Season One – Kevin Chin

Kevin Chin

Season 1 – Episode 3


Instagram handle @kevin_chin_art

Book: How to be less stupid about race by Crystal fleming


Kiera Brew Kurec 0:05
Hi, I’m Kiera Brew Kurec

Nick Breedon 0:07
Hi, I’m Nick Breedon,

Kiera Brew Kurec 0:08
and you’re listening to Pro Prac a podcast where we explore the professional practice of artists and here their stories.

Nick Breedon 0:18
Today, our guest is Kevin Chin. Kevin Chin‘s paintings assemble fragments from across continents to test how unprecedented transnational flows shape our place in the world. He intertwines landscapes and repositions cultural references to explore how place folds fluidly in the consciousness, superseding geography. He examines post nationalism, advocating for social inclusiveness at a time of global migrant crisis, and political swings to conservative nationalist ideals. In Melbourne, Kevin is represented by This Is No Fantasy, and in Sydney by Martin Browne Contemporary. He has exhibited widely around Australia, as well as solo exhibitions in Japan, Singapore and the USA. He’s also the winner of the Bayside prize in Melbourne and the Albany prize in Western Australia. Kevin has been awarded grants from the Australia Council, City of Melbourne, Ian Potter Cultural Trust, and has served on the assessment panel for Creative Victoria. Kevin’s next solo exhibition is titled Structural Equality. And we’ll open it Martin Brown Contemporary, in Sydney on the 2nd of May. Thanks for joining us in the studio today Kevin.

Kevin Chin 1:25
Thanks, Nick. Thanks, Kiera. It is really great to be here.

Kiera Brew Kurec 1:27
So excited to have you here. And just so excited about your enthusiasm for the podcast as well.

Kevin Chin 1:33
Well I think it is much needed. I think it fills a real gap. And it’s a lot of stuff that we wish we had when we were younger artists.

Kiera Brew Kurec 1:41
Absolutely. Yeah, it’s pretty exciting to be able to share this resource with people. And so we’ll start off with how we start off all of our interviews, asking, how did you start off making art? And how did you get to where you are today?

Kevin Chin 1:58
Sure. Well, to start off with, right at the beginning, I was born in Malaysia, Chinese ancestry and my family moved to Melbourne when I was just two years old. So I grew up here, but my migrant experience meant that I had really no exposure to contemporary art growing up. So I had to really find that all for myself as a young adult. I remember going to the NGV I think for the first time, maybe as a teenager or my early 20s and seeing a John Catapan triptych. I just thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in my life. That was probably the first time that contemporary art really kind of resonated with me. And I had another slightly. The other thing that really triggered my interest in going to art school was at the time actually, I was a trainee, I was going to go work in public policy. So issues of social justice have always been really important to me. And it’s what I’d be doing now if I wasn’t an artist, I think. So While I was doing this traineeship, I had some time I went to a backpacking around Vietnam. And you know, when you know, you meet heaps of people, and people would ask you, you know, tell us a bit about yourself, what would you do? What do you do back home? And it was weird, because the first thing I would say to people was, I’m an artist, you know, because you can kind of make-up whoever you are, you know. And I was really surprising myself. I hadn’t I had no idea what this thing was like, what was being an artist I hadn’t, I had no idea. But somehow that’s what came out of me. And I was really surprised. And when I came back, I finished my traineeship. But then I thought, oh, maybe there’s something in that, as a kid, all I ever wanted to do was draw. But aside from that, I didn’t know anything else. But I managed to get myself into TAFE for a year. And then after that, I managed to get into VCA Victorian College of the Arts. And he went on from there. But I remember being so far behind when I got finally got into VCA It was kind of embarrassing, because everyone else around was making these masterpieces. And here I was with just no clue at all, no experience with arts. I actually remember asking Jan Murray and Kim Donaldson to actually show me how to paint like physically. And at the time I owned two brushes. They both cost I think about $1.75 and I had 4 tubes of paint two blues and two reds I remember it really well and Jen Murray that were really great actually considering I was. They were probably wondering like, how did we let this guy in. But they were actually really nice. And they and I remember Jan saying to me though, like, I can’t even use these brushes. So if I can’t use these brushes, there’s no way you’re gonna be able to do anything with these you need to go you know, so it that kind of level like, but having said that getting to art school was like It was like a homecoming for me, like, for first time in my life that I felt like in the right place. Because I think for growing up, I always felt kind of weird, like, the way that I thought was different to everyone else around me even the workplaces that I had before going to VCA. I was always the weirdo. And then suddenly you show up at VCA and suddenly everyone’s like you! And it was like the best thing ever!

Nick Breedon 5:21
Everyone’s a weirdo

Kevin Chin 5:23

Kiera Brew Kurec 5:25
It’s so interesting. I think that thing of like coming into a space and feeling like you’re a fraud, often permeates so many artists like full trajectory of their careers and thinking that they’re being a fraud. But I definitely felt the same coming into VCA. And I was like, straight from high school. And I had yeah I had some crappy old hand me down oil paints that I didn’t know how to mix. I didn’t know how to use, I thought that I was legitimately going there to learn how to paint. And it was like, no

Kevin Chin 5:54
Yep we don’t do that here.

Nick Breedon 5:56
yeah. Yeah.

Kevin Chin 5:57
Well, it’s funny because I think there’s such a mixed bag of people and people, different of backgrounds, going to art school. And I remember the ones that you actually remember the ones that you compare yourself to tend to be the ones who are really far ahead. Like, you know, other kids who were reading Bateaux in grade five. While I was at home, watching the Bold and the Beautiful with my Mum. Like I had no idea had to catch up on not only the actual skill side of things, but also like the reading side of things. And what does it mean to actually be a contemporary artist? Like I had to catch up. So I was there in the studio is all hours. Yeah. Like the security guards knew me by name. Because you know, you remember we had to sign on in the morning.

Nick Breedon 6:33
They are still there, it’s incredible. Yeah, this same ones

Kevin Chin 6:39
Benson! Shout out to Benson Thanks for not kicking me out before 7.30 every day? (laughter)

Kiera Brew Kurec 6:46
Yeah, it is. It’s interesting that, that self-motivation to learn as well like, really, I think VCA is really, it was such a wide open school where you really have to kind of enforce your own timetable. But I think people were so excited to learn and had so much drive and dedication and to stay there and like, just keep working until you literally got thrown out of the door.

Kevin Chin 7:12
Well, that was actually the best training you could have. Because that is what you have to do as a practicing artist you completely set your own parameters, and you have completely are really on your own schedule.

Kiera Brew Kurec 7:22
Yeah, I remember being like, Am I allowed to take I thought you had to leave your studio and take a one hour lunch break because it was written.

Kevin Chin 7:29
written in the time table yeah

Kiera Brew Kurec 7:30
And one of our classmates was like where do you go at midday each day? And I responded don’t we have to leave the studios at lunch time. (Laughter)

Nick Breedon 7:39
a legacy from going straight from school.

Kiera Brew Kurec 7:41
I know I was such a child. For you going to art school did that give you like a full feeling of wanting to then step into the arts? Or was at any time that you were kind of apprehensive about going forward as an artist?

Kevin Chin 8:00
Oh totally apprehensive. Because I just thought, like, how am I ever going to match up with everyone around me like, I just have so much work to do to catch up with everyone else. And definitely so much insecurity all through art school. I think also but I think the thing that got me through was also that I was just so it was just like so eye opening. I was sort of you know what is that cliche bright eyed and bushy tailed the whole way through and I was taking it all in I was talking to everyone all the teachers. People would joke that you know, is there any department that you’re not enrolled in because I was sitting in on the sculpture tutes and going to the photo and learning how to use photography studios. I was doing everything. So I guess in terms, I guess I didn’t really because I’ve never really thought I wanted to be an artist. I’m going to be an artist and all this kind of thing. I just was taking it for what it was and just absorbing everything I possibly could. And I think I just was so like, preoccupied with that. I didn’t really think too much about what’s going to happen after this.

Kiera Brew Kurec 9:13
And what was that process after you graduated from your undergrad did you go on to study honours straightaway or were you working in a studio?

Kevin Chin 9:23
Yeah, I actually did. So I didn’t do honours straightaway. I actually went on to do a series of solos at artist run spaces in Melbourne. At the time I was working across forms. I was doing a lot more installation based work and was interested in the meaning between art objects, but I’d always done painting as part of those installations. But actually I actually felt like it slowed me down in a way because while other people kind of knew had the thing worked out, I was trying to do really probably too much. And it was kind of slowing down my development in any one particular thing. I think all so I was working kind of a couple of different jobs at that period in that period, two or three days a week, at least, that I just felt a bit frustrated that I wasn’t getting my work wasn’t progressing the way that I wanted them to. Actually, it all came to a head, in 2011, my Dad passed away from after a number of years, struggling with cancer. And in that year, I was really stretched in to thin I was spending a lot of time at the hospital, as well as to my job. And then I had the shows lined up as well. But I also just questioned for myself, like, you know, if I was to die next year, what’s what is the one thing I would actually want to do? And then I actually came up with a conclusion that I just want to make a really great painting. And so from then I just kind of decided I’m going to recreate myself as a painter painter. And I went back to do that’s when I went decided to go back and do my honours year. And I asked for, I asked for John Catapan, as a mountain supervisor to help me kind of develop more solid painting practice in particular. And that was, that kind of was a new shift, I guess. And following actually, from my honours year, I got picked up by Diane Tanzer This Is No Fantasy. And so I started showing more in commercial contexts after that time, which was another shift again.

Nick Breedon 11:35
And do you feel that was like a good shift in terms of that it complemented your kind of painting practice and getting more away from that sort of installation kind of practice?

Kevin Chin 11:44
Yeah, definitely. I mean, they show a lot of cross form stuff as well. But for me, the biggest thing was it just raised my profile, a lot more than what I was able to do on my own. I know, a lot of people are perfectly happy without commercial galleries, they don’t want commercial galleries that it comes with a whole lot of other a series of a whole other different pressures. And it’s a big part of last few years has been a learning curve for me of how to kind of navigate the commercial context. But having said all that, for me, the benefit has been really huge. It’s been one of the biggest resources that I’ve been able to tap into is having a gallery to work with. And actually more recently, I’ve just signed on now in Sydney, with Martin Browne Contemporary just in the last year. So that’s a new thing that I’m trying to work out navigate as well. I haven’t shown it to stay a whole lot before. But just having someone else there who’s got a vested interest in your practice, is just the best like, you know often as an artist you just feel like you’re kind of on your own. Who cares? what do I do here? But just having someone else to kind of check in with this is what’s going on, you know, asking for advice for things having a gallery to work with to do that has been really helpful for me.

Kiera Brew Kurec 13:09
That’s great. Yeah. What have you found to be some of the biggest challenges or things that you’ve needed to overcome to continue your practice over these years?

Kevin Chin 13:18
I think probably the biggest challenge, actually, I’d have to say would be coming from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, for a couple of reasons. The first one is that, like I was talking about, I had no I had no frame of reference as to what I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as being an artist. But more than that, my family really had no idea. And you got to understand that they kind of sacrifice a lot. And to get our family into this country, with the only reason being to kind of give us a chance to go to university. In Malaysia at that time anyway, the entry to universities is actually has a racial quota. So because my family’s Chinese, the places for university places for Chinese students, is actually really low proportionate to the population. So basically, anyway, the point is that that never probably very unlikely for any of us to be able to get education in Malaysia anyway. Point is my family moved here, really just to give us kids a chance for a better life. And so it’s been very hard for them to see me struggle financially when they know that I could have gone in to dentistry or something. You know, it’s not in line with what their dreams for me where I mean, my sister’s a business analyst and my brother’s a works in the banking sector. So they are really, you know, kind of what that was more in line with what they expect. So and they just don’t understand like, it’s been very hard for them the whole time to grasp like what is an artist like even like I just came back from residency and even still, my brother asked What do you do on residency? Like, you know, it’s constantly that what does that mean? And how does that pay you? Or are you? So I guess, as artists, you know, we always have these insecurities already, like, what am I doing this for? Like, what is the point of this? So then to be constantly questioned by your family does not really help.

Nick Breedon 15:19
When your well intentioned brother comes in and asks you like, What is the value of that? And you are like oh I don’t know. (Laughter)

Kevin Chin 15:26
Exactly, exactly. And it’s hard. And it’s, there’s a whole lot of guilt that comes with it. Because, you know, my family, my parents did all this stuff to kind of raise the, you know, socio economic level.

Kiera Brew Kurec 15:39
Yeah, give you all these opportunities. And it’s, it’s obvious that you actually have benefited from that, and were able to take those opportunities. But often, it doesn’t look like a package that, you know, that different generations might have seen as opportunities as well,

Kevin Chin 15:56

Kiera Brew Kurec 15:56
Like thing have changed and those generational shifts as well as cultural shifts about what, what is a potential, like way to make a livelihood and exist within the world. And yeah, yeah, you know, it’s hard enough to say that to someone across a room at a bar, let alone saying that you own your parents that this is what you do.

Kevin Chin 16:16
And well, I think we all have to kind of work it out for ourselves to start off with. And then it’s already hard, because, you know, we all have workmates that are not in the arts and stuff. And you have to kind of justify what you’re doing to like basically everyone in the world, so it’s very hard to then justify to people at home as well. But actually, the second reason, I think that being from a cultural and linguistically diverse background has been challenging, is because I think most of the curators most of the gallerists, in Australia, are white. And so naturally, you know, so the themes in my work about transnationalism and issues of globalization, because, you know, that might have been big in the 80s, and 90s. So you know, curators always after the newest thing, and so sometimes I think these themes that I’m interested in and are of interests, people of colour, maybe they’re kind of like all I’ve heard all this before, but the issues of structural inequality, they’re still there, because they haven’t been resolved.

Kiera Brew Kurec 17:21
And it’s happening, you know, yet migration continues to happen. Refugees continue to happen, and we haven’t resolved this situation. And there’s people that need homes and you know, it’s a current issue, how could it not be relevant?

Nick Breedon 17:35
And we are still very much finding ways of talking about that too.

Kevin Chin 17:40
Well, issues to do with racial relations in Australia. We just don’t talk about it. But a lot of the material I get is comes from America, because there’s very little content and access in Australia. Yeah, I mean, I’m kind of amazed by I think in America, they do a lot more with white privilege training. And I’m talking across workplaces generally. I think in Australia, we definitely need more of that and particularly in the arts, really. I think there’s been more of a groundswell with actually a younger generation of artists, who I’m thinking of Andy Butler and Sophia Cai, he writes articles last year critiquing the whiteness of the Australian art scene. So I think there’s more of a groundswell and a bit more consciousness raising.

Kiera Brew Kurec 18:31
I think also, Melbourne is particularly guilty for that. Even hearing from situations from people living in Sydney and Brisbane, and other states that yeah, from an from their perspective, looking at Melbourne, and who is showing in artists run spaces, it’s crazy that in the artist run spaces, that it’s predominantly white, or reflecting only one part of the community, because they’re meant to be artist run and then show. Yeah, and it’s, um, and also, I think, also reflected in the universities who’s teaching them. who are they staffed by.

Kevin Chin 19:12
Yeah, I actually, when I finished honours, I did write a Master’s proposal. I was thinking about doing masters at that point. And I was going to write to my topic was about race relations in Australia. But at the time, I just didn’t feel comfortable with anyone who would be my supervisor, who would know what I was talking about so I didn’t end up doing it, actually. I mean, I’d love VCA I think it’s, the thing is, I think it’s not about blaming particular institutions. I read a book, a really great book recently called How to be Less Stupid about Race by Crystal Fleming, an African American writer. And the takeaway from that book is that these issues are structural, you know, we tend to think about race related issues as being on an individual level, you know, it’s the worst thing you could call someone who’s, is you know a racist. And I think we need to really refocus that attention on it being a structural issue. Yeah, if the people who have the power to curate artists into shows give people opportunities, if they’re mostly white, I mean, they’re not trying to disadvantage people of colour. But do you just naturally going to be drawn to art that is in line with your own personal experience. And so we desperately need more people of colour in positions of agency where they can have more of an influence in what happens in our sector.

Kiera Brew Kurec 20:30
Yeah. Understanding those challenges, and maybe other parts of your practice that you’ve had to kind of overcome to continue. What has been one of the biggest resources that have assisted your arts practice?

Kevin Chin 20:45
Sure yeah. There has actually I mean, there’s been a lot really, I think, I have to say VCA was amazing. And like I was saying it was it still feels like home, the teachers are still amazing. I see them around, and they’re always really happy to, you know, give advice. when I still need all that. So that’s, that’s been really great. I mentioned the galleries. So This Is No Fantasy, and Martin Browne Contemporary. And the importance of having that kind of support. I mean, even just having a space that you know, you’re welcome to show up so you don’t have to apply for a show every single time. Things as basic as that. But just also the, like I was saying the support that they give you, like just feel making you feel a bit less alone in the arts. It’s been great. I have to say, I think Melbourne doesn’t Melbourne have the biggest number of artists run spaces of any city in the world?

Kiera Brew Kurec 21:44
I don’t know about the world. But yeah there is a lot

Nick Breedon 21:46
I’ve heard that one before.

Kevin Chin 21:49
Yeah I can’t vouch for that (laughter). I think we do really well here with artist run initiatives like and I’ve really benefited from being having the opportunity to show at those and show works that you know, you’re not quite sure about or, and the fact that they are all peer assessed, I think it kind of really gives you a lot of validation showing in those spaces. So I think having had the opportunity to show in a lot of artists run spaces has been really terrific. And I’d say I’ve been fortunate to have some a lot of support, actually with grants. And I’d say that’s also been another resource that I’ve really needed, like even so for example, the Australia Council, the Art Start grant, I got that a few years ago. And that allowed me to buy stuff like a digital SLR camera, which for every artists you think is kind of essential well you need, but who can afford one.

Kiera Brew Kurec 22:53
I always get like upset, you know, walking around the city, and there’s all these people with their like fancy crazy cameras.

Kevin Chin 23:00
Oh my gosh. And they don’t even know how to use it!

Kiera Brew Kurec 23:02
Or extended family. And I’m like, do you really need that camera? Like, for a family photo?

Kevin Chin 23:10
Yeah, totally overkill. And here we are with our crappy little meh trying to document and stuff. But um, yeah. So I think funding bodies when they do programs like that, I think are a huge and I think it is a shame Art Start I don’t think exists anymore. Because I need I really needed that time. And a lot of the grants I’ve had like, even just to pay for like the gallery rent in artists run spaces like I’ve absolutely needed those grants at the times that I’ve had them. So I’d say that would be another really big resource that really helped me out.

Kiera Brew Kurec 23:46
And we like, yeah, that we’re so lucky in Australia as well for what is available compared to I know in the US that that funding is not available for people who are kind of emerging or mid-career to have access to funds to create new work

Nick Breedon 24:02
We have got it so good over here.

Kevin Chin 24:04
I was shocked. Because I did a residency at 10 Art Lab last year at the base of Yellowstone National Park. And their whole program, they don’t get any government support. And I was amazed. I mean, they have run an amazing residency program. And I was amazed how people get by in America without any government support at all. It’s true. We have got and it’s not just here in Australia, we’ve got government have also got philanthropic organizations like the Ian Potter cultural trust, which, you know, there’s there’s different levels, and we’ve got local government grants as well, even smaller grants, and we’ve got a few things that we can access here, which is kind of a rare thing worldwide. And we’re kind of lucky to have those in Australia.

Kiera Brew Kurec 24:46
How did you go about with grant writing was that an easy thing for you to kind of pick up or did you like have you struggled with grant writing or is it a love hate relationship what’s your relationship to grants?

Kevin Chin 24:57
That is a great question because I was very I actually, I remember doing the grant writing thing in CFI in third year at VCA and getting really low mark for it (laughter). But I actually was very lucky and got the Yeah, people gonna hate me for saying this. But I did get the first grant that I applied for at City of Melbourne. But I think grant funding bodies often will support really early emerging artists, because it’s really exciting. They’re doing something really fresh. And then the further you get along, it’s like, oh, no, it’s harder to get funding. So I applied for the Australia Council for like, I don’t know how many times for at least four or five times, I think before I could get anything from the Australia Council. So what I would say to that is, as a bit of advice for anyone is that and now that I’ve been on the assessment panel, a couple of times for Creative Victoria, I kind of realized that it’s not always about you, as an applicant. They have their whole the whole other range of decision making processes, people on the panel bring their own personal biases into whether it’s personal, whether it’s that they, you know, whether it’s a curator who’s worked with these artists before, or whether it’s people who have, you know, hate painting, or they just want to see you know, that’s particular art form, you know, everyone’s got these things. So just because you don’t get grants over and over again, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about you. Having said that, though, of course, you have to constantly work on your grant writing. So I actually not getting grants for four or five times with Australia cancel. That’s what really helped my grant writing, improve, because every single time, I call the Australia Council and ask for feedback, and that’s advice I’d give to people is that you really need to do that. It’s really hard to do, because you don’t want to confront, it was scary to call a funding body for a start, because you kind of like, oh, what if they think I’m an idiot, what if they have no idea who I am, because they haven’t read my application.

And what if I say something wrong, and they’re gonna put black mark against my name.

Exactly, Totally. So it’s hard to do. But I have to say, some of the best advice I got with helping me improve my grant writing was from calling up afterwards. So actually, one of the best pieces of advice I got from the Australia Council, that I’d never thought of before, was: Think of it as a competitive process. Because I don’t think as artists, we we naturally think of ourselves as competing. But we’re all quite collaborative. We’re always trying to help each other. But I’d never thought of it in that way before with the grant application, because I always thought, okay, I wrote my grant. I this is okay, I’ll submit it. But actually, what are you gonna keep in mind is that everyone’s applications are fantastic. Like, I always thought, oh, because you hear the statistics, like, you know, I have 100 people applied for and ten things got funded. And you think a lot of that must been duds surely. Like I can, you know, I’m sure I’ll be okay. But actually, now that I’ve been on the panel, I see that, bloody hell everyone’s application is fantastic. Well, that’s the thing, it’s not enough to just be like, Oh, I think this will do. But you got to really work on those on those grant applications. And not to scare people off from applying but it is something that you have to keep working on

Kiera Brew Kurec 28:31
And I think also like, maybe not so much for Australia Council, but for other funding bodies, building relationships, going in and speaking to someone having a meeting, seeing what they’re interested in. What are they kind of what do they have money for like this is maybe more for local council, but like, what are they kind of interested in funding at that time? kind of really being able to craft your application to a really specific area of what they are interested in at that time.

Kevin Chin 29:02
Yeah, totally.

Kiera Brew Kurec 29:03
And it takes a lot of work.

Kevin Chin 29:06
actually speaking, definitely. I totally agree that speaking to someone before you get too far along in the process of writing applications, is a great idea, I think, also some because of the different funding arrangements that can be quite different as well. Like, for example, Creative Victoria, I didn’t even realize this, but Creative Victoria has a requirement that artists get paid. So you need to actually put in your artist fee in your as part of your budget in your application, whereas other grant applications are specific that they you can’t apply for an artist fee and if you apply for artist fees that it immediately discredits you. So getting just getting that kind of information beforehand helps you also make the grant application more specific to their particular funding purposes.

Kiera Brew Kurec 29:55
And I think also, I think when I graduated, I just was like, I’ll apply for everywhere. Or even still, sometimes I just get a bit like, you know, crazy eyed and like, I’m just gonna apply to everything but then being like actually no. Who is going to be the most like beneficial person for me to work with in that scenario for that work? Is that gonna be a traveling like a body that funds traveling? Or is it going to be somewhere that funds professional development? Or is it local council because I’m actually working within the community rather than just kind of thinking that like seeing the money signs and going to just apply for all of it without being really specific and seeing how your application can really be of Yeah, really hit that key selection criteria.

Kevin Chin 30:45
Definitely. Actually, When you mentioned key selection criteria, I think that’s really important to address because that’s how they assess the application. Because I think as artists sometimes we just think like is the work good? And it’s often not what they’re looking at. Because there’s usually something like three very specific things that they, and the way that I worked is that they are scoring you on those three criteria. So that’s, you know, when you’re writing application like that, for example, I’m talking about stuff like the viability of the project is one of the criteria. So if you haven’t got sort of a really detailed budget, I’ve been in panels where people do pick people up on that. Yeah, so you do need to keep whatever the criteria they have for that funding round, you do need to really keep those things in mind.

Kiera Brew Kurec 31:32

Nick Breedon 31:33
I feel like it would be such a valuable experience for most artists to be on one of those selection panels

Kevin Chin 31:40
100%. In fact, I think Kate Just gave our professional practice class that advice in VCA. And if you can ever get on a panel for anything, so selections for exhibitions and an artist run space, if you can be on a committee for that any any kind of panel you can be on, it’s hugely valuable for seeing like how people actually make decisions. And and seeing that just if you didn’t get something, it’s often not because your work wasn’t good enough. It’s not about that often that is not the case. Yeah.

Nick Breedon 32:10
So in a typical day, or a week in the life of Kevin Chin. How does it kind of play out for you? Like, what, what’s your typical day or a week for you look like?

Kevin Chin 32:20
It’s pretty boring to be honest (laughter). I mean, I guess now that I’m painting all the time, the paintings are really a time consuming process. So I’m basically I’m very regimented. So I will be in the studio from 8.30am till 6.30pm, every day, Monday to Friday. And that time is reserved purely for painting. All the other stuff, and there’s a lot of other stuff. So all this, like we talked about writing grant applications, applying for prizes, organizing freight, sourcing materials, writing artist statements, everything else has to happen in the evenings. And on the weekends.

Kiera Brew Kurec 33:00
Wow when do you have any time?

Kevin Chin 33:02
Well, that’s the whole thing. I think you don’t , like and I think that’s really normal for all artists, like if when you’re not working some other day job, or whatever it is that you might be doing. It’s all your spare time goes into arts related stuff. So I don’t I think that’s quite I think that’s common for all of us really to like, not and you have to combine somehow your spare time with your art time somehow. And I think that’s why a lot of us kind of stay within the arts community. And all we really have time for is, you know, and other people and stuff is people that you see openings and stuff, because there’s not really a lot of time for another life outside of it.

Nick Breedon 33:39
It is like, sorry, I couldn’t come to your show. I was working for my own show. That’s in like three weeks.

Kevin Chin 33:44
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Kiera Brew Kurec 33:49
I used to work a lot into the evenings writing. And in the last few years had to kind of put a cap on it just because I was finding for just wasn’t able to switch off at night.

Kevin Chin 34:00
I think that’s why and that’s why I am really regimented with the hours because if I think as artists, we just will never stop. Yeah, you just keep going. Yeah. And you end up I think, actually, a good piece of advice. I remember from also from Kate. No from Kate Daw different Kate, was that art is not a sprint, it’s a long distance run. And I think the thing that we often do, we’re often in this sprint mode. Yeah. And where you kind of, and I think it’s important that we do space things out a bit more and actually, like, program in some time for a bit of self-care, because I think we all tend to like burn ourselves out then have these periods of like, you know, and that’s when those kind of negative thoughts come in when you’re really burnt out. But if we can kind of level out that a little bit and try keep on more of a structured Yeah, consistent. I know for me, that’s what’s really helped me out a lot.

Kiera Brew Kurec 34:01
Yeah, I am I’m really aware of that whole, like post show blues. And when you’re, you know, you’re working on all this adrenaline and and then all of a sudden you’ve had the shower and then you’re like, what was that all for, you’re feeling really crappy, your adrenals are totally drained, your diets probably been really fucked, because you’ve been like, eating while you’re installing, or like staying up till you know, God knows what hour and then getting

Nick Breedon 35:33
Not getting the right amount of sleep.

Kiera Brew Kurec 35:36
like, on a constant basis, and then you kind of it’s all done, and then you just feel crap and empty. Or you have to keep going on to the next show. And you’re so drained and like learning how to create a practice that you can kind of work along and sustain and being organized to make sure that you don’t totally crash and burn at the end of it. And I found that also with studying like, after my honours, and after my Masters, I also kind of went through that of just feeling like an empty shell person for a few months. How do I read a book again because I don’t want to touch a book/

Kevin Chin 36:15
Totally. We all are guilty of putting our art before ourselves. Really. For most of the time, really. And I think that’s actually but that’s the thing. I think that’s what makes us artists, and I think that’s why we’re the ones who are still carrying on a number of years after art school is because we just couldn’t really have it any other way.

Kiera Brew Kurec 36:40
Absolutely. There’s an element of stubbornness that I think we all have.

Nick Breedon 36:46
just can’t not do it.

Kevin Chin 36:47
Yeah, exactly.

Nick Breedon 36:48
I mean, yeah, so often, everything, everything else gets put to the side. Yeah all of our relationships, you know, health, your mental health, you know, financial, you know, well-being and it all just goes, you know, right to the side, and then, you know, we have to kind of pick up the pieces and like our families like you, okay,

Kevin Chin 37:09
it kind of makes me I get the tingles when people say, Oh, that’s not real money. That’s art money. Kind of like, Oh, I’m just gonna put $2,000 in framing this and that and kind of go, Oh, can you just eat go buy some strawberries or something instead?

Kiera Brew Kurec 37:27
I think as well, I think that it’s so good for grant like funding bodies to say that you need to pay yourself an artist fee. Because sometimes when I see people win a big prize, or something, and all just goes back into their practice, and I’m like you, you need to like be able to buy yourself some green vegetables. You really need to eat a vegetable, right?

Nick Breedon 37:48
pay some super maybe? .

Kevin Chin 37:49
Well, yeah, it’s funny, because I think when we were coming out of art, school and stuff, we all kind of just thought, money super is for the bourgeoisie. You know, we had all these slight ideals. And then the further you get along, you kind of go, actually, we actually do need financial security. And that stuff old. That is advice for younger artists that does that stuff does all catch up with you. You don’t think it, You never think it will you always think it’s your that’s not me. I’m like, I’m like, you know, I know don’t buy in to all that stuff. But at some point, you need to

Nick Breedon 37:51
Yeah, and often, you know, like the later you actually leave it, the more devastating the results might be. So it’s like, you know, it’s something that you should consider, I guess early on or get some advice on at least

Kevin Chin 38:37
Yeah, absolutely.

Kiera Brew Kurec 38:45
or understanding that if I am able to position myself in a way that I can actually create a sustainable career by doing either working on the side or like, if I do get grants and things making that work in a way that means that it doesn’t just all kind of explode when I do one thing, and then I don’t I don’t get to actually see the benefits of that long term in my career. Yeah, rather than it just being like one project based and then it’s all kind of gone.

Kevin Chin 39:18
Actually some advice when you talk about that, that I would give to I mean, I think when we were at school, we always we always thought that oh, we could just live off grants, we will be fine. But grants I mean, yeah, they they do try to pay an artist fee, but the reality is, it’s not that much like how much is it? Like out of a $10,000 grant how much of an artist fee $2000 at the most. So the grants pay for your production costs, but they don’t really pay you that much. So I think we all need some kind of financial plan really coming out of school like, I mean, it sounds really serious and you never think about it in that way. But I honestly that biggest advice that I would give to someone coming out as though is that you need to have thought about how are you going to make money, like whether it’s from art or from another thing that you can do.. It’s sad, because I think a lot of the people that we came through our school with who are the most talented, you see them kind of drop away. And it’s really sad. Because not because I mean, art was always been amazing. But they haven’t taken care of that side of things. And you can only do that for so long.

Nick Breedon 40:27
Yeah, and it’s not not not only just that, you know, young artists need to think about it, but they actually need to be given advice on it. Because you know, you can think about all you want, but if you don’t know anything, and you have no education, like in, you know, like, they don’t teach, they don’t teach, you know how to look after your finances in school, they don’t teach on art school.

Kevin Chin 40:46
That’s true.

Kiera Brew Kurec 40:46
And also don’t rely on a job in the arts, just because he studied fine art, there’s a lot of other people who are more qualified than you that have studied for that job, and might not walk into a gallery getting even a front of house job.

Kevin Chin 41:02
Oh my god, I could not get a job in the arts to save my life. It’s really competitive. And the sad thing about it is, is that it always pays a lot worse, and requires a lot more hours than a job that’s not in the arts. So I’ve actually benefited from the part time jobs that I’ve done in the past have always been outside of the arts, and they’ve treated me a hell of a lot better. So I think that’s some other advice that I give anyone is that if you have any, if you can find any other skill set or anything else that you can do other than art, then that’s a great way to support your practice.

Kiera Brew Kurec 41:38
And on that, I would say like, try and find a job that has a flexibility that allow you to keep continuing your practice, and take the time when you have a show or like a workplace. And this, these are high demands, to go into a job and be like, I need to be able to take time off when I’m you know, have a show coming up or when I need to travel for a residency. It’s hard to locate those jobs, but they are ones that do exist out there. And you might have to shuffle around from job to job but yeah, expecting to work in the arts as an artist is kind of like it’s not gonna always work.

Kevin Chin 42:15
it’s makes it really difficult for Yeah, yeah, totally.

Nick Breedon 42:17
Certainly not straight off the bat.

Kiera Brew Kurec 42:19
Yeah, absolutely. So what does a successful practice look like to you or mean to you as an artist?

Kevin Chin 42:27
Honestly, I think it’s just, if you can just keep still going. That’s already the biggest success. I know for me, the only goal I really have really is to keep developing my work. So and all that other stuff around that like in terms of making money from art, and all that stuff is really just goes into helping me be able to continue making work and making and testing out different ideas and conceptually working out different things. That’s really just being able to continue on that trajectory. I think there’s really all you can really hope for really, and it’s already the biggest goal in itself.

Kiera Brew Kurec 43:09
You have already given us so much amazing advice and tips. But if you could, if you were to summarize, and you could go to Kevin, when he first stepped in the door of VCA, what advice would you give him?

Kevin Chin 43:23
I would say that I think there’s people who have had a lot of success, I think maybe there’s some irresponsible advice being given, like, shoot for the stars, live your dreams, you know, like, find something you love and do for a living. And I think there’s a lot of that in the mainstream culture a like the Grammys accepting the award. And they’ll tell everyone, you know, and I think it’s created this culture of real dissatisfaction, where we have a lot of people, you know, working as the checkout chick office works, and kind of really hating their life because I think they should be a pop star. I think it’s the same with ours. Like, I think we all got fed this misconception that, you know, go be an artist, it’ll be amazing. It doesn’t look like that. And so you got to be prepared for the financial realities of what it means to be an artist, because I don’t think any of us really were, I think we all kind of thought that it would be really satisfying to be being and it is like it is of course satisfying to be able to, you know, go on your own trajectories and have this artistic journey. But at the same time, like if you asked me now, I mean, because I at the moment, I’m kind of ticked off a lot of boxes of what I wanted to achieve, like what I wanted to do, like showing with commercial galleries, and you know, having this and that. But if you ask me now, like, you know, are you happier now than you were when you were in the checkout chick at office works I don’t know that I’d be able to say that I necessarily am like, I don’t know that that’s What you should be putting your kind of, you know, hopes of your personal dreams and satisfaction to be based on.

Kiera Brew Kurec 45:09
I think that that’s the kind of across the board though that people identify their work as their sense of worth, and that their happiness derives from how successful they are, as well. And that’s, yeah, across the field. And I think learning how to be really comfortable with yourself, learning how to like, be friends with yourself, learning how to enjoy what you do, but without also like not attaching your sense of worth in the world totally to what you’re producing and putting out there.

Kevin Chin 45:41
I think that there’s this sense of failure that we kind of attached to that as well, actually, I had another great piece of advice from Kate Just, If she’s your teacher, you should listen to her. But I remember her saying that no one actually really fails at art you just at some point, decide that it’s not for you anymore, you just stopped doing it. And I think we have to let go of this sense that if you want to, if it’s if it’s better for your life to not be doing art, then that’s good, you should make that decision. Like it’s not a failure. And it’s in you don’t also necessarily need to be in inverted commas career artists, there are so many ways to be part of the conversation and to be part of this artistic community without having to feel like you need to put your whole life aside to be able to pursue it.

Kiera Brew Kurec 46:30
Yeah, and I would argue that even though you might not be practicing within the contemporary art context, you as an individual that have gone through the world and learnt these skills of viewing and exploring ideas and concepts, that you never kind of stop being an artist. And even if you’re then going into another field, you are bringing with you this skill set of like, of different ways of seeing basically, that you could employ in any workplace or any, you know, or running a family or, you know, working in a community or working you know, as a nanny, like, it doesn’t matter what it is that you’re Yeah, those skills stay with you. And so I don’t think you ever really like to stop being an artist.

Kevin Chin 47:16
I absolutely agree

Kiera Brew Kurec 47:17
You can definitely kind of take yourself away from a competitive art world.

Kevin Chin 47:23
Definitely, and probably have a lot better mental health for it .

Nick Breedon 47:29
Yeah, I’m sure we all would if we could detach that identity of artists from, you know, self. That is, so I mean, for me, it’s so tied to they’re so tied together. And like, you know, they’re, they’re really not able to be kind of pulled apart from each other. But it’s like, oh, yeah, I could just like I could actually focus on what’s best for me as a person outside of what’s best for me as an artist.

Kevin Chin 47:52
I mean, if you can just do that some of the time it would, it helps us out a lot.

Kiera Brew Kurec 47:59
I think it also helps your peers out, as well, like in just terms of like, bringing an air of enthusiasm and engagement to your practice and other people’s practices. I know personally, when I am totally burnt out and drained, I’m horrible to be around. And I’m probably looking at people’s work through a really jaded lens as well. And probably being like, Well, good for you for getting that great thing (Laughter). Rather than actually being when deep down I’m actually really happy, like, I never like don’t want people to succeed. Yeah, and it’s just when you get that kind of you’ve been in a competitive hole of grant writing, or like, applying for shows or, you know, being in group shows where things you know, there’s a lot of people, whatever it is, that kind of puts you around a lot of people that might, you know, sometimes just yeah taking some time to ground yourself and then re-entering the art space.

Kevin Chin 48:56
That’s probably another piece of advice is that I think we all compare ourselves to everyone else way too much. And I think the nature of that is that there’s an expectation on us to be constantly aware of what’s going on. So you can’t ever feel like you can just turn off, you know, the email feeds or the Instagram feeds, or whatever it is, and knowing who’s showing where and all this kind of business. But by being constantly in that feed, you’re constantly seeing like, Ah, so and so got this and so and so got that, and people who, you know, you consider your peers or people who may even be your juniors like getting stuff that you really want and it puts you in this really, it’s not healthy, really, for your own self-esteem and for your own. And you got to find a way to separate yourself from it a little bit. I know that for me, I I see a lot of shows, but I try not to go to too many openings nowadays because of that whole thing because of course it’s natural of course everyone at the opening is going to ask you what do you been up to? What do you been up to? And when everyone else seems to be doing These amazing institutional shows or whatever it is, yeah.

Kiera Brew Kurec 50:04
Like I made a cup of tea today. Yeah. And went to the studio.

Kevin Chin 50:07
Yeah, totally.

Nick Breedon 50:08
Well, Kevin probably went to the studio for like, nine hours. But yeah, I mean, it is interesting, because it’s like, you know, there, it’s like we sort of do have a responsibility as well to talk about the bad things. And I think that’s often not the case. And like an opening or something, but yeah, like, so rarely do you just, and I no to hear that either. I think like, if you’re in an opening, like, oh, have you been so? Well, actually, I’ve haven’t been that good. Like, mental health is really fucked at the moment. Yeah. Nobody’s sort of doing that, you know, maybe with close friends. But it’s not, it’s not talked about, you know, we kind of all know that it’s that it’s there in the community. But nobody’s talking about everybody. And naturally, everybody wants to just talk about what they’re, you know, looking forward to and optimistic about, but it’s like, I wonder if we could actually work in that, that way of talking about, you know, the realities of what, what it is to be an artist as well.

Kevin Chin 51:03
Yeah, cuz it’s all, like, there’s always that like, you know wink, wink, nudge, nudge like it is all kind of unsaid that you might, you know, I’ve just did that Haha, you know, like, but it’s not really ever that it’s true, it’s never really

Kiera Brew Kurec 51:17
Even with the successes as well how much work goes into those things and going, you know, putting on a show, even though it’s like, amazing that you’re showing wherever, so much time, so much energy, so much resources have gone into make that so many, you know, relationships that you’ve had to kind of rely on or so that even though you know, on your CV, it turns out to be this one line and looks really nice, and you really proud of it, there is so much labour that goes into having that done that and not just from yourself, but from your whole extended community to kind of pull you through that time your work mates or your partner or your housemates. So it’s, you know, recognizing that people even when they are, you know, looking like they’re really doing really well. They might be struggling, or they might be, you know, just really exhausted or not wanting to be in a white room full of bright lights and drunk people.

Kevin Chin 52:13
Yeah, totally.

Kiera Brew Kurec 52:16
So, yeah, I think creating space for people, to be more honest, is like would be a really great thing for our community to embrace more. So leading on from there, is there any advice that you would like to give other people kind of starting out or in terms of through your lived experience share stories of anything that in terms of structural inequality that you’d like to speak to?

Kevin Chin 52:46
Yeah. So for myself, I think I’ve been curated into shows probably 50/50, that’s half have been to do with just my personal biography. So for example, Chinese Australian artists, and about half of the time it’s thematic, so for example, imagined worlds. But I think it’s important that artists who come from my various different minorities are included in shows for the sake of like, how that it’s not just a show about people who might be deaf for who, you know, it’s not based on the biographies, completely. But sometimes I feel like the way that an institution an institution curates a program. It’s like, Oh, they look, you know, they’ve done the whole program for the year. And then it’s like, oh, shit, we haven’t got any everyone everyone’s white. Let’s quickly do a show about Chinese Australian artists, and check off our quota that way. Yeah. And I think it needs to be more consideration all through the program. If you’re curating a show, or involved in a show and you see that, like, hang on, there’s not a lot of diversity in this group of artists. Think about there always I can promise you, there’s always artists who are working on whatever theme or whatever the show is about, it’s always gonna be an artist out there who is a person of colour who is female, who’s gay or part LGBTIQ community, who’s got a disability, there’s always gonna be someone out there, who can who you can include in that show, and who will really benefit that.

Kiera Brew Kurec 54:20
And they also Yeah, they don’t just make, you know, work about that one thing in their life.

Kevin Chin 54:27

Kiera Brew Kurec 54:28
Not every queer artist doesn’t make work just about being queer. There are people to be included, and there is a mass of people to choose from that are making work and producing work.

Kevin Chin 54:40
I think it’s just a matter of being more conscious of the pool of artists in a show because I think often you just don’t think about it. And I think if people are just a little bit more aware of those things and be more sensitive. It actually helps them as well, because this is I can promise you if the show that if the show like that comes out, and it’s like all the straight white men, people are talking about it, and it doesn’t reflect well on your institution at all. And you might not even hear back about that. But everyone’s talking about it, everyone knows, you know, like, people are conscious of it. So if you’re involved in these shows, you need to be more conscious of these things.

Kiera Brew Kurec 55:21
Yeah, it’s one of the first things I do when I walk into like a major like show that is like a survey or like, have a theme or whatever and a group show is kind of go through and try and be like, how many women are, like represented? How many people like, you know, identify as male or female, is there non binary people represented are there trans people represented? Yeah. Because I just think it’s lazy curating. And I think, also just, you know, time’s up for that shit.

Kevin Chin 55:51
And it happens at the level of gallery representation as well. I mean, I part of the reason why I’ve signed on with Diane Tanzer at This Is No Fantasy, and also Martin Browne is because they have a very good track record of supporting a really diverse range of artists. But there are definitely galleries in Australia that do not even think about that at all. We all know who they are, and well, we all, you know, have a good idea of who they are. And, you know, it just it can’t go on like that, some accountability needs to happen.

Kiera Brew Kurec 56:23
And I think also, if you are, like in an institutional space, where, and you want to put on a show that involves one of these communities, then get that community to create that show, rather than, you know, as the institution selecting who you think should represent that community actually give the agency to the community to make those decisions.

Kevin Chin 56:45
Totally and on that, I think it’s not just the responsibility on people from minorities I feel like I’m always advocating for all kinds of different minority groups, but their responsibility isn’t just with those of us who are part of these minority groups, I mean, straight white men as well need to just take some responsibility, and be conscious of involving the other people in to their activities into their program.

Kiera Brew Kurec 57:09
Yeah. On that note, do you have any shows or residences or anything coming up in the near future that people can go and check out?

Kevin Chin 57:18
Well, my first Sydney solo exhibition will open on the second of May at Martin Browne Contemporary, and the show is called Structural Equality. And it takes as a starting point, a lot of these issues that we’ve been talking about today about structural inequality, and part of it has been to do with, it’s largely based on the residency I did in America last year where I, part of that trip, I went across to Washington, and visited the African American History Museum, which is quite new, and saw a whole lot of stories that have been left out, went across to the normal History Museum. And it became so obvious how much of the narrative that we are familiar with is written by straight white men basically. So that’s been a big influence in the in the show and the paintings for Martin Browne do take structures from the manmade environment and parallel them with structures in the natural environment to think about how the social, economic, and political structures do affect the land in which we live.

Kiera Brew Kurec 58:36
Great. That’s really exciting. And if people can’t go to see the show in person, if they’re unable to get to Sydney, and are you on Instagram, or Facebook or your website?

Kevin Chin 58:48
yeah, my website’s and my Instagram tag is @kevin_chin_art

Kiera Brew Kurec 58:54
Great we will link all of those so people can easily access them to check out your work.

Kevin Chin 59:01
That would be brilliant. Thank you.

Kiera Brew Kurec 59:03
Thank you so much for your time and all of your input.

Kevin Chin 59:06
Oh, thank you guys, so much for thinking of me.

Nick Breedon 59:15
This episode is recorded on the sovereign Land of the Kulin nation, we acknowledge the traditional owners of the land the Wurundjeri people and pay respects to elder’s past, present and emerging.

Kiera Brew Kurec 59:28
Thanks for listening to Pro Prac. You can listen to other episodes and subscribe to us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can stay up to date with what we’re up to on Instagram @propracpodcast or send us an email at