Tony Albert’s home studio in Brisbane


Tony Albert’s profile has risen vertiginously since he was granted, at age 37, a major survey exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery titled Visible. His practice spans painting, collage, installation, public art and sculpture, notably drawing on an enormous archive of ‘Aboriginalia’ collected since childhood (souvenirs produced by non-Aboriginal artisans, usually decorative domestic objects featuring Aboriginal motifs).

In recent years he has traded his Carriageworks studio in Sydney for a spacious house in Brisbane’s city fringe, within a bushy acreage suburb where there is air, space and schools for his young family. Here, for the first time, Albert’s archive of Aboriginalia has been accommodated in its entirety, along with his books and a residency possibility for other artists.

In the home studio are works in progress toward Remark, the second iteration of Albert’s Conversations with Margaret Preston series—not to mention his upcoming public artworks and pieces in group exhibitions.

Photographs by Joe Ruckli for Art Guide Australia.


Tony Albert: My move back to Brisbane was premature. I thought I had another 10 years in Sydney but, with the pandemic, I was caught in Queensland with the lockdown for long enough to ground me. My mum and an uncle ended up living with us, and I looked after a little boy in that time period as well. Ultimately it just made much more sense to come back here.

I needed the biggest space I could get, with the idea that I’m going to be here for a very long time. There are other considerations with living here now as well, including children and schooling. I always knew I’d come back home to Brisbane, and it is a place where I can start to give back the kind of opportunities I was given when I was starting out as part of proppaNow [a Queensland Indigenous art collective]. I’m in a position now to do that of my own accord. It is really important to me, and in this place I have space to make it happen.

This is the first time my storage units from all over Australia have been able to come ‘home’ and I have access to everything that I’ve accumulated for the first time ever. That’s really exciting. The children, my family and the dog, Archie, wander in all the time. I really want the studio and what I’m doing to be very ingrained in their life. And make sure that the opportunity to create and make is there for everyone.

Photographs by Joe Ruckli for Art Guide Australia.


Tony Albert: Collaboration is really the heart and soul of my practice. It’s not just driven through Indigenous philosophy. Having had the opportunity to travel, there is so much kinship in Queensland and collaboration becomes like just working with friends. There’s this opportunity to get together, to explore ideas. It’s very organic, part of a lifestyle, rather than a way of working collaboratively. I take any opportunity to be able to work with other artists. That’s branched out to people like authors and other creatives, so you can do really interesting things.

When an opportunity arises, it’s a bit like the conceptual basis of my work and selecting the best medium. My work spans so many different media: photography, fabric, Aboriginalia, public sculpture. But when there’s an idea or something that stems from it, you search for who’s going to be the best person to facilitate that.

These days, given other commitments, I really try to have work hours. There are school drop offs and a finite amount of time in a day for the utilisation of my practice, which has never happened for me before. So, it’s been a learning curve. And then, outside of that, there are a lot of other responsibilities.

Photographs by Joe Ruckli for Art Guide Australia.


Tony Albert: I have many public art commissions underway, including one for the new Sydney Football Stadium, and another for Brisbane Botanic Gardens. Some of these reflect the studio work which is influenced by Margaret Preston.

What I am making in the studio at the moment is for my exhibition in October. When the first Margaret Preston show Conversations went up at Sullivan+Strumpf in 2021, there were elements still coming through. I decided that the next show would be a second iteration and kept working towards those themes with a lot of the source imagery.

I followed my heart and my instinct. There’s something incredibly joyful as an artist when you are looking at the fabric and trying to match up different things. It’s a wonderful medium. There’s something playful and almost kindergarten or school-like, a very fun zone with the colour blocking and images. In this studio I’ve been able to work on a much grander scale than I have before, so these works are larger.

The fabrics I am using are from the archive. They have never been utilised before, like the paper and playing cards that were never part of the bigger installations, given their fragility. In lockdown, and having finite materials to work with, I really started to pick up on the nuances of the fabric and the trajectory where Preston was so influential in home décor, the inner design of the house, but reflecting the Australian identity of a ‘smart’ home. When I began looking more heavily at that iconography, it took me back to the source of Aboriginalia, which was about bringing the outside in, and decorating mid-19th century homes.

The international presence of Indigenous people in the art world now is incredible. People are really starting to stand up and take notice. It surpasses anything I’ve witnessed in my career and I’m really happy to be part of it.

Tony Albert
Sullivan+Strumpf (New Melbourne gallery)
20 October—12 November

20th anniversary exhibition: JUWSPA award
HOTA (Home of the Arts) (Gold Coast QLD)
From 17 September

This article was originally published in the September/October 2022 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Studio Words by Louise Martin-Chew