For the last three decades, Eugene Carchesio, born in 1960, has produced a prolific output of art in the visual, aural and performance mediums, working alone and with a wide range of collaborators from his hometown of Brisbane, wider Australia and from international waters.
An idiosyncratic artist whose complete dedication to his craft results in a flurry of creative output, Carchesio’s ethos is gleamed from the Fluxus, dada, impressionist, punk rock and DIY movements throughout the twentieth century as well as the sub-tropical surrounds of Brisbane. Carchesio’ music and art is created with a utopian sensibility, straddling boundaries between impermanence and degrees of magnitude. Carchesio explains that the flexibility of creating small scale works allows for the ability to create an abundant output of art.
“I guess the mood dictates what happens day to day. I live in a unit [so]I don’ play music at home, but if the mood takes me I might attempt sound works on the computer or I will wait until I get together with the band to do acoustic stuff. I work small scale so it is easy and more immediate to draw or paint every day.”
Carchesio’s visual art and music are both disseminated to the wider public through a series of limited editions that showcase his constant evolution and allow for more works to be published within a short period of time. Through such a prolific and carefully honed output, Carchesio has developed mutually rewarding relationships with the Bellas and Milani galleries in the art world, and with Kindling Records in the music world. Operated by his constant musical cohort Leighton Craig, Kindling provides a fertile conduit for Carchesio’s various musical explorations.
Someone’s Universe – a recently concluded career retrospective at the Queensland Art Gallery – featured hundreds of Carchesio’s miniature watercolour paintings, geometric imageries and matchbox creations on a grand scale. A collection of works supplied by the gallery’s own collection as well as those of the Milani and Bellas galleries and private owners, the austere surroundings of the gallery provided a fascinating counterpart to Carchesio’s long standing interest in the concept of a ‘Museum Of Silence’. Carchesio’s artworks are beautiful yet undeniably experimental; with his ephemeral mediums reclaimed in the name of individualist art.
With such a large scale critical evaluation of one’ work, it is reasonable to ponder the effect on an artist’s work practices immediately after. Regarding this, Carchesio’ viewpoint is typical of an actively practicing artist. “To be honest, I don’t really know what to make of being presented with one’ past,” he says, “I suppose ‘now’ is the most important thing.
“I have just finished a volume of work consisting of hundreds of watercolours and drawings of animals and skulls. Now I am starting a project that requires 108 works based on a cycle of Buddhist prayer beads. [Also] recently I had the great opportunity to stay at Bundanon, in NSW, which was Arthur Boyd’s property before he died. There was an upright piano in the studio and I recorded 51 improvised pieces.”
At a time when Carchesio’s talents as a visual artist are deservedly recognised by a wider audience, both nationally and abroad, it is surprising that his active co-existence as a musician is not more widely appreciated on these shores. Although arguably more aesthetically discordant than his visual artworks, the processes linking Carchesio’s visual, musical and performance arts are inextricably linked. A shared interest in minimalism, repetition and hypnotism abound in all of his art. Carchesio has been performing and releasing music since the ’80s in a series of groups and projects ranging from the wilfully dissonant to those approaching an off-kilter sort of pop. A self-taught improvising musician, Carchesio’s instruments of choice include the saxophone and drum kit, in addition to – but not limited to – electronics, electric guitar, clarinet and voice.
Musically, Carchesio is probably most recognised as part of psych-blues via free jazz improv combo The Lost Domain. Formed in 1990 and known as The Invisible Empire until 1998, The Lost Domain has forged an outsider musical path that has developed parallel to contemporaries such as Jackie O Motherfucker and No-Neck Blues Band. Underappreciated until a few years ago, The Lost Domain has since released albums for international labels including Foxglove, Digitalis, Cook An Egg and Pseudo Arcana in addition to regular editions on the Shytone label.
Consisting of five mysterious souls of the netherworld with the stage names of Frank (Simon Ellaby), John Henry Calvinist (David MacKinnon), Mr. E (Eugene Carchesio), L-Tone (Leighton Craig) and Papa Lord God (Stuart Busby), The Lost Domain’s “hit or miss” improvised performance combines shamanism, anti-gospel and the theatre of men possessed. At their peak, The Lost Domain’ live performances are a transcendental experience. “I always feel a warmth when a piece takes off – it’s like a space of sound cocoons around us and all is well with the universe.”
Carchesio says, “The Lost Domain is essentially Simon and David as its spiritual core, [while]the rest of us help push the vehicle up and down and around the path.” This may be a little self-effacing: although Ellaby and MacKinnon are the constants in a line-up that has shifted over the past two decades, Carchesio’s contributions are an essential component of the group dynamic.
Cut from a similar improvisatory cloth is Carchesio’s other primary musical vehicle, The Deadnotes. Featuring Carchesio on drums, clarinet, saxophone, guitar and voice alongside collaborators Craig and Busby, The Deadnotes are a decidedly more melodic combo than The Lost Domain, with bouts of freeform improvisation tempered with abstract pop sensibilities. In their relatively short existence, The Deadnotes has released two CD-Rs on Craig’s Kindling label, with an LP forthcoming on Soft Abuse.
A minimalist encapsulation of artists as diverse as soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone, Australian post-punk legends The Laughing Clowns and alternative tex-mex band Calexico, Carchesio notes that The Deadnotes have quite a different working method than any of their other groups, with the result a form of “structured improv, almost pop at times – but we are not afraid of that.”
Carchesio’s increased profile of late has also seen an overdue resurgence of interest in his solo musical project, DNE. Perhaps most directly encapsulating the lineage between his visual art, performance and musical output, Carchesio’s modus operandi as DNE was to create a prolific series of miniature audio vignettes, which have been released on dozens of cassettes and CD-Rs over the past two decades. To coincide with Someone’ Universe, Lawrence English’s Room 40 label has re-released DNE’ hard to find 1987 album 47 Songs Humans Shouldn’ Sing on CD. With most songs on this album capping at less than a minute in length, 47 Songs is a succinct delight, with free jazz, alt-pop, improv and no-wave sounds darting in and out of the listener’ ear. Ever modest, Carchesio simply says of the re-release of 47 Songs, “I have Leighton Craig to thank for that. He convinced Lawrence to put it out – but I don’t really know if there is any interest.”
Co-existing simultaneously with DNE in the late eighties was legendary art-punk trio The Holy Ghosts, featuring Carchesio alongside – at various stages – Ian Wadley (Bird Blobs, Small World Experience, St. Helens, Minimum Chips, solo), Clare McKenna (The Go-Betweens, Xero) and Pat Ridgewell (Small World Experience, Minimum Chips). A versatile improviser, Carchesio also regularly performs in other ad-hoc combinations, with past and present collaborators including Ed Kuepper, Robert Forster, Lawrence English and with his Lost Domain compatriots in various duo and trio formats.
It is also important to mention the influence of Brisbane as a city on Carchesio’s art. Brisbane’ unique tension between a deeply rooted conservatism and its inevitable rebellion has a strong influence on the work of local independent artists such as Carchesio. Whilst not necessarily an easy place to showcase one’s artistic pursuits in public, Brisbane does provide a fertile atmosphere to create unconventional cross-platform art. “I guess living in Brisbane gives one time to think,” Carchesio reflects.
Throughout much of Eugene’s artistic career, his work has developed and struggled in sync with Brisbane’ highs and lows as a cultural city. After many difficulties gaining appreciation, a burgeoning experimental music scene has emerged in the last decade with a broad spectrum of multi-platform independent arts promoters and organisations, in addition to publicly funded organisations such as the Gallery of Modern Art and the Brisbane Powerhouse. Regular formal and informal presentations from Room40 events and the Dadaist cousin collectives Audiopollen Social Club and OtherFilm are supplemented by ad-hoc events from an increasing array of creative provocateurs in galleries, clubs, houses, squats and other found spaces.
“If there was an experimental improv music scene in the late seventies early eighties, I didn’ know about it. There was the punk and new wave thing happening where you would see a band in a pub or a hall. [In the] early to mid eighties there were artist run spaces happening where there was a bit of a cross over but no real audience for alternative sound and music. Now of course it’s a different story.”
DNE’s 47 Songs Humans Shouldn’ Sing is available from Room40. The Deadnotes is available from Kindling Records.