Season Three – Tony Albert

Image credit: Rhett Hammerton

Tony Albert

Season 3 – Episode 2



Instagram handle @tonyalbert


00:00:00 Kiera Brew Kurec
Hi, I’m Kira Brew Kurec

00:00:01 Nick Breedon
and I’m Nick Breedon.

00:00:03 Kiera Brew Kurec
Welcome to Pro Prac,

00:00:04 Nick Breedon
Where we explore the professional practice of artists

00:00:07 Kiera Brew Kurec
and hear their stories.

00:00:12 Nick Breedon
Tony Albert’s multidisciplinary practice investigates contemporary legacies of colonialism, prompting audiences to contemplate the human condition, drawing on both personal and collective histories Albert explores the ways in which optimism can be utilised to overcome adversity. His work poses important questions such as, how do we remember, give justice to and rewrite complex and traumatic histories. Albert’s technique and imagery are distinctly contemporary, displacing traditional Australian Aboriginal aesthetics with an urban conceptuality, appropriating, textual references from sources as diverse as popular music, film fiction, and art history, Albert plays with attention arising from the visibility and in turn, the invisibility of Aboriginal people across the news media literature, and the visual world. Albert is the first indigenous trustee for the Art Gallery of New South Wales and is also chair of the AGNSW Indigenous Advisory Group. Albert’s commitment to connecting and collaborating with other indigenous artists and the wider community within his practice has made him an integral part of Australia’s visual arts sector and the wider Australian community. Albert has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally. Albert’s important work has been acknowledged industry-wide with a number of prestigious awards, prizes, and commissions. He’s represented in major national collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, the Australian War Memorial Canberra, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, and Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art, Queensland Art Gallery.

00:01:56 Kiera Brew Kurec
Tony, thank you so much for joining us on the show. Like I said to you earlier, we’re massive fans of your practice and just always wanted to have you on the show. So this is such a privilege for us today. And we would love to start off by hearing how you got to where you are today and some background on your practice.

00:02:17 Tony Albert
Well thank you both so much for having me. It is actually a wonderful honour to get to speak and talk to anyone and yeah, so thank you. I guess for me I felt or feel I was always very artistically inclined and of course that’s what has really led me to where I am. But I guess within my, my childhood I had, what I would say was like an element of technically skilled kind of attributes. I was always interested in art, but my understanding of art was very much a very pretty picture, or something that’s very technical skilled and I didn’t come from a family where we had actually had art hanging in the house or anything you know, or go to museums or, or art galleries.I had came from a very working class or kind of low socioeconomic family and it just wasn’t part I think of my upbringing, but I was always drawing, in particular like comic book characters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, pop stars, I’ve recently uncovered in unpacking stuff for my studio like drawings of Janet Jackson from when I was

00:03:45 Kiera Brew Kurec

00:03:46 Nick Breedon

00:03:46 Tony Albert
You know, like a teenager and you know, keeping all that kind of ephemera or love for music. That’s, I think the foundation was just kind of more technically skilled. My friends would always be asking me to draw pictures for them. and I always did well in, in art at school, so there was that kind of love, but it definitely didn’t come from an a knowledgeable art practice. and then on a more cultural kind of tangent came from family of weavers, shield makers, there, there was a cultural element, which I never looked at as, artistic within the idea of contemporary art, but very much part of just, who we are and where we came from. And it was a part of practice that maybe in a workshop or some kind of, you know, whether it be through a dance or something, you would engage, but it never occurred to me in any sense through art at all. So yeah, it was only a big part of my life in terms of, I loved actually producing and making, but without any thought, of anything greater than that.

00:05:08 Kiera Brew Kurec
Yeah. And then so at school you are obviously very skilled. Kids are probably really into your teenage mutant into turtle drawings. was there a step from that where you were like, ah, maybe this is something that I wanna do when I’m older.

00:05:30 Tony Albert
There was, and it was a step which came to me through my art teacher. So it wasn’t directly through my, again, my own knowledge. And it was one of those incredible teachers or educators we have in our life that did see something more, or a presence or a skill that felt, that I should engage with more. And so what happened during high school was I spent four days a week at school and one day a week at a special art college.

00:06:01 Nick Breedon

00:06:02 Kiera Brew Kurec

00:06:03 Tony Albert
That was a very technical, skilled, fine art with oil painting, nude models, life drawing a very technical skilled engagement within art, which was incredible to, you know, for someone to see that potential in me and say that I actually needed teaching beyond what they could give me, and that really became an incredible foundation behind, where I am today. At the same point as a teenager, uncovering the, the bigger elements of what conceptual art is, and that came to me in the framework of artists that you might be aware of, such as Tracey Moffat and Gordon Bennett. Who incidentally are both Aboriginal people in their own right. But their work borders and spans so many contemporary and political issues. And for the first time, kind of in my life, I realised the, the power of art and that art actually wasn’t just a beautifully skilled landscape. Art had the potential to, to say something, to challenge ideas, to comment. But what those two artists did particularly was they reached inside of me and pulled out a bit of my heart. Like I just felt I could have signed, I could have done the work that they did, cause it was so intrinsic to, I guess, my thoughts and my feelings, and I guess that’s the power of great artists, but I was, I was learning to be a technically skilled artist, kind of at the same time that I was, I was learning actually what art could be. And that was, that was really profound as a teenager because it is a point in your life where you’re also starting to make your own judgements politically, the kind of person you want to be within your own identity. Your politics might not align with your parents anymore. And you’re, you’re kind of struggling with that sense of self and, and, and all that was coming together. At the same time I was, that, that art was paralleling that in a really Interesting, sophisticated, challenging, educational way for me.

00:08:26 Kiera Brew Kurec
Mm-hmm. Wow. Yeah, this is actually, I’m just like reflecting on my own that time period and that alignment between technical skill making and understanding of conceptuality within practice and being a young person and just that it’s such an exciting time, but it’s a lot, it’s a lot to get your head around. I still struggle to get my head around it at times and to remember back at what that was like as a teenager, coming to that awakening is, it’s pretty special really.

00:09:01 Tony Albert
It was huge. And to, to be in a situation where that was actually nurtured within me, in, in coming from a family that very much did not understand the kind of conceptual art side of it, had quite intense, concerns is not the right word, but when I think your parents, or those people who look after you are realising you are doing something that is outside of their level of comprehension and understanding and you can either go down the way of disparaging that or trying to guide a different, or just wholeheartedly accept, that that is now ingrained in your child’s life and that you’re going to support it. And I think my parents straddled that in a supportive way. So whilst not quite understanding, they didn’t discourage it. and I was also a bit of a child that was, I was the kind of child that displayed toys rather than played with them. And collected bizarre things or might do things where had my parents kind of questioning who I was. but I love the fact that they never disparaged or frowned upon anything that I did.

00:10:20 Nick Breedon
So as a as a teen you’ve kind of developed this amazing level of technical skill and then I presume that you, you know, went on to further education at university. What was it like? And correct me if I’m wrong there.

00:10:38 Tony Albert
Yes, yes, I did go onto university, yes.

00:10:40 Nick Breedon
Yeah. And so when you, when you arrived in this sort of university education was there a, was there kind of a, a bit of a how would you say, like you’d already had this access to this sort of education at high school. Was there sort of like a split between you and the other kind of students who were sort of starting out, you know, a lot of them obviously would’ve been starting, you know, from a completely different standpoint of of technical skill and level. Was that, was that ever like a, point of contention between you and other students when you, when you started that journey?

00:11:13 Tony Albert
Yeah. In a non arrogant way, like that there was a, a skill-based level, which of course was a bit beyond, above and beyond because of that opportunity I had had. But interestingly enough I knew I wanted to go to university to study art more without, again, understanding anything about that kind of institution. I was not from a family where higher levels of academia were part of what we did, kind of breaching out in my extended family. And what it led me to was a visual art degree at Griffith University, which is a bachelor of visual art, majoring in contemporary Australian Indigenous art. And it is the only university accredited degree in Australia that is only within arts, that is only for Aboriginal people. So it understands kind of the, the nuances, the cultural safety, the kind of challenges that are needed within an art course like that and responds to them in a number of different ways. So all the lecturers are Aboriginal, you don’t, there’s no prerequisite to study as well. So it understands that for a lot of First Nations people even finishing high school poses a lot of difficult, questions and, and understandings about our life and lifestyle. it opens up to a lot of mature age students, so people who have come to, have had children, have had lives outside of the art world and decided at a much, later time in life and that is often politically driven by society that they would like to go and do, an art degree or further studies like that. So it wasn’t so much, challenging or it what I was bringing, other people were bringing something that was profound to me.

00:13:17 Kiera Brew Kurec

00:13:17 Tony Albert
Life, living in a community, or, or remote or regional areas, where I had grown up, even though I had a community I went home to, I had grown up in the city. I had access to, to so many incredible things that, and you know, even in saying I got to go to a special art school as, as, you know, a teenager that was, you know, unheard of in just mainstream, let alone when you, you hone down to a very specific cultural group of people. So that foundation then became so much ingrained in a deeper level of Aboriginality and identity and the, the really ingrained political elements of who I was. And it teaches you about, well, if you’re going to engage with Aboriginal designs as well, they need to be from where you are from. You know, there’s a stigma attached to Aboriginal art that, you know, it’s kind of art or something can, that, that needs to really be distinguished not only amongst ourselves as people, but within the broader mainstream of Australia and internationally, the diversity of kind of work that comes out of Australia in terms of cultural symbols and stuff.So it, it really opened my eyes. I get to this other whole level of art and culture, which as I said, I had engaged with as a child, but never really thought about as intensely as I did. And at a time where also art institutions were looking at these cultural objects far more artistically. They were no longer relegated to anthropological ideas within a museum, but actually held up within contemporary art institutions as contemporary art. So it’s quite amazing.

00:15:18 Kiera Brew Kurec
Yeah. Yeah. What an incredible experience and for that course to exist and it should exist across all universities. So from after you graduated from there, what was the next kind of stepping stones that you took?

00:15:38 Tony Albert
Well, funnily enough be before I even graduated, an opportunity came up at the Queensland Art Gallery for an exhibition titled Story Place, which was Indigenous Art of the Cape York and the Rainforest, of far north Queensland, which is where I was born and where my cultural lineage lineage leads to. And I just thought, wow, what an amazing opportunity to be able to work within the confines of an institution, on a show like that, which was using cultural objects from you know as close to my family, like actual members of my family in the exhibition and that was a one year traineeship, which you know, so I thought, oh, I’ll do that and I’ll go back to university. And that was kind of my, my step inside the institution. And again, it was at a very interesting time when these ideas of how First Nations people enter into that arena and not be kind of stigmatised or you’re not there just to, you are working on this show, but actually within an institution, you could be a curator, you could be a conservator, you could be an exhibition designer. There, there’s all these different roles and, and there, there was this pre-thought, even though it wasn’t, I think, completely successful or as further along as we are now, and I say that in a way that there’s still a long way to go , there was this pre-thought that these trainees ships would broaden the potential for cross-cultural integration throughout the whole of the institution. So I, I found my love was in exhibition and exhibition design, working with artists, and education became a real big love of mine. And not only did I do the traineeship and, you know, have my year, inside the institution. I ended up working there for eight years.

00:17:48 Kiera Brew Kurec

00:17:49 Tony Albert
And it was also, I think, it’s where I found kind of international art knowledge. I really look at my time within the institution as a complete educative one as well. I started when I was 20. So for, you know, in, in any area of any institution that is actually a very, very young employee.

00:18:12 Kiera Brew Kurec

00:18:12 Tony Albert
And I’m so fortunate to look back and have that time ’cause in my life now, there’s so much dealing within with, with institutions and, and to really have a really good understanding of, of how they work, from being on the inside has, I think, been a great asset to what I would say has been my career within the arts. But that was, that was the next step for me was engaging in a much higher level of academia and institutional thought.

00:18:47 Kiera Brew Kurec
That’s really fascinating. I didn’t know that, about that you were working within the institution as well. I remember seeing an interview with you on, it must have been on ABC TV when I was, when I was studying myself, and that’s when I was first introduced to your practice and was really fascinated by your practice and your process of collecting. And I was just wondering if that, like where you started obviously having come from being trained with life drawing and, you know, those very traditional techniques to then move into this more expanded practice when did that develop?

00:19:38 Tony Albert
So we’ve missed a little bit of the story in the fact that while all this was happening, there was this collector side to me. And I think there was a little bit talk of it earlier about me kind of collecting things rather than playing with them. And even my, I guess the socioeconomics within my family and the left of center way in which I was looking and working and, and dealing with life, I started a collection of what I’ve called Aboriginalia but it’s images of Aboriginal people on anything basically. So cups and plates, very souvenir culture. But it’s very important to say and acknowledge that these were not made by Aboriginal people or for Aboriginal people. But having a lifestyle, which meant we were literally at secondhand shops every weekend of my life. So it’s where not only where we got everything that we needed, like school supplies and things like that, we were very versed in understanding that this was just where we, it it was part of our life. Yeah, I guess basically it’s the simplest way to, to explain it and it is where I came across this kind of ephemera and, completely fell in love with it. And I will add at that point in time, so this was like mid to late eighties through to the early nineties where this kind of ephemeral was at its absolute kind of lowest point in its social history in its own right. It was the kind of time I think people were realising that it was like a little bit, not only unfashionable, there was something a bit gross about it. In saying that it was something that everyone kind of had or knew about or would have a memory of where they’d seen this within, you know, their own family or extended family’s kind of house. The way in which the gaze of Aboriginal people was portrayed kind of in this country. And my viewpoint was completely from a very innocent childhood perspective. And I just thought this was amazing. Like, oh my God, there’s Aboriginal people on a drinking mug like I want it, and it was completely accessible. So I had like this little shelf of curiosities that was growing throughout my childhood along with other things. During that era, Smurfs were distributed by BP Service Station in Australia. So, you know, we’d get petrol, I’d get a little smurf and, yeah, so I was maybe an innate kind of collector as well. But my, the collection of Aboriginalia kind of never stopped growing as I was growing. When I was at that point of going to the, the one day a week at the high school and stuff, I was still collecting, but really starting to understand the potential framework of that a lot more. And then through the university years, even though none of the collection was part of what I was doing in art I was still collecting. But by that point, the really strong political nuances of what imagery, represented in us became a lot more sinister in its understanding. It never stopped the kind of innocent childhood perspective that I started with. It never stopped the love of me collecting it, but it made me understand the collection a lot more. So that, and that was by that time, a very, very big collection. , but it still was never part of my art or my artwork. It was, it was very much a collection that was, was in the home. Yeah.

00:24:01 Kiera Brew Kurec
Yeah. And how did that evolve into becoming part of your practice?

00:24:06 Tony Albert
Interestingly enough, it was purely about storage. The collection had become so big that it could no longer be housed within my home. It’s that time of period in university where, you know, life is a bit transient. You are moving out of home and you’re not necessarily moving into big houses or share houses and the opportunity to be surrounded by it, like I was, had been to date, wasn’t a possibility anymore. And the collection then I was very fortunate to always be practicing, always have a studio. And a studio for artists does become kind of this haven of bizarre things that just somehow don’t fit at home as well and that’s where the Aboriginalia ended up. And again, I was, I was working you know, on art and stuff I was painting the Aboriginalia just surrounded me in the studio and I, I think I started to pick on just some, pick up on some very small design elements, or imagery that I started to incorporate as a starting point. but there was maybe a five year period where it dabbled back and forward until the point of the objects actually becoming part of my artwork. So that’s, it’s a, it’s kind of a tangent or parallel story that goes hand in hand. But to tell them both at once becomes quite convoluted and complex.

00:25:49 Kiera Brew Kurec
Mm-hmm. Would you be able to just give us a little bit of a rundown of how it how you moved from working, obviously studying, then working within the institution to also showing and exhibiting as well.

00:26:08 Tony Albert
Sure. So the whole time I was with an art gallery, I still had my own art practice and it was as anyone would understand to, to work a full-time job and do anything on top of that is of course really super challenging.

00:26:23 Kiera Brew Kurec

00:26:24 Tony Albert
And I was totally grappling with like eight years within the institution

00:26:29 Kiera Brew Kurec
it’s a big chunk of time.

00:26:31 Tony Albert
A big chunk of time and I, I did become very ingrained in that world you know, , I would’ve known every single Indigenous curator across the country, or any Aboriginal person that worked in any institution. I would’ve known or, you know, been friends with. It, it was kind of that we were all experiencing the same kind of dynamics. And, but through this, I, I never gave up on my practice. In fact, it was continually growing. And by the very end of that, it was really about this point and I’m not isolating it out in my life, I think it’s quite common that you are at the point where, one or the other actually has to be the priority. I could no longer, I, I couldn’t go any further as an artist without it impeding on my academic life within the institution. And I couldn’t go any further academically within the institution whilst I still, with wanting the kind of practice or showing that I wanted to do. So I guess the finite example for this was in 2008, the Queensland Art Gallery had a show called Optimism, which was a retrospective of contemporary Australian art. And I could either work on the show or be in the show. And that was like a very, that moment where I really had to make the big decision of, , the, the road literally sprint split in two. And I needed to, to make a choice of what road I wanted to take.

00:28:13 Kiera Brew Kurec
Was that an easy choice to make or did you have to do some weighing up of options?

00:28:19 Tony Albert
There’s a little kind of, bit of soul searching, but you know, I’m a, a big believer and a big dreamer. And yeah when it comes to those kind of decisions, the way I looked at it was, like if I was in on my deathbed, what decision do I wish I would’ve made? It became quite easy to follow your heart and to follow your practice. And the thing that was outside of the institutional life engaged, what gave me the greatest pleasure was actually making and was creating, it wasn’t a difficult choice, but it wasn’t a decision I made lightly in the fact that I was able to set myself up to fail, which sounds like a, a bit, of a silly thing to say, but what I mean by that was, I’d, I’d had the job I made a conscious decision to set myself up for the fact that I could live for two years as an artist without actually having to sell or make money or, just not to worry financially about my life. What I did also know was in the worst case scenario, I could crawl back inside the institution and beg for my job back. As I said, I, I set myself up to be able to fail. But what happened when you plunge into that or you take that chance, I don’t think anyone ever realises how productive you actually can be and how, if, if you dedicated your whole working day, your whole working week, your whole working year to actually that one thing you wanna do, the progression you make. And I still have friends, great friends now that dabble, you know, that still have an artistic practice, but have never been able to leave the security off their job or, or their main kind of source of finance. And I always say you’ve gotta, you don’t realise until you let that go, how profound your own practice can make or be or, the level of trust you have in yourself. You just start thinking way differently. And it is beyond a lot of people to do that. And I’m glad I did it much younger in my life, ’cause I also understand now as someone with, you know, a mortgage and other people I have to look after in my life that, the harder that actually gets, and, and that’s something I’m really grateful, you know, starting at the institution at 20. So this story that I’m telling you about is as a 28 year old and I thought, yeah, what, you know, my goodness, I can do this. I can kind of have that leap of faith. but, I strategically set myself up knowing that there were, there were other options should it all come crumbling down. I was very well aware, you know, no one becomes an artist. I, I just knew that like, it’s, yeah. Out of a whole art school, you know, like your graduating year so few people actually become artists in their own right.

00:31:45 Kiera Brew Kurec
Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, you’ve just gotta take the risk, don’t you? You never gonna know unless you do that.

00:31:55 Tony Albert
Never going to know. And I, it, it’s a big thing I advocate for, is the belief in yourself.

00:32:03 Kiera Brew Kurec
Yeah, totally. I’m wondering if you would be able to share with us what some of the biggest challenges that you’ve had to face. Obviously taking that risk is one and making that decision to spend those two years seeing if you were going to fail or not. But would you be able to share any other challenges that you have overcome during this time?

00:32:32 Tony Albert
I think I’d like to share that, throughout all of this I was always a very nervous and anxious person as well. Nothing seemed to come very easily for me. I worried about everything. And I think there was a strong element of sensitivity within who I was and how I navigated the world that I lived in. And the, the, the biggest challenge for me seemed to just to just be, be a part of it. So within the institutional life, I got to travel to all different communities that, you know, weren’t, weren’t just my own and experienced life from very different realities. I also got to travel the world and I was literally sick to my stomach in thinking about that or doing that, or knowing that I would be living by myself in this, in a, in a foreign country. But I never, I never let that dictate or stop me from doing everything, and it was, it was always so very hard to me. But one of the things that I still find very comforting in my life when those challenges, , come up for me, , is that I’ve never let that rule who I am before. And I don’t wanna let that do that now. So I can always think to myself, oh, I’m going, you know, to here, to some country. And I’m, I, I’m, I’m worried about it, but Tony, you lived in New York for six months by yourself, you’ll be fine. so I reflect quite a lot on what I’ve done to also help, , me, , you know, push forward into the future. I never kind of wanna stop challenging myself, but I’m very well aware of, , my inner self, which actually this person that doesn’t have an incredible amount of, of confidence and worries, or is shy or is hard to navigate things. But I’ve worked through that. So I think the biggest challenge, you know, for me was my, is and continues to be my own insecurities and belief in who I am as a person. But the, the best attribute I have in dealing with that is thinking about, you know, all these amazing things that life has given me the opportunity to do. And I’ve always done it despite all that. So, and I know why I often tell that story or use that as an example I think, so many of us suffer with that kind of debilitating self-doubt. And I know within my own networks and friendship circles, there are people that it does defeat. There are times where people do not get on that plane, and I, I very, I feel so deeply or wholeheartedly for that kind of, that person. But I, I hope that, you know, through my story or this story that you know, it, it gives someone the confidence to take that step.

00:35:56 Kiera Brew Kurec
Mm. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that, we are just nodding along in total agreement.

00:36:01 Nick Breedon
Yeah. I think a lot of younger people and artists just starting out in their careers would probably be quite shocked to know that about you. I think you have what a lot of people would consider to be quite a successful practice and I, I guess we wanted to know a little bit about, you know, success means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. What does a successful practice mean to you?

00:36:26 Tony Albert
It’s, it’s one that is on a spectrum and is looked at in a lot of different ways by different people. I am very well aware that my practice is all that I do in terms of, I, I don’t have another job. And for a lot of successful artists in Australia, that is not the reality. A lot of people still have a professional job, and I say that within possibly academia or university institutions or other art institutions that balances out the fact that within the context of Australia, and I say that within Australia because in other countries I, I do feel it is different. But our, our socioeconomic kind of life within a country like Australia really does dictate the fact that it, it is very hard to just make a living out of only your art. So I am so grateful that I am in a position to do that, but it does, I work very, very hard, which I’m sure people are aware of, but I think there’s a stigma attached also to art and artists, that is, is not as on a tangent with a lawyer or a doctor or, and, and I always say it, it totally is. I mean, if anything, I think artists actually have to work so much harder.

00:38:01 Nick Breedon

00:38:04 Tony Albert
Yeah. And, and then on top of that, the kind of things that we’re always get asked to, you know, be in auctions or fundraisings or philanthropic things. It’s really interesting that people think it’s very easy to ask an artist for a painting. But no one actually says, oh, can you do two weeks of law for free? Or can you do some free surgery as a doctor as part of our auction? Not even a thought people mind!

00:38:30 Nick Breedon
free surgery. Watch out!

00:38:31 Tony Albert
Yeah. Right. And you know, of course, you know, I’m, I’m being a bit facetious. There’s lots of great full philanthropic work that all everyone does, but that, I mean, that is very important to me. But look I have a commercial gallery, a rotation of 16 months, which I need 12 months. I have to do a show a year to be able to survive and do what I do. And that’s putting a lot of basis or emphasis on the fact that that will even sell. That’s not a guarantee, in any way, shape, or form. But I am grateful for the fact that my life is set up to just I, that’s also bad terminology to just be an artist, but, I work every day as an artist. I have a studio that I go to, I’m very serious about what I do. And then you have to look broader, above and beyond that in how you do get yourself up there out there. And a lot of that comes into those challenges that I was talking about earlier. Like, why am I doing this podcast? Why do I feel there is a part of me related to my practice, which is about a public kind of identity as well. And it’s something I still grapple with within my life but turning up, showing up, being interested in what other people are doing, looking at that, as part of who I am. And it, there’s an intrinsic link to that. And the, the, the way in which I am an artist that institutional experience I alluded to earlier how it has, had such a profound impact on it. I know that when I’m dealing with an institution, the hard things to navigate are not necessarily coming from the person that I’m talking to. It could be 3, 4, 5, 10 people above them. That have gone we want the colour changed and, and as infuriating as that is, , you know, I’m grateful to be able to navigate those kind of conversations, knowing the institutional perspective upon them. So that, yeah, as I draw on a lot of experience to be a little bit humble, a little bit reflective and understanding, and maybe not so judgmental or linear in my idea of, I, I just have to be this way because that’s how an artist is. I, I find actually the best way to be an artist for me is one with a lot of flexibility and a lot of going backwards and forwards. So that’s why I think it’s a very complex, it’s a very complex question to answer because success, you know, it just, for some people it could be just to have, you know, the opportunity to have work that, that can engage and speak to people success on the very other end is like, you know, financial and being able to support yourself and your family or whatever, you know, the challenges in life with without actually having to obtain another job on top of that. So and, and it, it, it threads through those two tangents in a very organic way.

00:42:09 Kiera Brew Kurec

00:42:09 Tony Albert
I don’t know where my next pay-check is coming from, but I know that it is coming. Yeah.

00:42:16 Kiera Brew Kurec
Yes. And that kind of goes back to what you’re saying, just the, you know, you have to have that belief in your practice. You just mentioned that you, you work solely on your practice every day. Would you be able to give us a rundown of what a day in the life of Tony looks like?

00:42:37 Tony Albert
Well, unfortunately, I can’t sit and, and, and making art is the, the like, hardest thing to do as an artist. The administration kind of elements of it that take over, and I’m so grateful to have support and, and a team of people that I rely on for, for me to be able to just sit and work. But I find leaving the house, the, the inset in my mind that, going to work, even though my studio is 10 steps away from my bedroom, is a really big, a switch turning on and off. Because I have to treat it like a workday. I have people in my life. I have, I, I drop kids off at school, I’ve got a finite amount of time that is for me and my work, and I, I do have to treat it like work. 20 years ago, I would just, you know, be in the studio all night. , and, and that wouldn’t be a problem. But a day in my life now is, is very structured. And I’m also at a, a point where the, the philanthropy within art, the opportunity to give back is now an onus on me, and I feel very strongly about that because of the great mentors and, and people that did things for me. It’s really my opportunity to do that. So I’m a trustee at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I’m on the art and place board of the Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. I sit on a number of boards, which take up a lot of time and, and are, and I would still consider very intrinsic to my practice because they’re about how, how, as an artist I respond to fundamental elements of yeah, as I said, a philanthropic, what I would consider a philanthropic practice. So I encounter, they are part of my day as well, but I would. I would say six days, not seven I work, I work probably six days a week and within that I negotiate a very strict timeline as to when I am actually being creative. When I am doing administration kind of work. And then when I am doing the, the dealings with, with the extracurricular things I’ve taken on to, to be a part of the world I’m in and what is important to me and what I want to give back, is, is strategically implanted within those days as well. And I don’t want it to sound so dry, because there is still elements where after dinner, after people are asleep, I actually creep back to the studio and I can work all night because art still manages to feed me more than food and any other elements. So it’s, it’s, it’s a structured mess is probably, yeah. The best way I can describe it. Where you, you look at a pile of junk, but you know where everything is within it is kind of how I look at my life. That, yeah, I’m, I’m trying, trying my best it’s never perfect, but I’m getting better and better at it.

00:46:18 Nick Breedon
And would you, would you say like, that it’s typical for you to work, you know, those structures that you described of, you know, admin or more creative kind of practice, are they, , similar each day where you, you know, say you work from 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM doing admin, and you know, certain times doing creative work. Is that, is that kind of a similar sort of routine for you each day or is that different? Would you mind giving us a little bit of detail?

00:46:46 Tony Albert
Sure. You try. I like to go and get a coffee and I like to procrastinate a lot to be very honest. It, it’s the best thought out plan and it will never happen like that because the creativity is well and truly miles above wanting to do anything else. So it might take me an hour to do the email in between cutting something out or drawing something or gluing something or painting something. It’s, it’s a bit of a love hate relationship. I know it has to be done, but I’ll really draw out the fact that it needs to be done. It’s never as structured as I’d like it to be. Yeah. But it will get done. And that’s also this, these other realities of understanding the way in which we work, that those kind of things are okay. I try to go just with the collection, just unpack one box. That’s all you have to do. And that’s all I have to do on a whole day. But that won’t be about the five minutes of just doing it, It’ll be taking one thing out every hour for seven hours is how I attack those kind of problems.

00:47:58 Nick Breedon
Just open the box just open it, and then see what happens.

00:48:02 Tony Albert
That’s right. And it’s, so, that’s the more functioning way of my kind of studio work, but I, what I, I have to do is know, I’ve got between this pickup, this drop off time, and this pickup time is when I’ve got the opportunity to do this amount of work. How that work gets done is not as structured as in the fact that there’s a start and a finish time.

00:48:26 Kiera Brew Kurec
Tony, would you mind sharing with us some of the resources that have assisted you through your practice over the years?

00:48:34 Tony Albert
Sure. ’cause there’s a, a lot of them.

00:48:37 Kiera Brew Kurec

00:48:38 Tony Albert
And to be an artist, you need I, I’ve also been in the situations I, as I said, I reflect so much and I see when other people struggle and I don’t want that struggle in my life. The institution gave me the potential to not understand the kind of artist I want to be, but really know the kind of artist I don’t wanna be. Because it can be so over encompassing on our lives. And you can make things so much more difficult for yourself. So I try not to involve you know, the kind of media stuff, the kind of interview, the kind of, I, I, I don’t often engage a whole lot of with that because I can’t control that. And I’ve seen when people try to control that, how it can consume your life. And I just don’t want that I, I’m a big believer in once something leaves the studio like it, then it is on its own journey. I don’t try to control that, you know, curators, , they, they have, they do what they’re good at. So I try not to involve myself. You know, it’s like there’s the work, however you choose to hang it or the context. I let that go. Oh my God, I’ve completely gone on a tangent where I feel I’ve lost the context of the question.

00:50:08 Kiera Brew Kurec
No, it’s an interesting thing ’cause I think for a lot of people it’s really hard to let go of a work once it’s out of the studio. And I guess there’s also, you know, that like whole meme of like artists in the studio and how they handle their work and, you know, we’re so rough and hands-on with it and then it leaves the studio and everyone’s like, with white gloves and like, being very precious with as well.

00:50:31 Tony Albert
Oh, I’ve been to remote community, you know, dogs walking across canvases. I’ve scrunched things up in my bag. I kind of get back to the gallery. Yeah. And the white gloves come off and you’re like, oh my God, I was just wiping dog shit off this painting like 24 hours ago.

00:50:46 Nick Breedon

00:50:48 Tony Albert
It’s very hilarious. No, but , the reality I have an incredibly great network of people I rely on, and one of them is the ProppaNOW artist collective based in Brisbane a group of artists that were all very like-minded. We came together because we’re literally, you know, having breakfast, lunch, and dinner with each other. all our work challenges the kind of position that is ascribed to Aboriginal art. They became such a huge driving force behind me. Just when you find your people and a a, a challengeactually you can laugh at it instead of cry about it when you are with other people. When you are with that network, when you are with those friends, when you are with those people who are experiencing the same kind of challenges, that the hitting their head against the wall for the same kind of reason you are, you know, that those kind of networks become really, really important. My gallery is so important to me and I’m the kind of artist that’s like, oh my God, if there’s an opening and we’re short on glasses, like I’ll be in the back washing them up, because, I just feel you’re part of a team. You want their success is, is part of your success. So, yeah, you know, it is a bit of a different world to the corporate one or, it, it’s difficult to navigate or sometimes have harder ask harder questions because there’s, there’s so much love involved within it. I’ve never looked at those kind of relationships as in, in a professional capacity of a, a boss employee kind of thing. It’s always been about a team. And when you are in a team, you know, there’s, there’s no kind of, there’s no silly questions there is no bad ideas. Actually the, the, the best ones come through these kind of morbid conversations where, you, you filter out so much. I rely so heavily on my family as well to, to know at the end of the day that sometimes, praise the Lord, you know, washing gets done, that is not gonna happen just by myself. Yeah. My family network, I have an amazing sister who, who manages to somehow still drop kids off to different places amongst her day. And I alluded to earlier a family that doesn’t quite understands what I do, but really respects the fact that there is some kind of outcomes which are good for all of us. If they just hang in there and believe that this time Tony spends in this shed, actually somehow does something for us, that’s a leap of faith as a whole. Constantly listen to other people. I, I feel like even in these experiences, it’s all kind of comes down to me and I’m telling people about my life and actually that you have to take time to learn about other people’s lives and listen to other people know what’s going on in the world, make decisions about that and where you want, you know, just be informed and involved. I’ve become so heavily ingrained in the climate movement, particularly in the last five years. I would say the last decade, but the last five years, like it’s really, really part of my life. I’m really concerned about the situation that we’re facing and that our children will face, and I want to be a proactive person in systematic change for that. So you know, I just don’t think it’s good enough just to live, just to be present. Like, you, you, there’s, there’s convictions, it’s hard to even articulate, but knowing the kind of person, not just the kind of person you wanna be, but living up to that is, is really, it’s so important. And it’s not, it’s as difficult as, it is not difficult because when it becomes a part of your life, it just is something that just happens and you do. It’s like people saying there’s no ideal time to have a child, but when you have a child, things just change. And, I just think that, you know, have ideals and principles and do something about that.

00:56:06 Kiera Brew Kurec
Yeah. I think, well that leads so perfectly into our final question, which is if you could go back in time and offer some advice to yourself when you perhaps were just entering university or just on the other side of it, what advice would that be?

00:56:26 Tony Albert
I really am grateful for all the things that have happened and I’m someone who has learnt by doing things wrong and there’s something kind of really great about that. That it, it, it hasn’t been sheltered, or, I’ve learned that way, but I think, on top of all of that to there are times to not take yourself so seriously as well and to enjoy the moment. Is is probably all I’d say, but, you know, it, it’s everything that has led to now I feel has had some kind of importance or reflection on the fact or, or the kind of person that I am or have become, because of that. But, you know, I think there’s this great thing when I look at, you know, cultural identity and having been able to travel the world is that, you know, socioeconomics, there is, there is really good and bad things in really high socioeconomic life, and there is really good and bad things in low socioeconomic socioeconomic life. . And they, that, that parallel is, is not necessarily, you know, just about, money and I love that, some of the lowest the forms of poverty, I’ve found the greatest sense of humour and love, and, you know, to,vlove what I have, don’t be disappointed about what I don’t have, and that’s you know, a really difficult thing for everyone to, to grapple with and understand. But I do have everything I need in my life with me. And that is, yeah. I, I don’t, don’t ever lose or escape or think that you, that you need more. So yeah, time for fun and engagement and, time to reflect on, on all the great things you have, not the things that you, you don’t have.

00:58:48 Kiera Brew Kurec
Thank you.

00:58:48 Nick Breedon
We’re just crying over here now.

00:58:50 Kiera Brew Kurec
No, that’s beautiful. Thank you so much for, sharing that with us and also just, taking the time to be with us today and with our audiences. We really appreciate having you on the show. Thank you so much.

00:59:05 Tony Albert
Oh, thanks a real honour for me as well, so thank you.

00:59:08 Nick Breedon
Thanks, Tony.

00:59:09 This episode was recorded on the Sovereign lands of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to the traditional custodians, the Gadigal and Bidjigal people, and pay respects to elders past, present, and emerging. We extend this acknowledgement to the traditional custodians of the lands and waters that this podcast reaches you on today.

00:59:29 Our intro music is created by Evelyn Ida Morris.

00:59:33 Kiera Brew Kurec
This season Pro Prac was generously supported by the Australia Council for the Arts New Project Grant.

00:59:41 Nick Breedon
Thanks for listening to Pro Prac. You can listen to other episodes and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can stay up to date with what we’re up to on Instagram @propracpodcast or send us an email at