The Quiet Achiever of the Upper Great Southern
– Author: Catherine Thornton
When the regional community of Narrogin comes to mind, it elicits thoughts of the agricultural industry, wheat, sheep and hay farming, as well as sporting identities, including Barry Cable, Bevan George and Shaun Marsh who once lived in the town. But away from all the paddocks, shearing sheds and hockey turfs, an emerging, prize-winning artist flies under the public radar, going about her business with little attention or fanfare.
Visual artist Casey Thornton grew up in Narrogin and has returned in adult life to call the regional community home. Coming from a lineage of artists, Casey has crafted her artistic skill set from a young age, and quickly set a high standard for her works, with strong abilities in painting, drawing, photography, jewellery making and digital animations. During her high school years, Casey was the winner of the 2008 Youth Category for the Black Swan Portraiture Prize with a sketch of musician John Butler. Later that year, Casey’s work was also featured as part of the Year 12 Perspectives at the Art Gallery of WA and the Central Institute of Technology’s Young Originals exhibition. Building on a strong platform of work, Casey received a full scholarship to study Fine Art at Curtin University, from which she graduated with distinction in 2013.
Casey’s art journey diversified post-university, discovering 3D printing as a medium for art, and travelled to China to further her skills in this area. “I contributed to a Kickstarter campaign back in 2015, which was for an Australian team that was manufacturing a new line of 3D printers. I was in communication with them quite a lot, so the company’s CEO must have picked up on my keen interest in what they were doing and ended up inviting me to spend a week at their factory in Shenzhen, China. It was a totally unforeseen opportunity. I got the chance to use their prototype printers, share ideas, and get behind-the-scenes insight into their operations. 3D printing is rapidly developing technology and I’m really interested in exploring its potential applications when it comes to making art”.
Casey returned to her hometown in 2016, and found herself up-cycling pieces she found in op-shops, turning old, miscellaneous ornaments and crockery into new original pieces which she sold on her online Etsy store. Casey was also accepted as a stall holder at the Perth Makers Market in Applecross, the largest exclusively handmade artisan market in Western Australia, where she sold her up-cycled pieces.
In June 2018, Casey secured an opportunity through the Creative Grid to undertake a mentorship program with local experienced artist and arts worker Karen Keeley, to guide her through the development and delivery of her first solo exhibition.
In addition to the Creative Grid mentorship, Casey applied and was successful in obtaining a Next Level Y-Culture Grant through Country Arts WA in August 2018 to allow her to focus on her professional development as an artist. Country Arts WA Investment officer Fleur Hardy first came into contact with Casey during her drafting process for her grant application, and comments “It was clear that Casey had a yearning and thirst for mentorship and development, which really shone through in her application. The panel who awarded Casey the grant noted the application was of a high level, and utilised pre-existing relationships to engage a highly experienced mentor. There was strong support from the community for Casey’s project, and it gives an opportunity to raise her profile as an artist.”
Primarily the grant provided Casey with the materials to allow her to develop and professionally present twenty-eight oil paintings that were to form her first solo exhibition. Casey’s work focussed on reflection and solitude, creating a number of figurative works and self-portraits on canvas, highlighting the subjects in different stages of stillness and introspection.
“The Creative Grid mentorship was invaluable in providing the structure to guide me through the processes involved with developing a cohesive body of work and putting together my first exhibition. As my mentor, Karen was there for me every step of the way, and always went above and beyond to provide me with guidance and direction. The Next Level Y-Culture funding helped me to acquire the resources I needed to create the works and present them to a professional standard.”
Casey’s debut exhibition Quietude opened at the NEXIS Gallery in Narrogin on the 2nd of May, with over 150 people in attendance on opening night and approximately 250 people attending during the exhibition’s opening between 3rd – 26th of May. Casey sold two pieces from the exhibition, with one acquired by an international collector based in New Zealand. A further two pieces have been accepted as finalists in Lethbridge 20,000 Small Scale Art Award in Queensland. “The year-long process of developing the solo exhibition has been an incredible opportunity to immerse myself in my creative practice. My technical skills, confidence and business knowledge have grown significantly, and the project has equipped me with the courage to pursue further opportunities and push myself towards tackling even bigger and more ambitious goals.” Casey has also been successful in her competitive application for a supported exhibition at the Vancouver Arts Centre in Albany in January 2020.
In addition to holding her own exhibition, the Next Level Y-Culture grant allowed Casey to travel with other grant recipients to participate in the Artlands Victoria regional arts conference in Bendigo during 2018. The conference provided Casey with a networking and professional development opportunity, participating in a number of workshops and seminars with other regional artists from Australia and overseas. “Attending the conference was a great opportunity to immerse myself in an environment completely focussed on the current and future state of regional arts in Australia. It was really beneficial to be part of those conversations, and to develop networks with peers who are facing similar challenges within their own communities”. The grant will also allow Casey to extend her original Creative Grid mentorship and take advantage of further professional development opportunities through to the end of the year.
2019 also provided Casey with the opportunity to participate in the Narrogin volume of the Alternative Archive exhibition, along with 12 other local artists. Casey had two pieces feature in the exhibition, an oil-painted portrait of her grandmother recounting their family’s post-war journey from Holland to Australia, and a series of 3D printed lithophanes featuring pictures of the family during that journey.
Moving forward post-exhibition, Casey has purchased a building with the aim of creating a studio for herself and is looking towards the possibility of running workshops in the future. “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to create a permanent space where I can develop new works in the leadup to my exhibition at Albany’s Vancouver Arts Centre. This will be the first time I’ve had a dedicated studio space, and I’m looking forward to seeing where that will lead me.” Casey will also travel to Adelaide to take part in an intensive 5 day oil painting course at The Art Academy. “Living in regional WA can make it difficult to find skills and professional development opportunities of this calibre. Robin Eley is an internationally recognised hyperrealist whose work I’ve admired for quite some time; I’m eager to learn from the best in the field and bring those new skills back to Narrogin.”
In a landscape dominated by agricultural and sporting achievements, this quiet achiever is starting to make some noise within the Upper Great Southern. Casey’s work can be followed on Instagram @caseythornton and Facebook – Casey Thornton Artist.