Gavin Wanganeen’s home could easily have been a sports museum displaying the accolades of the former professional AFL player’s 16-year career. Instead, the walls are adorned with colour and art and tell another story; one of his new calling as an artist.
“Art has helped me to move on from Footy and connect with my culture”
Gavin Wanganeen has spent much of his life living and breathing Australian rules football, but there’s not a hint of the oval ball or any of its trappings in the elegant home he shares with his family in Adelaide’s east. It appears the one-time Port Adelaide captain and Brownlow Medallist – dad to Mia, 17, Tex, 14, Kitty, four, Lulu, three and Posey, one – had no chance of any of his keepsakes making an appearance when he left the home’s decorating in the capable hands of his wife, Pippa. “If I frame the Brownlow nicely enough, I don’t think she could say no to that!” he says, optimistically.
Far from the black and teal of Port Adelaide, or the red and black of the Essendon Bombers where his AFL journey began, Gavin is now surrounded by the vibrant hues of his new passion, his own artwork. “In my last year of footy, I found myself in a debate with all the other Indigenous boys on the team about where the best Aboriginal art in Australia comes from,” he says. “So, I suggested we all do a painting of our own and get the rest of the team to pick.”
“We were lucky there were actually some great storage solutions already in the house when we bought it,” says Pippa
Inspired, Gavin picked up a paintbrush for the first time in years, after a childhood of watching his relatives paint. “I went away and got a big canvas, but I only did about one-twentieth of it,” he recalls. “It was taking so long I just rolled it up and put it away.”
The vote among the players never went ahead, but some years later, his wife discovered the unfinished work. She couldn’t quite believe it belonged to her husband and asked him to finish it, unknowingly sparking a dramatic career change. “If it wasn’t for Pippa, I wouldn’t be painting,” says Gavin, who met his wife when she was working for AFL South Africa, and Gavin was visiting as an ambassador. Today, the white walls of the couple’s renovated 1958 home, bought four years ago, make the perfect backdrop for Gavin’s growing collection.
“It’s been really lovely for the girls to grow up with Gavin painting around them”
While his art is the focal point in almost every room, there is an undeniable feminine influence, which shows in the swathes of pink – in textiles, accessories and even furniture – that pop up throughout. “I have always been a really girly girl,” says Pippa. “And I’ve acclimatised to the pink!” adds Gavin. When the couple moved in, layers of wallpaper were stripped back, a wall between the kitchen and living space was knocked out to create an open-plan layout, and concrete flooring was laid downstairs. “The floor plan worked really well for us,” explains Pippa. “We just wanted to make it a little more contemporary.”
A souvenir from Pippa’s days in South Africa, the antique sofa (above) was a lucky find. “I have a love of vintage pieces,” she says. The chandelier is an original feature of the home, while the table and chairs at the end of the room are all part of Pippa’s vintage collection. “We have a real mix of contemporary and antique pieces in this house,” she says. A chic copper and marble coffee table from Blu Dot proves her point, while Gavin’s work ‘Star Dreaming’ in Turquoise sits on the mantelpiece. Of course, no room in this home is complete without at least a touch of pink, here courtesy of the piano stool, which Pippa re-covered herself.
“People say they see certain things in the paintings, and that’s what I want” ~ Gavin
With his football medals out of sight for now, Gavin’s new career has the nod of approval from his wife, who promotes his work through gavinwanganeenart.com.au. “I’m really happy with his art being on the walls,” says Pippa. “It’s bringing Gavin’s culture into our home, and is helping our children to learn about it.” And, while his new career couldn’t have come at a better time for her husband – “It’s given me a new outlet, a new focus, because it’s hard to forget about footy after it being such a huge part of my life” – there have also been some beautiful benefits. “Art has helped me learn more about my mum’s people, and I’m still learning as we go along,” explains Gavin. “And we don’t have to buy any art for the house, which is a bonus!”
The playroom is filled with lovely pieces, including a dream-like canopy from Numero 74. “There is this whole Instagram community of gorgeous children’s homewares,” explains Pippa. “When you are breastfeeding all through the night, scrolling through the feed, it’s quite dangerous. It’s how most of these purchases were made!”