Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Meet Your Makers: Julie Collins & Derek John

Renowned Australian sculptor Julie Collins, curator of this year’s Lorne Sculpture Exhibition, and husband Derek John, a boiler-maker by trade, have been collaborating for the past 10 years, showing in over 15 solo shows and 92 group exhibitions within Australia and internationally.

In May they will transform Stockroom into a ‘Shared Journey’, a project two years in the making with a distinct message: “We are all in the same boat.”

You me and everybody, 2011.
Julie you have been sculpting for over 20 years, what has Derek brought to your work?

Derek has amazing skills and can use any material we need to make sculpture. This ability has really allowed our ideas to grow and expand. When we have an idea for a sculpture we are not restricted by the logistics of achieving the end sculpture.

For me this is liberating. Making art is about ideas and nothing is stopping us tell our stories

How hard is it to collaborate after having complete control up until then?

At first I suppose I was leading the way in the concepts and the formal decisions. I had been exhibiting a long time and just knew that some ideas worked and other didn’t, so I had the final say.

Now days it is definitely 50/50 we discuss every aspect of the work, concept, materials, formal, and installation choices. It is easy; we think very similarly but push each other to think harder about what we are doing. We just keep working until we are both happy.

Sculptor Julie Collins.

What are the challenges when creating art with another person, specifically when it’s your ‘other half’?

Derek is my collaborator in art, life and love. Everything we do is a collaboration so we are getting very good at it.

You’re raising three children. How do you maintain a work-life balance and what keeps you energized?

We just involve the children in everything we do, they are great studio helpers and they love being a part of what we do. Other times we are glad we have three children; they are great friends and keep each company when we have deadlines and need to keep working.

They are our inspiration in our story telling and the reason why we want people to stop and consider their position and actions in the world. Our energy, well that is simple, we live in paradise, 10 acres in the country Victoria, surrounded by bush, kids and sculpture.

Being based in regional Victoria, how does this influence your artistic expression from a city-based artist?

I have been living in regional Victoria full time for about six years now, before then I was very much a city-based artist. What I have noticed is my ability to see has expanded. I see further into the horizon now, both physically and metaphysically, I suppose.

Sculptor Derek John.

Derek grew up in Ballarat and has only lived in Melbourne off and on for about 10 years. He comes from a different perspective; I guess I’m moving closer to him every day.

If any, what do you see as the difficulties of being a regional-based artist? And how important is an artist-run gallery such as Stockroom?

I really miss being able to see every exhibition in Melbourne, going to special events I read about that morning and so on. However we live 1-½ hours from Melbourne so with a little planning I get to see that things I need and want too.


The Internet and email have dramatically changed the world for many, including the artist. We have networks all over the world and have participated in exhibitions everywhere because of our online activities. This wasn’t possible say 15 years ago, and because of this an artist can live just about anywhere and many do.

A gallery like the Stockroom is at the forefront of this mind shift, showing that the regions can support an important contemporary art space with cutting edge exhibitions.

The days of the regions being about arts and crafts only are numbered and spaces like Stockroom are beginning to attract collectors and audiences who have traditionally only frequented city based galleries.

Your latest project ‘Shared Journey’ culminates two years work created in both Australia and Ireland.

Where does the Irish influence come from and how does the work differ between the two countries?
Save our Souls, 2011.

Our work is about being a global citizen, the Irish part comes from a residency we had in Cork in 2010 and many of the works were created there. We don’t really see the work as different but yes we did get a lot of inspiration from being in Cork, Ireland and many of those ideas we are still processing.

The Shared Journey project is based around the form of a ship used as a metaphor, symbolizing the journey we are all on. Symbolically it points to global responsibility for issues such as climate change, poverty, and consumer waste. It asks: What role do we play in this journey?

The form of a ship seems to connect us all, everyone has a romantic notion of a journey and it is that emotional response which is the premise for our story telling. The ship is symbolic of the universal cross-cultural reference, bound with heritage, culture, migration, romanticism, survival and adventure.

Seven Rescues, 2011.

The ship is always by nature connected to water, whether it is represented or by its absence. Water is many things, it supports life, it aids in transportation and migration, and it is symbolic of the flow of ideas and is considered a purifier in most religions.

Why did you feel the need to create a ‘Shared Journey’?

As our local communities diminish we are increasingly becoming absorbed by a global community. This is made possible by new technology and communication.

Will it return us to the one tribe?

As artists we feel we have a significant role to play in raising such questions. Art is a vital communicator in a media drenched world. The subtlety of art can potentially create a more potent message of universal action. It is within these parameters that our practice sits.

And what do you hope people take away from the exhibition?

We are hoping that people may just consider their own position in the world and what they can do to help protect it.

Shared Journey opens at Stockroom Saturday May 21, and continues until June 12.

Words: Chauntelle Roelandts.
Thanks to Julie Collins & Derek John for the interview and images.