the YES/NO Stencils: in which hand-coloured prints are priced between $US500 and $US750.

My early art was influenced by graffiti, sticker tagging, agitprop and propaganda posters from the mid 20th century. Back then, I was interested in the wood block prints produced during China’s Cultural Revolution, in which symbolic colours and simplified shapes reinforced short, directive slogans.

Given these influences, the obvious medium for my serial works was stencil. This gave me pause: conventional stenciling is crude and I didn’t want to end up with a pastiche of bad street art. I experimented with different methods and materials. I wanted the finish to be beautiful and seductive, referring to ideas in my other hard-edged work. It also had to be durable.

Each of the two YES/NO images is 40cm x 60cm (or 15.7” x 23.6”), hand-stencilled in high gloss enamel on 64cm x 86cm (or 25.2″ x 33.9″) 100% cotton, museum-quality, white Alpharag 4ply archival board.

There are five editions of 25 signed and numbered (on front) prints of each image, in five different colours: faux-fluorescent lime, Dooney pink, industrial safety orange, papal purple and pitch black. There is also a sixth, ‘artist’s proof’ edition of just ten prints of each image, signed and numbered, in virginal white gloss enamel on matt white board.

Like agitprop street posters, different versions of the same or opposite messages can be hung together.

The coloured NO! and YES? prints are priced at $US500 each unframed (Euros 350.00 for European orders or $A640.00 for Australian/New Zealand orders), including GST (for Australian orders only) and delivery.

The white NO! and YES? prints are priced at $US750 each unframed (Euros 515.00 or $A940.00), including GST (for Australian orders only) and delivery.

One set of six NO! or YES? prints five colours plus white is priced at $US3,200.00 unframed (Euros 2,200.00 and $A4,375.00), including GST (for Australian orders only) and delivery.

Both sets of six, 12 prints in all in five colours plus white are priced at $US6,400.00 unframed (Euros 4,400 and $A8,750.00), including GST (for Australian orders only) and delivery.

To order, or to enquire further, please contact Priya at dooneystudio@gol.com  Payment can be accepted via PayPal, Western Union or national or international bank transfer.

Dooney’s example proves being flexible has benefits as much as fighting for independence does

The lessons here are:

  • Do not be discouraged by these trying economic conditions.
  • You can overcome personal obstacles to your success if you want it badly enough.
  • You should take kind advantage of every relationship and opportunity before you.
  • Articulating your message is more important than massaging your marketing.

While you may not want to take the devotion to your art and career to the level Hazel Dooney has, you can take guidance from her passionate pursuit of her art and her ability to get past personal issues and not let them become a reason for failing to achieve success within your grasp. Certainly, one need not be an artist to be inspired from her story that clearly shows how with courage and confidence you can achieve success on your own terms.

Writing this piece effects the author

In a bit of inspired transparency here, I admit to a yearning to grasp life with such gusto and put down concerns about mortgage payments and health insurance to pursue loftier goals. But, like most, I hang on to what is more comfortable in a trade for security. That doesn’t mean I don’t both admire and envy those who have the personal means to live life large on their own terms. I believe you won’t find many who exemplify this more than Hazel Dooney.

I take small solace in knowing my daily gig at the domain factory gives me the freedom to write this blog without having to capitalize on it or kowtow to some advertiser’s or publisher’s demands. Yes, there obviously are a few ways it generates some money from book sales and consulting sales and affiliate links to books I believe are truly helpful.

I call it a profitable hobby that is akin to a talented part-time painter tethered to a mundane day job. For me, the real reward in publishing this blog is in the writing and the research, in the many friendships and acquaintances I’ve made, and not to forget the occasional kudos that come when my words have inspired or helped an artist. For sure, I would not likely had the exposure and inspiration from the likes of Hazel Dooney had I never started publishing it.

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Barney Davey

I help artists and photographers find buyers, sell more art and operate profitably.

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