Michael Zavros thrives on space and diversity
The art of home living
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Contemporary artist Michael Zavros’s home is in a state of flux.
Decorative items, antique furniture and artworks collected over a lifetime of travel and work across the art world are moved around his Brisbane home, whether it is by design or just at the hands of one of his three children Phoebe, 12, Olympia, 10, and Leo, 5.
“The house seems to kind of weirdly evolve and change,” Zavros says.
“When you think about art, that’s also how best you see it. When it’s in a new light or new space, you appreciate it in a different way.”
Zavros is one of Australia’s most celebrated and awarded contemporary artists, the winner of the Doug Moran prize for portraiture and a five-time Archibald Prize finalist.
His work is exhibited as part of the new rehang of the permanent collection of the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, as well as the Art Gallery of NSW and the Art Gallery of South Australia and the Australian War Memorial.
A diversity of art is a major feature of the Brisbane home Zavros shares with his writer and curator wife Alison Kubler and their children.
For their three children, the diversity works — including some of Australia’s best contemporary art and an eclectic selection of taxidermy adorning the walls and spaces of the home — are not unusual, it is just the way it has always been.
“(Art) is not exotic for them in the way it was to me when I was growing up,” he says.
“Art for our kids is commonplace. They get dragged to galleries,” he says.
“It does manifest in a beautiful way in what they are into in terms of what interests them — art isn’t ‘the other’ interest.”
The home is set on 3.2ha of land in the acreage suburb of Chandler, about 15km southeast of Brisbane’s city centre.
The property choice of acreage can be traced back to Zavros’s childhood when he grew up on the Gold Coast hinterland with space for chickens, horses and a rural lifestyle.
“I need a lot of space for work and also I don’t need to go anywhere for my work,” he says.
“Being attached to a property for life and career just made sense.”
Home and work coalesce at the property for the Zavros family. The house is adjacent to two industrial-sized sheds, including one that has been transformed into a contemporary light-filled studio.
The space was designed by architects Richards & Spence — the designers of the light-brick and concrete sections of the popular James Street precincts and the under-construction The Calile hotel — and also acts as a gallery and function hall for entertaining.
“It is a place where you can hang your own work. Often artists don’t get a sense of what their art looks like and it can be surprising with the gallery light.
“The studio has a fantastic energy, which has been great.”
Back in the family home, the arched hallway leads into spaces where numerous flamboyant pieces either adorn the walls or perch atop antique furniture.
A brooding, oversized Bill Henson photographic portrait looks out over their dining table; one of Zavros’s portraits of eldest daughter Phoebe watches over the master bedroom; and an antique taxidermy peacock stands guard in the hall.
The beautiful bird is joined by the mounted head of a musk ox in the office, something that has been with the family as the children grew up.
“I started collecting (taxidermy) in the very early 2000s for some work I was making,” Zavros says. “My own paintings have become something of a collectable hunting trophy in a commercial way, and I was interested in that concept.
“They do blend in with the other curious things. Everything I’ve collected is antique.”
The furniture collection has also been picked up over time at various international destinations when the family has travelled for Zavros’s exhibitions and residencies.
“We prefer things that are already in existence,” he says of their vintage collection.
“If there is something that is beautifully made and has a certain quality and has lasted, there is no point in buying something for the newness, or because it’s fashionable.”
The couple are planning a major overhaul of the homestead but are reluctant to go with the expert advice to demolish and start again. “It’s not our way of doing things,” he adds.
Contemporary artist Michael Zavros with his exhibition at Newcastle Art Gallery. He is pictured with his artwork The New Round Room
Objets d’art vie with taxidermy and vintage furniture throughout the family home