African ties to Bayside Council Arts Festival 2019 prize winning hippo creators

Sculptural win: Marc and Gillie with their prized hippo, which took out the major gong in the Bayside Arts Festival. Picture: John Veage
Sculptural win: Marc and Gillie with their prized hippo, which took out the major gong in the Bayside Arts Festival. Picture: John Veage

African adventures and a love of nature's endangered species was the start of a wild ride for the artists who took out a top sculptural prize this year.

Gillie and Marc Schattner won the People's Choice and Acquistion Prize in the Bayside Arts Festival for their giant design 'Come out, Come out Hippo, Wherever you are.'

They snagged the win from more than 45 entries.

"It was an amazing surprise and a first for us in this festival," Gillie said.

"It's wonderful how the prize has grown - starting with about five entries in the first year, to such outstanding quality of art."

The married couple of 28 years from Alexandria bonded over a love of exotic locations, having similar connections to African wildlife.

"I grew up there, from age two to 13, and when I was eight, my mum took us on Safari in Zambia," Gillie said. "I witnessed the shooting of an elephant. As a child, that memory stuck with me. From that day I vowed I would do everything I could to protect animals."

Marc was in his twenties when he became fascinated with Jane Goodall, a passionate advocate working with chimpanzees.

"Conversation through art brings attention to how endangered some animals are. Jane is also the inspiration behind our major exhibition in New York this year. We're going to sculpt our hero."

The idea of creating a large-scale hippo began with drawings and photographs of the wild animals at play in their natural habitat.

"We watched them close up, hundreds of them," Gillie said. "We progressed to clay mould and then cast it in bronze, which is one of our favourite materials to work with because it immortalises the species.

"We came up with the idea of a hippo coming out of a manhole, and thought it was a lovely analogy because there aren't many left in the world. We see the hippo as coming out into a world where it will be protected and looked after."

They say "two brains is better than one" when creating art.

"We get to share creation with each other," Marc said.

"We've been painting and doing art together since we met, and we joined forces after we got into the Archibalds in 2006. We realised that rather than doing work separately we would work together, and we work better than we ever could have as individuals."

"You always feel supported," Gillie said. "Every time we embark on a new project, we hold each other's hand through the process, and brainstorm the best ideas together."

A hands-on experience is music to the artists' ears, and encourage the community to touch, climb and "get a feel" for the hippo.

"We've discovered that after years of going public art, having people connected to a subject is better," Marc said.

"We're so far removed from hippos, they're out of mind, out of sight. But we wanted to bring them back to an urban environment and awaken people's connection to the wild."

"We like to take out art out of gallery situations so they are accessible," Gillie said. "A lot of our causes are educational and aim to create awareness."

Mayor Bill Saravinovski says the festival continues to grow.

''This is the second year of our $50,000 Acquisitive prize. It is one of the richest in the country," he said.

''This festival would not be possible without help from the community and I would like to congratulate the winners and thank everybody who has participated in the event.''

Other big winners included Mohamed Khaki who took out the CamerArt first prize and the Visual Arts winner, Nauha Dabboussy.

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