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Michael Doolan

Studio

Jesse Marlow

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Studio

Abbotsford Convent is a hive of creativity thanks to the likes of artist Michael Doolan, haunting the former nuns’ cells. Gradually filling up his modest space with small-scale versions of his ‘fabrications’ has helped him to settle in.

Interview by Toby Fehily. Photography by Jesse Marlow.

Michael: My studio is in the Abbotsford Convent, on the second level of the convent building. It’s a small space that used to be part of a dormitory for nuns, novices and postulants.

Someone came through the other day saying that there is some kind of spirit haunting one of the other studios, but I haven’t seen it yet.

The convent as a whole is essentially a self-contained art precinct. The space is filled with artists but there are writers, wellbeing specialists and all sorts of other people here, too. There are also some businesses: galleries, bars and restaurants, a bakery and a yoga studio. In a way it’s transient, with a lot of artists coming and going, but at the same time the community is very strong and vibrant.

It’s a really good environment to work in and I’ve enjoyed being here. For my practice, I do a lot of large-scale fabrication and I’m often travelling to and fro between fabricators, so I spend my time here just concentrating on ideas and coming up with small-scale works that may or may not be realised in large scale.

It took me some time to settle in at first, though: empty studios worry me. Often when I’m making a piece, I’ll look back at another work or a study or something like that. It’s kind of weird, kind of barren, not having anything to refer back to. I’ve since dragged a whole lot of other stuff in here to make myself feel a bit more comfortable. Otherwise, I’d just feel like I’m camping.

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I ride my bike here and arrive most days at about 6.30 in the morning. Time is quite precious in my practice, so I make sure I use it as effectively as I can. Usually, I’ll leave at around 7pm: I get here in the dark and I leave in the dark.

The cycling helps in many different ways. In the morning, it’s a chance to think about what I need to do for the day and mentally prepare. In the evening, it’s an opportunity to consolidate and distill ideas. But it’s also a way of pressing pause, stepping back and turning your focus elsewhere, which is just as useful: you can get too close to the work at times so it’s important to return to it later with fresh eyes.

Two days a week I spend in Sydney, where I work as a lecturer at the Sydney College of the Arts at The University of Sydney. But I don’t think the academic work and my practice are completely separate: they both complement each other and feed into each other.

The students keep you on your mettle; I enjoy it when they test me out. If you say something dumb, they will pick you up on it.

At the college I am the coordinator of Contemporary Drawing, I supervise higher degree research candidates and teach Sculpture and Experimental Drawing. I mostly work with sculpture for my own practice, but I still use drawing as a way of communicating ideas and working out scale and balance and proportion. It helps solve problems, which is a big part of the work. Most of my process is about resolving issues, it’s always like: “This doesn’t look good. So why isn’t it working? And what do I need to do to fix it?”

– September 2015

Jesse Marlow

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