Celebrating Challenges: Jill O’Sullivan


Jill O’Sullivan has always had a passion for art. Jill has spent much of her life learning about art and creating lithographs and technical drawings through printmaking.

by Sam O’Brien and Amy Crawford

A James Cook University alumna, Jill has spent much of her life learning about art and creating lithographs and technical drawings through printmaking.

The well-respected printmaker will be showcasing two of her lithographs alongside 11 other remarkable artists in the ““Celebrating Townsville” exhibition currently on at Umbrella Studio contemporary art.

JCNN’s Sam O’Brien and Amy Crawford sat down with Jill to learn about her influences, her motivations and why the dedicated artist space within Umbrella Studio is “the best thing that has ever happened” to her.



Scroll down to read the interview’s full script.

To gain more insight into Jill’s Art Musings, visit her blog.



On reflection, how do you believe teachers influenced your art practices?

A great deal of course, I started with the PDA all the way through to the PHD. But it was just the way that they [lecturers] worked, their instructions, and their support. Basically that was the main thing that worked very well with me and of course their knowledge, their technical knowledge, and being able to reference. Anne [Lord] and Ron [McBurnie] particularly were very, very good at art and knew what was happening in the current art world- and not just printmaking but historically, particularly with Anne’s drawing as well as printmaking.

You mentioned [JCU Visual Arts Lecturer] Anne Lord there, she nominated you for the Celebrate Townsville 150. What would you say her influences were on your art practices?

Basically, again her knowledge, her understanding of the lithography – my two pieces in the upcoming show are both lithographs – and I worked pretty seriously with Anne over probably in many ways, over about six or seven years. She was my supervisor in my Honours/ Masters and I ended up taking her back on for my PHD. So she’s had a lot of influence on my conception development, technical skills and total support.

When you reflect on your own art-making career, we’ve already spoken about some of your lecturers at JCU, who else or what other things would you identify as your main influences on your art?

Probably drawing- I had Bob Preston for third year drawing and that was extremely good again, technical. James Brown for certain things, I didn’t have a lot of James but I had him for different subjects and I loved his technical mind- he really is one of the best painting technicians I’ve ever come across and he knows how to apply paint. Anneke Silver developed my interest in art history and that was actually pretty interesting, even before I came to JCU I met Anneke and she run workshops supplying arts out west, and she again was extremely supportive. I think all of these people fed into where I went and what I was doing. I can’t say that I followed any of their styles because that wasn’t the way it worked in printmaking– we didn’t follow the lecturer’s style at all, you developed your own.

Does drawing play a significant role in your art practices and if so how?

Oh, it does! Well, being a printmaker you draw, it’s one of the most important- not the most important, but the most important part of printmaking. You need to understand line, tone and how it will work in black and white and you’ve got to think backwards too, being a printmaker. I was a drawer before I came to uni, and one of the reasons I came to JCU was because of their drawing and printmaking components and those capable lecturers teaching those too.

Artists most often have to be self-reliant and lead a somewhat solitary lifestyle to create their art?

In the case of the printmaker, not necessarily, as you can see downstairs (the studio). Printmakers are a pretty sociable group, and because you’re using presses and sharing, you tend to share your knowledge as well. Painters are probably more solitary people than printmakers are.

Do you think that the added social element and support network helps you maintain your motivation?

Oh yeah, you bounce off the others and the others bounce off you. Downstairs we’re working on a project at the moment and we’re all going through ideas and keeping busy!

How does having a dedicated space downstairs for the making of art enable your practices and help you to create your pieces?

Well it does, because of the equipment downstairs. With the closure of the arts and printmaking at JCU, it was going to be extremely hard to actually access machinery and I’ve actually sat up and worked out I would probably mainly deal with lead prints and drawing. This all came to be through Vicki Salisbury and the fact we could get the presses over to actually enable me to continue lithography and etching, without having to outlay a lot of expense. And the space, it’s quite important to me.

Your works have been in many exhibitions and galleries; do you have any particular works that hold a special meaning to you?

Maybe one or two, but I tend to keep looking forward to the next piece of work. There’s a few that I’ll think ‘oh that was not a bad piece’. One or two of them are in the show I really like. So that’s a bit of experimenting with different techniques for both of them and they both worked. But any particular work I look at some now and think ‘oh that’s not much good’ and with others, ‘that wasn’t too bad’. But no, I tend to look forward more than backwards on my work. That’s a challenge.

Do you have any moment or exhibition that stands out as a highlight in your career as an artist?

Well probably my Honours one was probably the first major solo exhibition I had and that was quite successful, and then by the time I did Masters I got rather used to the idea of having solo exhibitions. So I’d say my first Honours one, first solo one, is the one that stands out most.

Art has a really special place in Townsville that is often under-rated with exhibitions across the town that are recognized nationally. How important do you feel art is in the Townsville landscape?

Well it is extremely important, and it probably has stronger presence than is actually realised- Perc Tucker [Regional Gallery], Umbrella [Studios], Pinnacles [Gallery], The Drill Hall [Studio], even my little gallery- Gallery 48, we all seem to have a good turnover of people that are interested. We get quite a few downstairs having a look at print works. But it’s actually quite- in fact it’s extremely important. There are moves on to build a nice dedicated precinct. TAFE is doing its very best to keep the art practice up and teaching. It’s growing from strength to strength, it comes and goes. 20 years ago I believe it was right across performance art, right across the board, and it’s building up again today.

Originally you are from Mount Isa, what triggered your move to Townsville and how do you feel the move has influenced your art practices?

I had basically been going to summer schools of applying arts to sort of develop the artist. In ‘88 I was sick and it wasn’t that serious in the end, and so I went off to the local TAFE to do something different, and that lead to joining applying arts. Anneke Silver and Anne Lord came out from JCU with lots of pamphlets and then there was another change in circumstances and I thought ‘I’ll see if I can get in’. So I rang up Anneke and I said ‘what’s the chances of me doing uni?’ And she said, ‘you’re in’. So that was it, I sold up and told my kids I was going back to school. The eldest just said ‘oh okay, that’s alright’ and my grandkids just looked at me and said ‘you’re going to school?’. So I ran away to uni and I came for the three years and at the end of three years I said, ‘I might as well do Honours’ – at the end of honours, ‘Oh I might get a scholarship and do Masters’, then ‘Oh I might as well finish the thing off now!’. So that was the trigger, the fact I was really interested in art. I’ve been doing summer schools, mid-term schools, I went to USQ [University of Southern Queensland] and I just thought that well, I wanted to take it further. It wasn’t so much the degrees, I just wanted to know.

What are your major sources of inspiration when creating a new art work?

That depends what I’m doing. For my PHD the main thing was ancient maps, and that was a major continuation for what I was doing then. But most of the artwork I did up until I finished my PHD have all been historically based. I drew the sources from- the concepts came out of studies in modern Renaissance, ancient mapping and Ptolemy, and one was the historical background of rural figure and the land. So these are all historically based, I think where I started from, but they’re my own interpretations of them. Not so much styles but the concepts.

What is your workflow and how do those ideas from history and the Renaissance become a piece of art?

With my PHD I did huge maps, subjective mapping of place which wasn’t grids and lines, but rather the feeling and the elements of place. That’s where I went to- and there’s this thing petrography which is a subjective backing of place, so that’s how it fit into that. I took that idea and did these big maps of place. But now I’m looking at- what’s driving it a little bit at the moment- is the fact we’ve got certain projects on and so we are working to a subject. Like the one that I’m working on downstairs is one that’s going in The Vault [a showroom in Umbrella Studios]. In the downstairs group we’re looking at a shifting of the building environment. So that’s quite a challenge. Where I work, I did people for a long time, just people in place. So it changes all the time now- where I go from here I’m looking at domestic settings next I think.

You mentioned there that there are a couple of pieces you’re currently working on, are you able to tell us any more about those pieces and where they’ll be displayed?

One of the pieces was done in my Honours year and I set up a number of posers with a friend of mine, based roughly on the portraits of Vermeer. But there were other ones that I set up and I would stage the people in a similar setting- it wasn’t copying it exactly, that was just the influence there. The other one I was interested in the domestic icon, or things that people collected. And where I was living at the time, I was renting with Ron McBurnie and his window sill over his kitchen was full of glass bottles and so I actually documented that as a lithograph because it was quite fascinating. That was a fairly recent piece- well not that recent now, it was about 2006, but that was where I was looking at investigating. And I’m quite interested at going back into that.

Do you have any plans for the future? Are there any exhibitions or competitions you will be entering in the short-term future?

I haven’t bothered with competitions for quite a while, just one is the time factor. But yes at the moment I’ve just finished working with compact prints which is here, I’m working on the piece for Shift in The Vault and I’ve got the postcards coming up. So that’s three major things all in within the next two months. What happens next year, I’m not quite sure yet! I’ve got another one too [current project] which opens… at our little gallery with Anne Lord and a friend of ours from out west, related to the dry tropics.

Outside of your own work, are there any pieces of artwork in Townsville that stand out to you as particularly influential or significant?

Well probably not influential, but I really like Ron McBurnie’s- the way he draws, prints and of course he has some really nice works. James Brown, Anneke- well basically I keep going back to these people who I’ve worked with or not so much that they’ve influenced my artwork but artwork that I’ve responded to quite happily. Then there’s on a day-to-day basis what’s produced here [in the Umbrella Studios workshop] with the other artists, it’s no piece or one piece that I’ll sort of say ‘wow!’ but there’s a few pieces I do say ‘wow!’. There’s quite a few people who are working here whose works I really like.

This year marks Townsville’s 150th year anniversary. How important do you feel it is that the history of Townsville’s art is recognized as part of commemorations?

Well it’s probably most important- artists have been working here since Townsville was founded. If you look at some of the prints and drawings in the Special Collections at JCU, you can see that there’s actually a time it played quite an important part in recording Townsville and arts of Townsville. The artwork that’s still produced now is still, a lot of it is recording the town as it is or was. So I think it’s quite important. And it has, I mean it’s not just art it’s hands on artwork, photography, even plays and music festivals- that’s all part of the art scene here and I think that’s still important. The Chamber Music Festival gets recognised Australia wide and internationally. These are things that make up a community and fits into culture.

You work across a number of mediums outside of printmaking, what is your favourite medium to work in?

Drawing. I used to paint- I used to be an oil painter- but I haven’t got the room to keep storing the canvases. So there’s drawing, mixed medium, and believe it or not digital work. The 3D printer’s providing a bit of a challenge there and the other one would be mixed medium- sculpture, 3D, yeah. I’ve taught pretty well through most of those mediums one way or the other.

You have run workshops in the past, educating Townsville’s next generation of artists. How does it feel to see your art practices influencing and developing the next generation of the region’s artists?

Well it’s good. I think my main thing is the fact that I’ve- where I’ve tried to impart downstairs and into workshops is the technical side of things, so if it’s done properly. That’s what I’m hoping I’ve helped with, I don’t see if my artwork is a major influence on them, but I think my technical knowledge was.

It was mentioned that there are challenges involved in the making of your art; do you find that that challenge adds motivation or do you look for pieces you could do easily?

No. I’m experimenting with different types of aqua tinting downstairs which is quite a challenge because we can’t use certain types of aqua tinting because of the health and safely things. That’s been good fun and so we’ve all been playing with that. I just like the technical challenge and to see ‘how will we get out of this?!’