15 June 2021

Becoming an artist in the year the world stopped

| Belco Arts
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Ashley Cullen standing in front of artwork

Ashley Cullen and her exhibition, The Impulse of Hysteria, at Belconnen Arts Centre. Photo: Belco Arts.

Starting your career after finishing art school is always a daunting and challenging time. But starting in the middle of a pandemic? For young emerging artists Ashley Cullen and Megan Wilkinson, this was the difficult and unexpected start they were faced with.

Like so many studio artists, Megan says her glass art practice was hugely affected by COVID-19.

“As my main medium is glass, where you need equipment and access to a studio, the pandemic forced a break on most glass artists, especially for students still studying,” she says.

Being a painter and able to work from a home studio, the experience of 2020 was significantly different for Ashley.

“At first, I loved being home in my studio more,” she says. “I love painting alone. It can be very daunting working on something with so many eyes watching before it’s ready to be seen.

“I created more paintings during lockdown than I ever had before. But as the months went by, I missed working with other artists at art school so much – hearing everybody chatting about local shows and their own work, the struggles of meeting deadlines for projects, and actually seeing art in person.”

Ashley and Megan graduated from the ANU School of Art and Design, and were awarded EASS (Emerging Artist Support Scheme) Awards from Belco Arts that provided them with the opportunity to have a solo exhibition at the centre supported by the curatorial and marketing team.

The exhibitions are currently on display in the Generator Gallery at Belconnen Arts Centre.

Ashley describes the experience of exhibiting at Belco Arts as invaluable.

“Going straight from art school to launching my work into a real-world context has been both exhilarating and terrifying,” she says.

“I think many young artists feel a desperate sense of urgency about their future. I know I was worried about what my career prospects would look like in fine art, but working with a great gallery has really changed my perception.

“This opportunity has really opened up doors for me this year and has also connected me to Canberra’s local art community.”

Glass artwork by Megan Wilkinson

Glass artwork by Megan Wilkinson. Photo: Belco Arts.

Megan says the opportunity to exhibit her work really pushed her and helped figure out ways to develop her art practice further.

“I think I’ll always have a huge focus on material in my work,” she says. “It would be so hard not to when glass as a material is so unique.

“I think I’m ready to take a step back from thinking about creating a body of works and just go a little wild and see what I find.”

As we navigate the new normal of life with COVID-19, Ashley reminds us not to take for granted the chance to see artwork in galleries again.

“I think it’s so important to view art in real life,” she says. “So much about scale, texture and your immediate visceral response to an artwork can become sort of muffled through digital viewing.

“2020 definitely taught me a lot about discipline and committing to hard, concentrated hours of work, but it made me value the real-world moments that inspire the meaning and impetus of the work itself.”

‘The Impulse of Hysteria’ by Ashley Cullen and ‘Material Investigation’ by Megan Wilkinson will be on display at Belconnen Arts Centre until 27 June 2021.

Learn more about Ashley and Megan’s exhibitions at Belco Arts.

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