Q. Tell me about your visual arts background Scott, arts education, and when, how, why you decided to become a professional visual artist and the long journey in becoming a Master Print Maker?
I’ve enjoyed drawing since I was a young boy, sketching from my natural surroundings what others may have seen as quite mundane things, objects such as sticks and insects etc. I elected to study art at high school, achieving first place in year 10 for my major work painting a skeleton playing a violin from a Grateful Dead album cover. It was around then I decided, that I wanted to make a career as a professional artist.
Upon leaving school, I was indentured as a lithographic plate maker/graphic re-productionist in the commercial print industry and found the role very mundane and repetitious and remember being given an ultimatum at work one day, after needing time off for an earlier motorcycle accident, “your bikes, or your job?” I chose bikes. I then departed Sydney, spending time touring the country by motorcycle, which resulted in employment as Head Relief Plate maker for a company in Perth, Western Australia.
I guess the passion for Ducati motorcycles and thrill seeking in general, lead me away from Visual Arts for some time, to take up working for a skydiving company in North Queensland in the late nineties. After being invited to Sweden to visit a co-worker for a “couple of weeks” and jump from planes there, I found a passion for travel, touring Europe and North Africa, using Sweden as my base for almost two years.
It was after witnessing the architectural beauty in Europe and of mosques of Morocco, I picked up the pencil once again and decided that upon my return to Australia, I would attend university to learn the finer aspects of drawing.
Contemporary drawing at university was far from what I had imagined, and so was printmaking. I attended university to learn how to draw with pencil, not drawing with a glue gun and cotton wool balls! After my tedious apprenticeship in lithographic platemaking, Printmaking was the last thing I intended to study at Southern Cross University, however my previous background in print and the way it was shown to me at SCU, allowed me to imagine the possibilities that ‘creative printmaking’ had to offer. I also enjoyed the technical aspects of the art form. I was hooked.
I was asked by university lecturers to act as Printmaker in collaborative projects, enjoying the process of assisting other artists to print their work along the way.
Q. Tell me about your family background Scott, something of your heritage/immigration story, and are there other artists in your family perhaps, if so tell me a wee bit about them? Did you grow up with arts and culture in your family, art on the walls/primary or secondary schooling etc., tell me about these things too?
My passion for art has strong links to my paternal bloodline, with the most renowned artist in our family tree being talented printmaker, David Rose.
Even after his death in 2006, David still inspires me enormously with his great attitude toward art and international success. It was actually strange yet comforting to be taught Visual Arts at Southern Cross University by lecturers who had studied under David when he taught at National Art school in the late 1960- mid 70’s.
Q. Tell me about your experience of Acquired disability, what happened, when, where, how, why and how – what happened next? What are two or three experiences unfolding now, happening now with some measure of reflection, about your experiences of “epicormic” regrowth, this direct lived experience over time has provided you, is providing?
I was out riding motorcycles with a group of mates on a beautiful sunny day, August 10th 2002. We had just met some other friends at Brunswick Heads for a catchup and were returning home southwards up the St Helena hill behind Byron Bay. Being the great day it was, we turned right into Coolamon Scenic Drive for a ‘blat’ along the beautiful winding roads along the hilltop ridge there. About three kilometres after the turnoff, I overtook my brother riding his Harley and was travelling quite fast into a bend. I pressed the brake on the left footbrake pedal of my 1997 Ducati ‘Senna’ motorcycle, oblivious to the fact that it was actually the gear change lever.
I had spent 15 years previously riding a Ducati with levers on alternate sides. So instead of a gentle slowing down before the corner, my bike was jammed down a gear without using the clutch, which put the motorcycle into an immediate ‘lockup’. This mistake threw me off the bike, sliding along the road and into a tree. My brother immediately pulled up to render assistance and resuscitate life back into a motionless body. I was rushed to Byron hospital with eight broken vertebrae, two broken ribs, a collapsed lung, dislocated femur, broken shoulder as well as an ABI (Acquired Brain Injury). After a ten-day stint on a ventilator in Intensive Care Unit of Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital and a couple of weeks of PTA (Post Traumatic Amnesia) back in Lismore Base Hospital, I had lost a whole month of my life. The next memory I have is of waking up in hospital trying to cut myself out of traction with my dinner cutlery.
I was halfway through studying a Visual Arts Degree at university when the accident happened and it took a year of learning to move and think properly again before I had the capacity to return to study. I had been working on an assessment task of ‘Multiplicity’ at university before the crash. And had aptly decided to use my Ducati Senna as subject matter for the printmaking evaluation, due to the fact that it was a ‘limited edition’ motorcycle, with only three hundred bikes being manufactured worldwide. I continued with the bike as subject matter and began printing an edition of three hundred copperplate etchings in the university’s printmaking studio. This was often accomplished after classes and into the night when the studio was quiet. It was then I discovered catharsis through printmaking by repeatedly wiping plates with ink and printing motorcycles to be used to construct five Artists books, spelling the number plate of my Ducati, ‘SEN-97’.
Not realising the ramifications of my injuries, let alone the permanence of an ABI, it began a long painful recovery that I feel slowly improved over a ten-year time period. I was prescribed opiate medications for my injuries from the very beginning. This initiated what was to become a fourteen-year dependence on opiate painkillers that only ever temporarily removed ‘increasing’ levels of discomfort with increased increments of dosage. I’d casually throw the empty OxyContin pill packets up into my cupboard until a series of influential circumstances caused me to remove and observe the quantity of boxes from medications I had consumed. I was gob-smacked.
Simultaneously I was kindly offered a position as one of the artists for the Epicormia Collective to produce work for exhibition titled ‘The Re-Authoring Impulse’. It has proved to be the perfect opportunity to document my opiate detox and personal re-growth.
Q. What inspired you to start the Willowbank Studios, where, when, how and why? Why did you decide for it to be an artist-led project with you as the organiser? And what are the benefits of an independent, self-organised project like this? What are its disadvantages and how do you attend to these?
I joined support group (BISSI -Brain Injury Support Service Inc.) for ABI survivors not long after my accident and it was the catharsis I had found through printmaking, that I wanted to share with other ABI survivors. I then designed & built Willowbank Studio on my acreage at Alstonville, NSW. The reason I initiated the bi-monthly workshops after my recovery was because I felt lucky enough to be able to do so. I repeatedly attempted unsuccessfully to obtain funding to help bring this dream to fruition being repeatedly passed on to alternate different funding bodies. So I decided I to fund and build the project myself.
Q. Access, inclusivity and participation are three key aspects to Willowbank Studios and this year you celebrate ten years of operation? Tell me about this decade, what are two or three of the most vivid aspects of this decade? How has living with and working with art and disability helped you (and indeed hindered you?), and indeed others you meet and collaborate with along your path, to re-author, to re-imagine, to re-calibrate both you and your art making path on a deep level?
Ten years already and there’s a couple of guys attending the workshops who have hardly missed a session! Running the workshops twice monthly over this period has helped maintain motivation for my own practice and although overlooked at times, reminds me that making art is still beneficial for my own ‘debt of fatigue’.
There are a couple of stand out moments in the previous decade, one being when a woman confined to her wheelchair for the past thirty years, demonstrated enjoyment by dragging an ink filled squeegee across a silk screen with her one working arm, to produce a print. The pure delight on her face afterwards was golden and all for only 30 or 40 cents worth of ink! The funding aspect of running workshops at Willowbank Studio frustrates me at times, as I think of the large amount of money that is spent on disability administration & bureaucracy elsewhere, while at ‘grass roots’ level, it is so easy to be cost efficient, yet effective.
There have been sad moments as well. Like when a bubbly and effervescent young lady who always enjoyed art, had a further brain injury through seizure and lost all her memory again. This necessitated the labelling of photos of family members to be posted around her hospital bed, just to be able to recognize them again.
I have to be cautious when facilitating workshops, not to always set exercises that focus on a brighter more positive future. As with degenerative types of ABI’s, some individuals may be facing a less than optimistic outcome. On the whole though, most attendees have faced death already, showing positivity through their art and attitude to life now.
Q. How did the Willowbank exhibition collaboration project ” Decade of Catharsis” come about, tell me about it in some detail Scott, who, why, how and what this exhibition within an exhibition will look like/include?
The exhibition was initially planned to coincide with National Brain Injury Awareness Week in August 2016 at another venue but the time frame was extremely tight for an artist with a brain injury to produce work. With most ABI survivors experiencing fatigue, possibly finding it difficult to face any particular day.
It was a friend who suggested combining ‘Decade of Catharsis’ with ‘The Re-Authoring Impulse’ exhibition and it all made perfect sense. Seeing as though November was the actual month 10 years ago that ‘Willowbank’ held it’s official opening celebrations. The new Ballina event date also now coincides with ‘International Day of People With Disability’ December 3, 2016.
There have been many fine artworks produced at Willowbank Studio over the past ten years, requiring more space to exhibit than the Ballina Northern Rivers Community Gallery has to offer. Also it would be a logistical nightmare to chase up the dozens of ABI survivors who have attended workshops over this time to display their work, so ‘Decade of Catharsis’ focuses on work from artists attending current workshops. This will predominantly be individual 2Dimensional pieces interspersed with various collaborative works, including sculpture & glassmaking.
Q. And your involvement in the Epicormia Collective, 16 months of professional development so far and a new exhibition opportunity at NRCG Ballina this November 24, 2016. How has this shared journey helped you change and grow and think, how has it hindered you? Tapping into the curatorial idea/metaphor of the “re-authoring impulse”, this exhibition also links in to the International Day of People with Disability?
Working towards our exhibition, the opportunity to exhibit as part of the Epicormia Collective has shown me how well individual artists can work together for a common goal. The collective has shown compassion/understanding and encouragement to each other for the previous sixteen months and I hope this professional support might continue for many years to come. The eighteen-month time frame for the project has been necessary for my own practice, not only allowing artwork to evolve over time, but also allows me to deal with ever-present fatigue levels. I currently run an 11-acre farm as well as the art workshops at Willowbank Studio, so an extended time frame has proved vital, yet still meant constant hard work.
Q. Shapeshifting, mind, body, spirit, is a common experience for artists, for people who acquire disability, what are your thoughts about this? And it is a constant series of adaptations, what do you think/feel?
Hopefully we all go through periods of “shapeshifting and adaptation” throughout life whether having a disability or not, or being an artist or not. It would be sad to think someone might think himself or herself as being perfect to begin with, that thoughts and actions should remain at a constant. I wouldn’t want anyone to experience the injuries I sustained in my accident. It was easily the worst thing that has happened in my life. However, it also been one of the best. I feel I now have gained a greater depth of compassion, empathy and understanding of disabilities as well as people in general, along with a new appreciation for life that might have otherwise never been realised.
Q. Having a shared and independent care support network in place is so necessary and crucial? And hobbies, everyone needs hobbies, why? (etymology of hobby – late Middle English hobyn, hoby, from pet forms of the given name Robin . Originally in sense 2 (compare with dobbin), it later came to denote a toy horse or hobby horse, hence ‘an activity done for pleasure’.)
Relatedness to others sharing similar trauma is what is successful at the workshops.
After holding a position on the National Disability Insurance Scheme ‘Advisory Group’ for the program’s initial introduction, sometimes I would get a little critical of the motivations behind some Care Provider organisations. As part of the NDIS panel, I found it was often difficult to distribute ‘Individual Funding Package’ information to individuals with disabilities as some providers saw the NDIS as a threat to their own organisational existence. As Willowbank Studio Incorporated is run in a very casual, relaxed informal manner as a Not-For-Profit organisation, with no fees to participants, I feel fortunate to have no need to justify motivation of our existence to anyone. I will continue to run workshops as long as I can afford to and ABI survivors keep showing up.
Q. The idea of “invisible” disability, for want of a better term, how do you temper this direct lived experience Scott in your daily life, to disclose or to not disclose, and the idea “that looks can deceive”, the chestnuts, “you look okay to me”, “it’ll pass”?
Other people’s opinions concern me less and less as time goes on. I’m now quite forward in owning my ‘diff’ability.
As a patient in hospital straight after my crash, I would comment on how a circumstance might lead to ‘hypersensitivity’ (i.e. Loud noises, rapid movements/the inability to filter out multiple conversations) and I would often get the response “yeah, I’m like that too!” This used to frustrate me enormously. But I gained comfort through a comment made to me then, by my Occupational Therapist who stated, “I deal with ABI survivors everyday as part of my job, and yet still have no idea what you guys are going through”.
An ABI is a very complex injury, affecting each individual in his or her own particular manner. For a couple of years following my accident, I used to fear that as soon as my “brain injury” was mentioned, people would negate me as being mentally deficient.
I trust that my intellect/determination hasn’t diminished at all after acquiring an ABI and feel that setting up and running Willowbank Studio for the past ten years reflects this. I now just tire very easily with a need for regular and ongoing ‘downtime’.
Q. Bees are a constant theme, metaphor and motif in your art practice and in your mix of amazing hobbies? And at times, actual living bees appear in your art? Tell me about this relationship between bees and art, and indeed your philosophy for living life best?
I have been a practicing apiarist for 30 years now and am still constantly learning patience and dedication through working with my little winged mates. After dealing previously with quite dark artwork in a cathartic manner, then a passion for Ducati motorcycles, I searched for inspirational career subject matter in my arts practice. Bees always display how selflessly an individual might play a valuable contributing role in a wider community as well as an acceptance of the impermanence of life. Hopefully I am able to continue ‘working’ my bees for many years to come as I feel there is still a great deal to learn from them yet.
Read more about Artist Scott Trevelyan and his work at Willowbank Studios during the past decade here: