In the realm of art curation, there are those who assemble exhibitions, and then there’s Kevin Wilson — a visionary art curator, gallery manager and director who breathes life into the spaces he oversees.

Kevin’s journey through the art world has been nothing short of remarkable.

From the vibrant halls of Melbourne’s Linden New Art public gallery to the coastal surrounds of Noosa Regional Gallery, as well as various stints internationally, Kevin has undoubtedly shaped the cultural landscape of each institution he’s entered.

His approach to curating involves more than just selecting art; it’s about identifying themes that resonate and then meticulously crafting exhibitions that transcend traditional boundaries.

“I’m a little bit of a rebel in a way,” Kevin confesses, a hint of mischief in his voice. “I like to go against what people think I should do and come up with a theme I’ve either noticed forming around me or that I think would be a bit of a challenge to take on.”

“I want to challenge people, but I’m also careful not to push people too hard. The thing is, though, art is always attractive, one way or another.”

Kevin’s exhibitions are not confined to paintings; they often encompass works of photos, video, architecture, sculptures, and even music. In his eyes, the more immersive the experience, the better.

A talented artist in his own right, Kevin has curated an exhibition for the Caloundra Regional Gallery called about-place / about-face, which starts in May this year and stems from his PhD in creative arts.

“It involves a series of 21 short films based on interviews with people who visited my property at Kin Kin,” Kevin says.

“I interviewed a range of people who had a relationship to the land — geologists, farmers, surveyers and 16 different artists.

“The Caloundra show is a chance for the artists involved in the process to show their work and how it relates to their relationship to land and nature.

“The idea is when you look at land or nature you are looking at yourself, you are imposing your cultural values and your own lived experience of the land.”

There is a lot that goes into putting together a new exhibition, Kevin admits. “It does take a lot of time preparing shows,” he says. “People may not realise, as a curator you spend a lot of time studying the artists, talking to the artists, making sure they’re right for the theme.”

“I discover many artists through social media,” he says. “It’s a great help as you can get a sense of someone and where they are at by seeing what they’re posting online.”

Kevin’s discerning eye is not only honed through years of curating experience but also shaped by his early days as an artist. “I was an artist in Melbourne and had a lot of shows there as well as in Hobart and Germany,” he says.

It was the responsibilities of parenthood that prompted a shift in his trajectory from artist to art curator. “With a young daughter, I knew I needed to get work – I couldn’t just be ‘the artist,’” he says. “And once you start getting into it [curating] you don’t stop — it just takes your life over.”

With an honours degree in English Literature and having recently submitted his PhD at Queensland University of Technology, Kevin also regularly takes on work as an art writer, forming a blend of literature and creativity that enhances the understanding and appreciation for an artist or piece he showcases.

“Occasionally I write for Artist Profile magazine, where I interview the artists and interpret their artwork overall, then put it into context for the reader so they understand where the artist has come from.”

“I learn a lot doing it,” he says. “Generally, with shows too, I’ll write essays for the artists for the exhibition booklets and various publications.”

Securing grants plays a crucial role in supporting Kevin’s ideas, often providing the necessary resources to push beyond the conventional and explore innovative ideas.

But despite having been a member of the Australia Council Grants Panel and Arts Queensland, and understanding the intricacies of the grant system, Kevin says obtaining a grant in the world of arts is often unpredictable.

“Even when you know how it works, it can still be hard getting a grant yourself,” he says. “Once I wrote a grant in half an hour, and I got it. Whereas I would spend weeks on another one and it wouldn’t go through.”

One show Kevin worked on that received a grant was Hot Modernism, which took place at the State Library in Brisbane in collaboration with the University of Queensland. It was a show celebrating the architectural and design history of Brisbane from 1945 to 1975.

“The State Library has rooms filled with old house plans and we thought, what can we do a bit differently? So, we built a house inside the gallery, using the exact full-scale dimensions of a 1950s house in Brisbane, and filled it with modernist furniture. It’s a challenge to do something different like this, but if you’ve got the space, usually you can just go for it.”

Kevin has found a lot of his inspiration during his work travels. It was a specific movement he observed in Europe, art-in-nature, that led him to instigate the Sunshine Coast’s Floating Land exhibit in 2001, which still runs bi-annually.

“I got really interested in a different kind of art when I was in Europe, where it was art made out in the bush and in villages,” he says. “There would be a two-week residency, for example, and people would come from all around the world.” The philosophy was that artists connected with community and worked outdoors to create art in nature that defied the traditional gallery experience.

With a career spanning five decades, one that has been both colourful and fulfilling, Kevin says he’s proud of the life he has curated so far. But he is happy to stay put now and enjoy a slower, more humble life on the coast.

‘I don’t have any real inclination to want to do more than what I’ve done.” Kevin says. “But I often think about a filmmaker Derek Jarman, from London, and in the latter part of his life he bought an amazing little cottage on a shell beach and made an entire garden with objects and sculptures.”

“They’ve now made the house into a museum that people can go and visit. And I think, one day I could make my place into some­thing that’s my artwork.

“That would make me very happy.”

gallery.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au