In a city like Sydney, where space is at a premium, finding an affordable studio in which to work can be an enormous challenge for an early-career artist.
In 2013 the City of Sydney established a creative live/work subsidised studio program, offering young artists a 12-month lease on a one-bedroom apartment-slash-studio in the heart of the city. Among the six up-and-coming artists who currently reside at City of Sydney’s William Street Creative Hub are Genevieve Felix Reynolds, JD Reforma and Shireen Taweel. We spoke with them to discuss what living in this artist’s hub is like.
Genevieve Felix Reynolds
Genevieve Felix Reynolds is a visual artist fascinated by the progression of history. Or, as she puts it, “the journey of an object from something in its original context – in a temple or somebody’s home – and how that is translated over time, breaks down and reforms through photography and through being resituated in museums and archives and books”.
Reynolds works with oil and acrylic paints as well as animation, sculpture and architectural elements, incorporating classical imagery and digital components. In Health, her 2019 solo exhibition at Galerie Pompom in Chippendale, Reynolds examined the relationship between three-dimensional objects and two-dimensional screens. "Most of us don’t go a whole day without looking at multiple screens,” she says. “It’s very common for us to experience artworks and objects through a little flattened screen.” The result, she says, is “we’re losing touch with the natural world and relying on representations of real things instead of the real things themselves”.
Recognition for Reynolds' work includes the Paddington Painting Prize Young Artist Award, which she won in 2016, and the 2019 Sunshine Coast Art Prize Artist Residency. A three-month residency in Los Angeles in 2016 was another career highlight. “That really helped shape what I’m making today.”
Residencies and supported studio programs are incredibly useful, she says. “They give you time to progress and experiment, which you’re often too busy to do. Depending on where the residencies are, they let you connect with local communities and professional networks.”
The live/work program at William Street Creative Hub, “gives me the space – and headspace – to focus," says Reynolds. "It takes a lot of pressure off the financial aspects of art-making, which are often quite stressful.”
JD Reforma is an interdisciplinary artist exploring themes around the Asian-Australian diaspora through a pop vernacular.
“I love celebrities, actresses, film and performance," says Reforma. "Popular culture synthesises and distils all of those elements perfectly for me. They're a really important extension of how I have built my own identity as a person and as an artist.”
One installation, Why should I be sad? (2019), takes as its subject Britney Spears’ Instagram account, transposing 275 images the pop singer has shared on social media since joining the platform in 2011 to an art gallery wall. Another recent work features a Scarlett Johansson video montage, with footage taken from the films Lost In Translation and Ghost in the Shell. The work, titled Ghost in Translation, is a response to the controversy that erupted after Johansson was cast as a trans man in one film and an Asian character in another.
For Reforma, the William Street live/work program means freedom to “not just explore ideas, but to explore one idea if that’s all I want to explore. It gives me space to be ambitious but also to be a bit more considered” – which today is almost a “luxury” for artists trying to establish a career and make ends meet.
The benefits for an artist of living and working in the city can’t be understated, says Reforma, who grew up in western Sydney. “There are certainly really dynamic pockets of activity in the west and the outer-western parts of Sydney, but there’s a concentration of galleries and opportunities in east Sydney,” he says. “[There's] 10 galleries within five minutes of here, which is really important. I was in group exhibition last year just around the corner at COMA on Stanley Street, and I’ve recently started working at Firstdraft, another arts organisation around the corner again, on Riley. These are all within walking distance.”
Shireen Taweel is a contemporary coppersmith and multimedia artist who makes intricately engraved copper sculptures that speak to both the past and the present. Taweel, a graduate of the UTAS School of Creative Arts and Media and the National Art School in Sydney, first started working with copper at university. “I fell in love from the beginning,” she says. “It’s such a soft material, and it’s very transformative.”
Taweel feels copper’s malleable quality mirrored her experience of living between two cultures: her Lebanese family heritage and the Australian society in which she was born. Taweel’s childhood was split between her mother’s place on the northern beaches, where she spoke Arabic at home and engaged with the local surf culture, and her father’s house in western Sydney, where she was surrounded by extended family in a much more traditional Lebanese environment. The result is a “hybridity” that has become a rich source of inspiration for her practice.
“I don’t feel distinctly Lebanese, but nor would I say I’m distinctly Australian," she says. "I have this beautiful push and pull between the two. I see working with copper like that. I’m working in this really old and rich medium, yet haven’t professionally trained, and I’m navigating it myself.”
Like many artists in Sydney, Taweel always found it difficult to access studio space, even though her requirements are modest. “I just need really good lighting and a nice sturdy wooden worktable, and I can do pretty much anything,” she says.
Living and working in the city has allowed Taweel to connect with the broader arts community, as well as easy access to nearby arts centres, galleries and openings. She also relishes living close to her fellow resident artists at the William Street Creative Hub, who have formed a tight-knit community. “I didn’t anticipate how, within a few months, I’d build such strong relationships with the artists in the building,” she says. “There’s always someone to call on or chat to on the rooftop.”
To find out when opportunities become available in City of Sydney's creative spaces program, sign up here.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with City of Sydney.