If you voted in the 2022 Federal Election at the Museum of Australian Democracy (MOAD), you probably enjoyed the work of Newcastle-based artist, Trevor Dickinson.
Voters at MOAD this year were treated to a show bag containing a badge, sticker, and postcard designed by the artist, and encountered interactive experiences while queuing.
I spoke to Trevor Dickinson about what it was like to collaborate with MOAD, and what he hoped people would take from his artwork.
Q: Your illustrations – especially of our beloved bus shelters – are well known among Canberrans. Would you like to introduce yourself to those who may not know the person behind the images?
A: I moved to Newcastle Australia from London in 2002. I was working as a graphic [and] textile designer for the fashion industry and continued to do this work from Australia. After seven years of this I was getting a bit homesick for England and decided to go out and draw on the streets of Newcastle to connect with the location. This soon led to an obsession with recording Newcastle in sketchbooks.
From these drawings I would make zines, tea towels, magnets, cards and prints to sell in local shops as an alternative tourist product aimed at locals.
Since then, drawing cities has become a full-time job. Canberra was a big part of this, but I have also made collections of Maitland, Taree and Sydney drawings.
Q: As a Newcastle-based artist, what ‘draws’ you to Canberra?
A: I applied for a six-week printmaking residency at Megalo in Canberra and spent this time drawing locations from around the Capital and making Canberra themed prints. I found the city so inspiring that I kept coming back. Also, using my Newcastle approach, I printed a range of Canberra tea towels, screen-prints and cards.
Canberra has some fantastic architecture and is such a unique location that it’s been endlessly rewarding to work there.
Q: You’ve worked on commissioned pieces for many local events such as the Canberra and Region Heritage Festival in 2019. What was different about the Museum of Australian Democracy commission?
A: Both jobs were commissioned because of my body of Canberra work, so the starting point was the same for both jobs. The Heritage Festival gave me the theme of ‘Space’ [and] I ended up sending a few Canberra icons into orbit. The Bus Shelter on the moon worked particularly well.
The MoAD commission was much more about visually representing the Museum, which I loved doing. It’s rare that I draw an interior, so the House of Representatives image was something new for me. It was an honour to be asked by such a significant site to make work for election day.
Q: Your selfie stations are widespread and interactive. What was your experience in illustrating the one for this election?
A: Sometimes I struggle to come up with new ideas for these, but I spent a day at MOAD gathering research, and was soon inspired by Bob Hawke’s office. The concept of ‘Meet the Prime Minister’ came to me quickly. It ended up fitting well with Anthony Albanese’s [victory] speech suggesting that in Australia anyone can become Prime Minister.
The best walls are the simple backdrops that allow the freedom to be inventive with the poses.
Q: What did you hope voters would gain from the experience?
A: A funny photograph that can be shared online — simple goals! I’ve seen some great ones, and it’s always good to see the public engaging with the artworks.
Q: Were there any experiences or aspects of Australian voting that inspired you?
A: Voting at MoAD felt a lot more special than my usual school hall in Newcastle. It felt like much more of a special occasion to be celebrated.
On election night, my wife Jo had her birthday party and someone suggested theming it around the classic Australian film Don’s Party which was set on election night 1969. This seemed like a good idea until we actually watched it!
Q: Did you have any ideas that just didn’t make it past the drawing board?
A: Not at all. There was such a fast turnaround and the brief was clear [so] there were only a couple of minor tweaks and it was approved. If only all jobs were like that.
Q: With an exciting start to the year, do you have any upcoming projects or events that readers should watch out for?
A: I have nothing definite happening right now. During COVID I collected all my Canberra and Newcastle work into three books: The Book of Canberra, Beautiful Bus Shelters of Canberra and The Book of Newcastle. Each one felt like a huge project so I’m fine to take it easy for a while. It’s the first time I have been in this position for a long time [so] I’ve been clearing out my studio and catching up with printing cards and tea towels. I hope to go back to MOAD and do some drawing soon. I found the experience very inspiring. If not, I’ll carry on wandering the streets looking for things that stand out.