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GILSON, Deanne

DegreeThe Creation Tree of Knowledge by Deanne Gilson

Bachelor of Visual Arts (Fine Arts); Bachelor of Arts (Visual Arts) (Honours); Certificate IV in Visual Arts & Contemporary Art & Craft; Graduate Diploma of Education (Secondary)

Graduation year

2010, 2012, 2014 and  2014

Current position

Freelance,  Artist, Designer, Cultural Educator



Karringalabil Bundjil Murrup, Manna Gum Tree (The Creation Tree of Knowledge)

What are some of your career highlights?

My career highlights to date have been completing my PhD and Masters in Aboriginal Women’s Business; creating Murrup Laarr, a large-scale ancestral stone circle public art work at Lake Wendouree; being shortlisted for the the 66th Blake Art Prize; an artist residency in Guam in 2016; bringing my creation tree stories to life through film and 3D tree sculpture at the Ballarat and Melbourne White Night Festivals; designing a range of fashion and fabrics with Lea Oldjohn which was exhibited at Business of Design Week in Hong Kong; welcoming both Bob Geldof and His Royal Highness Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex to Ballarat on their visits; winning the 2020 City of Melbourne Aboriginal Melbourne Award; winning the Ballarat Arts Foundation 2020 Eureka Art Award; winning the Australian Catholic University (ACU) Acquisitive Award at the Victorian Indigenous Art Awards in 2014 and my artwork making it into the ACU collection as well as other high-profile collections throughout Australia; My Body of My Ancestors solo exhibition held at The Art Gallery of Ballarat and another exhibition at the Birrarung Gallery, Melbourne with my mum, fellow artist, Aunty Marlene Gilson; working with Victorian Opera as Cultural Costume Designer for a 2021 production; working with Yorta Yorta soprano Deborah Cheetham and the ABC on an artwork illustrating the themes explored in Deborah's song, Christmas With You in 2020. P.S, I love the Boomtown Rats, so welcoming Sir Bob Geldof was huge for me!

Describe the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of your job

I love working at my own pace in my home studio and being freelance so that I am there for my children and I can paint seven days a week. I rarely go out now with Covid. I actually love the peace to be at home and paint. I am painting my first Wadawurrung Creation Story children’s book for my grandson Arlo and preparing several commissions at the moment. My life is crazy busy and I love it.

I only work to deadlines on jobs, I ask people to take a number and wait as I can only manage this workload on strict time-frames. Although challenging it is so rewarding and I am very proud of being self-made. I could not get a job after university and never got an interview for teaching work, so I decided to teach the teachers about my culture and to date have taught over 10,000 students over the past 13 years through my cultural education workshops. I recently won a Zonta Award for this community work.

Since I was five I have wanted to be a teacher to support my art and feel sad that when you put Aboriginal on your job applications you just don’t get interviews. My provisional teaching licence expired last year and I could not get a school to help me complete it in full, I feel sad about that, it’s my one regret. However, I turned it around to an award-winning successful art practice and business, I never needed the license after all.

My career has gone full-on and I feel like I am now moving to a place of true peace with just being lucky enough to paint my Country and do my garden. A lot has happened quickly lately but I have been a full-time artist my whole life, it’s just that people have only just seemed to notice me now.

I am very proud of myself. I never got any credits to fast track anything, I did every long hard year and all the homework, while being a single parent and living in mostly poverty, I hid a lot of my situation and help my head up high, because if I did not try, my life would be so much worse off, no one was going to help me but me. I’m not alone, so many are like this and it’s about not giving up. I had to feed my children and give them a home and education was in part, half of the battle, the rest is self-determination.

What are your strongest memories while you were studying at the University?

Art camps, they are the best. I love the ceramics studio. Peter Pilven was the most giving lecturer and I loved the painting studio with Dr Loris Button, I was so happy there. I created probably around 1000 artworks while at university. I’m obsessed with art. They really supported me and I am forever thankful to them and their gentle guidance. Ballarat produces world class artists.

Do you have any advice about life after study to pass on to current students?

Don’t listen to the knockers! And if you cannot get a job, create one yourself. I am self-created. I have no organisations helping me with mentoring or funding, I never have had business support, I do it myself. Although Kate Gerritsen from the City of Ballarat and Peter Pilven still support my practice through kindness and some mentoring. Peter fires my ceramics for me sometimes. I work alone and I believe in myself.

I was actually knocked back from further study. I have been knocked back by galleries and I am still going and now they ring me. I don’t chase anyone now because the moment you actually believe in yourself, they do too. However, my field requires lots of hours to create, I work 7 days a week, you have to sacrifice some things if you really want the big stuff.

I have cultural obligations as well and the work could be any time. I also love being in my garden and being present in my childrens' lives, they come first. It’s like a recipe for success, the only thing is you have to work hard to understand it. The other advice I would give is to schools; employ First Nations educators, we have a lot to offer, don’t discriminate and believe in us and stop teaching our culture, let us in the door to do that. Funnily enough I am still unemployed and an outsider, but I am very good at it now and my success is self-made.