Shelley O’Keefe and Philip Senior Open Up to Art (OUTA)

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Our small town of Bellingen will soon be adorned in art of all imaginable genres, as we welcome the inaugural Open Up to Art (OUTA), “a weekend designed to get everyone thinking about ‘what art is’, its’ purpose and role in everyday life” says Shelley O’Keefe, one of the creative forces behind this exciting project. The weekend will bring together a very eclectic group of local artists who are each being encouraged to look at their own creative practice in terms of what art means to them and to involve the community in their art.

Organised by ‘Arts network Bellingen’ (AnB), a collective of local artists “who are enthusiastic about creativity and taking risks,” says Shelley, this inaugural OUTA event has managed to draw together 41 local artists and a local saxophonist, who will act as the town crier at each of the exhibition openings.  Exhibited works will include drawings, paintings, ceramics, digital art, photography and installations “which are meant to be touched and evoke all the senses, they are not just objects to look at,” says Shelley.  Local artist and actor Cath Beynon will be performing at the Bellingen Brewery & Co, as will a jazz duo, while into the evening, art will be projected from the Brewery onto the back facade of the Hammond and Wheatley Building.

We are intrigued by the concept behind OUTA, so interviewed creative couple Shelley O’Keefe and Philip Senior, two of the OUTA organisers, about the upcoming weekend.

What was your inspiration for creating Open Up To Art (OUTA)?

OUTA emerged from a larger Arts Mid North Coast (AMNC) initiative. When the funding for their project came too late to initiate it, Arts network Bellingen (AnB) decided to develop our own project and it was always a team effort.  The good thing about organizing this event is that we are all participants in the exhibitions as well, whether it’s the drawing exhibition Dead Flowers Society at the Bellingen Brewery, or the Mixed Up Art digital exhibition at the Stables or ceramics, painting, drawing and photography at the Bellingen Gallery and Framing Studio.

We are hoping to inspire artists to be daring and to keep pushing themselves to explore different possibilities and to never be satisfied. We are also hoping the whole community will enjoy this multi-disciplined event and think more about art and its cultural tradition and implications to society.

So our traditional concepts about art and its meaning may be expanded or changed somewhat over the course of OUTA? 

“Wouldn’t that be a wonderful result,” says Shelley.

We began the OUTA process by putting out posters around town and on Social Media with quotes on Art by various artists, to start a conversation. We also made posters for specific business – the barber, the grocer, the butcher and the supermarket based on various artists through the ages – Warhol’s ‘Campbell Soup Cans’ and Rembrandt’s ‘Carcass of Beef’, for example.  This started the conversations flowing.

The wordless film ‘The Universe Knows My Name’ is Kafkaesque and draws from an Absurdist tradition of thinking. This film will be projected from The Bellingen Brewery onto the back facade of the Hammond and Wheatley Building.  Both Kathy Taylor’s sculptural ceramics and John Tuckwell’s ceramic installation are fragile and quirky objects that the viewer will be encouraged to touch and interact with. Philip Senior’s 20 or so drawings reveal the process of creating, where the motif of the Pin-Board is a metaphor for Memory. Jack Meagher’s photographs evoke both a sense of mystery and pathos.

The street art project is aptly referred to as ‘Givelove’- very special little works spreading love and embracing togetherness and joy in the community.

Of course we are also piloting the Poles project where the youth in Bellingen are mentored by local Artists to decorate various telegraph poles around Bellingen. We even have a pole inviting everyone’s comments and feedback.

Will there be opportunities for the community to get involved over the weekend?

There are a number of workshops for everyone to participate in and learn something new. Australian-Chinese artist Andrew Lo is running an Ink Brush workshop on the Sunday.  There is a two hour drawing workshop run by Dead Flowers Society as well as the Mixed Up Art digital workshop. The ‘Sunday Bites’ program on Sunday afternoon will give the community an opportunity to hear from the artists involved in OUTA.  The artists will do a rapid fire visual presentation of their influences, their work and their work space. 

Two artists living under the one roof.  How does that work?

We are both passionate about our work and encourage each other.  We share our studio. It was the former owner’s first cottage built by the river, he later built the family home futher up the hill. Philip is a night owl and is most productive at night, while I tend to work best in the morning and early afternoon. As the exhibition gets closer everything changes and Keith Jarrett, Thelonious Monk and Jan Garbarek play till the early hours of the morning.

Shelley, how would you describe your artwork?

I would best describe my work as ‘Expressionistic’. I paint a variety of motifs but they all stem from the human condition and issues facing the modern world. I see art as reflecting contemporary society and the artist as having a specific role in its visual representation.

I don’t paint to sell, I would be malnourished if I did, or more likely not here at all. This is very freeing for me, as I attract no specific audience and I have no one to please.

I am therefore in a position to paint what I think is meaningful for me.

Art has always been a big part of my life (from my childhood to meeting Philip who was completely involved in art). I studied Fine Arts at the University of Sydney and became an art teacher. During that time I joined an artist cooperative, exhibited regularly and went to the John Ogburn Studio for painting and life drawing. I also studied bronze casting at East Sydney Tech and etching with Tom Goulder at Duck Prints.

And Philip?

Painting and drawing are an integral part of my life. I received a scholarship to attend Art School, although  chose to study Architecture, but continued to paint, draw and exhibit in Sydney.
My works will be exhibited as part of the INNER exhibition at the Bellingen Framing Studio over the weekend of OUTA.  My works carry a strong narrative which explores the creative process using the same motif in a number of different forms.

Have you had a lot of community support getting this inaugural event off the ground?

Bellingen Shire Council gave us a Creative Placemaking grant and Arts Mid North Coast also assisted with funding and publicity.

We have been overwhelmed by the amazing community response, people have been talking about the posters in the street and we have had responses from social media wanting to know more about the event.

Do you see a weekend like this as a game changer for the local art scene?

It would be fantastic if it was, we are especially hoping to encourage younger artists in Bellingen to get out there and do something different in their creative practice.

We would like to enhance Bellingen’s existing reputation regarding the arts with another mix.

This all takes time though.

I think it will be a great party and of course everyone is invited rain, hail or sun. Of course if it is raining just bring an umbrella or get wet!

The full Open Up To Art (OUTA) program can be sourced here.

Arts network Bellingen (AnB) is a loose group of artists who meet to support and encourage each other, who endeavour to be involved in community events.
AnB’s organizing members and artists are Karlee Rawkins – ‘Big Fig Arts’, Lunci – ‘Big Fig Arts’, Gloria Malone, Fiona Morgan – ‘WhereFishSing’, Kathy Taylor, Jacki Lee , Maureen Ely- Round, Julie Hutchinson, Philip Senior, Shelley O’Keefe and Fran Trefry and Jason Brown who has been the graphic designer for the OUTA posters.

You can follow the Arts network Bellingen (AnB) on Facebook

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