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Indigenous artist Billy Bain peels back the surface of Aussie masculinity in upcoming solo exhibition

Blokes, the first solo exhibition from Indigenous Sydney artist Billy Bain, playful deconstructs representations of Australian masculinity.

Billy Bain is known respectfully within the realms of both the local surfing community and the creative arts scene. Growing up in Avalon as a young pro surfer, he eventually transitioned away from the beach to Sydney’s inner west to pursue his studies and passion for art.

Bain has developed his niche in Fine Arts, with his discipline these days predominantly focussed on sculpture-based works. Now, he will be curating the opening of his first solo exhibition at M Contemporary, taking place in Darlinghurst next weekend. Collectively titled Blokes, the exhibition will feature Bain’s representations of the everyday Australian male, exploring Aussie culture and ingrained stereotyping, and ultimately, the fragility of such depictions.

billy bain solo exhibition

Billy Bain, son of former world surfing champion ‘Big Bad Bob’ Bain, grew up surfing and establishing his identity within his local North Av surfing community. Weaving his way through his teens, he came to understand the ingrained racialised and gendered stereotypes that shook at the pillars of identity and Australian culture, realising there was a lot to grasp being an Indigenous male growing up in this environment.

And what better way to express this angst and confusion than through art? Transitioning to Sydney’s inner west, Bain was torn again by the stark contrast in the community, as well as his identity within the context of his Indigenous Australian background. He struggled to understand the common misconceptions and expectations of the Australian male, depicted in both our textbooks and cultural discourse.

“The Bloke… The Ocker… The Larrikin… Banjo Patterson… Crocodile Dundee… The man from snowy river… The Digger…”

These were all heteronormative, strong white men who loved to get their hands dirty in the bush. They didn’t go surfing and there’s no chance they’d be working away on ceramic figurines in a basement by the beach. Of course, there’s also no mention of Indigenous representation here, another part of Bain’s identity that’s so crucial to what it means to be Australian.

Surfing has often been described as the purest art form and the closest one can be to spirituality on earth. A dance on water, there’s nothing more psychologically thrilling and physically freeing than riding a wave. The body connects with the mind on a whole ‘nother level.

However, the act of surfing has changed radically over the years, becoming more and more competitive and overly commercialised. Billy Bain was heavily involved in competition surfing in his teens, winning titles and setting himself up neatly for a career in pro surfing. However, as he increasingly moulded into his own skin, Bain decided to take the free surfing path and instead focus his creative energies into art.

But Billy’s career was left in question again when money became a larger problem with the onset of the pandemic. The creative industries have been one of the most hard-hit sectors during these strange times, with applicable government support packages and grants taking far longer than others to roll out.

Bain was eager to curate his first solo sculpture exhibition and applied for the Creative Community Support grant program as soon as it came to his attention. He received a $2,923 grant, which helped him develop his online catalogue and tie the ends together for Blokes, so it can finally be received by the community this September.

“The funds will help me take a vital step in my artistic practice – the firing process for my sculptures,” Bain described. “I can continue to create ambitious, new work for my first solo show and keep operating and growing as an artist and creative practitioner at a time that threatens to be catastrophic for most young artists’ careers.”

Blokes will be showing from September 17 – October 4, 2020, at M Contemporary, Shop 8, 15-19 Boundary Street, Darlinghurst, 2010.

You can RSVP to the opening here, taking place on Saturday, September 19 from 10 am – 4 pm.

Check the Exhibition Catalogue here.

Blokes

“Blokes, Bains first solo show, presents us with an alchemy – of Whiteness, of masculinity, of autonomy and of identity – within the context of an Australian urban consciousness riddled with subjugation and fear.” 

Welcome, 2019 / Oil on canvas