House of Longing exhibition to celebrate the works of artist Gay Hawkes before and after the Dunalley fires

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Gay Hawkes’ art studio once stood on the waterfront in Dunalley, southern Tasmania, but there is no evidence that it ever existed.

The building, along with Ms Hawkes’ home and a huge collection of her art and tools, was destroyed in the 2013 bushfires that tore through the southeast of the state.

This chair is made from horizontal brushwood, pallets and also uses quoll fur, cane toad skin and chicken feet.(Provided: Peter Whyte)

With just the clothes on her back, the furniture maker fled to an evacuation center in Nubeena where she spent several days.

“You’re running from something like a big monster coming,” Ms Hawkes said.

“Listen to the people who have been inundated [recently] and people escaping to Ukraine and taking their stuff and rushing – I really identify with them and know how they feel.

“You are so grateful when people give you a cup of tea and something to eat, or toothpaste, because you have nothing.”

The former teacher and famous artist, 79, never rebuilt after the fires and sold the land where the boathouse workshop once stood.

His loss, resilience and unique skills will be showcased in a new exhibition called The House of Longing, which opens this month at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG).

Gay Hawkes art TMAG
These parts were made before the fires.(ABC Radio Hobart: Megan Macdonald)

Quoll Fur and Chicken Feet

After the fires, a friend let Ms Hawkes live and work in a small studio on a property in Bream Creek that overlooked Hellfire Bluff across rolling countryside.

“It’s such a beautiful place and I was so inspired that I made 31 pieces of furniture in the three years I was here,” Ms Hawkes said.

“The goal was to furnish an entire house which I hope to obtain.

“Every time I looked up, it lightened my heart.”

a woman sitting on a wooden bench looking at a view of green hills and a distant bluff
Gay worked at this studio for three years after the fires.(ABC Radio Hobart: Georgie Burgess)

Throughout her career, she has used materials salvaged from logging sites in South West Tasmania, driftwood from the Bass Strait Islands and pallets from the streets of Melbourne.

One piece even uses quoll fur, cane toad leather, and chicken feet.

Ms Hawkes said her only requirement was that she had to like the material.

The house of desire

Her upcoming exhibition at TMAG will feature pre-fire works from collections across Australia, as well as the pieces she created after.

Much of the furniture is for his imaginary home, with the exhibit recreating his ideal home.

“In my head, I have a house, but I don’t really have it,” Ms Hawkes said.

The loss of her uninsured studio was a big setback, and she has since found herself out of Hobart’s rental market.

“I know women my age who live in a van or go from toilet block to toilet block,” she said.

“It’s a shame. [Housing] is just a basic thing that people should be able to have.

a woman sitting in a wooden studio with folded hands looking at the camera unsmiling
Gay says housing should be a basic right.(ABC Radio Hobart: Georgie Burgess)

“You don’t need to buy things”

TMAG curator Peter Hughes said Ms Hawkes was a pioneer of pallet furniture.

“She was always a minimal consumer,” he said.

“She told me she never paid for a piece of wood.”

He said the exhibition will appeal to a wide audience.

A man in a gray vest next to a wooden art installation looks directly at the camera against a white wall.
Curator Peter Hughes says the exhibit will appeal to a wide audience.(ABC Radio Hobart: Megan Macdonald )

“There are cupboards on the football grand final and sculptures of Lady Di.

“But behind the apparent simplicity of the work hides a very beautiful sophistication that shows his ability to make a 3D collage.”

The art of Gay Hawkes on display TMAG
The House of Longing will be on display at TMAG until August.(ABC Radio Hobart: Megan Macdonald )

Ms Hawkes used to teach children how to make furniture at her studio in Dunalley, which she watches fondly.

“I also taught them how to make furniture out of things they found, and the attitude that you don’t have to buy things and if you need something, you can make it,” she said.

The House of Longing opens Friday March 18 at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and runs until the end of August.

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