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Studio Tour: The Rat Palace

pseudo cultish organisation dedicated to the accumulation of vast wealth


*Stuart is the former drummer of short lived Hobart bands Trainpark and Lifecoach, we asked him to give us his perspective on the Tassie arts and music scene.

Rat Palace Studios, aka The Rat, aka Le Palais de Rat, sits in an old brick terrace tucked behind an inner-city Hobart church its exact location – somewhat secret. The self-proclaimed ‘pseudo cultish organisation dedicated to the accumulation of vast wealth’ currently hosts some of Hobart’s most exciting young artists, including three Tasmanian Portraiture Prize winners, all bursting with talent and heavy on the tongue-and-cheek. Although dirty, decaying and maybe unsafe, the building has real charm, with years of creative production overgrowing the building with everything from doodles to giant forgotten sculptures.

Inside the Rat Palace

Inside the Rat Palace

Here’s what 2014 Tasmanian Portraiture Prize winner and official Rat Palace emerging artist Cameron McRae had to say about this intriguing hub of creativity. (Cameron also won the 2015 City of Hobart Art Prize for drawing)

Who is responsible for the creation of the Rat Palace as you know it?

I always thought it was Rob O’Connor, but it was actually another guy who was responsible for naming it ‘The Rat Palace’. Apparently when Rob first moved in he was actually kind of embarrassed about the name but I guess he learnt to embrace it. It’s been a studio for about 10 years, slowly evolving into a somewhat functional space. Hearing the landlord talk about how it used to be is pretty crazy. There were no walls and it was just filled with trash and squatters. Now it’s a bit nicer. I don’t really know who started it though. It’s been going for a long time.

Addendum from Jamin Kluss: For the sake of history, the Rat Palace as an artist studio was started by Die Laughing Collective – Jamin, Paicy & Empire (Tom O’Hern). The band room was started by The Scandal and Stand Defiant (Disconnect). These events took place in 2006.

Why do you think local emerging artists have chosen this space?

It’s good. It’s pretty good. There’s not that many spaces to go I suppose… not that many people need studios… not that many people are painting and in need of traditional spaces.

How would you describe the Rat Palace to someone who has never visited?

On a bad day it’s a horrible prison. On a good day it’s a beautiful oasis. Once I was working in a side room when another tenant was going wild and just kept coming in and harassing me. I tried to lock him out but there isn’t a lock. I started banging nails into the doors to keep them closed, but he still pushed through. I went and wrapped a computer cord around the doors and kept banging in more nails to try keep him out. I was just thinking ‘how did I end up here?’. It was the middle of winter, 10 pm at night, it was very ‘The Shining’. But when things are going well it can be absolute bliss. It can be a castle.

Graffiti by Brain Foetus

Graffiti by Brain Foetus

How long have you had a studio space and who else have you worked beside in your time?

I started in March last year, so a year and a halfish. Since then there’s been Rob O’Connor, Alex Davern, Chris Hamnett, Matt Ward, Scott Cotterell, and Nicola Smith.

Being quite a tight space you would be constantly exposed to your neighbour’s work. Is there generally much critiquing that goes on or does everyone keep to themselves?

There’s absolutely zero critiquing. It’s really good. People always say it’s great to get in a communal space after art school so you can continue the thing of critiquing each other’s work, but I don’t really like that. We all just ignore each other. If you get too involved with other peoples work, especially if you don’t like it, it just makes things complicated. Everyone knows what they’re doing, or at least what they are trying to do. They don’t need any hippies giving them advice.

Work in progress

Work in progress

Have you noticed any unusual work habits among your Palace peers?

It’s always good when Chris is here. He’ll play trance and house music really loudly and creep up on you. Davern’s really tidy and organised, it’s creepy. Everything has got its own little tub. You can see it reflected in his work, it’s very precise and carefully planned out. It’s good though because it makes me clean my space more often. Rob’s a bit weird because he’s just here all the time. I’ll get here at 10 am and he’ll be settled in, then leave at 8 pm and he’ll still be here.

With a frequently used band rehearsal space directly beneath the studio it must get pretty noisy. Do the artists and bands exist harmoniously?

There may be a bit of discrepancy in taste between the bands and the artists… I guess it’s interesting being exposed to new things. Most bands just come, play their songs a few times then leave. There’s not too much jamming that goes on, it’s all pretty slick. We can kind of drown it out if we turn up our music really loud though.

Any exciting projects coming up for you and your Rat Palace compadres?

Rob’s in New York at the moment and Davern’s in Paris. They both had shows at Bett Gallery earlier in the year, but there’s not too much going on at the moment. I’m going to be in the city of Hobart Art Prize in a couple weeks. No one has really got a show coming up though. What a bunch of losers.

Article published: 09 September 2015