A conference for imagining the artist colony as an alternate model for writing art history.


Models for writing art history range between globalised world views, national, regional or local histories, and the enduring individual monograph. None of these, however, can comfortably accommodate the artists' colony. Colonies usually attract artists from elsewhere, of differing nationalities, brought together in a single geo-spatial frame. They may cohere owing to the appeal of a particular ‘master’, such as Gleizes at Moly-Sabata, or location renowned for natural beauty, such as Pont-Aven or Taos. Alternatively, they may arise from the invitation of a wealthy patron, as at Darmstadt, or the simple expedient of affordable studio accommodation as at Merioola in Sydney or Lina Bryan’s Darebin House in Melbourne. Perhaps even the ubiquitous artist residency can be considered within the frame of the artists' colony. Regardless, artists' colonies bring disparate artists into close proximity with one another, generating a wealth of anecdotal records that can obscure or illuminate depending on the adopted model of writing. They also physically occupy a space that is not, by rights, the residents’ own, creating a relationship that often has its own dynamic.

Stemming from a 2020–2023 Australian Research Council Discovery Project examining the post-World War Two activity at the Abbey Art Centre, in New Barnet, England, this conference invites scholars researching artists' colonies from anywhere and of any period to consider them as a stimulus for transnational artistic experimentation and for cultural and ideological exchange.

Call for papers now open

Submissions close: 30 August 2022.

This is a dual-delivery conference, comprising a series of 20-minute presentations followed by questions, with the option of presenting either in person at the University of Melbourne or online.

Possible topics to explore include:

  • the study of a particular artists' colony or artist or group of artists who have spent time in an artists' colony;
  • the possibility of an artists' colony producing an identifiable style shared by its artists;
  • the commonality of or differences between artists' colonies across a country or continent;
  • the difference between artists' colonies featuring artists from overseas and Indigenous-run art centres;
  • and the relationship between artists' colonies and national art histories.

In particular, we welcome papers that attempt to theorise the artists' colony as an alternate model for writing art history altogether.

Learn more about submission


To submit your abstract or for further information please contact the conference conveners:

Jane Eckett, Sheridan Palmer, and Victoria Perin.

About the Australian Research Council Discovery Project:

The Abbey Art Centre: Reassessing postwar Australian art, 1946–1956

The project is a collaborative venture between the University of Melbourne; Monash University; The National Art School, Sydney; and Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK. It is funded by the Australian Research Council, 2020–2023 (DP 200102794).

In fully documenting Australian artists who worked at the Abbey Arts Centre, London, 1946–56, and the British and European avant-garde in which they mixed, the project throws light on a historically neglected art colony and recasts conventional understandings of post-WW2 Australian artists’ role in the European postwar period. At a time when this period is being extensively revised within a postcolonial frame, this is a timely contribution to current art historiography that adds significance to Australian art within global institutional contexts.

One outcome, currently being developed, is The Abbey Art Centre Digital Repository, which documents artworks made at the Abbey, 1946–56, or shortly before or after an artist's residency there, as well as archival photographs, letters, catalogues, and items of ephemera. Some items in the digital repository are currently open access. For further information or to request full access, please contact Jane Eckett.

A black and white photo of two men sitting in an art studio drinking from mugs and talking
Peter Graham and Douglas Green, Abbey Art Centre (c. 1947-49). Photo: unknown photographer, private collection, courtesy the artists' estates.

Our research team

Lead Chief Investigator:
Professor Ian McLean
Hugh Ramsay Chair of Australian Art History
School of Culture & Communication
University of Melbourne

Chief Investigator:
Professor Rex Butler
Professor of Art History & Theory
Monash University, Melbourne

Partner Investigator:
Dr A.D.S. Donaldson
National Art School, Sydney

International Partner Investigator:
Dr Simon Pierse
Emeritus Senior Lecturer
School of Art
Aberystwyth University

Senior Research Associate:
Dr Sheridan Palmer
School of Culture & Communication
University of Melbourne

Postdoctoral Research Associate:
Dr Jane Eckett
Melbourne Research Fellow
School of Culture & Communication
University of Melbourne