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Childhood is often characterised as a time of play and exploration. But for many artists these early experiences are a kind of apprenticeship for their careers in art. Briony Downes asked artists Kate RohdeTanya SchultzPatrick Hall, and Celeste Chandlerabout making stuff as children.

At some point in our lives, we’ve all been asked what we want to be when we grow up. It is often said that children are born creative, with a joyous and uninhibited ability to spontaneously colour everything in, build fantastical objects and draw up countless plans for big things. Yet at what point does an artist realise that they want to make art a career? Australian artists Kate Rohde, Tanya Schultz, Patrick Hall, and Celeste Chandler take a step back in time and remember their early art making experiences and the moment that they realised they wanted to be an artist.

Like Patrick Hall, painter Celeste Chandler grew up surrounded by a family of makers.

Her father was an art teacher and her mother a sculptor and doll maker. Surprisingly, Chandler’s career path did not always point to becoming an artist. Her father wanted her to be a dentist and there were moments when filmmaker and saxophonist were high on her list of career possibilities. “I always had some other scheme,” she reveals. Despite this, Chandler vividly remembers conspiring to get a day off school when there was a creative project itching to come to fruition. “There were numerous times in primary school when I convinced my mum that I was too unwell to go to school because I had something I wanted to make at home,” she says. “I think I got away with it, although when mum got home from work there would be a huge mess and a project proudly presented for inspection.”

Celeste Chandler, Heroic Painting 6, 2016, oil on linen, 66 x 61 cm. Courtesy the artist and Nicholas Thompson Gallery.

Chandler eventually chose to study at the University of Tasmania’s School of Creative Art and during her second year, she discovered her love of oil painting. This led to a focus on portraiture and her distinctive images resemble a stoic style of history painting with a feminist twist. Following her graduation, she was awarded an Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grant and a residency at the Cite International des Art in Paris,  which allowed her to travel through Europe and spend time in museums and galleries. It was during this time that Chandler that really considered painting as a possible career. Now based in Melbourne, she says, “These opportunities were hugely influential and encouraging and were the point that I started to take my art practice more seriously.” Chandler’s recent portrait of mathematics Professor Nalini Joshi now resides in the University of Sydney ‘s MacLaurin Hall where it is the first portrait of a woman to hang among the historical male figures.

Making the decision to pursue the arts as a career is not an easy one. While the adult life of an artist may not be filled with the same standard of time, space and financial freedom enjoyed in childhood, artists who choose it offer us a strange and wonderful gift.

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