Even if you’re not familiar with the name, Billie Justice Thomson yet, there’s every chance you’ve admired her work. It might be her sign writing and iconic food imagery painted on a shop window, or her joyfully unpretentious illustrations in print. Deceptively simple and laced with humour, Billie’s distinctive style has a nostalgic, kitschy appeal and is both a celebration and documentation of the every day.
Now based in Adelaide after a stint in Melbourne, Billie originally studied Visual Art at the University of South Australia. While the move east paid off, with her career growing relatively quickly and very organically, Billie was drawn back home for a quieter life after six years. “I felt like it was an easy decision in the end,” she says. “The reasons I left Adelaide were the same reasons I came back,” she reflects.
Speaking from her Thebarton studio, the move proved serendipitous; meeting her partner and then welcoming a cheeky baby boy, Marvin, nearly a year ago. “I always knew I wanted to be a mother. Of course I was appropriately nervous in the lead up to his birth, but it felt really natural and special and I didn’t think that being a mum would be this much fun,” she says.
Juggling a thriving art practice with the demands of parenthood comes instinctively to Billie. While her partner shares the load equally, motherhood has made her “much more efficient”!
It’s a skill that will stand her in good stead given her client list already spans the likes of liquor behemoth Dan Murphy’s, to iconic Australian fashion brand, Gorman. A recent series of commissions for Gourmet Traveller is especially important to Billie. They represent a career-long ambition to collaborate with the pre-eminent foodie bible and one that came post-baby after moving back to Adelaide – two life events she felt could potentially hold her back professionally.
With a number of varying and exciting projects in the pipeline, other key commissions are on the cusp of fruition; most notably as one of Australia’s leading artists featured in the Qantas Curates initiative. Her quirky Fairy Bread illustration will adorn the amenity kits for Qantas business class on international flights. “[It’s an] art exhibition at 38,000 feet!” she says.
In keeping with unusual gallery spaces, her most recent exhibition to date, Home Paintings was shown at her local pub, The Wheatsheaf Hotel. The highly personal and witty domestic paintings reflect what Billie describes as a kind of ‘manic nesting’ period before Marvin’s arrival. “I was nervous and be too tired to paint,” she says, “Home Paintings felt like a last-ditch effort to get as much work done as possible, and it was only when I stood back that I realised how home-centric the paintings were,” she says.
In a case of art imitating life, the themes of homeliness, comfort and domesticity that thread throughout her body of work have spilled out into her actual art practice. Her first at-home studio enables her to make time for painting without compromising time with Marvin. “My world feels like it has shrunk and in the past I wouldn’t have liked it, but now I love it,” she says of working from home.
A subtle shift in what motivates and inspires her as an artist has been a happy side-effect of motherhood too. “It’s for Marvin,” she says. “He makes me want to work harder and to make sure I do what I love.”