The art of avoiding retirement

20 Jul 2016

After a successful career in business consultancy, Denis Loaney hung up his suit and tie - but rather than retiring, he went back to university to pursue his passion for art. 

Mr Loaney, 62-years-old, graduates from The University of Queensland this week with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours), one of up to 3000 students graduating at 10 ceremonies at St Lucia campus from July 19 to 22.

“Retirement is a really bad term,” Mr Loaney said.

“It pretty much says that you are stopping your connection with everything, when for me, I just wanted to do more of the things I liked and less of the things I didn’t,” Mr Loaney said.

That passion happened to be art.

“It started as a refuge from the business world, then became a hobby, grew to be a passion and maybe one day will be a later-life vocation,” Mr Loaney said.

“I quickly became inspired about the questions about life and society that art provokes, and wanted to confront these in a more sustained manner than an undergraduate research essay,” he said.

In his first introductory art history course he achieved the highest grade of seven. After completing a Graduate Diploma in Arts majoring in Art History, he immediately enrolled in the Honours course.

In his thesis on Indigenous art, Mr Loaney advanced understanding of how John Marwurndjul, an Aboriginal bark painter from a remote location in Arnhem Land, became a major international contemporary artist.

“I wanted to understand what ideas are shared across cultures in making art, not just historically, but aesthetically,” Mr Loaney said.

He compared Mawurndjul with Heironymous Boscha Northern European artist from the 15th Century.“What I found was that the way their work is artistically put together and the way they engage spectators is very similar.

“It’s about representing the supernatural aspects of their faith and they do it the same way, even though they are 500 years apart and culturally disparate,” he said.

Throughout his Honours studies, Mr Loaney also confronted and underwent intense treatment for prostate cancer. However after undergoing surgery, he managed to bounce back with all of the passion and drive with which he began, and is now hoping to pursue a PhD next year.

Mr Loaney said 20 years ago no-one, including himself, would have anticipated that he would write a thesis on Indigenous art.

“Coming back to study after all those years was a challenging, but fascinating experience, made achievable by the extraordinary support I received from School,  Faculty and other UQ staff.” He said.

 “In terms of my degree, people keep asking me ‘what are you going to do with it?’ and I say ‘I’m not sure yet!.’”

“I’m on a journey and I don’t know where that ride will take me.

“It may take me on to do some more research or it may take me down the education trail – if that’s where it lands great, and if it doesn’t, well I would have had one hell of a trip.”

In 2011, Mr Loaney was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for his work as chairman for ACT for Kids, a charity that supports abused and neglected children.

July’s 4500 graduating students include about 400 research higher degrees. Together, they bring the global community of UQ graduates to more than 236,000 - including more than 12,350 PhDs in at least 170 countries.

That community includes Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, actor Geoffrey Rush, the founders of, Eurovision Song Contest runner-up Dami Im, Nobel Prize winner Professor Peter Doherty, to name a few.

Media: Kristen Johnston, or 07 3346 1633; Denis or 0419661379