By Jo Rittey


Affectionately called Billy the Kid by her dad, Dionne Chambers signs her artworks as TomboyBill. TomboyBill is a Melbourne artist who, through her work, explores various themes, but with the recurring idea of what it feels like to belong. Her work often features big faces on paper in earthy, dynamic colours with soft-flowing brush strokes, scribbles, dribbles and scratches, all with a dash of humour and wry social commentary.


Her upcoming exhibition, Creatures Within, at Mario’s Café in Fitzroy will focus on our inner beast. The works she is showcasing are an extension of her previously explored theme of the overlap of human and animal. She picks up her previously explored idea of what our physical and metaphorical inner creature and presents it to us to do with it what we will.


The Northsider: What’s your background?


TomboyBill: I come from country Victoria. There are really not a lot of opportunities in country and regional areas so you have to come to a big city to get an education. So I did that when I was 17. I really didn’t like Melbourne for a long time. You know, you leave all your friends and family and everyone you love so I was a scared little teenager. But now I love it. It’s funny though, in the city I feel like a country person and in the country I feel like a city person. It’s nice having a balance of both.


I think that’s what comes through in my artwork as well. It has a grittiness. There’s a love of animals and an intrigue about people that’s a small town thing as well. It fuses together.


The Northsider: Were you always drawn to create?


TomboyBill: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing. I’ve still got all my early pieces. I just can’t imagine not drawing. That comes from my dad’s family. They are all quite creative. I can’t even explain why. I just feel compelled to do it. It’s like anything you feel akin to. There’s a strong pull.


I tried to get into music for a while but you have to trust your gut. It didn’t feel right. I just naturally kept going back to the drawing and painting, illustration. All you can do is follow your inner feeling.


The Northsider: Are you a self-taught painter?


TomboyBill: I went to art school and did a couple of courses there. I was fortunate to land a job as a commercial illustrator in the nineties. It was when Mambo was huge, the big graphic t-shirts. That stuff was really in so I was doing a lot of t-shirts and kids’ books. I was very lucky and that brushed up my skills. Technically it was the best training I could have had. Then I branched off into design to pay the bills. I did that for about ten years. Then I got to nearly 40 and thought, “You know what? It’s time to go back to what I truly wanted to start doing.” Design has helped a lot and the technical aspect of illustration too. Whatever is flowing out of me now is just happening. I’m not going after it. I can do whatever I want. There is stuff coming out that I could never have imagined. I can’t even explain it.




The Northsider: Your works feature a lot of quirky faces. Tell us about that.


TomboyBill: They’re almost a cross between human and animal. My human beings tend to be a lot more complex. I notice when I paint that a bit more of the darker side comes out. But then because of growing up in the country the love and joy that comes from animals is in there and these two elements merge together. I might do a couple of sketches or have a rough idea and then sometimes I’ll paint closer to the sketch and then other times, it evolves and ends up as something completely different. I think I’ve begun painting intuitively.


The Northsider: Do you work in oil?


TomboyBill: No, I actually prefer to work in acrylic. And I work on paper. I love paper. You get a lot more crispness and finesse with paper that you can’t get on canvas.


The Northsider: Do you have an idea of what you want people to take from a work when they look at it?


TomboyBill: I like the fact that people look at my work and find it unusual. They can’t quite put their finger on what it is. That’s how I want people to see it. I want to blur lines, and not fit into any genre or norm. I want people to look at my work and say, “What the hell is that?”


The Northsider: Well done on making your dream happen.


TomboyBill: It’s been a long time. I always knew I’d go back to it. You have to find the right time to make the jump. You have to trust your gut. It feels like now is the right time.



Wednesday 30 September, 5.30–7pm, Mario’s Café

303 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

September 30 – October 19



Jo is a French teaching writer, has a PhD in Medieval French literature, and is caught up in the myth she can cram as much as possible into every day. You can read more of her adventures, both existential and otherwise, on

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