Featured in Broadsheet: An Art Series Hotel in Bendigo: The Schaller Studio

The Art Series Hotel Group has opened its fourth artist-inspired hotel, and its first regional one. We spend a wintery night in Bendigo and chat with some of the team involved in creating an art hotel.

Just over a month ago, a Breaking Bad style drug bust took place in an Art Series Hotel, The Olsen in South Yarra. It gave the hotel group some unexpected attention. With all that ruckus behind it, The Art Series Hotel Group returned its focus to its new hotel in Bendigo – The Schaller Studio – named after Australian painter and sculptor Mark Schaller.

A founding member of the Roar Studios in the 1980s, Schaller joins fellow artists Adam Cullen, John Olsen and Charles Blackman as the fourth artist to be featured By Art Series Hotels. Inspired by Schaller’s working studio and home in Richmond, The Schaller Studio (which opened in May in Bendigo) is also the first of the four hotels to be decorated entirely with original artworks. “Mark painted around 240 originals,” says Juan Corradi, the business development manager at the 128-room hotel. “Most are in, but some are still to come.”

The bid for the development of the hotel was won by the Deague family – owners of the Asia Pacific Group, creator of Art Series Hotels – in June 2013. The Schaller Studio was then built offsite by Hickory, using a pre-fabricated modular building system. This involved externally built units (rooms) that were driven in on trucks and then assembled onsite to complete the hotel. The units were installed in just six days.

Surrounded by history and heritage buildings, this modern architectural style makes The Schaller the first contemporary hotel in Bendigo. It caters to the demands of increasing tourism to the region over the last couple of years – attracted largely by international blockbuster exhibitions at the Bendigo Art Gallery. After the three-month Grace Kelly: Style Icon exhibition in 2012 smashed visitor records, surpassing economic expectations and injecting $17 million into Bendigo’s economy, the region became a hub of art and culture. The Schaller Studio is now the principal sponsor of the art gallery.

But unlike the urban properties by the Art Series Hotel Group, efforts have been made to keep The Schaller Studio more casual, and perhaps a little less refined in many ways.

“The experience of the studio really interests me,” Art Series curator Jane O’Neill says. She explains that the hotel aims to evoke the experience of visiting an artist’s studio. “Mark is very tenacious. His practice incorporates many themes and styles, and this is reflected back in the hotel environment through sculpture, drawing, painting and collage."

Schaller says there is usually no set structure to his working process. “It was quite liberating, painting a whole bunch at once, but I had to work out a method just to handle the pieces,” he says. “Because there are so many of them, I spent a lot of time just moving them from one place to another. When I’ve finished them I take them to a larger room and look at them and if they are not finished I take them back.”

Schaller’s bold, figurative style is apparent before you even enter the hotel lobby – there is a colourful, eight-metre mural, The Family, on one side of the building. The artist’s works – full of vibrant colours throughout the hotel – create a fun, lively atmosphere where locals and visitors can drop in for coffee or lunch or stay for a night or the weekend. “We are conscious of keeping this space an art studio, rather than a gallery, like the other hotels,” says Corradi. “We really want people to come and hang out in the lobby, drink coffee, have a glass of wine and be involved in the space and the art.”

Downstairs on lobby level there is a large, communal space and casual all-day eatery, The Pantry, serving food and drink by local producers. Hotel guests can also take out bright-yellow Lekker bikes or a smart car to explore Bendigo. As part of the Schaller commission, a tram painted by the artist that travels right through town is a moving tribute to his work and studio. It’s a very community-focused approach to bolstering tourism to this regional hub, and Schaller attributes much of its early success to the collaborative way he has worked with the Art Series Hotel Group.

“When they asked me to be involved I was sort of flattered on one hand and I was a little overwhelmed on the other, and then I was deeply honoured, says Schaller. “I mean, usually you’ve got to wait until you die to have a hotel named after you.”

The Art Series Hotel Group plans to open two more hotels this year – The Lawrill (named after David Larwill) in Parkville in August, and The Watson (named after Tommy Watson) in Adelaide in October.


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