Anthony Sawrey


Site 10 - Old Beechworth Gaol, Sydney Road

Artist Statement

De-Integration references the history of HM Prison Beechworth and its future as a community asset.
 The work consists of abstract shapes in a range of primary and secondary colours painted on the grassed areas surrounding it. My painting is intended to mark the transition of the site from a place of control, coercion and punishment to a centre of imagination and creativity.

WHEN I first read the sign outside the complex with its long list of potential uses in the coming years I instantly knew what direction my work should take. It had to contribute to the process of: “repurposing this highly valued heritage site into a vibrant precinct for the social, cultural and economic benefit of the region.”

The design I have installed here is a departure from many of my previous works with their rigid geometric shapes. There is an important reason for this approach in context with the site and its history.
In fact, the only straight formal elements in the painting are the white cross-hatches situated along Sydney rd and High street referencing the steel bars still in place on the prison complex. I have placed these motifs on the north and south portions of the site to draw the visitor to the main body of the work dispersed across the gardens facing onto William street.

For the old administrators of HM Prison Beechworth, the usual means of control were locks, bars, wire stone and its panopticon. But the need to exert control extended to the grid-like rigidity of the prison’s layout and its grim expanses of grey concrete and muted yellow stone. Perfect colours to reinforce its historical program of discipline and punishment.

Since the building is now a listed historical site, there is no chance that any of these elements can be altered. It remains forever more a monument to what it was along with its razor wire, cameras, bars and locks. The only thing I can do as a painter is create a strong ephemeral counterpoint using its lawns as a canvas.

For this reason my design emphasises lurid primary colours and loose organic shapes; anything to disrupt the oppressive expanses of the grey and brown walls that frame it.
I want my response to the site’s history to be explicit. De-Integration instead of Re-Integration. I want to obscure HM Prison Beechworth’s legacy and the dead hand of authority by introducing, if only for a week or so, a wild expanse of colour and line. An act that is almost an affront to its former role as a prison but an affirmation of the act of painting and the complex’s potential future as a creative hub.