Gay Hawkes imagines a new home after the devastation of bushfire

In 2013, Artist Gay Hawkes lost her home, life’s work and tools when the Dunalley bush fire in South-East Tasmania took her house and boat-shed. In response she has created ‘The House of Longing’ a major exhibition on view until 28 August at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) in Hobart. It is an ode to her commitment and passion as an artist and educator, a way of being which continues after 40 years.

Image: Gay Hawkes. Image Credit: Richard Jupe

Along with the tag of ‘artist’ Hawkes is a furniture maker and sculptor, in her practice is known for using found materials, such as driftwood, shipping pallets and horizontal scrub.

Image details: Installation views, Gay Hawkes: The House of Longing, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 2022

Adding another layer of meditation, the exhibition is divided into galleries of works made before and after the fire. ‘I made what I would need if I had a house. So, in my mind, I could see these things were going to be in this house… because I always made everything I lived with’ she shared with TMAG.

It’s an interesting timeline to observe as I feel we are drawn to ruminate on change, the impact of devastation and imagine hope for regeneration in the wake of environmental events like fires and floods. In addition TMAG’s Principal Curator of Art, Jane Stewart said the artist ‘explores themes such as history, politics, the environment and feminism, at the same time it is firmly rooted in her Tasmanian life.’

Image details: Installation views, Gay Hawkes: The House of Longing, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 2022

Senior Curator of Decorative Arts, Peter Hughes adds that ‘Since the heartbreaking destruction of her house and studio in the 2013 bushfire, Gay has been making furniture for an imagined new home… This has included chairs, tables and cupboards constructed from wood salvaged from shipping pallets and crates, and decorated with quirky occasional details such as flowers made from shells and her mother’s dolls which were salvaged from the wreckage of the fire.’

A friend opened up a small studio on a property in Bream Creek to the artist and over the course of 3 years Hawkes created 31 pieces of furniture, for the house in her imagination. In an interview with ABC the artist notes the loss she experienced extends beyond her artwork and tools and points to a greater issue in Australia of of homelessness in response to an unaffordable rental market; on Radio Hobart she said ‘I know women my age who are living in a van or going from toilet block to toilet block … It’s a disgrace. [Housing] is just a basic thing that people should be able to have.’

‘The House of Longing’ is the next iteration in a series of shows from TMAG celebrating living Tasmanian artists, they have also presented David Keeling: Stranger (2020-21), Julie Gough: Tense Past (2019), Patrick Hall: Things I Once Knew (2015) and Illumination: The Art of Philip Wolfhagen (2013).