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Joan Brassil

Andrew Frost

Joan Brassil, an installation, multi-media, sound artist and painter, was born in 1919. Although a prodigious artist who exhibited extensively both in Australia and internationally she didn’t make her debut as an exhibiting artist until 1974 when she took part in a group show at Sydney’s Bonython Gallery. After attending Sydney Teachers College [1937-39], and studies at East Sydney Technical College [1940], Brassil taught in high schools for more than two decades.

After returning to study at the Power Institute at Sydney University [1969-71] Brassil’s first solo exhibition was at the Sculpture Centre, Sydney in 1975. Her sculptural work during the mid to late 1970s was noted for its engagement with the natural world, both in terms of its form, but also for the recurring themes of nature, science and technology. During the 1980s Brassil incorporated media elements such as sound, light, and later video, into her work. Her 1982 installation The Energy of the Life Game Is All In The Membrane, Y’know is credited as her first work to incorporate video.

Brassil exhibited extensively during the 1980 and 1990s including The First Australian Sculpture Triennale, Melbourne [1982], Origins, Originality + Beyond: The Sixth Biennale of Sydney [1986], Australian Perspecta, Art Gallery of NSW [1985 & 1987]. Her work was included in two shows staged by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney: Sound In Space: Adventures in Australian Sound Art [1995] and Liquid Sea [2003]. Her international exhibitions included AUSTRALIA at Zona Gallery, Florence Italy, 1983, a group exhibition at Scan Video Gallery, Tokyo, Japan [1986], Identities: Art From Australia, at the Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan, in 1993. Brassil received an Australia Council Visual Arts/Craft Board Emeritus Award in 1988.

At the time of her death in 2005, the Australia Council noted in a press release that “Joan Brassil was a true multimedia artist whose installations merged sound and reflected light, gravel, paving stones, water, printed poems and electronics to make visual and aural connections between art and the environment. In describing her work, she once said, 'I would like sculpture to sing, sigh, reflect and inspire according to the continually changing elements of any light and sound be a place of reflection and stimulation of what is in existence here and now’”.

b. 8/08/1919 – d. 19/04/2005
Birth place
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Period of activity 
from 1974
Selected works
Selected events