Michael Zavros thrives on space and di­ver­sity


The art of home liv­ing

PLUS Jonathan Chan­cel­lor’s Tro­phy Homes

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

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