I have painted 33 murals around Australia - public art, community art, commissions,Ceramic tiles, indoors and out. My murals have reached a huge public profile. Clients have included architects, interior designers, councils, community arts centers, service clubs, pubs, townships, businesses and museums. I work through a collaborative co-operative design process to a finished mural. I love working on a large scale, enjoy the challenge of designing, fabricating and driving the project to completion. My first major mural was for the Civic Theatre in Newcastle, which I started in 1979. I was a part of the resurgence of community and public art during the 1980's and 90's. Remember the wonderful huge murals in America. It was often about giving communities a public voice and profile and bringing art to the street level. Collaboration skills, working as a team, designing around a brief ,being prepared to put your life on hold while these mammoth monsters needed steering. Each one had their own highs and lows. I think you need a lot of inner resilience to work at these sizes, you have many issues to solve as well as a great need for endurance. Weather conditions if working outdoors dominate the schedules and rain unexpectedly can be heart breaking.
A 1980-1 Civic Playhouse; Hunter Valley Theatre Company "The Playhouse Mural" 14m x 6m.app. acrylic .
Up the Ladder with the Amazons from a story first published in Artemis vol.11 no 2 official publication of the Newcastle Gallery Society
The Playhouse Mural
I jumped out of bed, groggy after a late night of painting. Gabrielle O’Connor was on the telephone -
would I be interested in doing a mural at the Civic Playhouse?
I bustled into the theatre next day, clutching a disheveled portfolio of work. Aarne Neemi, Director of the Hunter Valley Theatre Company, inspected the work over an ironing board, balancing prints on a sewing machine. He liked the work and said the job was to paint Photo Realist people up and down the stairwell. The dreaded money issue was the next problem and with sweaty hands and embarrassed silences, I gave my quote. Stunned silence - rethinking was needed - price too high - cynically, I found myself thinking “another labour of love”. A night of pondering and considering the possibilities of such a mural - I was excited by the idea, the size, the public access to it, the chance to get back into painting after a year of printmaking I work for Newcastle-Out-of-Workers (NOW.) tutoring Art and Craft on Fridays and Etching on Thursdays. Last year we renovated a room at their centre at Fort Scratchley and painted a mural on the ceiling. I approached Maureen Tredinnick, a project officer with NOW. about this job to see whether we could make it a project for the art class. Since one of the aims of NOW. is to reach out into the community, she readily agreed. The people in my class liked the idea, so I asked for volunteers. I phoned Aarne Neemi, whose response to the idea was, in his own words, “Let’s do it”. A rough plan was made, paints were bought and the job started 10 a.m. Monday. This decision and process took six days. ‘Fools enter where wise men and women dare not!’ I met Janice Prince, one of the out-of-workers and between us we unscrewed all of the partitions on the stairs. Janice is a stunning- looking lady, and in her hot pants, was the reason for a lot of the attention we attracted, a taste of public working that was to become common-place over the many weeks ahead. With a couple of sanding machines, we worked away. The height of the walls presented a real problem. It was impossible to set up stable scaffold on the stairs and its cost too prohibitive as a serious consideration. Panic at the extent of the project - it seemed to be growing by the moment. A couple of tough working-class punks came in off the street and offered to help, “at a price”. We talked to them for a while and they agreed to help sand the more inaccessible heights. They were out of work, had just thumbed down from Brisbane, were broke and looking for work. That’s how we met Matthew Ayres. He came in and worked for the next few weeks, especially clambering up the ladders - when he didn't’ have a mad crush on Janice.
The first few weeks were very exciting. We found problems and unorthodoxly solved them, laughing a lot, acting the fools and creating a lot of curiosity in the general public. I had generous help from a lot of people, in fact, someone came in every day. Bernice was very helpful as a fellow trained artist, she did a lot of the squaring-up and drawing of the cupids and helped with the placement of them. Having just had a bit of fun with angels and cupids in some recent etchings (using them as symbols of daydreaming and syrupy idealism), the higher parts of the walls just asked for a couple. So I started from the top, with a hasty decision to put three Amazon ladies over the archway, following classical solutions to architectural painting. I am fascinated by fantasy and realism, exact opposites, yin and yang, good and evil. The idea of three Rubenesque naked women floating around on clouds like seas and fat babies with old faces and little wings whizzing about in our carbon monoxide air traffic corridors, was very appealing. Instead of pilots having trouble with seagulls, the message from plane to tower would be “Cupid has been sucked into engine number three and we are being bombarded by large angry naked mothers. Arrows are being shot into the fuselage. Is Superman coming to reprimand us?” Imagine what havoc they could create with the early warning system of the Super Power's The three ladies took up a lot of time as I used part of Boucher’s Setting of the Sun as the basic arrangement. The reproduction I worked from was minute, about three inches across and while standing on a none-too-stable ladder, I blew it up to six feet proportions. Up and down, all day long, to check on progress. I found the working drawing impossible, and had to change much of the original. I lost about one and a half stone in weight while up that ladder, experienced two days unable to walk for swollen feet and days in tears with the sheer frustration of the physical difficulties. I changed two of the faces completely, two or three times, until I achieved the right solutions. One of the ladies had breasts like upthrust boulders and many of the men working in the theatre took a personal interest in ensuring that they attained desirable proportions. Throughout this period we had constant feed-back from the people working in the theatre, the vitality was infectious and we all felt like kids at a picnic. As in any new situation, it was a getting-to-know-you period. The day of peak participation was a Friday, when Janice, Bernice Davies, Cathy Bradley, Wayne Stevenson, Sherelle Butler, Matthew and myself, were all working on the wall. I was up the ladder with the Amazons, and also trying to find jobs for all of the helpers. Maureen brought in a young girl who wanted drawing lessons and at least ten other people came in for chats and progress viewings. On another occasion at least twenty project officers visited from a state conference held at Newcastle- Out-of-Workers. Their lunch break visit was closely followed by that of two classes of art students from the Technical College who arrived in time to receive an impromptu lecture on male chauvinism. Their cryptic and off-putting remarks included “What happens when the vandals come in and put graffiti all over it?” “You seal it so it can be washed off” was my reply. I also had a guy come in who lectured me for three hours on my spiritual development and my previous reincarnations. The catch to all this was that he could only disclose these mystical qualities providing I had lots of money and could afford his price ! In effect the human contacts I have made on the job have left me in a quandary. How can I return to working in the isolated, boring studio again? Nevertheless, while working on the mural there have been many occasions when I have needed to pull difficult problems together and isolation has been a necessity. Then I would work on the wall all through the night and sleep during the day. The only disturbances were the drunks and seamen looking for discos and pubs in the early hours of the morning. Over the past couple of years, I have gradually emerged from an isolated artist’s position, having public contact only once a year at exhibitions. Starting with opening my shopfront at Carrington to the locals I was painting, and putting on a successful exhibition in the Church Hall in Carrington, I found I was receiving strong local support and involvement. I became deeply involved in the formation and progress of the Newcastle Printmakers Workshop, helping to set up weekend workshops, an access centre for the production of prints and self-run exhibitions such as the successful one at the Newcastle Workers Club. In conjunction with the Workers Cultural Action Committee of Trades Hall it combined demonstrations of, and films on, printmaking. A public mural done with community help is a good extension of this philosophy. I think “ART” and the artist have been isolated from the mainstream of society for too long. I believe “ART” tends to be an elitist product, perpetuated by ‘the elite’, who want to keep it a secret’, only allowing a small group of people in each year, to ensure the continuation of the myth of the mystic. With the downturn in education, younger artists no longer have the opportunity to find their survival money in teaching. On $51 per week unemployment benefit, they are not in a position to set up expensive studios. Access centres, and workshops will be on the increase, to make better use of equipment and to ensure new artists are given some chance of survival. The public will benefit because, with an increase in leisure time they will be looking for more enrichment in their lives, and as they become members of these workshops, they will be exposed to, and benefit from, contact with the trained artists. For me, the idea comes from the feminist ideal that: to survive and to promote change, there is support and stimulation in collectives. To disentangle yourself from institutions and at the same time have access to good equipment, enables greater independence and more honest art. This wall, to me, has become a symbol of community involvement, worker participation, and the intermingling of two art forms, and a chance for the community to see the plain hard work that goes into art.
My next article relating to the project will cover the aspect of “Reality” in the mural, the ‘real’ people coming up the stairs. B. Hansen – Chawner. (ps there was no other article)
To draw up the people, I had first to find the models from friends,theatre company and general public walking past the front of the Civic Playhouse. We posed them on the stairwell as I needed to get the angle of viewing and feet positions right and the same light source.To transfer the drawing onto the wall was difficult.It was before I reinvented a paper transfer method. Allen Chawner made me black and white slides which I then projected into a mirror which bounced the images onto the wall.There was not enough distance to do large scale direct projection. Distortion was a bit of a problem but it generally worked . This job was were I learnt all about murals. It took me about 10 months or more to do. The budget barely covered materials.I found myself working in unsafe conditions, day and night, without wages. One night I had been up on a ladder for hours,it was in the middle of the night and when I came down my ankles collapsed under me. I had to crawl to a telephone to get rescued.The theatre company also worked on tight budgets and really when I started I had no idea what it would involved or how long it would take. This was my steepest learning curve and It helped give me a life's work. The issue of artists work and making a basic living wage is one we all face and struggle with.During the next few years I managed to find ways to support myself doing murals,banners and some part time teaching.
My mother M.D.Hansen modeled for this mural.It was the best portrait I'd painted of her.The night I painted her was a all nighter.I remember playing Wagner operas' on full blast ,and crying for most of the time.It was painted on a panel, I was standing on a table in a old class room alone with my thoughts and music.
After a long delay the panels were finally put up on the cottage.At the opening.The dismay this mural coursed was not always apparent to me. Some important people were not here, certainly not the ones who should have been, probably my fault. Years later in a painful story I read what people thought about it. Trouble is none told me directly. Newcastle could be a small town, and there are unspoken rules and outsiders don't always "get It". It has a vibrant art scene but it is also very peer dominated and you were part of the "In" crowd or marginalized. I often felt I wanted to be a artist and to survive too much, could not behave according to unspoken but understood peer group rules and just was incapable of fitting in. I know I broke new ground and certainly brought art back to the streets and into a public eye.When I started doing this a lot of artists were unwilling to be seen doing public art as it was not being kool. The snobbery. For me the concentration of doing the work and trying to do something special,pushing each project to its limits, my own limitations, and the focused concentration or zone I get into when working which can be a curse for others around me would dominate the condensed bubble of time allowed for each project. I took the pressure and the responsibility too serious. I do not know how to multi task well, I do one thing to its extreme then tend to collapse then "Next" When it became obvious that I'd received a high profile and public success I felt run over by the stampede elbowing into this area.lol.
mock up of mural made when permission to erect panels on site was not given 1982
article - Newcastle Morning Herald.May 25 1983. Transcript (B) above
(B) Jobless mural is finished but nobody has even noticed.
AFTER two years of delays and frustrations, financial and bureaucratic problems, and even a paint strike, Newcastle Out-Of- Workers’ Fort Scratchley cottage Is finally adorned with its ‘Women and Unemployment’ mural — and nobody’s noticed! The mural has been up for several weeks but seems to have stirred little reaction from the public.
Newcastle Out-Of-Workers and the mural artist, Birgitte Hansen-Chawner, were surprised by the anti-climax. Birgitte, of Carrington, said the mural project started two years ago from an art class she was teaching at Newcastle Out- Of-Workers. ‘The participants were asked to do a series of drawings around the Fort Scratchley area with a view to creating a mural reflecting their environment and concerns,’ Birgitte said. A drawing by Geoff Horn was chosen as the basis for the mural. Students researched the design and the Out-Of-Workers applied for grants from the Premier’s Department Cultural Activities Division and the Community Arts Board of the Australia Council. A grant of $4,500 was approved for the project. Despite threats to the future of CYSS at the time, Birgitte and, some of her students decided the project was worth continuing. She and Geoff Horn worked on the mural for several months, assisted by some former members of the CYSS art classes. They painted the murals on panels designed to fit a wall of the Fort Scratchley cottage, using a room of the Union Street Art School Annex as a studio. Then came another blow. Bureaurocratic problems cropped up when the painting was finished, and it looked like the mural would not be allowed on the site planned for it.
‘There was a delay of 12 months due to the unsatisfactory replies received in response to letters of enquiry from supporting groups and from the bodies funding the project,’ Birgitte said. ‘Finally the groups concerned have decided to go ahead and erect the mural, and we put it up on the day of the Federal Election,’ she said. It obviously blends well into the scenery, no-one appears to have noticed it,’ Birgitte said. The mural depicts a young woman and an older woman, in front of symbolic gates on a background of Newcastle’s industrial landscape. ‘The image of the two women, represents women’s employment problems: for older women, employment in industry was closed for young women, higher education offers more opportunities (the open gate),’ Birgitte said. ‘But today, with industry (particularly BHP) laying of workers on a massive scale, perhaps even that vision was too optimistic‘There are now opportunity for women to gain apprenticeships in previously male dominated areas, but women are not applying because they believe there are no jobs available at the end. They are returning to the traditional (eg secretarial) areas The mural is painted in acrylic paint rather than house paint (due to a paint strike) and Is expected to have a life of about five years.
Groups mural is seeking a home. ( transcript from story in Newcastle Morning Herald no date available)
A GROUP of jobless people have been working on a mural for 10 months, but now faces the prospect of having nowhere to display it. The jobless people members of the Newcastle out of Workers, have been working on the mural under the direction of artist Birgitte Hansen-Chawner. They hoped to display it at NOW’s headquarters, a cottage in front of Fort Scratchley. But the group has run into bureaucracy. A project worker at NOW, Mrs. Maureen Tredinnick, said that although government finance for the project had not been difficult to get, a decision on the site had been delayed by the authorities involved, including Newcastle City Council and its Fort Scratchley committee, the Heritage Council and National Trust and the State and Federal Governments Administrative Services The Fort Scratchley committee had indicated that it would not object to the mural, she said. The committee’s chairman, AId John Manning, said yesterday that that the committee considered the group’s mural to be ideal for the site. A spokesman for the Premier’s Department said in Sydney yesterday that it would be up to a Federal Government department, the Department of Administrative Services, to make the decision.
A spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services said yesterday that he could not comment on the matter without investigating it.
B 1982-3 "Newcastle Out Of Workers Cottage Mural". Fort Scratchly, Newcastle East.
32 ft x 18 ft Artists Birgitte Hansen - Geoff Horn
Photograph done for mural of B.Hansen.
at site for mural over looking the harbour - industry
Painting mural inside on panels
painting panels in studio. All Photos A.Chawner
Computer ready and restoration.B.Hansen
I am still looking for photos of the original design and a good one of shy Geoff, who worked as hard as I did to bring this about. It broke his heart when it was not put up and he disappeared. I did have a phone call from him about 2 years ago, and he made and gave me a lovely carved totem stick which I still have. Hi Geoff if you read this
Erecting the panels (finally) on the side of the cottage. Allen Chawner, Carl Fisher and myself.
ARTIST’S STATEMENT; OUT-OF-WORKERS’ MURAL
During 1981 I was running an art class for Newcastle Out-Of-Workers. The participants were asked to do a series of drawings around the Fort Scratchley area with a view to creating a mural reflecting their environment and concerns. A drawing by Geoff Horn was chosen and we made research trips to the CAE Library to investigate murals from around the world. Group discussions were held and members decided what sort of image to use, how to lay it out in relation to the building and ways to organize a finished mural • The management committee and staff of Newcastle Out-Of-Workers supported the project and began the long procedure of seeking permission for use of the site and applying for grants. Grants were sought from the Premier’s • Department (Division of Cultural Activities) and the Community Arts Board of the Australia Council • Meanwhile the drawing and a colour rough were completed. We received permission from the College of Advanced Education to use the Students’ Common Room at the Union Street Art School Annexe. The mural was mainly painted by myself and Geoff Horn and CYSS participants dropping in occasionally to give a hand. We worked from black and white slides and photos done by Allan Chawner. It was technically very difficult to visualize the finished work on such a large scale and the image altered from the drawing due to aesthetic and practical considerations. It was a very exciting and at times traumatic experience for the people involved. When it was finished we ran into bureaucratic problems concerning permission to erect the mural on the Fort Scratchley site. There was a delay of twelve months due to the unsatisfactory replies received in response to letters of enquiry from supporting groups and from the bodies funding the project. Finally the groups concerned have decided to go ahead and erect the mural • As all outdoor murals are subject to weathering it is not expected to have a life of longer than five years. No permanent change or damage to the buildings is expected. The misery of unemployment is going to be with us for a long time and I believe the mural is a positive statement of unemployed people’s ability to communicate their ideas in a concrete form.
The image of the two women represents women’s employment problems: for older women, employment in industry was closed; for younger women, higher education offers more opportunities (the open gate). But today, with industry (particularly B.H.P.) laying off workers on a massive scale, perhaps even that vision was too optimistic. There are now opportunities for women to gain apprenticeships in previously male dominated areas, but waxen are not applying because they believe there are no jobs available at the end. They are returning to the traditional (e.g. secretarial)
areas. I am very pleased finally to have the mural erected on the site and feel, even with the delays, that it was a successful and worthwhile project.
smoko. verandah out of workers cottage
projecting into a mirror and bouncing it across to wall on other side
smoko with "safe" scaffolding
All Photos A.Chawner Computer ready and restoration.B.Hansen
Son Simon waiting for mum to finish
found this picture on the net of a Geoff horn , looks like Geoff about 26 years later .?? He's on the right .
A 1980-1 Civic Playhouse: B 1982-3 "Newcastle Out Of Workers Cottage Mural". Fort Scratchly, Newcastle East.
Geoff Horn avoiding camera
Jill helping paint. Jill and her husband John Rented up stairs rooms at Carrington for a while
I love to use my Skills to relate and portray multi-layered visual stories. My range of mediums and practice's with examples of my work are displayed throughout this site. Murals are my speciality. Figurative work, genre, landscape, natural and industrial. Large scale paintings. Trade Union banners. Enduring environmental art-design - Conceptualized and site specific community based art work - Paintings - Portraits, public, family, business and community stories.Collaborative team work. Being a supervising artist on Public art projects.Hand painted ceramic tile murals.I am able to work to the design brief and budget constraints when working with clients,communities,architects and interior designers.I have renovated 4 houses incorporating various paint techniques,ceramic tiles,door features,color co-ordination, murals outdoors,ceilings,walls. Mural consultancies, working with communities vie the Internet,helping with design,mural elements and fabrication techniques while the client works with their own artists to produce the mural on site is a new service. Adult+children's art classes are now on.
All images and stories by Birgitte Hansen are copyright