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Artist in Focus – C Tynan

C Tynan (they/them) is an auspiced artist at AAV.

A painted portrait of a seated 75 year old anglo British woman from the waist up. She is pressing on her breasts, with the blue folds of clothing bunched up around her hands. She stares at the viewer with her head slightly tilted and turned. There is a gold halo over her head with spikes of large gold pen nibs surrounding her head. The painting has a plain dark background.

Saint Jo, Scribe of Our Souls (2023) Oil paint and gilding on wooden board

Tell us about this artwork.

This is Saint Jo, Scribe of Our Souls.

Earlier this year, I applied for an artist development program called Feral Queer Camp as part of Midsumma festival. I received a scholarship to attend a bunch of productions, workshops and round-table learning opportunities with my fellow campers, put together by Alyson Campbell, Stephen Farrier and Meta Cohen. One of the productions we saw was The Gospel According To Jesus, Queen of Heaven. Partway through the play, I decided that I would have to ask the playwright, Jo Clifford, to sit for me. I didn’t know that much about her, I definitely hadn’t quite registered that she is a prolific playwright who may have already had her portrait painted 6 times, but the values she expressed in her play were something that I wanted to put to oil. We were privileged to have a workshop with her the next day. After the workshop, I nervously approached her – she agreed to be painted, and within half an hour we were in my studio.

This painting is in recognition of Jo’s sainthood with The Order of Perpetual Indulgence, Convent of Dùn Èideann, for her work advancing trans rights with her beautiful play, “The Gospel According To Jesus, Queen of Heaven”. It incorporates Brother Bimbo’s original incredible halo made especially for Jo, with golden pen nibs around the outside. This is my tribute to Jo and to The Order of Perpetual Indulgence.

What do you like about it?

Jo is 73. Jo is trans. Jo uses mobility aids. Jo is a woman. She is unabashedly enjoying her body. She is sexy and powerful, comfortable and cheeky and challenging. She is admirable and holy. She is manifesting fully as Saint Jo, Scribe of Our Souls, Queen Jesus.

How long have you been working in this style?

I first used oil at the start of last year, but this was my first gilded oil painting and first complete painting in this size. My style has carried over from working in pencils and pastel, the layering up, the sketchiness in places. The spirit of cheeky queerness is a mainstay, though.

Chris's creative partner, Ed, leaning over a painting. They are brushing away excess silver leaf stuck to the painting.

Chris’s creative partner, Ed, leaning over a painting. They are brushing away excess silver leaf stuck to the painting.

What art are you working on right now?

I have been trying to take time off as I recover from complications that arose with top surgery and prepare for an abdominal surgery later this year. The pressure to keep the work momentum going has felt intense. But also, natural creative processes for me have been involved both in preparation for and recovery from these big life events. I included a custom curse – “May Your Lemons Be Zesty Beyond All Comprehension” – for someone who bought one of my fundraiser prints. My creative and life partner, Ed, worked with me on making a silicone cast of my pre-op chest. I’ve also managed to keep quite a few mementos, including two buckets of leftover breast tissue from the lab, which I hope to curate into a project down the track.

Titian had 5 assistants just to paint the curtains in his work. I painted Jo in a month, with help from Ed and my sibling Maggie. Ed built the 80x120cm board, helped me prepare it with many layers of traditional gesso, helped me gild the painting, and we drove it to Sydney together to enter the Archibald Prize for the first time. Maggie modelled the folds of clothing for me. But I really pushed myself at the expense of my relationships, of learning, of taking care of myself. So this time-off has mostly been time for re-evaluating my practice, thinking about how I want to engage with community, and asking myself what is sustainable: What is possible? What kind of art do I want to make? How do my values apply to my practice and how have I deviated from them? Who am I making art for? Why can Radical Access be threatening to some people? If I’m painting for the people who are also the subjects of my art, where are they going to see this? Is a gallery space too closed a system for me to engage with? How do I share my art in a way that aligns with my values and that centre community? Is there a way for me to fund my practice without depending on capitalism?

I am reminded of the answers by reading theory and engaging with art and artists who share my values. I went to Radical Access : In Conversation with Dan Daw, Caroline Bowditch and Kath Duncan as part of RISING:. I walked away feeling so lucky that from the start of my professional creative career I get to look up to people who unapologetically take up space and demonstrate crip joy. It strengthened my resolve after feeling so tired from feeling like I wasn’t just swimming up Ableism River but trying to redirect the flow. I actually get to take a different way altogether. It’s exciting to be figuring out how to use that energy in a way that nourishes me. #accessissexy

Chris standing at a loading bay behind Sydney Art Gallery. They are awkwardly holding their very large painting which is blocking view of most their body except for boots and their head. They are grinning over the top of their painting.

Chris standing at a loading bay behind Sydney Art Gallery. They are awkwardly holding their very large painting which is blocking view of most their body except for boots and their head. They are grinning over the top of their painting.

What are you making next?

I’ve begun taking notes to set up a life-drawing program centred on artists and bodies that tend to get neglected in the classes I have either been to or tried to go to. Finding accessible, affordable space/s is going to be a challenge. Anyone who wants to chat about this with me, please do!

What does ‘Pride’ mean to you?

Disability Pride grew inside of me as I understood the systems that perpetuate disability and where I fit. Disability isn’t a “me” problem.
Now I feel the radical joy of community, a powerful disabled punk lineage and an optimistic rage that makes me intent on carving out space for us.
Do you have any comments or thoughts about your AAV program?

Applying for and receiving the Creators Fund 2022 with support from Arts Access Victoria was a huge turning point for my professional practice. Sarah in Artist Support Services gave me guidance and encouragement which got me through the intense application-writing process. Until I actually experienced 6 months of full-time artist wages, I couldn’t anticipate how much creative capacity it would enable. It really has launched my confidence and career as a visual artist. I also used funds for an Access Consultation through Arts Access Victoria. This is helping me to develop a Community Engagement Strategy as an individual artist and to make sure from the start of my full-time career that access is an integral part of my work. I wish I had known I could access support from AAV without NDIS, sooner! AAV have validated my practice from the start. They understand the challenges and have taught me to value my own time and creative labour.

AAV also runs The Gathering each month, which is a wonderful place to connect. It is also where someone said that of the 76000 works that NGV has, something like 2 are by known trans artists. With this knowledge, it has been suggested to me that I invite whoever is responsible for NGV’s collection to suss out my portrait of Jo. NGV, if you read this, my studio is just around the corner – you’re welcome anytime!


Learn more about how AAV can support artists through grants and auspicing here.

Find more of C Tynan’s work on their website. Follow them on Instagram,

Artist in focus Arts Exhibition Grants NDIS Visual Arts