The Greats: Anderson .Paak

One of America’s most celebrated performers, known for his genre-crossing collaborations and as one-half of the soul-funk superduo Silk Sonic, .Paak is doing nothing less than redefining what a pop star is and can be.

Article by Adam Bradley

Anderson PaakAnderson .Paak, photographed in Malibu, Calif., on July 21, 2022. Dolce & Gabbana jacket,; Judy Turner tank top,; Marine Serre pants,; Dior Men hat,; Cartier glasses,; Vans x Anderson .Paak shoes,; and his own jewellery. Photograph by D’Angelo Lovell Williams. Styled by Ian Bradley

Brodie is a platinum blond, loose curls cascading down the shoulders. Lil Flip is a raven do with ends flipped up just so, flirty and fierce. And then there’s Pee Wee, a mod black bob reminiscent of Ringo Starr’s mop top circa 1966, around the time the Beatles gave up all pretense that they were just four nice lads from Liverpool. On a Saturday night in mid-August, the three are arranged on Lucite wig stands in Anderson .Paak’s dressing room backstage at the Dolby Live amphitheater at the Park MGM resort in Las Vegas. A stylist attends to them while .Paak lounges on a sofa, fuzzy Kangol bucket hat on his head, blacked-out Gucci shades on his eyes, wearing shorts and a short-sleeved button-up shirt open at the chest to reveal a “Hotter Than July”-era braided-and-beaded Stevie Wonder tattoo.

At 36, .Paak seems to have it all figured out: how to have his hair done from 10 feet away; how to pair commercial success with critical acclaim, as he has with Silk Sonic, the soulful superduo he conceived in 2017 with the pop star Bruno Mars, which will be playing in about two hours; how to make music that defies and defines genres, as demonstrated by the multiple collaborations he’s released just this past summer with everyone from the pop singer and actress Hailee Steinfeld to the Haitian Canadian house producer Kaytranada; how to be a married man and father to two young children.

But I can’t stop thinking about those wigs. Anyone who’s followed .Paak’s career since his 2014 studio album debut, “Venice,” or before that, with his direct-to-SoundCloud releases as Breezy Lovejoy during the early 2000s, knows that he has a penchant for hats. He owns hundreds, from thrift-store fedoras to knitted beanies to the bucket hats you’ll often see him rocking today. What began as a practical workaround for the common condition of thinning hair soon became a point of pride. “That’s gonna be my whole thing,” he recalls thinking. “Kids are gonna dress like me for Halloween!”

Then “I realised that every pop icon had a head of hair on them,” he says, in the swaggering yet self-effacing tone he adopts when picking up awards, another thing he’s been doing these days. Visions of Prince and Rick James, Robert Plant and Bon Jovi dance in my head. “I’m [messed] up in the game if I think I’m gonna make it real big as a musical icon and I ain’t got something I can swing,” he says, whipping his head back and forth. Then he goes still and, through smoky lenses, I see his eyes clearly for the first time. “It really was an epiphany,” he says. “I put it on, and it just did something to my soul.”

“Soul” is an essential term for .Paak, so much so that he gave his firstborn son the name. .Paak is a living embodiment of this bedrock Black musical tradition that variously expresses itself in gospel and funk, hip-hop and punk. Soul is the imperative governing all of his music: the will to move the crowd. You can hear him do just that on his 2016 breakout hit, “Come Down.” In under three minutes, .Paak sings, raps and chants. He grunts and he moans. Words are ancillary to feeling, and feeling expresses itself in rhythm. “The way he attacked [the track] reminds me of, like, James Brown,” the Cincinnati-based hip-hop producer Hi-Tek, who made the beat, said in 2017.

Vocally, .Paak is more Sly Stone than Brown, but he shares with the latter a genius for rhythm. Both artists exercise their voices as emotionally percussive instruments. “In my older music,” .Paak says of the songs he released on SoundCloud, “I loved being inside of the beats and just vibing.” Often he was simply “swagging out,” relying on attitude and delivery rather than on vocal arrangement and songcraft. But with “Come Down” and “Suede,” another 2016 song that figures prominently in his rise to stardom, .Paak unlocked a signature style: raspy in its low registers, honeyed in its highs. “[Someone on] Twitter describes it as if Newports could sing,” he says with pride. He raps with rhythmic subtlety, exploring the possibilities within the pocket of the beat, while exercising a melodic impulse by punctuating phrases with artful vocal runs. He sings, often sublimely, as on Silk Sonic’s “Put On a Smile,” by making the limitations of his physical instrument a part of his style, exerting control over volume, timbre and phrasing. His is a voice under pressure that sometimes sounds just this side of fraying. “It’s not pretty,” .Paak says. Voices capable of conveying such depth of emotion rarely are.

Though .Paak is rooted in tradition, he’s not in thrall to it. Rather, he is activating the past in the present to secure a future for Black music. “There’s no way we could make this funk and bring it into the new age without [our audience] knowing that this is where it starts,” he says. Soul music was medicine for a wounded people emerging from the 1960s, confronting the reality that the legal advances of the civil rights movement and the martyrdom of a generation’s great leaders did not deliver unfettered freedom. For our parents and our grandparents, at least some measure of freedom could be found on the dance floor, at the rent parties and discos that gave way to the block parties and basement jams of hip-hop. The music and the movement enacted a ritual of sonic expiation, a freedom born in sound. We need that sweet soul music urgently again today. .Paak is among the few who supply it.

It’s rare to find a picture of .Paak where he isn’t smiling — in family photo albums and fan selfies, photo shoots and promotional images. In August, he hopped on a viral trend, started on TikTok, where users posted their own blackmail-worthy photos of adolescent awkwardness to a pitched-up chorus from the one-hit wonder Wheatus’s 2000 anthem “Teenage Dirtbag.” In the 13-second clip he posted to Instagram, .Paak first appears as his effortlessly cool present-day self, with chunky shades and a straw-coloured beanie. A scrapbook follows: .Paak with his prom date; blowing out candles on a chocolate cake; wearing a pink lei around his neck on high school graduation day. In all the images, he looks well-fed and happy, usually with glasses on — the corrective kind, not the cool kind. The clip is at once self-deprecating and celebratory, embracing .Paak’s past while marking the distance he’s traveled.

“I’ve always been a silly person who likes to have fun and joke around,” .Paak says. “My mom tells me my dad was the same way. But he was from Philly, from one of the hardest places — his [twin] brother, too. And I don’t see no pictures of them smiling,” he says, then pauses. “Maybe those years of hard living from ancestors meant that I could finally smile because they couldn’t.” He considers this, and the way that he’s dressed. “People died in order for my smiley ass to come out here and carry a Gucci purse.”

.Paak was born Brandon Paak Anderson on Feb. 8, 1986, in the city of Oxnard, Calif., a coastal community 60 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. His mother, Brenda Paak Bills, of Black and Korean heritage, was adopted from a South Korean orphanage by a Black American couple who lived in Compton and then in Oxnard. His father, Ronald Anderson, relocated from Philadelphia to Southern California after joining the Navy. The couple met at a nightclub in 1982, married in 1985, then had .Paak seven months later, and his sister Fielding two years after that. (.Paak is the second youngest in a blended family of nine siblings.) Brenda had a hustler’s mentality; .Paak recalls her working all the time during his childhood, building a strawberry farm business that eventually had her wholesaling to grocery stores and restaurants. Ronald held things down as best he could at home, though he suffered from addiction and was in and out of rehab.

One summer evening in 1993, a 7-year-old .Paak and his 5-year-old sister witnessed their father confront their mother as she came home from work. He threatened her with a gun and began strangling her in the middle of the street. Charged with attempted murder, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison, of which he would serve six and a half. He died in 2011. A decade after the assault, .Paak’s mother — who had remarried, moved the family to a sprawling home in the foothills of Ventura and given up the strawberry business after consecutive harvests ruined by El Niño — engaged with her husband in a series of business dealings that caught the attention of the Ventura County District Attorney’s office. She pleaded guilty to 22 counts of securities fraud and spent seven and a half years in prison. When she was released in 2011, .Paak was 25 years old. He’d been homeless for a time, during which he relied on friends for shelter.

Listen closely to .Paak’s songs from his solo projects and you’ll hear an autobiography told in fragments. Pieced together, the lyrics present a mosaic of a fractured life made whole through the sustaining love of family — both biological and chosen — and the restorative power of art. On “The Season/Carry Me,” a two-part, nearly six-minute-long song from .Paak’s sophomore album, “Malibu” (2016), he makes it plain: “Your mom’s in prison / Your father need a new kidney / Your family’s splitting, rivalries between siblings.” Later in the song, he offers a summation without self-pity: “When I look at my tree, I see leaves missing / Generations of harsh living and addiction.” The chorus of “Carry Me” voices a searching question, left unanswered: “Mama, can you carry me?” Two years later, on “Saviers Road,” titled after a well-known street in Oxnard, .Paak recounts one of his most memorable hustles — processing marijuana plants: “Trimmin’ flowers in the Marriott with little cuz / Send ’em off to Arizona, let ’em build a buzz.”

In 2004, the recordings that .Paak, who had just graduated from high school, was making in his bedroom and posting online began to attract the interest of labels. He resisted, however, their plans to package him and constrain his sound (“I didn’t have anything they could really market,” he told the comedian Marc Maron on his podcast in 2019. “This is in the height of crunk music” — up-tempo, club-oriented hip-hop — “and that’s really what they wanted me to make”), so he turned down those opportunities and even considered quitting music for a time. But over the next decade, he established himself as a fixture in the Los Angeles music scene, along with his band, the Free Nationals. Through his 20s and early 30s he was a session player, a onetime drummer for the former “American Idol” contestant Haley Reinhart, a successful touring performer and an eager collaborator with artists across genres.

It was shortly before a 2015 meeting with Dr. Dre that he decided he needed a different name; he just couldn’t introduce himself to the rapper and producer as Breezy Lovejoy. The “Anderson” is self-explanatory. “Paak,” which he gets from his mother, is an accidental corruption of “Park,” the third most common surname in South Korea. As for that period, he explained it most clearly to an NPR interviewer back in 2016: “The dot stands for ‘detail,’” he said. “I spent a lot of time working on my craft, developing my style and, after I came out of my little incubation, I promised that I would pay attention to detail.” In the years since he signed with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment label in 2016, .Paak has won eight Grammys, half of them on a single night (April 3, 2022) for a single song (Silk Sonic’s “Leave the Door Open”). Together, making their way to accept the final award of the night, for Record of the Year, .Paak and Mars struck a choreographed pose, then strutted up to the stage. “Listen, listen, listen,” .Paak began. “We are really trying our hardest to remain humble at this point. But in the industry, we call that a clean sweep!” Then he flipped his wig.

.Paak’s bravado, his love of fashion, his whole persona — from the wigs to the red-carpet antics (witness him at this year’s Met Gala affecting an English accent) — all place him in the long vernacular tradition of the trickster. In 1958, making the case for the jazz legend Louis Armstrong as the epitome of the archetype, Ralph Ellison offered a description that could also apply to .Paak: “[H]e emphasises the physicality of his music with sweat, spittle and facial contortions; he performs the magical feat of making romantic melody issue from a throat of gravel.” As different as they are, Armstrong and .Paak both transform personal pain into public joy through feel-good music that issues from its proximity to, rather than its distance from, suffering.

Sometimes when he is alone, like on a long flight, “I just break out and start crying randomly,” .Paak says. “I’ll just be watching a random thing on TV and I’ll start sobbing. Even watching a blank screen and just sobbing.” The smile on his face is both a genuine expression of joy and a way to master pain. “I smile when I’m happy, smile when I’m angry,” he says, “smile when I’m hungry, smile when I’m full.” The smile, like the wigs, helps free him to make art out of even his most brutal experiences.

.Paak is in a period of reconciliation now — with his past, and with what he wants to do next artistically. He has grown increasingly close to his mother, who lives in Atlanta these days in a home he bought for her. He and his wife, the South Korean-born musician Heyyoun Chang, have two sons (Soul, 11, and Shine, 5). During quarantine, when touring stopped, .Paak seized on the opportunity to connect with his family, especially with his older son, who was interested in building his YouTube channel. .Paak went to work, filming skits for Soul. The channel grew even as his son’s interest shrank, and .Paak has gone on to direct lush and cinematic music videos for himself and others, including Leon Bridges (“Motorbike”) and DOMi & J.D. Beck (“Smile” and “Take a Chance”), the first artists signed to his new label, Apeshit, Inc. At June’s BET Awards, .Paak was named Video Director of the Year. And he’s signed on to direct and star in his first feature film, a dramatic comedy called “K-Pops!,” in which .Paak plays a washed-up American musician who travels to South Korea and discovers he has a son (played by Soul) who is part of an up-and-coming K-pop group. What begins as a calculated attempt to restart his career on the back of his estranged son’s burgeoning fame becomes a story about fatherhood and redemption.

Yet what still brings him the most solace — and inspires the most fervour in fans — hasn’t changed. The “closest I get to meditation,” he says, is playing drums. “That’s the closest I feel like I am to God.” The history of popular music has only a handful of drummer-lead singers, though among them are some of the greats. A few choose to step away from the drums when moving to the front of the stage, like the Eagles’ Don Henley and Genesis’s Phil Collins, while others continue to do double duty, like Sheila E. and the Band’s Levon Helm. .Paak began drumming out of necessity; he and his band couldn’t lock the right drummer down and, besides, it was “one less person to split the money with.”

But .Paak was also made for the drums. He heard rhythms in his head before he knew what to do with them. In elementary school, he would tap on tabletops and try to beatbox. “The teachers started calling me saying that Brandon was disturbing the class because he was noisy,” .Paak’s mother told the ESPN reporter (and her former Oxnard neighbour) Dwayne Bray, who in 2021 published an account of .Paak’s family life. When .Paak was in middle school, his stepfather bought him his first drum kit; his mother, recognising her son’s talent, encouraged him to play along to soul music: Archie Bell and the Drells, lots of James Brown. By age 12, at the prompting of his godsister, he began attending a Baptist church, where he learned the importance of paying dues. “I was there every day just in the pews, waiting for my chance to play,” .Paak recalls. “I couldn’t play that well, but I got better and better. Before I knew it, I was playing every song.”

Drumming in church taught .Paak versatility; he had to switch up the rhythm at the whim of the preacher, the singer, the congregants or all of them at once. It also taught him humility; as a musician in service to the Lord, he had to accept his role as God’s vessel. He started playing drums in school, too, learning about jazz and funk, rock and punk. When he attended punk shows, .Paak noticed an unlikely connection between how kids moved in a mosh pit and how worshipers did in church when struck by the spirit. “It’s just energy,” he says. “It’s all based off different breaks in the music, right?”

Black American music inhabits the intersection of the sacred and the profane. .Paak’s signature call of “Yes, Lawd!” is born of hundreds of hours spent in service to the spirit. It helped prepare him for secular stardom. Soul and gospel share a language of supplication, for a lover or for the Lord; singers brought to their knees in carnal passion or in prayer. Performing for a Silk Sonic audience in Las Vegas, .Paak says, is “like playing for a bunch of Black church people that are singing the songs with so much energy.”

The sold-out Saturday night concert I attend is Silk Sonic’s 30th since February, after an early summer hiatus during which .Paak played for 100,000 fans a night while opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Europe. It seems like an unusually diverse crowd for a Vegas show: a plurality of Black women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, but people of all ages and races, too. In my section alone, I talk to a young Black father and his 11-year-old son; two 20-something Korean couples; a white husband and wife in their 70s.

.Paak and Mars are unlikely musical partners. Given their adulation for all things 1970s — the poster for their Vegas residency features Mars in a bell-bottom leisure suit and .Paak in a wide-collared satin shirt — you might consider them as an updated version of TV’s Odd Couple: Mars as the fastidious Felix and .Paak as let-it-all-hang-out Oscar. When working in the studio, Mars obsesses over songcraft, exploring the possibilities in pre-chorus and chorus, verse and hook, whereas .Paak favours a vibe-driven approach. In their collaboration, which they developed when .Paak was opening for Mars during a 2017 tour of Europe, they’ve found something that neither could achieve alone. “My ears are different now,” .Paak says.

About a half-hour before curtain, I’m asking .Paak what it’s been like to share the stage with Mars, one of the most accomplished showmen in entertainment. Does he ever feel overmatched? “That’s the fun of it,” he responds. “To be with one of the best, man. He has such a good understanding of entertainment because he’s been entertaining since he was a —”

As if on cue, the door flies open and it’s Mars. Instead of a greeting, he starts singing: “Cut my life into pieces!”

.Paak, still lounging on the couch, jumps up and belts his response: “This is my last resort!”

Mars grunts some power chords (“Junt-dunt. Junt-dunt”), accompanied by a mean air guitar. I recognise it as the opening bars of the nu-metal band Papa Roach’s 2000 hit, “Last Resort,” an old song not yet burnished by nostalgia. But .Paak and Mars embrace it without irony, performing an impromptu 30-second cover for an intimate audience: me and .Paak’s longtime photographer and videographer, Israel Ramos.

“They got that and, uh: Do you have the time …” Mars sings.

“To listen to me whine,” .Paak responds, answering the call of Green Day’s 1994 hit “Basket Case.”

“Now do the harmony,” Mars commands.

Their voices intertwine, with .Paak taking the main vocal line and Mars singing high harmony: “Sometimes I give myself the creeps.”

“You gotta say it like ‘crepes,’” Mars says, smiling like a schoolboy.

“Sometimes I give myself the crepes. / Sometimes my mind plays tricks on maaaay!”

“Start a mosh pit!” .Paak says.

Anderson Paak 2
Another rare image of .Paak without a smile. Celine by Hedi Slimane jacket, pants and glasses,; Judy Turner tank top; Vans x Anderson .Paak shoes; and his own jewellery. Photograph by D’Angelo Lovell Williams. Styled by Ian Bradley.

On his way out the door, Mars turns to make eye contact with me and with Ramos: “What up, y’all?” Then he’s gone. The whole thing lasts two minutes. It tells you all you need to know about Silk Sonic: the spontaneity and play, the rigour and craft.

Theirs is a show fit for the Las Vegas stage, with an eight-piece band; big, brassy horns; sequinned suits; tightly choreographed dance moves; just the right amount of pyrotechnics. Mars’s vocal runs, his steps and slides, are flawless. Meanwhile, .Paak does most of the patter, teasing the crowd, exhorting them. Twice they roar simply because he takes off his sunglasses. The rapport between the two men is irrepressible; their repartee might be the most vintage part of the evening, harking back not to 1970s funk and soul but to the vaudeville of the 1910s.

Later that night, around 12:30 a.m., at a club called the Barbershop, .Paak, in a blue Gucci suit (Mars once teased him for being a “Gucci whore”) with Brodie on his head, and Mars, casual in a short-sleeved shirt with crisply pleated white pants, red Solo cup in hand, rip through a set of new rock standards — including the well-rehearsed “Last Resort” — in a surprise show. Then, around 1:30 a.m., they make their way to the Main Room, part of a speakeasy called On the Record at the Park MGM, where .Paak (as D.J. Pee .Wee, but with the Brodie wig still in place) spins vinyl for hours with the Las Vegas D.J. and promoter Eddie McDonald by his side pulling albums from the walls. Mars dances most of the time, clinking cups with whoever’s at arm’s length, as .Paak plays Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” and the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).

Back when .Paak was still just Brandon, he frequently went with his mother and some of his friends to Las Vegas when she and his stepfather would gamble. He and his friends would explore, starting from the family’s comped suite at Caesars Palace and stretching out across the Strip. “I just loved going to restaurants, going to the pool, [ordering] room service and seeing shows,” he recalls — the entertainers Siegfried & Roy, the illusionist David Copperfield, the magicians Penn & Teller, the comedian Carrot Top. He saw Earth, Wind & Fire, even Wayne Newton. “I think that set the standard for me, as far as entertainment goes,” he says. “Vegas is a place where you can’t be out here and have a bad show.”

When his mother walks the Strip now to go watch her son perform, she can see him projected 30 feet tall against the sides of buildings. “It’s crazy, man,” .Paak admits. He still carries the underdog inside of him from all of those years of work and struggle and perseverance. If Mars is a celebrity in a traditional sense, .Paak is one in a different mold — the wigs, the glasses, the hats: All of them help him maintain some anonymity. “I’m hiding in plain sight,” .Paak says. When he cracks a joke backstage about being on billboards but still having to talk his way into clubs, I catch a glimpse of the kid on that Oxnard street 30 years ago. Then he delivers the punchline, which is also the truth: “That’s me!” he says, pointing to the sky. “That’s me right there.”

Billie Eilish Wants You to be Happy

At 20, she is already one of the most influential pop stars on the planet. Here, Billie Eilish talks to T Australia about her foray into fragrance, leaving a legacy and encouraging people to do what they want.

Article by Victoria Pearson

Eilish_Billie_Bottle3 (1)The multiple-award-winning singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, who admits she struggles with self-doubt.

It is after 9pm on a Tuesday and Billie Eilish is floating around Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena in a cherry picker. The sold-out stadium is brightly lit by the phone torches of Eilish’s 20,000-strong multigenerational audience. “I love you, Billie!” screams a fan during a musical interlude. Eilish smiles sweetly, her XL face beams down on the audience from giant screens, and she begins to sing. Despite her lyrics’ inclination towards the macabre, Eilish’s brand of live performance favours kindness over shock and awe, and at just 20 years old she’s in total — and seemingly effortless — control of the worshipful crowd. 

Control is key when you’re one of the most popular performers on the planet, having inadvertently gone viral at the age of 14 thanks to an early SoundCloud upload. That track, “Ocean Eyes”, led to a deal with Darkroom/Interscope Records and in 2017 Eilish (full name Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell) released her critically admired debut EP, “Don’t Smile at Me”. At 18, she was commissioned to write and record, with her brother and regular collaborator, Finneas, the theme song for the 25th James Bond film, “No Time to Die”, joining the ranks of fellow 007 contributors Madonna, Adele, Chris Cornell and Duran Duran. The track earned her an Oscar for Best Original Song, a golden statue that keeps company with seven Grammys, six MTV Video Music Awards and two American Music Awards (all these gongs have also landed her
two Guinness World Records). Plus, Eilish remains the youngest person to headline both Glastonbury and Coachella festivals.

All of which is to say whatever Eilish is doing is working — no-one would blame her for coasting on her success to date. Skating by, however, isn’t on the cards. 

“I have a really strong nose,” she says of a recent addition to her professional portfolio: her debut fragrance, Eilish by Billie Eilish, released in November 2021. The artist is curled up, feet tucked beneath her, on a purple lounge at Universal Music Australia’s office in Sydney, just hours before she is due to step on stage at Qudos Bank Arena. “I have thousands of candles and thousands of fragrances and lotion and body things,” she continues. “One of my favourite things in the world is scent.”

In an interview with The New York Times in 2021, Eilish confessed to owning “probably” 100 bottles of perfume, each vessel labelled with paper to remind her of its olfactory significance. “Some are very specific,” she told the reporter, “like, ‘This one smells like a ballet class I used to be in,’ or ‘This one smells like that one day we went to this person’s house and this person said this,’ and some are more vague, like, ‘This Hawaiian Punch perfume I got at CVS [pharmacy] for $1 smells like 2015.’ ”

When a segue into the fragrance industry was first suggested, Eilish was dubious. “When you get famous, you do this and you do this and you sell this,” she mimics. But the idea percolated, then stuck. A perfume would provide an opportunity for the singer-songwriter to indulge in a lifelong passion. All she needed was a partner. 

Eilish found her collaborator in the international fragrance manufacturer and distributor Parlux, which specialises in designer perfumes and has created celebrity scents for the likes of Paris Hilton and Jason Wu. “It was just everything I wanted to do,” says Eilish of the experience. “These were my favourite calls. These were the only calls I cared about.”

Eilish by Billie Eilish eau de parfum, $96;

When it came to concocting her eponymous scent, Eilish mined her personal archives. An admittedly nostalgic person (“I have a song where I say I’m not sentimental, and that’s the biggest lie I’ve ever told. I’m extremely sentimental.”), she has never been able to shake the smell of a childhood friend’s home in Glendale, Los Angeles. “It always smelled like vanilla in there,” says Eilish. She recalls a wooden chest belonging to her parents that echoed the Glendale residence’s scent profile. “It smelled a little bit Eilish, before Eilish was real. And I would stand in there and be like, ‘Ugh, it smells so good. What is that?’ ” 

Eilish chased the scent for years to no avail. She was searching for warmth: vanilla with notes of cocoa, red berries, musk and wood. She talked at length with Parlux about the smell that contours her memories, learning from the team about how perfumes are blended, balanced and bottled. When Parlux sent Eilish the initial edit of fragrance samples, she sniffed the first formulation and knew immediately it was hers. “It almost brought tears to my eyes,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is what I’ve been looking for.’ And that’s Eilish. We went with that exact one.” 

Her first scent (Eilish recently released a follow-up, named Eilish No. 2) is an amber gourmand that opens with notes of mandarin, sugared petals and berries before giving way to creamy vanilla, spices and cocoa, all grounded by base notes of sleek woods, tonka bean and musk. The bottle was also constructed under Eilish’s discerning eye. An amber-bronze-coloured bust, it’s a homage to the artist’s favourite parts of the body: the neck, chest and collarbones.

Inclusivity was important to Eilish. “It’s for everybody,” she says in a promotional clip for the perfume. Of equal importance were ethical ingredients. Eilish is vegan and regularly uses her platform and social media audience (Instagram clocks her follower count at 106 million) to
advocate for issues that matter to her. Her song “TV” is a melancholic reflection on a difficult relationship, with lyrics that also touch on political events: “The internet’s gone wild watching movie stars on trial / While they’re overturning Roe v. Wade.” Eilish is particularly vocal about the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis. In June she co-presented the inaugural multi-day climate conference Overheated, held at London’s O2 Arena, and she is the executive producer of the eponymous climate crisis documentary directed by Yassa Khan in 2022, which includes appearances by Dame Vivienne Westwood and the Cuban-French musical duo Ibeyi. For Eilish, it was non-negotiable that the fragrance reflect her values, and it is labelled vegan and cruelty-free.

Clearly, perfumery is a genuine passion project; a vehicle as personal and cathartic for Eilish as music. The ingredients list of her debut fragrance is just one example of how it’s difficult to untether the pop star from the scent. How, if at all, do the two Billies intersect? “It’s funny, because when I started this, people would ask questions about how they’re related,” she says. “I’m essentially using my name for clout. Part of me is like, ‘I only got where I got just so I could make a perfume one day. That’s the only reason I’m here.’ ” 

She’s speaking wryly, but it invites rumination on what message, or legacy, she wants to imprint on the world. If she were one of those 100 fragrance bottles with their paper label reminders, how would she choose to be described? “The older I get and the more eyes that are on me, I lose that confidence I used to have,” she says in a moment of vulnerability. “I used to have no care in the world. I just was living my life, happy-go-lucky. I was just like, ‘Yeah. I’m going to do this and I’m going to do this, and I don’t care what anyone thinks, and I’m just going to wear this and say this, and I don’t care.’

“I didn’t even realise that I had it until I lost it,” she continues. “I’ve been trying to get that back. And I think that if there’s something I want to be remembered for, it’s encouraging people to do what you want.” 

Later that evening at the first of her Sydney shows, Eilish looks out at the enraptured crowd. “I want you guys to know that I stand with you and everything that makes you who you are,” she says. “I support you. I love you so much and I hope you feel comfortable to be yourself here — and safe.” 

Eilish wants you to do what you want. She wants that for herself, too.

For This Luxury Group, Australian Crocodiles and Blockchain Are The Way Of The Future

As the CEO of LVMH Metiers d’Art, Matteo De Rosa is one of the world’s leading experts in raw materials for the luxury market. T Australia spoke to him about the Australian market and how we should all be thinking about blockchain.

Article by Phoebe Tully

Verifying the size and thickness of the skins. Photography courtesy Louis Vuitton Malletier Piotr Stoklosa.

What is savoir-faire? In literal terms, it means “know how”. More elusively, it’s the French je ne sais quois of a neck scarf tied just so or a wine paired just right. At LVMH, a company that sees itself as “custodians of an unparalleled heritage”, it’s the expert craftsmanship that’s passed from generation to generation. For Matteo De Rosa, Chief Executive Officer of LVMH Metiers d’Art, it’s a shared vision of unparalleled excellence.

Launched in 2015, Métiers d’Art is the luxury group’s hub for sourcing high-grade raw materials – such as leather, exotic skins, precious metals and silk – and for nurturing exclusive craft skills. It was created to “protect and foster the [group’s] fashion labels’ ability to access first-rate raw materials and know-how,” and support LVMH’s top suppliers in the process.

CEO of LVMH Metiers d’Art, Matteo De Rosa. Photography courtesy LVMH Métiers d'Art.
Photography courtesy Louis Vuitton Malletier Piotr Stoklosa.

De Rosa brings to his role a wealth of experience in the luxury industry, including, most recently, as president of Dries Van Noten. Previous roles have included nearly six years at Chinese-Canadian ready-to-wear label Ports 1961, and head of Fashion & Lifestyle and Commercial Director for the Kennedy Luxury Group in Melbourne. Before his executive roles, de Rosa founded leather goods label Sartie.

“We have to be entrepreneurs to understand the field work our farmers, partners, tanneries are doing every day,” said De Rosa when asked about this entrepreneurial past. “In order to protect and develop [LVMH’s] access to the raw materials and superior savoir-faire they require, [we have to provide] long-term investment and support for its best suppliers. There is a specificity in our trades.”

T Australia recently had the opportunity to speak with De Rosa about the triple bottom line, his predictions for the Australian market and how we should all be thinking about blockchain.

Photography courtesy Louis Vuitton Malletier Piotr Stoklosa.

Métiers d’Art has a strategy to enrich the “transmission of savoir-faire” – what does this phrase mean in your own words?

LVMH Métiers d’Art federates and supports the best suppliers of fashion and leather goods, who want to ensure exceptional know-how and materials are part of the world of tomorrow. Its mission is to promote the sustainable development of extraordinary know-how [savoir-faire] and materials, with a permanent concern for innovation and transmission. [We have] a vision of excellence, which believes in the capacity of manufacturers and craftsmen – tanners, printers or metal parts manufacturers – to transform the material to create beauty and arouse emotion.

Where is the potential for technology, including blockchain, in the fashion industry?

For years, luxury could be perceived as a conservative industry that essentially relies on its roots and its history to grow. Yet, even though you have to respect the history and the legacy of the maison and the designers, innovation is key to enrich the history of a maison and make sure you create the most sustainable and desirable products.

On top of that, we also rely on technology to accelerate changes. We launched our own blockchain with Richemont and Prada, Aura Blockchain, to offer a tailor-made solution for luxury maisons. The blockchain offers us a vast potential of utilisation, especially in traceability, authenticity, and warranty. We are currently investigating those applications within our own ecosystem to find innovative solutions that would bring added value to our customers.  

Placing the template perfectly. Photography courtesy Louis Vuitton Malletier Piotr Stoklosa.

The Métiers d’Art division has become a hub for sourcing high-grade raw materials, but also for the dissemination of exclusive craft skills. How are these functions connected or intertwined? 

Métiers d’Art invests in the best in class producers and manufacturers of the world. It has an active approach by pushing them to best practices, delivering excellent products while promoting investments to make our operations as sustainable as we can, to drive innovation and remain relevant in the world of tomorrow.

Métiers d’Art promotes the adoption of new technologies; sponsors new materials and advances research in every field of competence while favouring operational synergies between the companies it has invested in. Contamination, innovation, and synergic exchanges are at the base of the savoir-faire transmission to new generations.

How does the Métiers d’Art integrate with the rest of LVMH? How do you work together on a united purpose?

Métiers d’Art is part of LVMH; it overlooks the strategic investments of raw materials in the wider supply chain for our maisons. It has been created to sustainably secure the precious and unique resources our products depend on and it acts on our maisons’s demand with the ultimate aim to support them and deliver the best products to our clients. We ensure the utmost respect for people and animals through the certification of all our operations, hence working closely with [the sustainability department].

Shaping the handle. Photography courtesy Louis Vuitton Malletier Piotr Stoklosa.

Are there upcoming projects you could tell our readers about?

We are currently investing in state of the art farming facilities in our crocodilian filiere. In both Queensland and the Northern Territory, our production sites will begin their transformation in the coming months.

You have spent some time in the Australian market – what is unique about our fashion industry, and the way we need to respond to sustainable and circular supply chains?

As a raw material producer, Australia has a unique opportunity to create a new alliance between nature and creativity by educating and promoting a new generation of designers to new ways of conceptualising and creating products.

As you know, LVMH is not just a fashion group. When you are a farmer, designer, manufacturer and distributor at the same time, it’s our key priority to make growth and sustainability synonymous. But when you implement good practices – for example, working on the purity of water – it becomes beneficial both to the customer (animal welfare, good quality skin) and to the environment. That’s our philosophy and what we try to do for every project. Sustainability is a three-fold commitment: respect of the environment, welfare of the people and well-balanced economy.

Portrait of An Artist: Cressida Campbell

On the eve of a landmark Cressida Campbell retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia, the author Kathy Lette, a long-time friend of the painter, reflects on a figure who contains multitudes.

Article by Kathy Lette

Cressida CampbellThe artist Cressida Campbell, photographed at her Sydney home in July 2022. Photography by Nic Walker.

Australia has many exotic creatures — the platypus, the echidna, the quokka — but to me, the most unique and fascinating by far is Cressida Campbell. Cressy is a rare breed indeed. Even David Attenborough would have trouble fathoming her many intriguing and charming conundrums. A brilliant, original and renowned artist yet totally humble and deliciously self-deprecating. An entertaining raconteur yet intensely shy and introverted. A generous, big-hearted hostess, loved by many, yet deeply private and reclusive. A creative luminary whose work shines brightly in the stellar realms of artistic celebrity yet totally earthy and gloriously grounded.

For example, it is only through Cressy’s adoring husband, the fine-art printer Warren Macris, that I discovered one of her paintings recently sold at auction for $515,000, the highest sum paid for a living Australian female artist’s work. Cressy’s response is typically self-effacing. “Look,” she explains, once I’ve stopped swinging from the restaurant chandelier. “Of course, it’s so gratifying that people love what I’ve done to the degree they’re prepared to pay so much so they can look at it whenever they want. But you also feel removed from it. I just try my hardest to define a picture to the stage that it communicates to someone as best it can — or to me as best it can, really.”

I am lucky enough to communicate with Cressy often. We have been dear friends for more than a decade. We met when she hosted a birthday dinner for her sister Nell. I was immediately enchanted by her home in Bronte, Sydney, a cool oasis amid shady ferns, the walls adorned with paintings like a fin de siècle Parisian salon. Cressy had garnished the placements with calligraphic quotes by writers from Chaucer to Dorothy Parker, which flatteringly encapsulated each guest’s personality. Her artistry, attention to detail, perspicacity and generosity of spirit won me over instantly. As did her way with words.

Cressy’s humour is drier than an AA meeting. Her anecdotes are delightfully tangential and searingly insightful. To each story she brings her intuitive understanding of colour and composition, intense curiosity and that keen observation of the minutiae of life that is so prevalent in her paintings. With her trademark deadpan delivery she builds up chaos and calamity into a brilliant comedic crescendo that leaves guests nearly hospitalised from hilarity.

Cressida Campbell
Photography by Nic Walker.

Cressy is at her most entertaining when telling tales about things going terribly wrong on her holidays. “There was a period when, wherever she went, there was either a coup, a terrorist attack or all-out war,” recalls Nell. My regular visits home from London are now one long procession along what I call “Campbell Parade” — as we dine in one sibling’s house after the other, quaffing and quipping. (Chekhov has nothing on these three spirited sisters.) At our many riotous dinners, food for thought is always on the menu — the discourse as delectable as the many moreish courses.

This is because the Campbells are blessed with designer genes. Matriarch Ruth, who sadly died in 2018, aged 95, went to art school where she was taught by William Dobell, but left to become a journalist; no surprise, as her Wildean wit was sharp enough to shave your legs. Towards the end of the war, Ruth travelled to London on a ship that was blacked out to avoid Japanese airstrikes. While working in Fleet Street she met the debonair Ross Campbell, still in his air force uniform. Ross, a Rhodes scholar, had studied English at Oxford under the tutelage of J R R Tolkien, who was up to his elbows in orcs as he created “The Lord of the Rings”, and C S Lewis, whose head was half in Narnia with his lion, his witch and his wardrobe. (I’m sure Ross was amused that his lecturer was going into the closet while so many other Oxford dons were coming out of it.) Although Ross was a classicist, his literary gifts leant towards the humorous, a skill slightly lost on his tweedy professors. And so, after marrying Ruth, he moved back to Sydney and went on to become a beloved columnist, comedically chronicling the suburban antics of his growing family using the pseudonyms Theodora for Sally, Lancelot for Patrick, Baby Pip for Cressy and Little Nell for Laura.

The Campbell girls adored their “unique and creative parents” who, Sally recalls, “gave us an enchanted childhood, full of love and support”. Ross and Ruth encouraged their children to follow their hearts and see where their talents took them. For Nell, who kept her father’s nickname for her, it was instant stardom in 1975’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and then as the doyenne of New York’s most fashionable nightclub, Nell’s — a place so chic that a doorman once turned away Cher for wearing fringed white leather. Sally, with her exquisite taste, is now a celebrated textile designer; Patrick became a solar energy scientist; and Cressy, an artist.

Cressida Campbell
The “magical, midsummer night’s dream of a garden” where writers and artists drink wine and exchange ideas. Photography by Nic Walker.
Cressida Campbell
Campbell in her studio, where she paints seven days a week. Photography by Nic Walker.

Cressy tells me she started painting aged four and always knew she wanted to be an artist. In primary school she created “witches’ scripts” in the hope they resembled the illuminated manuscripts her father so admired. In the early days, Ruth would accompany Cressy when she painted in secluded areas. “I was doing quite a bit of work around the harbour and the bush. Mum would make the most fantastic chicken sandwiches and come sit with me and be my bodyguard,” says Cressy. “We had lots of great times.” Including one encounter in the paperbarks with a naked pervert. “Mum chased him away, telling him to put his clothes back on,” Sally merrily recalls as I picture Ruth walloping the streaker over the head with her rolled up copy of, ironically, The Spectator.

Cressy won her first art prize, the National Parks and Wildlife Service poster competition, aged 11. I remember admiring the work in question, lovingly framed on Ruth’s kitchen wall. Cressy had drawn in crayon examples of Aboriginal rock art, then graffitied over the top “Tracey Loves Warren” and “Jody Forever”. The caption read: “Is your name here? It shouldn’t be.” The other winners were two boys aged 17 and 18. Their prize was to spend three weeks travelling together around Australia with a ranger.

The trip made a big impact. “We camped in Kakadu — five feet from crocodiles lurking in the water. The ranger would shine a light into their eyes and they looked like rubies,” Cressy once told me on a visit to her garden studio. “We were sleeping in huts with giant carpet snakes coiled over the rafters. We ate buffalo. We went to see remote rock art. I was very shy in the beginning but by the end of the trip, I couldn’t stop talking.”

And that’s exactly what I love most about Cressy. While painting, she likes nothing more than a chinwag on the phone, during which she is always candid and confessional. Cressy is so disarmingly charming, so warm, witty and wise, that you too find yourself peeling off, down to your emotional underwear, in a psychological striptease that reveals all. Like a seasoned jazz musician, Cressy can riff on any topic. Cool, classy, sassy, innovative and improvisational, she really should be accompanied everywhere she goes by a saxophone solo.

Cressida Campbell
Flowers gifted to Campbell by her husband, the fine-art printer Warren Macris, steal the spotlight at her Bronte home. Photography by Nic Walker.
Cressida Campbell
Photography by Nic Walker.

When not chatting, she listens to Radio National, which she credits with her education. Like me, Cressy is an autodidact — clearly, it’s a word we taught ourselves. Cressy left school at 16 so she could paint all day. She initially applied to go to the à la mode Sydney College of the Arts, which had just opened. “At the interview, I pulled out all these canvases rolled up in a tea towel — paintings I’d done at school. I was very influenced by Rousseau at the time,” Cressy once reminisced over afternoon tea. “And this very pompous interviewer sneered, ‘Why would a girl from the suburbs want to be painting the jungle?’ ” Cressy’s imitation of this pretentious snob with his condescension chromosome and lovebites on his mirror was so comedically pitch-perfect that tea spurted out of my nose — not a good look on a middle-aged woman. “I was wearing a red leotard top and was so nervous I sweated buckets. By the time I came out of the interview, the top was purple,” remembers Cressy. “I got in, but only lasted three days. The school was totally conceptual and I just wanted to draw and paint, so enrolled in East Sydney tech.”

Nell often observes that, as is the case with many successful people, Cressy’s favourite thing to do is what makes her successful. “Drawing and painting aren’t work for her and she happily spends seven days a week in her studio. She finds painting very calming,” says Nell. “Almost nothing stops her from picking up her brush. The only time she doesn’t paint is while on holiday — when she’s looking at paintings.”

And when she visits me in London, that’s exactly what she does: explores galleries, quietly, on her own, like a pilgrim to a shrine. I have never encountered anyone with such an acute visual sense. When I first met Cressy I thought she must be prone to frostbite as she travels with so many shawls and sarongs, until Nell explained that they’re not to wear but to drape over any offending furniture or paintings in hotel rooms. Nell and I often laugh about the day Cressy offered to buy her new beach towels as she found Nell’s old ones, drying over her terrace railing, too brash against the subtle hues of the surrounding bushland.

Cressida Campbell
Photography by Nic Walker.

The actor, comic genius, art connoisseur, avid collector and my London neighbour Barry Humphries is rapturous about Cressy’s work. “Her pictures bring such joy,” he says. “She’s a total original. She sees the decorative possibilities in everything around her. Her pictures are not merely decorative — they’re alive!” At crowded parties in my house, the two of them invariably retreat into a cosy corner to discuss the artists they adore and abhor. (Vermeer, Utamaro, Stubbs, Klimt, Degas, Picasso, Matisse and Giotto are firm favourites, while abstract artists rate less highly on her awe-ometer.)

What most captivates me about her work is the way she finds poetry and beauty in the everyday, be it stacked dishes, compost scraps or rusty shipping containers. She also captures the light and vibrancy of Sydney, with its twisting waterways and resinous bush, with such emotive accuracy that I can almost smell the eucalyptus leaves and feel the fur of the flannel flowers.

Despite the joyous, life-affirming luminosity in her pictures, Cressy has had many dark days dealing with grief. When she was 21 her darling dad died of cancer, a disease which also stole her beloved first husband, the film critic Peter Crayford, and her adored brother, Patrick. The passing of Ruth, with her discerning eye and creative camaraderie, was also a huge loss. Cressy has recently endured her own alarming health scares — a brain abscess two years ago left her unable to paint for a terrifying time and the subsequent scar tissue means she must now take drugs to quell epilepsy.

Sipping wine one night in her magical, midsummer night’s dream of a garden, I asked Cressy if personal tragedies had changed her work in any way. “Well, after Peter died, the pictures became much more moody,” she confided. “For whatever reason, I’m doing these much more reflective pictures. I’m doing a picture at the moment called ‘Night Studio’. You can see part of the studio reflected through the louvres. It’s actually a street lamp reflected outside the windows but it looks like the moon. I can’t decide whether to tell people it’s just a streetlight,” she says, chuckling. “But if I was seeing a shrink, they’d say, ‘That’s very interesting, Cressida. You’re reflecting on the reflections.’ But in actual fact, it’s just as likely me lying down on the couch with a glass of wine, looking into the reflection and liking the look of the composition.”

Although the art world takes Cressy’s work very seriously — the National Gallery of Australia is about to launch a massive retrospective (from September 24 to February 19, 2023) — she refuses to mount her arty high horse and gallop off into the sunset. When I rang for a chat recently, I tried to coax her into explaining her idiosyncratic technique that involves painting, woodblocks, carving and printing.“Honestly, Kathy,” she interrupted, “I hate talking about it. People think they want to know, but then their eyes glaze over.” As soon as she said this, the line went dead, as if in tacit agreement. Reconnecting moments later, Cressy and I cackled like kookaburras.

Cressy has always been a collector. She started as a girl with stamps and shells, graduating to 18th-century Japanese ukiyo-e prints and Eastern ceramics that she seeks out in dusty old antique shops in places like Penang and Cambodia. I don’t collect art, I collect friends. And Cressida Campbell is a treasure. I just want to put her on my metaphorical mantelpiece, as a cherished and true original.

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our eighth edition, Page 70 of T Australia with the headline: “Portrait of an Artist”

Multi-Faceted Artist Omar Musa On Operating At The Margins

His debut novel was lauded for its gritty take on masculinity, but Omar Musa won’t be going down that road again. Here, the writer, rapper and artist explains how a Malaysian punk rocker helped him find his way.

Article by Lucy E Cousins

Omar MusaOmar Musa wears Jude sweater. Photography by Jordan Turner.

When I first speak with Omar Musa, his head is still spinning with memories of the night before. Far from being in an alcohol-induced stupor (Musa doesn’t drink), his mind is still clinging to the heady smells of Eid al-Fitr, an event that marks the end of Ramadan. Raised by a Bornean father and an Australian mother, Musa embraces the festivities. “We had a big Malaysian feast to celebrate the end of the fasting months; I was ready for it,” he says, laughing. “All the aunties were out in full force. I was not going to escape without performing for them, so I ended up doing some raps about laksa, which felt appropriate.”

A rapper, poet, author and visual artist, Musa is arguably one of most exciting creators in Australia right now. Drifting seamlessly between mediums throughout his career, he has released three poetry books, one novel and four hip-hop records, and has staged a one-man play, “Since Ali Died”. His debut novel, “Here Come the Dogs” (2014), was longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award and the Miles Franklin Literary Award, and he was named one of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists of 2015. Musa has spoken at TEDxSydney (and received a standing ovation) and, having recently taken up woodcutting, he’s held several solo art shows.

Now, the 38-year-old is about to embark on a three-continent tour to launch his latest book, “Killernova”, a collection of poems and woodcut illustrations that explore his heritage. “This book comes from a joyous, euphoric place, even though it deals with heavy issues,” he says. “It was part of a process of personal regeneration after hitting the very low lows that I explored in my first novel, in my play and my album [also called] ‘Since Ali Died’.” 

In his early work, Musa focused on the darker sides of masculinity, as well as violence and death, earning him a reputation for speaking for the disempowered. It’s a projection he “leaned into” at first but now rejects. “I look back and see that label was not representative of the privilege that I have had in my life,” he says. “Really, I was a nerdy Muslim kid with glasses who liked writing poetry and drawing. And that’s what I still am, just minus the glasses. I wear contacts now.”

Musa relishes ambiguity but with so many mediums and concepts at play, his work tends to confuse critics. “People always want to be able to categorise everything,” he says. “I even heard in the literary industry that as soon as the words ‘genre defining’ are applied to a work, it’s like poison to a publicist. But when you break down the perceived barriers or walls between different genres and art forms, that’s when you come up with fresh forms and fresh ideas.”

He tells me about the time he appeared on ABC TV’s “Q+A” , when one of the real-time tweets featured onscreen read: “Oh, this guy could be the young, hot, moderate face of Islam.” That made him laugh. “I don’t think I’m young, hot or moderate!” he says. Which begs the question: how does the genre-defying Musa see himself?

Omar Musa wears Jude jacket, sweater and trousers. Photography by Jordan Turner.
Omar Musa wears Jude jacket, sweater and trousers. Photography by Jordan Turner.

You’re often described as a Malaysian Australian author and poet from Queanbeyan, New South Wales. Is that how you see yourself?

I’m just a dude who makes things. I’ve always loathed being categorised because I realised early on that it is disempowering; boxes diminish you as soon as you get put in them.

Where do you see yourself within the country’s art scene?

I don’t really think about it too much. I’m a force of nature, the likes of which has never been seen! [laughs] In terms of identity, it’s such a complex matrix. I’m Asian Australian, Muslim Australian, Malaysian Australian.

Which work are you most proud of?

“Here Come the Dogs” makes me very uneasy because it was a different me that made it. I was in a really dark phase of my life and it’s been a long time since I wrote it, but I’ve noticed that, eventually, all roads lead back to it and people want to know about it. I’m proud of it because I dedicated four years of my life to doing it and I used to have problems with discipline; I never thought I’d have the endurance to write a novel. But I think this new book is the best piece of work I’ve ever made because it comes from such a different place.

Have you always loved poetry?

Yes. Words, for me, are almost like a pressure relief valve. If I am feeling down or sad or frustrated, I can express myself through poetry and it somehow converts those feelings into something lighter. I constantly scratch down little images or phrases because we’re surrounded by poetry. I might hear someone use slang that I find arresting or overhear a scrap of conversation. I’m visual in the way I take things in; oftentimes I will reverse-engineer a poem, story or song from an image, or even from a vision or hallucination. Then it’s a matter of transferring that image into words — painting with words.

Has that passion ever waned?

Before I found woodcuts, poetry was this thing that was supposed to be my joy, but it suddenly felt like it was eroding me. When you are young, you think that the dream is to turn your passion into a profession, then when you actually do it — and you have to pay your bills and there’s pressure from yourself and expectations from the outside — you start to maybe take yourself too seriously and forget that playfulness you had when you were a kid.

How did you overcome that?

Back in 2018, I was on this amazing arts residency that I was very privileged to have, in this thousand-year-old castle in Umbria, Italy. It should have been the most productive, creative experience of my life, but I was having a bit of a dark night of the soul. It was terrible. I felt more and more guilty that I’d been afforded this huge opportunity, but I just wasn’t able to write anything. So after that, I decided to go on a river journey into the jungle in Malaysia to get in touch with my homeland. Soon afterwards, I started doing woodcuts, where there was no expectation for me to be any good. I just made work because I felt like it — because it brought me joy.

Who was it that introduced you to woodcutting?

It was a Malaysian punk rocker called Aerick LostControl from my dad’s home town, who I met when I went to visit my family. One day I was performing at this arts residency and they were running a woodcut workshop. Aerick was there — he’s this amazing guy with a big impish grin, tattoos and scars — and he taught me how to use the two different woodcut tools. For my first artwork, I carved a silly little leopard with its tongue poking out. And from that moment, I was addicted. 

You spoke at the Sydney Writers’ Festival and the 2021 Byron Writers Festival. What do you think about the scene today, is it becoming more inclusive?

In the last few years, I’ve noticed a much more successful attempt to diversify the different types of writers they have, especially compared to when I first appeared on the scene. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s a good thing to get too complacent or to ever think that the job is done and dusted. Until there’s more representation and diversity in the people who make decisions — the editors, the festival directors, the curators — it’s not true diversity.

How do you approach your writing?

Right now, above my writing desk, there’s a quote from the great American poet Elizabeth Bishop, who said that in her writing she aspired to balance three things: spontaneity, accuracy and mystery. I really like this because spontaneity speaks to that immediate visceral reaction that you might want to elicit in someone or that might spark you to write something. Accuracy is a bit more about form and structure, and then there’s mystery. To me, that word hints at something sublime, maybe almost religiously ecstatic. And while I’m not a religious man, I was raised quite religiously and I do think that plays a part in the way I think of art-making.

Would you say there’s a recurring theme in your art?

The idea of “borderless” is something I try to reflect in my artwork. Southeast Asia itself is this place of thousands of islands where there’s all these manmade borders, but because it’s ocean in between all these islands, the borders melt and dissipate as soon as they’re drawn. I don’t know if I’m drawn to that because I see it as reflective of me or if, over the years, I have chosen to reflect that with my practice and identity.

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our seventh edition, Page 20 of T Australia with the headline: “At The Margins”

Being Marina Abramović, Even When No One’s Looking

Despite her success, the performance artist has chosen a monastic life in upstate New York, where she falls asleep to Canadian television and eats baby food.

Article by Thessaly La Force

Marina AbramovićThe performance artist Marina Abramović in the library of her expansive archive in upstate New York, which houses sculptural works, exhibition posters, press clippings and other ephemera from her storied career. Photography by Emiliano Granado.

The New York-based artist Marina Abramović is sitting in the kitchen of her house just outside of Hudson when she invites me — over FaceTime — to join her in Greece this August for a workshop organised by the Marina Abramović Institute (MAI). “It’s only five days. No food, no talking and heavy exercise,” says the artist, 75, with a chuckle. Abramović founded the institute in 2007, originally intending to convert a derelict theatre built sometime around the 1930s nearby into a top-of-the-line Rem Koolhaas-designed performance space, archive and education centre. But when the project’s budget ballooned out of her control (Koolhaas’s plans alone were estimated to be $31 million, which didn’t include the handling of the theatre’s pre-existing asbestos problem) and her fund-raising efforts fell short (a Kickstarter only got her to a little over half a million dollars), Abramović decided to turn it into something that didn’t depend on a physical location. Its new slogan? “Don’t come to us; we come to you.”

Today, the MAI travels the world — stopping everywhere from Brazil to Bangkok and engaging its participants on the topic of performance art (it costs around $2,000 for a five-day workshop, and anyone able to pay is welcome to enrol). Its pedagogy is focused on enlightening its students about what’s physically and mentally required of oneself to create art, principally with the Abramović Method, a set of durational exercises created by the Yugoslavian artist (who first began to teach performance art in the 1980s in Europe) that involve whimsical (and totally serious) instructions such as: “Choose a tree you like. Put your arms around the tree. Complain to the tree.”

Marina Abramović
A corner devoted to the artist’s documents: correspondences, sketches and academic papers written about her. At left, a rack of clothing includes gifts from Riccardo Tisci, the chief creative officer at Burberry. Photography by Emiliano Granado.

A version of this workshop is depicted in Matthew Akers’s 2012 documentary, “Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present,” which shows her at her home with about 30 young artists she’s invited to re-perform five of her historical artworks for her retrospective of the same name at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2010. “The whole idea is to slow down your mind,” Abramović says in the footage about activities such as swimming naked in a river, chanting and sitting blindfolded in a chair as she paces around beating a pellet drum.

Abramović has referred to herself as the “grandmother of performance art,” which she has been making her entire life. Born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia), in 1946, she was creative from an early age, eventually studying at the city’s University of Arts. In 1976, she met the German performance artist Ulay and began spending more time in Europe. The pair, who became lovers, collaborated on a significant body of performance art over the course of 12 years, living for some time nomadically out of a small Citroën van (which was featured in one of their works). They even, at one point, dressed like twins.

Marina Abramović
Abramović’s studio is in the process of cataloguing old reels of her filmed performances. Photography by Emiliano Granado.
Marina Abramović
Stacks of grey boxes contain newspaper clippings about the artist dating to the 1960s. The thicker ones include material specific to past exhibitions. Photography by Emiliano Granado.

Abramović’s work often tests her own physical limits and the intentions of her audience: she has allowed the people around her to do whatever they want to her with 72 objects including a gun loaded with a single bullet (“Rhythm 0,” 1974); had her hair braided into Ulay’s, after which they sat conjoined for 16 hours (“Relation in Time,” 1977); lost consciousness while lying inside a burning five-point star (“Rhythm 5,” 1974); lived in a museum with only water for sustenance for 12 days, during which her single means of egress was a ladder made out of knives (“The House With the Ocean View,” 2002); stood in front of an arrow held by Ulay that pointed directly at her heart, which was amplified by a microphone (“Rest Energy,” 1980); and recreated the works of other great performance artists, including “Seedbed” (1972) by Vito Acconci, in which the artist lies hidden beneath a wooden ramp and masturbates (“Seven Easy Pieces,” 2005).

By the time she was in her 50s, she was a respected but relatively minor name — an “artist’s artist,” as the curator Klaus Biesenbach put it in a 2016 profile of her for New York magazine. That all changed, of course, the following decade, after the success of her retrospective at MoMA, where Abramović sat motionless for six days a week, seven hours a day, for a total of 700 hours, allowing anyone to take a seat across from her and gaze into her eyes. The work became a phenomenon, with people lining up around the block for a chance to participate.

Since then, Abramović — who has appeared in a Jay-Z music video, worked with Lady Gaga and has a fondness for the clothes of the fashion designers Walter Van Beirendonck and Riccardo Tisci — has become something of a celebrity. Here, she answers T’s Artist’s Questionnaire.

Marina Abramović
Among the miscellany being sorted, a photograph from Abramović’s 2010 durational performance, “The Artist Is Present,” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Photography by Emiliano Granado.

What is your day like? How much do you sleep and what is your work schedule?

I love routine. It gives the day order. I feel good when I follow a routine. If I don’t — when I’m travelling, and my schedule gets crazy — I become unbalanced. I love the regularity of a monastery: The monks wake up before sunrise, then they go to the toilet. Then they do the meditation. Then breakfast. Then they will do physical work. I try to follow a very similar schedule. I like to wake up early. It’s very funny to talk about going to the toilet — Western culture is ashamed of this, but I want to discuss this. Is that OK?


When you go to sleep in the evening, all the energy in your body is in a state of rest. When the sun rises, everything in you wakes up. If you don’t go to the bathroom before sunrise, all the toxins rise from your feet to your brain. This is why so many people wake up tired. In some Eastern cultures — like in India, Japan, China and so on — they learn from an early age to go to the bathroom before sunrise. It’s not easy to do it if you’re not used to it. I had to train myself. Then I drink a glass of warm water. Sometimes I put ginger in it, sometimes not. Then I make tea and read the news.

How many hours of creative work do you do in a day?

My old friend Rebecca Horn is a wonderful German artist. After she has lunch, she goes to sleep. Except she’ll say: “I’m going to work.” When she wakes up, she will have had a dream. And then she’ll make her work. So, she counts her sleep as working hours. Many artists get their best ideas from their dreams or in a state of complete tranquillity. I hate the studio. It’s a trap to me. Ideas come from life.

Marina Abramović
When they’re not being exhibited, sculptural works by the artist are crated and stored in the roughly 900-square-metre space. Photography by Emiliano Granado.

What is the first piece of art you ever made?

I had my first exhibition of paintings when I was 14. I painted my dreams. I remember being so jealous of Mozart because he started composing when he was a young child. I knew it was too late for me to be a genius, but I tried my best. I remember my first painting. It was of a candle from which there were streaks of light that were different faces, and one face fell on the table — it was my face. It was about how you inherit an image of yourself. Or something like that. It was all in green and blue.

What was the first work of art you sold and for how much?

When I lived in Yugoslavia, we had no money. I wanted to be independent from my family, to be able to buy books and go to the cinema and do my own things, but I never had the pocket money. Since I was always painting, my aunts and relatives and friends of my relatives would order pieces from me. They would come and say: “We would like to have sunflowers, an open window and a full moon.” Or another would say: “I would like more tulips with the fish, cut a little onion, cut a little lemon and make the curtain move in the wind.” In 20 minutes, I was done and then I got some money. Now this was in dinars. In terms of dollars, it would have been about $10, maybe $15 — $50 would have been a huge commission. I’m embarrassed to say I signed them all with a very big “Marina,” like Picasso. I thought they would just disappear. But my mother got sentimental in her old age; she didn’t like that I was doing performances instead of paintings, so she bought back all my paintings from my relatives. She died and now I have maybe 50 of them. Maybe I’ll burn them one day.

When you start a new piece, where do you begin? What’s the first step?

The first step is to get an idea. Not an easy idea but one that makes me go, “Oh my god. No, no, no, no.” An idea that gets stuck in my stomach. Then, I get obsessed and, finally, I say, “OK, I’m going to do it.” That moment of decision is very important. Then I do it. But a piece always starts with an idea that I don’t like — something I’m afraid of — and going into the unknown.

Marina Abramović
A pair of Eames rocking chairs in front of the artist’s book collection, which includes mostly monographs and other art-related volumes. Photography by Emiliano Granado.
Marina Abramović
Rolled-up promotional posters and a stack of wooden shelves from an older version of a piece titled “Personal Archaeology” (1997-99), which has since been remade. Photography by Emiliano Granado.

How do you know when you’re done with a piece?

When I don’t have a gram of energy left in my entire body or soul, then I know. Therefore, criticism doesn’t affect me anymore. My early works were heavily criticised; now, they’re all in the most important museum collections. But at the time, if I read criticism, I couldn’t leave the house, even though I knew the work was good. At the same time, I can tell when a work is not good, even if it’s being called a masterpiece. It’s a gut feeling.

How many assistants do you have?

Until I had the MoMA show, I had only one assistant. I made that entire MoMA show with only one assistant, which is unbelievable. I come from a different part of the world, where even one assistant is a huge luxury. After the MoMA show, I ended up with seven. But it became too much work. Now I have four.

Have you assisted other artists before? And if so, who?

I cut garlic and cleaned onions for [the American composer] John Cage, but I don’t think I was his assistant. He was macrobiotic and while he cooked, I would sit in his kitchen and listen to his wisdom and love every minute of it. He lived in a big loft — he was with [the pioneering dancer and choreographer] Merce Cunningham at that time — that was full of cactuses. He had this wonderful routine: He took four hours a day to prepare his food. Macrobiotic food takes a long time to make. Then, for another four hours, he maintained the cactuses. They were so fragile. Some of them needed only a drop of water, some needed you to talk to them. Some only flowered once a year. He made a list of everything about the cactuses. Also, he had names for them.

What music do you play when you’re making art?

I love Mozart, Bach and Satie. I really like classical music. I grew up with it. Later, I started liking world music more. I like the rusty voice of the Costa Rican Mexican singer Chavela Vargas. Lately, I listen a lot to Anohni, who is a friend of mine. I’m currently touring my work “7 Deaths of Maria Callas,” so I’m listening to Maria Callas a lot as well.

Marina Abramović
An unfinished room with exposed insulation accommodates larger works. Photography by Emiliano Granado.

What is the worst studio you’ve ever had?

The most difficult time was in the ’80s, when Ulay and I lived in a car for five years. We had stuff, but we couldn’t keep it all in the little car we had, so we stored things with other people. At least 25 different people had our stuff: boxes filled with drawings, ideas, unfinished works, winter clothes, summer clothes, that sort of thing. We had to have a list because otherwise we didn’t know where anything was anymore. That was really the worst because I don’t like chaos. Here in upstate New York, I have 930 square metres where everything is perfectly organised. I’m very proud of it. I think it’s because I come from communism.

When did you first feel comfortable saying you are a professional artist?

Very early. I’m lucky I never doubted who I was. As a child, I was always painting the walls until my parents gave me a studio, which was just a small little room where I could do whatever I wanted.

Is there a meal you eat on repeat when you’re working?

I like baby food. There’s a Dutch baby food company called Brinta that makes rice powder, which you mix with milk. That’s the kind of food I like. I also like mushed banana or apple sauce, any kind of food like that.

Marina Abramović
“I clutter everything to the point that it’s disgusting … ” says Abramović. “And then I clean everything until there’s nothing left.” Photography by Emiliano Granado.

Are you bingeing any shows right now?

I just finished this documentary about Andy Warhol [“The Andy Warhol Diaries” (2022)]. I found it very interesting. He appeared on “The Love Boat” TV series, which was the trashiest thing of the ’80s. People would say, “You’re all about glamour, money and excess, anything else?” And he was like, “No, nothing else.” He never denied who he was. He embraced everything about himself. He saved himself in that way. He created his own world. And he is about glamour, money and trash — but he’s also so much more. When I can’t sleep, I like to watch a television show that has lots of seasons. I was looking for the longest show I could find, and I came across one called “Heartland.” It’s a Canadian show that’s many seasons long about a family and horses and nothing ever happens. A horse breaks a leg, another one has a baby. The family eats. They wash dishes. They make a pie. It’s absolutely wonderful.

How often do you talk to other artists?

With artists, you can cross paths and so many things happen while you’re together. Then years can pass where you don’t see them anymore. We’re like clouds. Right now, I’m very close to Anohni. I’m not so much into my generation — they complain too much. They’re always too tired, too sick, too old. I prefer young artists.

What do you do when you’re procrastinating?

Cleaning is very important to me. I clutter everything to the point that it’s disgusting, and I go into a moment of denial, and then I clean everything until there’s nothing left. I teach a course called Cleaning the House — not the physical house but your own body. I do this twice a year. I go to India to an Ayurveda hospital, and I eat only the cleanest food for 21 days. I’ve done it every year for 30, 40 years. But yes, I postpone things because I don’t want to think about them, and that only makes it worse. But I don’t think I’m unique in that.

Marina Abramović
One of two main rooms in the archive, decorated with a row of drawings related to “8 Lessons on Emptiness With a Happy End,” a video piece she shot in Laos in 2008. Photography by Emiliano Granado.

What is the last thing that made you cry?

I recently made a work called “Crystal Wall of Crying” (2021). It’s 40 metres long and made out of coal and 150 healing crystals. It’s about the 1943 genocide in Ukraine that killed 130,000 people in less than three days. There’s never been any monument in Kyiv about it. Recently, the Russians bombed the TV station only 800 metres from where the wall, which is still there, was installed. It will survive. The monument will now serve two purposes: as a remembrance of what happened in 1943 and today. What’s happening is terrible. Putin is a madman.

What do you usually wear when you work?

I’m very jealous of Julian Schnabel, who decided at one point to wear pyjamas. I like comfortable clothes with holes and old T-shirts. This isn’t the Hamptons. When I stay in the Hamptons, you have to put on makeup just to go buy bread. Here, nobody cares. And I don’t see anybody except for the deer.

What is your worst habit?

Chocolate. I’m so good at many things: I wake up early; I do yoga. But chocolate — I love it too much.

This interview has been edited and condensed.