Studio’s Flocking Big Year

Artist and Owner of the Drill Hall Studio, Sue Tilley, is one of 16 artists featured in the studio's members exhibition - which opens tomorrow night.

As 2017 draws to a close, we can guarantee Owner of the Drill Hall Studio, Sue Tilley, has earned some time off over the Christmas break: the gallery, shop and workspace has grown in spades this year. We caught up with Sue ahead of Birds of a Feather, the gallery’s final exhibition of 2017. 

Tell us a little about the exhibition!
Birds of a Feather is an exhibition of work from our resident artists, our volunteers, and some of our students. I threw the theme out there because creative people always say they are drawn here, that it is somewhere they enjoy being, they feel like they’re understood and feel comfortable – which is what we always wanted. So from that, I thought Birds of a Feather would be a good name being all about drawn together. I didn’t mean for it to have to be taken literally, although lots of people have. I make a lot of birds, so it was a natural thing for me, but with this exhibition, rather than make a bird, I’ve made a funky bird bath so that’s my contribution. Other pieces are about literally being drawn together – we all love sitting upstairs having cups of tea and chatting, and according to my husband there’s too much chatting and not enough working! But anyway, that’s none of his business.

How many artists are involved in this exhibition?
16 artists are involved – nine of those are our resident artists, and the others are Drill Hall students. These ones are all adult students, although we do have kiddies as well – who are having their own little exhibition on Saturday. They don’t get wine at the end of theirs though, just fruit punch and lollies! The students involved in Birds of a Feather range in age from 30 to 60 years old, and a lot are from Mates4Mates. We’ve run an art program all year with them and it’s really interesting because when we started, a lot said they weren’t artistic or couldn’t draw, and to start they really did struggle. So you can see for yourself, they’ve come such a long way. Because they’ve been coming to classes all year, we thought it’d be really nice to include them. Mates4Mates is an organisation that supports veterans that are either ill or injured, and a lot have had PTSD. One is terminally ill. It’s really interesting because the first classes we did at their premises – they weren’t comfortable around other people or coming here. But over the year, they’ve become comfortable enough to visit our space and work with us here. And obviously there are some who have PTSD who would have been in close proximity to explosions, gunfire, and infiltration – which would make it hard to be around big noisy groups of people. Some are coming to the opening though, that’s amazing.

How’d that relationship come about?
A young man who used to mow my lawn years ago was in the military and was discharged, ended up working for Mates4Mates, and could see the value of art therapy classes. We have never conducted art therapy classes with them though, they’ve always just ran the same as art classes for anyone else. He could see the value in offering that to some of their members so organised the funding, we trialled it, and it was magnificent. We give them four weeks of each different art form – so they’ve done everything from screen-printing, to drawing, and at the moment they’re making leather belts.

This is a members’ exhibition more than just resident artists. Part of the students’ wellness comes from achievement, and it’s something pretty amazing to have your work considered worthy of exhibition. And if you look at it, it really is worthy: it’s all just spectacular. It’s also a bit of a thank you to the organisation. If it makes them feel more a part of this, then that’s even better too. You look at the pieces and you think “wow, that person’s talented!” But they never knew that at the beginning, they never thought they could do it – because everyone’s better at different forms of art. As a child it was just about whether or not you could draw something that’s realistic, but there’s so much more to art than that.

Is it the first time some have exhibited?
Absolutely! A lady just dropped her work in and said she never thought, in a million years, she’d ever have work she could put in an art gallery. So that’s fabulous.

How have you seen the gallery grow this year?
It’s been crazy! I think one of the obvious things is simply the amount of artist work that’s here, there’s so many more artists wanting to be involved – and there’s two sides: the exhibition side, which I guess you judge off the quality of the artists exhibiting which has improved dramatically over the last 12 months; the turn up to events, which has grown – we know reliably we’ll get a good turnout; and also the retail side, people now know this is a place to come and buy special gifts, indulge themselves, or just come and appreciate the artwork and the bits and pieces we have here in the gallery and shop. It’s all even just being engaged with and enjoyed by so many more people, so has really exceeded all my expectations.

How do the resident artists contribute?
Oh they’re fantastic! I couldn’t do it by myself, the admin is horrendous. We hold as many exhibitions as anyone, so do 12 main exhibitions a year which alone is a massive amount of work. But on top of that, we’ve got the retail side – so rather than just having one, two, or 10 artists exhibiting at a time, if you also consider all the retail side, we’ve got more than 100 artists which makes the admin side huge. Because we have such a great team of artists in here manning the gallery and working in here – which is wonderful, people love seeing artists create – I’m able to sneak away and smash out computer work or sneak out to my shed and work on my own artwork. That’s the other way you can tell we’ve grown, because apart from my big commission pieces, I haven’t had the chance to get in the shed and create much at all this year! The networking and mutual support and encouragement is all so incredible as well, you can’t put a price on that.

How can artists who aren’t involved get in touch?
It depends what they want to do! We obviously have a limit to how many resident artists we can have, and they come and go – some decide to be a resident artist for six months to get some gallery experience or to be pushed front-and-centre, or even just to get an insight into the local arts community. It’s a great intro for those that are new to Townsville and there’s a bit of a waiting list generally, but to showcase work what we normally find is people will email us photos of their work and a bio, then if we have an exhibition coming up their work might pertain to, they could be approached then – or if they have a range of work for a solo exhibition we may go about doing that. Some people just like working in the store to help pay for art supplies, or their coffee and wine habit!

What should people who come along tomorrow night expect?
Fun! We’ve got the opening with the artists, but we’ve also got Nomadica belly dancers, a fashion parade of up-cycled wearable art by Maggie Wretham and Annette Sibson, and crepes under the stars by Crepes 2 Go Go! It won’t be as staid as some exhibition openings are – we’ll be relaxing our pinkies and having a good time.

Catch the launch of Birds of a Feather at the Drill Hall Studio this Friday night from 6pm, with more information available here

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