‘We shouldn’t be labelled by our postcode’

From the housing estates to the world stage: Western Sydney artist Catherine O'Donnell's first solo exhibition. Picture: Simon Bennett
From the housing estates to the world stage: Western Sydney artist Catherine O'Donnell's first solo exhibition. Picture: Simon Bennett

Catherine O’Donnell’s latest art exhibition reminisces a suburbia filled with classic 1960s houses and overcrowded classrooms, inspired from her childhood at the Green Valley housing estate.

She hopes to recreate her experience through a drawing installation of modernist public housing that’s become somewhat iconic in the western Sydney landscape.

2168: Estate of tomorrow will showcase at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre from July 28 to September 16.

The artist spoke about her large scale commission and what viewers should expect.

“My artwork is from the architecture of my childhood and that’s where it started. I did some investigations and that was the subject matter close to my heart,” Catherine said. “I found a pamphlet from the National State Library that the Government produced with a slogan ‘Estates of Tomorrow’. It’s what I named my exhibition after.”

Catherine was born in country town Quirindi before her family moved to Green Valley in 1965. She remained there for 15 years until relocating to the Blue Mountains where she’s based today.

Catherine's message: "You don’t have to be labelled by your postcode. Follow your dreams and don’t forget your past." Picture: Simon Bennett

Catherine's message: "You don’t have to be labelled by your postcode. Follow your dreams and don’t forget your past." Picture: Simon Bennett

Before she was an artist she worked as a lab technician for pharmaceutical companies, but once her children “grew up”, she decided to purse her passion for art.

“I've always loved drawing since I was a child and had more free time on my hands so in 2000 I decided to go to art school and be formally taught.

“I only did it for my own satisfaction, I didn't have any career ambitions of becoming an artist. I didn't know it would lead to a career of traveling around the world and meeting new, fascinating people.”

One of her career highlights was when her artwork was featured in the Australian Dobell drawing Biennial at the Art Gallery of NSW. 

She also recently returned from a three-month residency in Paris, Venice, Rome and London.

Earlier this year, another one of her artworks was displayed at the Casula Powerhouse as part of the Blake Prize. However, she said the upcoming exhibition is particularly special. 

“It's significant that my work is exhibited here because this is where my work was born. It's the epi-centre of my investigations.

“I did a masters in housing and housing estates and I learnt it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, there are a lot of similar problems. 

“The estate I grew up in was the Government’s response to a population boom in Sydney and an influx of immigrants and returning serviceman. Green valley was an attempt to get 6000 families out of the area.”

She said despite an enjoyable childhood, in hindsight she realised the housing estates suffered from a number of problems.

“The Government decided to stick all of these people in the same spot, mainly welfare dependent people, and there wasn’t the infrastructure to help them cope so it became a melting pot of problems.

“There was nothing there before the estate, it was just fields and farms on the fringes of Sydney. It was isolating and there was only one bus company that could get you in and out. Not everyone had phones and cars like today. There weren’t even many shops!

“It felt like a social experiment gone wrong. I don’t think it was a good idea but I can only draw from my experience. I believe today the similar problems exists. It’s a different time, there are different problems and different people but there are a lot of similarities.”

She explained one of the key messages she hopes to express from the artwork.

“You don’t have to be labelled by your postcode. Follow your dreams and don’t forget your past.”

Comments