Newcastle Hunter Valley
Wests Cruise Vacays Nov 2019
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Brett McMahon

Meet the artist behind the artworks on Hunter Street

Brett McMahon Image

After months of construction and years of planning the Newcastle Courthouse has finally opened its doors and we chat to the artist behind it's spectacular exterior, Brett McMahon.

How did you come to be involved with the development of the Newcastle Courthouse?

Initial contact was made through Newcastle City Gallery and the Project Management team.

A briefing with the head architect and the asset manager from the NSW State Government followed where the basic parameters of the commission were laid out

Were you given any direction for the artworks or were you allowed to develop your own concept?

The site for the artwork was already built into the design of the building - the large run of panels along Hunter Street and the textured panels along Burwood Street.

I was free to develop a design and concept that worked in with these placements and material designations.

Can you explain what the artwork is based on or the story behind it?

I am interested in exploring what natural features or conditions exist before a place or site has been developed, so in this instance I researched what the area around Civic would have looked like before the time of colonial settlement.

The Hunter River’s banks extended inland as sandy or muddy flats, one of the main tree species populating these areas was melaleuca ericifolia – the swamp paperbark. The design is based on drawings and studies of remaining swamp paperbarks in the Newcastle area, and then arranged to form a repeatable pattern.

The finished work's title is ‘Melaleuca’

Brett McMahon, Newcastle artist | HUNTERhunter

From initial concept to actual execution how long was that creative process?

It took around 12 months to finalise the design from the acceptance of the initial concept to having the final drawing ready for 3D modelling.

What material is the artwork made from?

The panels are made from Glass Reinforced Concrete (GRC) which is a fibre strengthened concrete that allows extensive shaping while maintaining structural integrity.

The design is rendered as a 3D model after the final drawing, sampled in MDF, then a mould is made for the concrete to be set into.

Colouring comes from adding oxides to the mix

Brett McMahon, Newcastle artist | HUNTERhunter

Was this constructed locally and were you heavily involved in that process as well?

The panels were made in Adelaide by a manufacturer specialising in this process.
Samples were sent to Newcastle and Sydney for the architectural team, the builders and myself to check and adjust if necessary.
In relation to other projects you’ve worked on was this one of your more challenging?
There were challenges for sure - having to adjust the design for engineering requirements, negotiating each change with a team of designers – new experiences for someone who usually works alone… but also some really enjoyable collaboration in the design phase. I learnt a lot from some extremely talented people and gained an insight to the complexity of managing such a large project.

Having to wait for a couple of years to see the finished product was also something that took a bit of getting used too

Brett McMahon, Newcastle artist | HUNTERhunter

It must be nice to drive down Hunter St and see your work on display. Was the outcome as you expected?
I certainly had anxieties about the outcome after the long period between design and installation, but once I saw the first full-scale panel I felt relieved – the quality of its manufacture and the consistency of the colouring was excellent.
I am totally relieved to ride down Hunter Street and have it look fine.
[Otherwise it] Could have been King St for the rest of my days…or run out of town!
After such a big project are you having some downtime now or have you already moved onto your next project?
No downtime, my partner Rowena and I have a 6 month old girl so we are totally immersed in the next big project…
339 Hunter Street
Newcastle 2300
1: -32.926357
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