From arts, culture and entertainment these UOW alumni are making significant contributions to their artistic communities. With a diverse range of creative skills they are all working in really inspiring artistic fields. Here they share some insights into what motivates, challenges and drives them.
I’ve been painting for the [Art Gallery NSW] Archibald [Prize] for quite a long time and it’s been brilliant because it’s a great excuse to knock on the door of people’s work that you love. I tend to go towards other creative people, so some of the people I have painted include the world-famous Wollongong-born musician Richard Tognetti, novelist Thomas Keneally, film producer Margaret Fink, artist Ben Quilty, and actors Richard Roxburgh and Noah Taylor.
I think for creative people, it’s really great to connect with other creative people. Over the years a lot of creative people have settled in the northern Illawarra or been born here and it’s fantastic. I have friends who are filmmakers and musicians and actors and screen writers and other visual artists, and we often run into each other down at the coffee shop and people will ask me what I’m working on and I’ll ask what they’re working on and occasionally we’ll collaborate. So it’s wonderful that we now have this creative community. And that feels like my community.
I think you need to be constantly looking for new ideas and new ways to make work. You need to be challenging yourself. If I’m not interested, if I’m not excited, then I cannot expect anyone else to be. I admire artists who really push it and try new things and continue to extend themselves.
The landscape of the Illawarra is possibly one of the most beautiful in all of Australia and is a constant source of inspiration. I first discovered the northern Illawarra when I was about 15. I’d come up every weekend on the train with my surfboard and I’d go surfing, and there was just something about coming around the corner from Bulli into Thirroul and getting a glimpse of the escarpment. I knew then there was something very special about this area and I fell in love with it from that moment. And I’m still in love with it. I’ve been painting it on and off, along with other subject matter, for close to 30 years now.
Surfing gets me outside in nature, in the fresh air, exercising. And there’s something about riding waves — cutting the energy of the universe — which is a particularly special feeling. When I surf this coast, I’m constantly looking at the landscape and the different light you get at different times of year. And so that directly feeds into the way I paint the landscape.
An idea is not something you can manufacture. It comes through daily life and through the process of working. It comes through watching the news or reading great literature or listening to amazing music. All this feeds in and you often have this bank of potential ideas and sometimes you’ll attempt to plant those ideas; and it will grow something, and sometimes it just won’t work. So you have this main path that you’re on and every now and then you take little branches off to say, “Okay maybe we can try this…”
I was very lucky to start my career in the arts in Wollongong. It made me realise very early on how important being part of a community is. It also provided me with an ability to ask for support, and understand partnership and the power of collaboration.
When we started Project Contemporary Artspace in Wollongong, great people took a chance on us as inexperienced and ambitious young people. I still feel very fortunate that people such as David Campbell, who was the Mayor of Wollongong at the time, BHP and the Dion family took the time to understand what we were trying to achieve and provided us with the support to do it. Because we had that support I was able to understand business by starting a ‘not for profit’ and was able to grow professionally by having that responsibility.
After three years at Project I was appointed the Assistant Director of Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre and went on to be the Director of Campbelltown Arts Centre. Working in Western Sydney, which is one of the fastest growing regions in Australia, had a big influence on my practice. It illustrated to me that growth provides many opportunities and that the practice of making and presenting contemporary art thrives within an environment that is always growing and changing.
PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES
Now in my role as the Director of Carriageworks, a contemporary cultural institution in Sydney, I have the opportunity to grow and develop a young institution.
Working in an environment that is focused on growth, the key constant is change and I and the Carriageworks team thrive by working with artists and partners that constantly push us outside our capacity. Every year over the last three years our audiences have doubled. We have been able to achieve this through collaboration and presenting new contemporary work that is culturally relevant to our communities. I highly value the ability of art to enable us to reflect on our lives and our place in the world, and I developed these values from what I learnt collaborating with artists and communities in Wollongong.
I have always been inspired by the way artists think and how they are constantly learning. I try and apply this to my practice of work. My work is a million tiny things done well but it is also having the capacity to understand and deliver on the ambitions of others.
When I was at the University of Wollongong, I was lucky enough to have the support of Jack Goldring who was the head of the Law Faculty at the time. Jack encouraged me to study law. This changed my brain, my life, and provided me with discipline — which I have been able to apply to the way I think and work. It still motivates me that someone like Jack Goldring took the time and care to mentor me in the way that he did.
My interest in performing began while I was studying history at the University of Wollongong. I joined the Drama Society for a production of The Importance of Being Earnest, and that was it really. I started doing my own productions and taking courses in the newly established Drama Studies Department. From that time on it was all that I wanted to do, and I feel blessed to have forged a career in the arts.
I have had many successes, with individual productions and awards, but I think my major achievement has merely been to earn a living from the arts in this country. I know that it is the dream for many people who, for different reasons are unable to achieve it, and I feel very fortunate.
I worked for about 15 years pretty exclusively in live theatre. Apart from my academic studies, I had no formal actor training, and in so many ways I was fortunate to be able to learn on the job. My graduation coincided with Theatre South’s establishment in Wollongong, and I worked with them for three years as part of the acting ensemble. Those were the days when the Australia Council funded regional theatre companies, which gave people like myself the opportunity to hone their craft in a working environment.
I always wanted to do some screen work, but apart from some projects in England (where I lived for two years in the mid- 1980s), television work eluded me on my return. It was another great blessing really, because when I did eventually do some television work I had around a hundred stage plays, play workshops and readings under my belt and was much better equipped for success. Much of the work in television, especially long-running formats, for actors becomes about how to make things work, almost script editing. And usually with little or no rehearsal. The theatre teaches you how to rehearse and investigate scripts.
I think it is true that adversity is the greatest teacher of all. When things are working and you are having success, you don’t ever really have the need to examine your craft or your process. To be involved in something that isn’t working, especially as a performer, can be excruciating. I had the lead role in an ill-conceived production of The Revengers Tragedy at the Sydney Opera House in 1990 which at the time was a nightmare, but I think in retrospect taught me some key lessons.
Creativity for me comes from simplicity and relaxation and often the challenge in screen projects where your work in the project is of a sporadic nature is to foster and maintain that mutually supportive environment. I recently played a main role in a four-hour television series, which only required 12 working days over a six-week period. As those working more often develop a camaraderie and trust, you often feel like an interloper, turning up for a day every now and then.
Curatorial Manager of Asian Art
Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art
Artists are a vital part of our society. They provoke us to think differently and to see things which we might ordinarily overlook; they may confront us and challenge us. I believe the health of the arts community — and whether artists are supported and their views valued — is a marker of the maturity of the public sphere. You cannot champion the values of creativity or self-expression without considering the role artists play in our society. I couldn’t imagine a world without artists.
ASIA AND AUSTRALIA
My entire working career has been dedicated to the Asia and Australia space, working with artists and others working in the cultural field to understand its complexity and what this says about contemporary Australian life and its history and the particularities of our geography. In Australia, so much of this dialogue privileges economic considerations, without looking into the importance of the cultural sphere.
Too often, art and culture is seen as being a kind of lubricant to the machinations of economy and diplomacy, which sees the Asia-Australia relationship as external to Australian society. Our sense of community and identity and Australia’s sense of its place in the world must also be based on the great diversity of its people.
When I first started working in the arts, there were so few Asian faces and voices actively contributing to the Australian cultural landscape. This is the reason why I became involved with 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney. It was a place where I could see my own cultural experience reflected in an important program of international repute.
The work that they were doing was absolutely unique and I began to understand the values of independence and perseverance. The values of diverse cultural participation, supporting artistic experimentation, and encouraging critical independent feedback still drive and motivate me.
GLOBALISATION’S IMPACT ON ART
Contemporary Asian art is a global field, and I have been very lucky to be working at this particular moment. It offers many opportunities to work with people from all around the world. What happens here in Brisbane and in Australia has an important effect upon conversations that are happening elsewhere.
There are clusters and nodes of expertise to be found in a great variety of places and contexts — this is a very exciting situation to be working in.
I think that most people working in the cultural fields take risks. Working with artists to develop and present their works involves levels of risk-taking that possibly doesn’t happen in different parts of our communities. To many it would seem counter-intuitive to embark on some of the projects I have done, but again, working with artists, or curatorial teams to investigate and experiment with ideas and processes is a rare opportunity.
As a younger curator, I really benefitted from the advice and support of a number of people working in the arts — especially in Wollongong. They provided me with my first opportunities and prompted me to take these interests seriously. Their support gave me the confidence to embark on a career as a curator and fostered a belief that the cultural field is important and vital.
- PAUL RYAN
Bachelor of Creative Arts (Visual Arts and Design), UOW (1991)
- LISA HAVILAH
Bachelor of Creative Arts and Bachelor of Laws, UOW
- GEOFF MORRELL
Bachelor of Arts, UOW (1979)
- AARON SEETO
Bachelor of Creative Arts (Visual Arts) (Hons), UOW (2001)