Featured Artist – Billy Shannon

Each month, we will present a featured artist, to give you an insight into how they work and what drives them!
We present each artist with a set of twenty questions and ask them to answer at least ten of them.
Our first featured artist, Billy Shannon is one of Plexus Gallery’s founders. We’ll start with Billy as it is his continued vision that is shaping Plexus Gallery now.

Check out our first online solo exhibition!

Sleepers Awake

Billy Shannon

An exhibition of Billy Shannon’s Sleep Series

Billy Shannon painting Mother Tree in his studio. Part of his sentience series

Billy Shannon is a painter, working in acrylic on canvas. Much of his technique has been informed by his 40-year oscillation between working in the performing arts as a scenic artist and being actively involved in the visual arts.
Billy is heavily engaged in the movement of light through layers of paint and varnish to bring out the emotional content of his work.

How would you describe your art in five words?
Layered, Dreamlike, Translucent, Colourful, Lush

What exciting projects, exhibitions, or events do you have lined up in the near future?
I guess the present one is the online show here at Plexus Gallery, Sleepers Awake. The Sleep series started in 2015 and continues to fascinate me and inspire new works like the recent physics-orientated, Anthropic Universe which has a sleeping dancer at its centre.
Later in the year I will be involved in some group shows outside of Plexus, Belinda Sinclair is organising a show in November with myself and several other artists. Until then I will be spending most of my time in the studio, producing a new body of work that’s exciting me, and of course setting up the monthly artist features and shows here. I am thinking about having a solo show as well. That may end up being next year, we’ll have to wait and see about that.

What’s exciting and/or inspiring you about your work at present?
My work has had a beautiful transformation over the last 4 or so years.
The nature of ideas is that they morph and transform with various life inputs or events. The Sleep series came about through my work as a massage therapist and was shaped by my association with the performing arts community. The Sentience series was informed by my meditation practice which also enhanced my massage work.
Though the majority of my time in the performing art was as a scenic artist, set builder, props maker and production manager, I did also spend a few years doing acrobatics, clowning and contemporary dance. Again that fed back into my massage work, and visual arts outpouring.
In terms of what is exciting me about work of late, top of the list would be exploring contemporary physics, which has come though the Sleep series via a painting that I am still working on of a sleeping Astrophysicist. Furthering this path ‘Anthropic Universe’ started off as a painting of a sleeping dancer, but as I finished the first few Physics paintings, the curled up form spoke to me of her dreams and perhaps the connection between dreams and creation.

Anthropic Universe - Billy Shannon

Anthropic Universe
Acrylic on Canvas
102 x 102 cm, 2024

The painting ‘Are we Hologram’ has sparked a significant shift in my artistic approach, particularly in seeking ways of integrating physics concepts into the two-dimensional arrangement and interaction of elements within my work. Are we Hologram explores the notion of a holographic universe and the concept of lambda as the cosmological constant. The holographic universe theory suggests that our universe may be a holographic projection from a lower-dimensional reality. In the work, I am thinking more about the poetic connections of elements and energies rather than expressing quasi-tangeble forms in a more explicit manner. I’m quite excited bout this shift and am looking forward to developing more of my ‘physics experiments’!

'Are we Hologram' by Billy Shannon, looking at the possible histories of our universe

Are we Hologram
Acrylic and gold leaf on board with frame
1114 x 157 cm, 2024

How does your background influence your art, and can you give a specific example in one of your works?
My work in theatre and film gave me many skills both in painting techniques and in woodwork.
I work with acrylic paints mainly because I had spent so many years working with them in the theatre. I also like the short drying time and reduced toxicity of working with them.
My early experiments with deep glazes of different colours were through scenic art. For example in the mid-80s whilst working with the Grin and Tonic Theatre Troupe, I designed the sets for ‘Desdemona and Othello’, which was being performed at the original La Boite Theatre in Brisbane. It was a theatre ‘in the round’, meaning that the audience was seated around the stage, on all four sides. The floor becomes a focal point, as the audience spends a lot of time looking down at it. In Othello, the antagonist, Iago ensnares several characters in deadly psychological traps. To reflect and enhance this, I created a nonagonal spider’s web design on the floor. It was also painted to look like Moorish tiles and I coordinated with the lighting designer to use the same red and blue tones that he was using so that in some lighting states the floor was red with black tiles, blue tiles with black in other states and when Iago was being particularly evil, the floor looked completely black with a golden spider’s web glowing. I still use the layering of colours and various micas now so that my paintings change and bring out different thoughts as the viewer walks around them or changes the light in the room.
Glance of Brahma is a good example of this. But of course, you need to see in the flesh to get the effect.

I developed quite reasonable carpentry skills in the theatre as well and now create my tondi (circular) artworks and their frames out of boards. The painting “Sentience” is a good example of this.

Billy Shannon - Sentience

Acrylic on handcrafted board
120cm diameter, 2022

Do you believe that art can change the world? If your art could change one thing, what would it be?
My philosophy, when it comes to political art is to promote kindness. I’ve been involved with animal welfare groups and Plexus had a fundraising exhibition to support the family of the soldiers killed while they were defending the indigenous people of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) from the Azerbaijani invasion, but my personal drive is to promote kindness because if people act from a place of kindness, they are less likely to cause harm. It sounds simplistic, and I know that it is, but that is the philosophy that I choose to live by and express through my work. It’s a deliberate choice that naturally infuses my art, not through overt messages or propaganda, but as an undercurrent in all I create. This belief guides my hope that art can inspire kindness and, by extension, change the world.
Here are some politically inspired works.

Billy Shannon - Secret door on Abovyan St

Secret door on Abovyan Street
Archival ink on Hahnemühle paper

This work came out of a visit to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, in 2022. While I was there, Armenia was again being invaded by its genocidal neighbour, Azerbaijan backed by the Turkish government and I felt that I had to make some artwork to reflect the feeling of the people there.
Armenia is being invaded again right now, but it is not in the news. Whatever does get to the news, is usually tainted by the oil wealth behind Azerbaijan.
The resolute spirit of Armenia’s indigenous people, vastly outnumbered yet staunch in their defense against invasion, is striking. They await global recognition and support beyond the lure of the invader’s resources.
So there is a secret door of strength on Abovyan St

Mountains of Gold - Quamby Bluff Tasmania - Billy Shannon

Mountains of Gold – Quamby Bluff, Tasmania
Acrylic on Canvas
122 x 76cm, 2019

The Mountains of Gold series, painted in golds and some gold leaf, questions where the ‘gold’ is in the environment. Is it in the innate beauty and essential life of nature or is it in what we can pilfer from the natural world? Quamby Bluff in Jackey’s Marsh has been a site of a very long running battle against the logging of old growth forests and so far has stood strong against our sea of greed.
However, Quamby Bluff is being logged again, Hands off Quamby Bluff is a FaceBook group set up to raise awareness and protect the forests from further attacks

Quamby Bluff Drawing for Animal Rescue

A postcard design from 1993 for Animal Rescue. Also that year, I started ‘The Animal Shop’ which was an arts and crafts gallery in Deloraine that featured local arts and craft workers and which supported Animal Rescue. It ran for about 20 years, though it morphed from its focus on local arts and crafts and became more generalised after I left it.

1080 Poison Laid
poster by Billy Shannon, for Animal Rescue Tasmania in 1991

This is a pen drawing for Animal Rescue’s newsletter when I was working with them in the early 90s in Tasmania. Laying 1080 poison to kill rabbits was a common practice, I’d guess that it still is. One of the problems with it, apart from the agonising death it causes, is that it is not species-specific, native animals would eat it, then birds of prey, and it would just continue along the food chain.

How do you think artificial intelligence could impact the future of art and your practice in particular?
At present I use AI mainly as a research tool and an editor. By its nature I think that it expresses the ‘normal’ popular viewpoint, so I find it useful for telling me what people would somehow expect to see or hear. I can then skip outside that box if I choose. Also it is a great way to get quite a broad range of information as a starting point, then I decide where to delve into detail.
I don’t use it, nor need to use it for ideas, drawing, imagery or any of that sort of thing. my work comes from my own collection of experiences, beliefs, explorations and opinions.
The use of AI is creeping into all aspects of our lives, even as I type, I leave behind a trail of red and blue underlinings as Grammarly picks up the debris of my stream of consciousness writing…
Its a useful tool, and I don’t really care if people make ‘art’ by writing prompts et al, I’m primarily a painter and just produce what makes my heart sing and I believe that will make other people’s hearts sing. That’s the magic of the whole process. There’s no real need to fear that it’s a gateway for more talentless people to become successful as ‘artists’, I think that there is already quite the plethora of that!

I decided to ask ChatGPT what it thought of my response…

Billy to ChatGPT
Here is a question asked of me for an interview… Could you run an eye over it and maybe bring up some aspects of AI and the future of art that I may not have thought of?
How do you see its impact on art?

Click for ChatGPT’s response…

I guess that I need to mention that I use AI to find gaps in my knowledge base too!!

 What are you reading or listening to at present, does it inspire your work?
What I’m reading at present actually relates to a painting that I started last year as part of my Sleep series. I had the good fortune to start a painting of an Astrophysicist, and as part of the research for that painting I read Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’, which in turn inspired a few new paintings.
Then, as Hawking’s book was last updated in 2005, I decided to read the 2023 book, ‘On the Origin of Time’ by Thomas Hertog, who was working with Hawking when he passed away then after finishing that, I started two books, Lisa Randall’s ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World’ and as I decided to learn more about the maths behind physics,I’m reading ‘The Road to Reality’ by Roger Penrose as well. These books plus a podcast series on the history of the universe that I listen to while I paint has set me off on the new series of work, exploring various theories about the nature of our universe, time and how modern physics intersects ancient Buddhist philosophy.
Here’s a photo of some works in progress. The round painting of the sleeping astrophysicist which stared everything (and is still in the earliest of phases) and a painting that relates to Hawking’s ‘cones of time (light)’ which is now much closer to completion

Happy snap from Billy Shannon's painting studio showing some works in progress

What is your typical daily schedule?
I tend to start early, setting an alarm for between 4 and 6 am, depending on when I go to sleep.
Then do a tarot reading for the day, and choose a significant card from the reading to set as my phone’s background, serving as a point of reflection throughout the day. Then I paint until Sona wakes up when we meditate together.
After breakfast, its back to the studio until lunch.
My afternoons are varied; they start with an hour or so of Plexus work, followed by some time at the piano or engaging in language studies or another form of divergent study to keep my mind sharp and inspired. Afterward, I return to painting and later spend some time gardening to reconnect with nature.
Evenings are reserved for reading or simply relaxing, allowing me to wind down and reflect on the day’s work and dream of what’s to come.
My schedule shifts around depending on projects and deadlines but that’s the general pattern.

What vision do you have for Plexus Gallery, and how do you see your role in it?
Plexus Gallery has been developing over the years. There was a slow period as I had to deal with the loss of my best friend of forty years and needed to rebalance my life, without him. Consequentially, as I am the main driver for the gallery not much happened for a year or so. Then life returned to my studio, heart and now Plexus.
I have to keep a balance between my personal artwork and what I can do for others with Plexus. And I think that this new direction of featuring a different artist each month and focussing on how we can promote both their work with Plexus and whatever else they are doing in their careers is a very healthy one all around.
I love that we get a deep dive into each artist’s world, and we will be doing an occasional physical show.
As far as my role in Plexus goes, I’ll remain the main driver for it, I love it’s potential and the familial connection that I feel with each of our artists. As much as possible I try to promote everyone else’s art here before mine, mainly because I see Plexus as a great vehicle to promote very exciting artwork, not merely an avenue for self promotion.

If you could send a message to your younger artist self, what would it be?
Follow your heart and be happy, it worked the first time round.
Oh yeah! On 16 December 1980, when Apple shares are 11 cents each, buy as many as you can!!! (They are now over $170 per share!)

Do you have any final thoughts about work and inspiration?
One never knows what will inspire a body of work, ‘Under the Bodhi tree – the meditator disappears’ was borne out of my meditation practice and research into plant consciousness. Here, the meditator’s corporeal body seems to fall away, leaving only the perception of the surrounding atmosphere. I invite the viewer into this sense via a technique that allows light to pass through many layers of thoughts in paint and varnish, so the painting seems to move and change colours as one walks around it, and by echoing the meditator in an inverted form, akin to trees’ underground communication.

Billy Shannon - Under the Bodhi tree - the meditator disappears

Under the Bodhi tree – the meditator disappears
Acrylic and gold leaf on canvas
122 x 152cm, 2023

Billy Shannon - Whale Dreaming capturing Chloé de Buyl-Pisco's meditation and spiritual connection with humpback whales, detail

Go to Billy’s online show ‘Sleeper Awake’

Our next featured artists are…


Sona Babajanyan - Patched 5

Sona Babajanyan

Sona is an artist, illustrator and writer who founded Plexus Gallery with Billy, and who, although has stepped back from the organisational reigns, still has a great deal of input and involvement with it.


Renata Buziak veiny

Renata Buziak

Renata Buziak (PhD) is a photo-media artist, educator and researcher passionate about physically engaging nature and organic processes in her interdisciplinary practice, and was one of the very first artists to start working with us!

We look forward to taking you on a deep dive into their processes in the coming months!