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Gary Willis

b. 1949

Gary Willis was born in 1949 and grew up in Canberra. In high school he studied Maths and science, technical drawing & English. On finishing he moved to Sydney and worked at The Australian newspaper and later (c.1969) in the advertising Department at David Jones. During this period he spent much of his “spare time visiting art galleries; Bonython's, The Yellow House, Inhibodress, Gallery A, AGNSW.

He notes that amongst his most memorable experiences were some of the events at Bush Video's Futron Building, where he saw early experimental video works, and participated in an Art and Social Politics forum held in the Bush Video dome on the roof of the building. The event was hijacked by Tim Burns and converted into a memorable performance work where the audience had to break through Burns' iced-up doorway to get back into the building.

Other interests included the sub-culture of the time, and he had friends on the SRC at Sydney University, frequented the 'Resistance' bookshop, and clubs such as 'The Gas Lash'.”

He did not do art at high school, but “started art school in 1970; studying all the usual subjects plus photography and audio arts. Video was not available at this time. He graduated from Preston Institute of Technology (P.I.T. Melb).

His early works often involved staging conceptual events, and thus he was open to everything. He read most of the conceptualist material available in the P.I.T. Library; including the magazines Art Forum and Studio International, and he was keenly interested in Zen, Duchamp, Cage, and artists including Warhol, Judd, Serra, & Kosuth, as well as theatre & performance artists such as the Viennese Actionists, Richard Forman, Stanislawski, Grotwoski.

After graduating, he staged his first events and projects in Canberra in 1973, mainly outside the art gallery system, These events engaged a broad spectrum of creative individuals and institutions of the time including; Canberra Poets, Canberra Children's Theatre, ANU, N.ational U.niversity D.ance E.nsemble, Jim Cotter at the Canberra School of Music, as well as numerous non-arts people. His first project was a piece entitled 'About-Face' 1973, which went to air on ABC television one weekday afternoon in Canberra just before the 6:00 news. at 5.50pm.1

Willis has noted: “I am not sure that my work ever aspired to be 'video-art' as much - rather I used 'video' as the means to engage mass audience - largely television - in this regard it came from a post-object conceptual art practice.”2

His recent projects include

'The Myth of VOSS' at the Baillieu Library Melb. Univ. -

'Melbourne- Moderne' at the Maroondah Art Gallery -

His PhD - 'The Key Issues Concerning Contemporary Art' - has recently been published as a part of the Univ. Melb. 'Thesis Series'.

He has lived and worked at Gulag Studios (East Brunswick) since 2000 and in 2009 organised the 2009 'GULAG' exhibition at the Counihan Gallery curated by Dr. Sheridan Palmer.

  • 1. There is more detail on this project and others in his book 'Diary of a Dead Beat Modern Art Type'.
  • 2. Comment in WIllis email to Di Smith (26 April, 2012)
Gary Willis