In Conversation: Violet Sheno & Contemporary Art Visions

The Art Salon is excited to present a feature sale of around 150 works from Violet Sheno’s collection in this week’s auction. The collection is comprised of works by Indigenous artists from remote communities, as well as urban artists from Violet’s gallery ‘Contemporary Art Visions’ and includes a diverse range of mediums, including canvases, works on paper, linocuts, screen prints, ceramics and barks.

Art at Leonard Joel. NANCY GEORGE, UNTITLED - FREGON 1994
Nancy George, Untitled – Fregon 1994, Synthetic Polymer Paint on Paper, 40 X 60cm, Frame Size: 66 X 84cm

Violet Sheno established ‘Contemporary Art Visions’ in 1988 in Melbourne with her late partner with the aim to exhibit and promote works by Australian Indigenous artists. To fully understand how the works were being produced and to learn about the people who produced them, Violet travelled to remote communities and Art Centres across Australia including the Central, Sandy and Western deserts, Northeast Arnhem Land and Far North Queensland to source artworks. From 1990 through to 1997, Violet successfully organised fifty exhibitions in Melbourne, Brisbane and Berlin, Hamburg and Leipzig in Germany. During this time Violet also opened a business in Bourke Street, Melbourne, ‘Aboriginal Creations’, which specialised in ethically promoting commercial textiles and merchandise from remote communities and urban based artists who were producing clothing and jewellery.

After recently speaking to Violet Sheno, I learnt about her interest in art and path to collecting which led her to open ‘Contemporary Art Visions’. It was a pleasure speaking with Violet and I am delighted to share our interview.

Yala Yala Gibbs Tjungurrayi, Untitled 1992, Synthetic Polymer Paint on Linen, 121 X 121cm

AN: How did you become interested in art? Did you grow up visiting galleries or were you exposed to art through family and friends?

VS: Firstly, I am a child of an immigrant family, so I came over here when I was six and a half years old from the Middle East. I am Assyrian, so I really wasn’t exposed to art when we first arrived. I had to learn English and get into Australian society and was living in Sydney. I did learn through my teenage years that people like Charles Blackman lived up the road and other artists were also in the neighbourhood around the 70s and 80s but I only really learnt about art through High School. I was doing German and I was not enjoying it (although I did come back to it later in life when I held exhibtions  over there and my late partner was German), so I thought I would switch over to Art. That was what peaked my interested.

Art at Leonard Joel. TJINKUMA TJILYA
Tjinkuma Tjilya, Untitled 2002, Synthetic Polymer Paint on Canvas, 109 X 87cm

AN: When did you start collecting? What was the first piece you bought?

VS: I started collecting in 1988 in Perth but it really began in 1986 on a brief trip to Noosa where I discovered Noel Doyle’s hand screen printed T-shirts. The quality, uniqueness and the story explaining the work, lead me to meet him in Brisbane. I then became Doyle’s agent, distributing his works from my home in Perth and this led me to making contact with local Indigenous artists in Perth who gave me a deeper understanding and context of the work and a greater insight into their culture. The first pieces I started buying In Perth were watercolours by Lance Chadd Tjyllyungoo who was part of the Carrolup Mission down Southwest, South of Perth.

AN: What lead you to focusing your gallery on works by Indigenous artists? In particular, on exhibiting urban artists and artists from remote communities?

VS: Because no one else was and no one was giving them the attention that they required and they were often overlooked. I made sure that I would always purchase the artworks because I did not want the artists to suffer or have to wait until the works were sold which could take ages. I had a very idealistic view about it all, while other galleries at the time were only taking works on by consignments. I wanted to lift the artists up and give them more confidence, so they knew that someone had their back.

Art at Leonard Joel. SALLY MORGAN
Sally Morgan, Life 1989, Screenprint Ed. 91/99, 28.5 X 24cm

AN: Over the years you opened your own gallery, exhibited Indigenous artists throughout the 1990s and have gifted numerous pieces to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). What drove you to become so active in the arts?

VS: Art needs to be seen and if I can do anything to help elevates artists, I do. I actually just gifted another work to the NGV on Thursday night. A fishing net. They had an installation for Maningrida and they needed people to buy the work and they had sold all of them and there was one that was not represented and I said, ‘well okay, I’ll buy it (for them)’. Starting in 1994, the first things that I donated were car parts that included a painted bonnet and door, then it went to ceramic works by Ricardo Idagi, then moved into canvases and works on paper and it just grew from there.

AN: Do you have any favourite pieces from this collection?

VS: Well no, I love them all otherwise I wouldn’t have bought them. I mean, sure some give you a little bit more of a smile on your face, but the reason I bought them was because I liked them. I used to ask people, ‘do you love it?’ and they would say ‘yes’ and well I said, ‘that is the investment – your joy! Your joy of looking at it and saying I really like it; it gives me pleasure or happiness or makes me cry.’

Browse the full catalogue of works online this week. The auction will take place at 11:30am on Thursday 29th September.

AMANDA NORTH / Art Salon Manager

Banner Image: Jenuarrie and Heather Walker, Untitled (Heather’s Fish) (Pair of Works), Hand Painted Terracotta, Unsigned, Largest Measuring 18 X 27cm

September 2022