No Comply Gallery

The New Frontier, by Frank and Mimi for First Coat, 2015

Some call it Wall Art, some Murals and still others call it Street Art. Whatever you call it the painted walls in Toowoomba are really something. On a recent visit as I strolled around town I encountered many impressive paintings on the town’s spare and once bare walls. Near my hotel I found the extraordinary mural that I called the Elephant signed simply “Magee.” Later I was told it had become a landmark for the locals, a place where people could meet, and was looked upon with great affection. The artist, Fintan Magee is a Sydney-based artist with an international reputation, recognised for his surreal and magical paintings.

The Elephant, Magee
The Elephant, Magee

Later I had coffee at Ground Up cafe down a laneway – Searles Lane – just off Ruthven St. the main street of Toowoomba, where I encountered another distinctive and painterly wall painting, this time by Alice Weinthal.

Bad Faith, Alice Weinthal
Bad Faith, Alice Weinthal

Next to the image was printed a wall label with the title of the painting, Bad Faith, and the artist’s name as well as the name of the gallery where the artist’s work could be seen.


The gallery responsible for these wall works is No Comply Gallery and its Curator is Grace Dewar, an artist with seemingly unlimited energy whose practice had been spatial or installation art but who now focuses her spatial thinking on working with artists through No Comply Gallery and First Coat Festival.

Grace Dewar

No Comply is housed in Kontraband Studios, a graffiti store & sign writing studio and the two enterprises share the space and collaborate on many art projects. While staying in Toowoomba I spoke to Grace Dewar about No Comply Gallery which had emerged out of a collaboration with Ian McCallum from Kontraband Studios. The Gallery is located in the front room of Kontraband Studios and the name No Comply was initially the title of their first exhibition where local artists were invited to make work on a blank skateboard, provided by the Gallery, where the skateboard was to act as a canvas. The response saw thirty skateboards returned after two weeks, as a piece of artwork.

Inside No Comply Gallery looking through to Kontraband Studios

Another very successful project cooked up in this local creative space is an annual Festival called First Coat. In 2014 Kontraband studios partnered with Toowoomba Regional Council to present a three day street art festival. This extraordinary festival, apparently the first street art festival to be held in Queensland, attracted 27 artists nationally and internationally to come to Toowoomba and paint in public spaces. It also attracted a sizeable audience from both Toowoomba and online. “The public art legacy was 19 large-scale outdoor murals throughout the heart of the city.” The next year, 2015, the number of artists doubled and it is reported that more than 4,000 out-of-town visitors travelled to Toowoomba to watch the live painting events.

In 2015 the organisers included “cutting edge, online infrastructure.” which includes a website with loads of information to help facilitate visitors stay, with info about accommodation, cafes and restaurants and past and present murals, artist info and so on.

First Coat Festival and its public art legacy has made everyone happy with great support from both the local regional council and local businesses; everyone is happy to have their walls painted with extraordinary artwork. The vibe in the streets is still palpable. I found myself desperate to go for a walk, supplied with a self-guided map from Grace, (even though it rained every day of my visit). It was a wonderful experience to walk around town, to turn a corner and suddenly meet a beautifully executed work on a laneway wall or walking down a street. There are now approximately fifty wall works around the streets of Toowoomba. It’s no wonder that First Coat has been billed as “Queensland’s largest outdoor gallery”.

And it is set to happen again soon. The brochure declares:
First Coat Art and Music Festival.
10 Days. 20 – 29 May, 2016
Let’s roll.



Raygun Projects

IMG_3232Raygun Projects, based in Toowoomba, Queensland is the inspiration of two artists Tarn McLean, a painter and Alexandra Lawson, a social artist. Over the last few years Raygun Projects has operated out of a small but exquisite space on the first floor above the shops of Margaret Street, one of the main streets in downtown Toowoomba.

Tarn McLean and Alexandra Lawson. Ruthven St Toowoomba
Tarn McLean and Alexandra Lawson, outside Phat Burgers, Ruthven St Toowoomba

I visited Raygun Projects recently, synchronising my own visit with visiting curator Louise Lassen Iversen from Denmark, who had been invited to come and stay and be part of a discussion titled, “To Self-Organise”.  I had met both Louise and Tarn in Copenhagen in 2014, while attending the Artist Run Festival organised by Honey Biba-Beckerlee and Suada Ada Demirovic. But that’s another story. (see this blog August 14)

And yet it is very characteristic of the global reach that Raygun Projects has managed to develop over the last five years or so. In that time Raygun has set themselves the task of creating “a global dialogue while based in a regional city.” And they have succeeded in doing just that and more. Their stated focus for the art dialogue that they seek is specific and directed to the fields of interests of the two artists which is,  “Social Art and varied modes of painted realities associated with the expansion of contemporary Painting.”

Over the last five years the artists, or “gunners” have invited many out-of-town artists –  and looking through the Raygun archives online I counted fifty artists or art projects that have visited or shown in this beautiful and energetic regional city. The artists invited to come to Toowoomba are both national and international. The invited artists are artists that “Raygunners” would like to get to know; to talk with, connect with, to enrich the practices of both the guests and hosts, and to carry the dialogue further.

Raygun Projects space overlooking Margaret Street

SHARING, LOVING, GIVING is the title of a collaborative project between Alexandra Lawson and Tarn McLean, which they showed at NLHspace in Copenhagen during the Artist-Run Festival. The project utilised the notion of “‘gift’ as “a gesture in the meeting between people. Thus letting the social interaction of the everyday into the exhibition space.” This project, with its emphasis on gift, generosity and hospitality encapsulates the larger Raygun Project itself, and the three words Sharing, Loving, Giving capture perfectly what Raygun Projects actually does. It is a way of working, a methodology,  an attitude. And the energy it generates picks you up and takes you somewhere else – somewhere where art really does matter.

This very particular and generous project, it seems to me, broadens the nature and role of artist-runs to include: walking, talking and eating together. And the work that the invited guest artist brings to show in the Raygun space becomes one part of a larger encounter and engagement of great intensity between artists and the larger art community of Toowoomba.

I found this very exciting.

Toowoomba from my window
Toowoomba from my window