Artists in iso: Tony Albert

Bunkered down in Brissy with his nieces, artist Tony Albert puts two major exhibitions on hold and pivots to homeschooling during isolation.

Tony Albert’s gallery, Sullivan + Strumpf, explains that his practice explores contemporary legacies of colonialism in ways which prompt audiences to contemplate elements of the human condition. It is that foundation of empathy in his work, along with a good dose of research, that has made is an easy pivot for the Brisbane-born, Sydney based First Nations artist.

Albert has returned back over the border to Queensland to support family during COVID-19 closures.

The closures came just a couple weeks after his work was unveiled in NIRIN: the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, with new pieces presented at the National Art School and Cockatoo Island. It also came just weeks before Albert was to unveil a new body of work at Canberra Glassworks (CGW), the result of residency and his first transition to the medium of glass. Half hung, and sitting in a darkened gallery, it will be unveiled when the doors reopen at CGW.

ArtsHub caught up with Tony Albert to check in with how his studio practice has shifted, and learn the challenges and the projects that have defined this isolation period for him.

How has COVID-19 affected your arts practice ‒ your day to day making?

Albert told ArtsHub, ‘I found myself in Brisbane for isolation so I could support my family. I also have my sister’s daughter as she is an essential worker, so I am also currently homeschooling. This is a massive change and something very different for me, but I am grateful to be here and be able to help my family.’

During isolation Albert has – along with his niece Bree – participated the Art Gallery of NSW’s digital project Together in Art. Designed to create meaningful art encounters that offer daily inspiration and connection, Albert tackles the task of making a DADA poem.

In an interview with his gallery in March, Albert said that it is his family, his people and his culture that inspires him. He added: ‘I am usually quite busy, so I work on multiple projects at once. This gives me a chance to mix up my day and keep myself interested.’

Were you personally impacted by cancellations / loss of income?

‘The Sydney Biennale closing has of course been disappointing. It was such an important biennale. I know all involved put so much work into it. I also had to cancel a solo exhibition at the Glassworks in Canberra. This is all disappointing and will have many impacts.’

Have you found opportunities ‒ collaborations or projects that have arisen out of COVID-19?

‘When I look at the impact globally, I feel it’s hard to complain. As an artist I am used to working in isolation,’ said Albert.

What have you become obsessed with during lockdown?

‘Food ‒ I feel a national weight loss program is going to be needed after lockdown.’

What is the first thing you want to do post-Covid-19?

‘Hug every teacher I pass. They are worth their weight in gold and are so important. Having a school aged child at home 24/7 is a nightmare!’ 

Tony Albert is focusing on making new work at the moment, ahead of the Melbourne Art Fair, when it will be relaunched. He is represented by Sullivan+Strumpf.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina