This exhibitions spans 30 years of your art making process, tell us a bit about your history?
I started studying at National Art School, Newcastle in the early 1970s and was already a very young single mother. I left to work and support my family. Much later I studied at the Newcastle Printmakers Workshop Inc at night after work although I had taken night classes at TAFE before this period. I took a job at the University of Newcastle around 2001 because staff members were supported to complete a first undergraduate degree. The Uni also paid half of my HECS and I eventually completed a BFA Honours only ending around 2011. Five years later and I am now studying for my MFA with the National Art School in Sydney. My practice has merged from printmaking into experimental, alternative photography and I am having a blast experimenting right now.
Have you always wanted to be an artist?
At around five years old I won my first art prize, a Newcastle Herald colouring-in competition and I think the prize was one shilling and six pence. My mother arranged for my kindergarten teacher to give me a section of the school blackboard to draw on in the morning anytime I wanted. Art was the only thing that set me apart I think and made me feel I had something ‘special’.
When was your first exhibition?
Well if you do not count student exhibitions in 1970s, 1980s, it would be group exhibitions with the printmakers in 1996.
You're now studying in Sydney, how is it different from Newcastle?
For the first time I am playing in the professional artist world and pitting myself against it to see how my art stacks up. Whew? - is that ever daunting and hard work. So many options available for professional development and linking with galleries through the program and some in the institution are more excited about my writing. Just being in the program has made ‘others’ take notice even internationally. It was interesting being advised in the first days about the level of nepotism, ageism and sexism that there is in art business (not really a surprise to anyone). All in all, Sydney is fabulously exciting to be an artist but Newcastle is still home.
You're also a volunteer at Newcastle Art Space, what is your role and how long have you been a volunteer?
I am not good with dates but think I have been with Newcastle Art Space for about 3 years now. I currently write the exhibition blogspot. My role is simply to support the exhibiting artists and try and provide some insights into what it takes to be an artist. I try and write to the general community as well as the art-educated. I see my writing as also direct marketing for the artists and to remind everyone we are all in this crazy world together. Let us keep it rich in art and besides old is the new emerging force in art.
~ interview Ahn Wells
Chris Byrnes is currently exhibiting at Newcastle Art Space until Sunday 3 July