Life In the Studio: Thirty Years of Umbrella 1986 – 2018 – Umbrella Studio contemporary arts
By Umbrella Studio contemporary arts
Umbrella’s origins actually predate 1986, when Patricia Leddin and Keryn Locke rented a condemned shop at 631 Flinders Street as a studio in 1983 with James Martin and Lee Miller. While Umbrella did not exist, Leddin, Martin, Miller and Locke unwittingly readied the ground from which Umbrella would grow; a communal artists’ studio. The studio slowly attracted more Townsville artists as more space became vacant, becoming the city’s hub of artistic activity. In 1986, Umbrella was created as an informal group, unaware of its impact on the future of the visual arts in Townsville. Initially driven by Maia Lyn and Judy Watson, the group included Maggie Thomson, Jenny Tyack, Phil Davis and Ron McBurnie, and was formed primarily of students and educators associated with the TAFE’s Diploma of Art course, with the intention of providing communal work space. This three year Diploma formed a vibrant and seminal cornerstone of the Townsville arts community, and many projects have since stemmed from the activities of this period.
Artist and long-time Umbrella member Anne Lord later wrote of the ‘Umbrella’ name in Eyeline #25’s ‘Under Umbrella: a Brief Critical History’ (1994). ‘[…] the name applied to both the collective and space. Informal meetings helped communicate directions and strategies, and the title ‘Umbrella’ was deliberately chosen as a symbol and synonym for this group’s structure, support mechanisms and solidarity.’ Another explanation, according to Townsville art folklore, was that the name was chosen after an incident in an early (strangely unspecified) year of the studio. As Robert Barton describes in his essay for 2001’s Out of the Shed exhibition, someone ‘left a black umbrella in the studio. It was placed in the shop window in the hope of attracting the owner. No one claimed the umbrella and it stayed in the window for years, and this eventually became the symbol identified with the studio: “The old shop with the umbrella in the window”’.
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