“Seriously, no stupid people allowed beyond this point!” This was the warning that Phil and I encountered when we arrived for our interview with Liam O’Neil. It looked like we might have to conduct the interview on the front lawn, but fortunately Liam and his mother Ailsa were gracious enough to let us inside.
What we found when we entered was a celebration of art which covered every inch of the space. Cheerfully coloured canvases, bedazzled mannequins and two bright, friendly smiles lit up the suburban home which houses Liam’s studio. At the time of our visit, Liam was working on a portrait of a woman holding a camera in graphic yellow and purples. As Phil and Ailsa discussed the best location for our photo shoot, I chatted with Liam about his favourite shows such as Doctor Who and Thomas the Tank Engine.
Liam first started drawing in February 2015, with his mum’s help. Ailsa, who describes herself as “arty farty”, also has a studio and encouraged Liam to take up the brush. “One day Liam asked me, ‘can I paint a canvas?’” Ailsa says. “I gave him one that was lying around and I was watching him, thinking ‘oh my god, he’s really good’.” Art is good therapy, as Ailsa observes, and the proof is in Liam’s outstanding pieces of art.
“Painting makes me feel relaxed and confident that I can do things myself,” says Liam. With his mother’s help, painting quickly became a weekly activity for Liam. Ailsa was so excited to share his work that they created a Facebook page called Liam’s Art Geelong, which has almost 2,000 followers. Liam started to draw using a projector like his mother, but now he draws freehand. During our visit, we were lucky to be able to watch Liam as he worked, sketching a painting of birds. His focus and steady hand as he perfected the lines was remarkable. This was Liam’s first attempt at drawing birds, and Liam tells me that he would like to draw pictures of other birds, including a cockatoo, an ostrich or a penguin. Liam particularly likes penguins because they get married to other penguins and raise their offspring together.
Liam is a dedicated ambassador for Autism Awareness and has spoken at many events to raise awareness. In May 2015, Liam donated a canvas to the All Stars Charity Event, which raised $2,000 for Autism Walk Geelong. The money went towards establishing a Life Skills House in Geelong. Liam likes creating paintings for other people, including the Give Where You Live Expo, Karingal and Gen U.
One of Liam’s artworks will be donated for a silent auction at the Humans in Geelong Expo on 7 October. The proceeds from the auction will go to Headspace.
“When I draw, I have a thought in my head of pictures I like,” Liam tells me. Liam’s favourite artistic subject is women, “because I think they’re beautiful.” Liam also likes drawing pictures of animals such as elephants and giraffes, and his favourite animal is a hippo. His work features many bright, happy colours such as blue and purple. Liam is currently working on a dog-themed collection of paintings for an upcoming exhibit in May at the Boom Gallery. I was lucky enough to be treated to a preview of the collection. Liam’s pictures of the dogs are lively and vibrant, as if they are ready to jump off the canvas and give you a big slobbery kiss.
Don’t forget to come to the Humans in Geelong Expo on October 7th at Deakin Waterfront from 10-3pm for the chance to bid for Liam’s ‘Who needs a Hug?’ canvas and to see him create some of his fantastic artwork. He loves to have a chat.
Story: Stephanie Downing Photo: Phil Hines