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Arts Project Australia

Michael McQuillan – Online Program Artist

Arts Project Australia online artist Michael McQuillan in Hobart

Renowned collector and long-time supporter of Arts Project Peter Fay visited  artist Michael McQuillan from our online program in his home-based studio in Tasmania. Peter got a chance to see Michael at work and the online program in action.

By Peter Fay

When the first round of lockdowns took place in March 2020 many people learnt to work and connect using online video and conference platforms for the first time. Many in the disability community were at the vanguard of using these communication platforms with them being a long-standing tool for accessibility.

A focal shift to ‘living with covid’ at the start of 2022 meant a return to face-to-face in most cultural and educational institutions, leaving many in the disability community reliant on online programs behind. Arts Project however continued and grew its online offering, experiencing first-hand the importance the sessions had in connecting artists with intellectual disabilities around Australia to each other, and to the organisations world-renowned programs.

One such artist part of the Online Program community is Tasmania based Michael McQuillan.

I visited Michael on a day when he was on a Zoom link with four of his fellow artists from Arts Project in Melbourne. His studio space at the top of the home where he lives with his mother and father is a generous studio with good light. It was obvious that Michael was very excited about the opportunity to link in with other artists, and his mother later told me that Michael sees the hour when he Zooms in to be sacrosanct, allowing nothing to draw him away from his studio at this time. Michael had no objections to me watching him as he went about painting a landscape of a sunrise. His focus was total and undivided from the task at hand.

Michael McQuillan painting in his home studio.
Michael Painting during an Online Program session in his home studio

Michael is 37 years old and was born and raised in Tasmania. He attended the local primary school and showed limited interest or enthusiasm for the art program. Though in high school he did get pleasure from the art lessons and the school purchased one of his works to display in their building.

“I’ve done art school in Hobart, and there are programs in Hobart but I haven’t been interested in looking into them. I like being at home doing my work with my own art materials. If I need a break from everyone on the computer I can easily go to another room in my house or outside.”

- Michael McQuillan, Online Program artist

Michael attended TAFE in Hobart but there was no art in his program. After TAFE he was enrolled for the next eight years in the School of Art of the University of Tasmania. He was awarded an Associate Degree in Arts in 2012 and a Diploma of Fine Arts in 2017. Michael told me that he enjoyed his time at University where he was fully integrated into the program. Working alongside his fellow students he found to be most rewarding. He achieved passes and credits in printmaking and photography. Michael kindly showed me a suite of pastel drawings that he did in these programs and they were very strong works done with a consistent hand and a working out of thematic images.

Michael McQuillan mixing paint in his home studio.
Michael mixing paint

Michael recently travelled in Europe with his parents and was enthused by his visits to The Prado in Madrid and the Picasso Gallery in Barcelona. Recently in Sydney he visited the Matisse exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. Michael told me how much he enjoyed Matisse’s use of colour. He says of his love of the medium that “painting is good because you can mix up different colours. I try and get as close as I can to the colour of the picture I’m painting. I can either put the paint as thin or thick as I like. Especially with painting bushes I can scratch into it with a palette knife or a plastic fork.”

Artworks created by Michael McQuillan as part of the online program at Arts Project Australia.
Artworks created by Michael as part of the online program

Michael’s stimulation to paint comes from his love of landscape. He often takes off into the nearby bush and takes extensive shots with the camera on his mobile phone and then selects images to paint in his studio. When reflecting on his adoration for his surroundings Michael says “I love that nature changes all the time. You can do paintings of the same landscape but it’s always different, with the seasons or weather, or compared the morning and the afternoon. It makes different paintings.”

What my time with Michael really impressed upon me is just how important the Arts Project structure is, and especially so for an artist with Michael’s particular disability.

“It gives me the opportunity that I can participate in art especially being a part of arts project and don’t need to be in Melbourne physically. I can join anywhere with whatever device. I really liked that when I was in Launceston visiting an exhibition, I could still use my phone to connect into the Satellite group. I also got to show them the exhibition that I was at too. I like interacting with the other artists and seeing their work. I can do my own work but still be there with everyone.”

Michael McQuillan - Online Program artist

Being without any stimulation from other artists can be very isolating. What the online Satellite program offered by APA gives Michael and the other artists attending is a connected community to create. Time and time again I am able to confirm that Arts Project Australia is world’s best practice and its magic comes from what happens in the studio and through its connected community of artists.


Photos: Jake Walker


Find out more about our Online Program