“I love to know my images are sent out into the world” – Digby Webster

Digby Webster in front of his and Neil Tomkins’ Ernest brothers, Archibald Prize 2020 finalist painting, installation view, Art Gallery of NSW. Photo by David Webster.

Digby Webster in front of his and Neil Tomkins’ Ernest brothers, Archibald Prize 2020 finalist painting, installation view, Art Gallery of NSW. Photo by David Webster.

Ambassador, advocate and artist Digby Webster has been exceptionally busy. Following his residency at Bundanon in 2014, he’s received numerous accolades and has exhibited works throughout Australia, Japan, and Hong Kong.

In 2020 he adds Archibald Award Finalist to his growing list of achievements. We spoke to Digby ahead of International Day of People With Disability (IDPwD) about his art, collaborations and life after the Archibald Prize.

The theme for IDPWD this year is Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world. How will you be celebrating this year, and do you think COVID-19 will improve accessibility and inclusivity for artists with disability?

I spend my spare time alone in my studio art making. I also like to visit art museums and galleries and any local art events and festivals. COVID-19 stopped these activities and I’m looking forward to everything opening again, because I love to look at artist’s work, it is exciting to see the many ways to make art.

I also like to collaborate with other artists. Being a finalist in the Archibald is exciting because it’s given me more opportunities to meet artists, and to plan work together. This has changed my life because I have developed friendships with people with the same interests – we like each other’s work.

Congratulations on being selected as a finalist for this year’s Archibald Prize. Can you tell us about what inspired you to create the double portrait painting, Ernest Brothers, with friend and fellow artist Neil Tomkins?

Neil and I became friends over the last three years, first at my Bearded Tit exhibition where he volunteered to help with a large laneway mural that was too tall for me, and also the Catherine Street Leichhardt Project Ugly. We call ourselves brothers because we have the same middle name, Ernest.

Can you tell us how the collaboration came about?

Neil and I met each other through our mutual friend Yuri, and Neil volunteered to help paint the laneway wall of the Bearded Tit – as this was an enormous tall wall, and I would never have been able to complete it alone. This led to two other street murals, one in Leichhardt and one in Newtown.

What do you hope an audience will take away from the painting?

I am unsure what the audience take away from the exhibition. Maybe they will be inspired to make a portrait themselves. They come to the gallery and look around at all the beautiful paintings and portraits. I hope they enjoy looking at every single painting, and they see different ways to paint a person’s face.

You are a self-taught visual artist. Can you tell us a bit about your artistic practice?

I have been drawing ever since I was little. Every day making images. I see this as my life. I love to know my images are sent out into the world. I listen to stories and make images for them, like fairy tales, and other people in life who I admire like David Bowie and Fantastic Mr Fox. I make images and name them. It is relaxing and I feel good. I did some classes at Pine Street Studios when I was younger.

Team Digby: It is relaxing for him. He spends a long time alone happily making images. This is such a gift. As an early childhood educator, I (Mum) am interested in keeping creativity central, so he always had a pen, pencil or texta in his hand while in front of the TV. This became a habit and he still works with crayons in front to the TV. His dad is a graphic designer, so we both have an interest in visual images.

What’s next for you?

I have been busy since I became an Archibald finalist.


You can read Digby’s biography, learn about his works and exhibitions via Digby’s website.

Image: Digby Webster in front of his and Neil Tomkins’ Ernest brothers, Archibald Prize 2020 finalist painting, installation view, Art Gallery of NSW. Photo by David Webster.
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