Richard Tipping: Instant History

Forty-seven years ago, living in Adelaide and having just published his first book of poetry, Richard Tipping found that few people were interested in reading poetry. In contrast to this they would happily stand in a gallery and look at artwork, and so in 1970 for Tipping’s first exhibition, ‘Uck’, with Aleks Danko, he framed and exhibited hand typed poems. Since then Tipping has spent nearly five decades using his unique humour and playfulness to combine poetry with art. Now, for his solo show ‘Instant History’ at Australian Galleries, Sydney the artist presents a series of contemporary and key works spanning his career, from engraving tiny pebbles to lighting up the Sydney Harbour Bridge for its 50th anniversary in 1982.

Many of your pieces, particularly your sign works, are very site specific. Do you change your approach for gallery exhibitions?
My first sign works were unauthorised changes, such as turning a ‘Start Freeway’ sign into ‘Art Freeway’ by placing green tape over the ‘St’. Only car drivers could see this. Should I make ‘Art Freeway’ as a signwork for a gallery wall? (I haven’t). Is the photograph I took now the artwork? I’ve had people buy works from galleries and then display them in public; I like it when the pieces get to be experienced both ways.

Richard Tipping, Kangooroo, 2016, aluminium, galvanised painted steel, retro-reflective tape on integral poles and concrete bases, edition 3, 510 x 532 x 13cm (dimensions variable). Courtesy the artist and Australian Galleries, Sydney

There’s only a few sign works in this exhibition, one of which is Kangooroo, which is over five metres tall, standing in the street alongside the gallery.

Kangooroo is maybe my favourite of your pieces, it seems like a breakthrough in your sign work, with the kangaroo quite literally breaking through the sign out into the landscape. Plus ‘Ooroo’ always makes me think of my Mum, that’s how she says ‘goodbye’.
That’s great! Some people say ‘Hooroo’ with a H. This Australian word comes from the 19th century when people would say ‘Hurrah’, like ‘Cya later’, before eventually it became ‘Ooroo’.

Richard Tipping, Safe art, 1980-2015, steel, enamel, aluminum, die-cast alloy satin finished, 20 cent coin, 63.5 x 48.5 x 51cm. Courtesy the artist and Australian Galleries, Sydney

Oh, speaking of things that say ‘Ooroo’, your piece ‘Safe Art’, (an actual safe engraved with the phrase “safe art”), went missing, what happened there?
Well we don’t know. Safe Art was exhibited widely in the early 1980s and donated to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1989 where apparently it just disappeared. The safe weighs more than a 100 kilograms and is thief, fire and explosives resistant. Where does a safe disappear to?

I guess maybe into a bigger safe?
Haha – the art gallery itself is a kind of safe, yes. The gallery couldn’t find it, and eventually we decided to make it again. Luckily one of the four brothers who own CMI Safes is an archivist and had kept spares of parts, so we were able to re-make this now classic spin-dial safe, which is in the exhibition. I re-donated the sculpture to the Art Gallery of New South Wales except this time instead of saying ‘Safe Art’ the one they have says ‘Unsafe Art’. In a way the mysterious disappearance completed the artwork.

Safe Art was inspired by the formation of Artbank in 1980, because if there’s an art bank then there’s going to be art bank robbers, aren’t there? That means we’ll need a safe for the art, but if the safe becomes the art, is it safe art?

Richard Tipping, Rose and Banjo in Marrickville, 2005, digital print, edition 6, 46 x 47cm. Courtesy the artist and Australian Galleries, Sydney

Finally, I wanted to ask about ‘Rose and Banjo in Marrickville’.
The photo is of my daughter-in-law walking down the street with a goat that she’d trained to follow her with the click of her fingers. I was running behind them, it was one of those moments where you know the photograph is there you just have to catch up with it. Photography makes magic when the ingredients cohere, and for me Rose becomes the goddess Diana.

And despite the work having no text, which is possibly what you’re most known for, the photo has the same stirring of humour, heart and optimism that’s so strong in your language-based work.
Thank you. Even though I am in love with language, it’s important in art to have room for silence. Even with word art works. To open up the mind to contemplation rather than filling it with fixed slogans. The poetry I like is really slowed down, and most importantly it leaves room.

And what better time for me to leave the room. Thanks Richard. Ooroo!
Hurrah!

Kenny Pittock is an artist and writer based in Melbourne.

Australian Galleries
4 to 23 April, 2017
Sydney