Black Friday camps with a twist as art lovers brave Hobart for a chance to buy paintings

On Black Friday night in Hobart, people weren’t camping out in the cold for a chance to buy a big-screen TV, but instead lined up for a chance to buy works of art worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Tasmanian artist Michael McWilliams got a rockstar reception for his latest exhibition featuring people camping overnight to secure one of his 21 paintings.

McWilliams trained as an art teacher at the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education, now the University of Tasmania.

He is known for his inspiration from the unique Tasmanian landscape and its native and introduced fauna and flora.

Fans of his work had lined up in front of the Handmark Gallery on Salamanca Place the night before, and some had even brought leather armchairs to feel more comfortable than the typical Black Friday shoppers.

people in sleeping bags, camping chairs and sofa in the early morning hours sitting on the sidewalk outside a gallery.
People camped outside Handmark Gallery overnight in hopes of getting hold of a Michael McWilliams piece.(ABC News: Joel Rheinberger)

The art aficionados may have thought they had struck a bargain by simply getting the chance to purchase a McWilliams artwork, but there was nothing cheap about the paintings, which ranged from $1,700 to $45,000.

Justin Barber was first in line and had to wait 16 hours for the doors to open, with temperatures dropping to 7.1 degrees Celsius early this morning.

“I do quite a bit of trekking on the plateau, so I had the right gear to protect me and keep me warm,” he said.

A man stands at the entrance of a gallery waiting to be first in line.
Justin Barber was first in line to buy a painting and Steve Cameron was second.(ABC News: Glenn Dickson)

With a first-in, best-dressed system in play, Mr. Barber was happy with his choice of artwork.

“Michael McWilliams, probably to me and I think to many of the people sitting here last night would be considered one of Tasmania’s best living artists,” he said.

A man toasts with champagne while standing in front of a painting depicting a Tassie tiger and fallen trees.
Justin Barber toasted with champagne after being able to select his painting of choice.(ABC News: Glenn Dickson)

Steve Cameron was second in line, waiting on behalf of a friend.

“I’ll get the one I want. Other people on the other end of the line will of course have less choice,” he said.

Annabel Tyson joined the queue at 4:30 AM.

“I was from Launceston and had time in a bed before coming here,” she said.

Given her position in line, she accepted that she wouldn’t get the artwork she wanted.

Two women stand in front of a gallery and pack a camping chair as they chat.
Annabel Tyson (left) was too far back in line to buy her ideal McWilliams painting. (ABC News: Glenn Dickson)

A painted cabinet that took five years to complete is being sold by expression of interest.

Mrs. Tyson said she was a friend of the artist.

“Michael is determined not to make his work unaffordable for people, he is reasonable,” she said.

“People seem to have the money, especially with COVID and people not traveling.”

About two dozen people look at paintings in a small gallery.
The paintings ranged in cost from $1,700 to $45,000.(ABC News: Glenn Dickson)

First in, best dressed means missing something

Handmark Gallery director Allanah Dopson said the artist’s last exhibition three years ago saw queues form in the early morning hours on the day of its opening.

She said she was “in shock” when people arrived early yesterday afternoon.

A woman in glasses and a colorful scarf stands in front of a gallery with a line of people behind her waiting to enter.
Gallery director Allanah Dopson did a tea walk for those in line last night.(ABC News: Glenn Dickson)

“I think the word spread and people realized that if they wanted a beautiful Michael McWilliams painting, they’d better go here.”

She said the first-in, best-dressed system seemed the only fair option.

“Three years ago, when we had the last Michael show, it was in person, online and by email.”

Two women look at a painting of an open black umbrella standing over wood.
Michael McWilliams’ paintings are loved for their conservation themes.(ABC News: Glenn Dickson)

“We found again that people were queuing up from 3am and when they all knew what piece they wanted you can barely answer the phone or check an email so I think we realized this is the only way we could do it.”

She said many people missed it.

“Unfortunately, yes, and I know some people have lined up here and realized they missed something, so they either left or missed the one they wanted,” Ms Dopson said.

A man holds up two young children to look at a painting of birds.
People of all ages came to see the new artwork for sale.(ABC News: Glenn Dickson)

She said she could understand why Michael McWilliams has such a strong following.

“He also has a wonderful sense of conservation in his work.

“While it’s beautiful to look at, it also tells a story about protecting our environment.”

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