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In Conversation with Shane Simpson

In Conversation with Shane Simpson
2024-01-24

Will Kollmorgen (W) is a volunteer at Studio A specialising in writing support. Shane Simpson (S) is the Chair of Studio A. He has 30 years of experience in the arts and law, specialising in intellectual property. Simpson is currently special counsel of Simpsons Solicitors and founder of the Arts Law Centre of Australia.

W: Shane, you were made a Member of the Order of Australia for your service to the law and arts in 2011. Maybe on equal footing to that title, what is your chosen name from Thom?

S: My chosen name is Adam, which is rather lovely because the person who took over my firm when I retired is called Adam, and we're very close.

W: You've been appointed memberships to an array of boards throughout your career. What specifically drew you to Studio A and how have you seen it develop over the years?

S: I got involved because I was asked by the New South Wales government, 'Create NSW', to go out to Studio ARTES and meet this person, Gabrielle Mordy, to see if her idea had any legs and whether they should fund the application (for state support). I knew nothing about it ... went out to Hornsby, thought they were doing fabulous work and said that I would help them.

It's the first time I've ever been involved with people with intellectual disability ... these, our artists at Studio A, are obviously people who do not have access to formal education in arts training. They do not have access to the commercial gallery sector and the normal ways of making a living off their art. They do not, therefore, have a way of really finding who they are as a professional through this lack of training. It’s these disadvantages that I think are just bloody unfair.

W: Though this is our first time chatting, we’ve actually met before - by way of Thom Robert’s "Portriff" for the Archibald Prize. It hung proudly at the State Gallery this year and again as a central banner in the grand entrance. What was it like, Shane, to sit for Thom, then see yourself on the ‘hallowed ground’ of the Art Gallery of New South Wales?

S: Part of the joy I had from sitting was it's the first time I’ve quietly observed the studio at work. The caring and affection and focus in that room was amazing, and the way the artists were interacting with one another and their assistant artists ... really, running any business, you would love it to be running that way. How did I feel about it being on a 40 foot banner? That was pretty out there. Personally, I thought it was a real hoot, but for Thom I thought it was absolutely fantastic. What an honour for his work to be chosen as a cover for that hundredth. In terms of the Studio, it's a doorway ... a sign of approval on the part of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

W: It certainly is. There was also Love owls and mermaids singing in the rainbow pop (Oct, 2020) which stretched along this galleries entrance foreground. I read it was the first such commission by any Australian State or National collecting institution Responding, for a moment, to your reflections on sitting in the studio ... I’m astonished at how prolific and industrious these artists are. Whether they're working from home or in the Crows Nest HQ, not a day goes by where they don't have a small body or piece of art to show.

S: You’re right. It’s not occupational therapy. It's art practice by people who are striving to be professionals. It's really putting in that 10,000 hours.

W: Could you comment on the encouraging rise of licensing requests, commissions and design partnerships put to Studio A?

S: It’s gone just completely crazy. The government departments have been using (original Studio A art) for roads and the tunnels, City of Sydney for the curtaining that wraps around construction sites. There’s the wallets and diaries (Corban & Blair) and fashion ware (Romance was Born). That is a fantastic thing, because then the artists can see the object with their art. It’s reinforcement for them of who they are, what they are doing, that they're getting paid for it, and the value of money to them should never be discounted.

W: Absolutely. I think that's something I've found refreshing, that the studio is awake to the reality that these artists need to earn, need to make a living, They need to think in terms of saleability and marketability. Let’s put to bed the fallacy that ‘creativity’ and ‘fiscal-mindedness’ are mutually exclusive. These things have always worked in close tandem with one another.

S: But the lovely thing too, is that I can think of several examples where the relationship develops because the commissioning agent or the commissioner enjoys working with that artist, with the human. There’s an engagement there that goes beyond the mere creation of new artworks, which I think is sacred.

W: For the uninitiated, could you describe the value of investing in one of our artists and the importance of being a patron to this particular 'kind' of art.

S: I think it's, in fact, how I started this conversation. Each of us have an obligation, a social and ethical obligation, to assist our fellow humans in overcoming disadvantage and to create opportunity where they would not otherwise be opportunity.

Some have said to me that they wish “their cousin (or brother, or sister) had had that opportunity that those (Studio A-represented) guys are getting, “his or her life would have been very different”. For me it becomes a visceral thing. When I said a few words as Chair at the opening of Love owls and mermaids singing in the rainbow pop, the last concluding paragraph I found difficult to get out. I was emotional about what was behind me, the huge artwork, and all the artists and their families in front of me. It was very powerful.

W: Yes, I think every piece from Studio A - no matter how small or large - is borne from this same mesh of mutual support (which isn’t to overlook the fierce independence of our artists and their creative convictions). As a closing question, I imagine the highlight reel of your time at Studio A to be long and winding ... is there a particular success or artistic triumph you hold especially dear?


S: One thing that I thought was just so spectacularly good was our first Annual Report, and now our second. When you read those things and see the overall output of such a small organisation - where it's traveled in such a short time, it’s a great triumph for Gabriel and her team.

W: Well said Shane. That wraps a neat bow over this interview. Thank you for your time in speaking with me.

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