Photography: Josie Withers
Let’s start with your art. Why do you do what you do?
In 2012 I took a ‘year off’ to have a go at painting during what I thought would be a break between studying art history and a future masters in art conservation. Needless to say, I didn’t go on to continue with conservation because I loved painting so much. There was something that really appealed to me about being in charge of my own timetable and work – and the freedom this brought.
I’ve found it an incredibly rewarding career because as a realist painter, there’s always so much you can continue to learn, ideas to explore, places to visit and people to meet along the way. I love being involved in the arts community and giving back more recently with some residencies at secondary schools and by holding workshop intensives too.
You began painting fulltime in 2012. Did you ever want to do anything else?
When I was younger I wanted to do so many different things! I hated the thought of focusing on one thing at the expense of all other interesting avenues out there and I’m not your typical creative. At school I was good at art but I was also in lunchtime extension maths at one point, so my interests have always been very varied. One other creative thing I’ve always loved alongside my painting is sewing. I’ve recently gone back to study fashion design at TAFE and I’m really excited there’s been such a shift in focus since I first studied fashion there 12 years ago. There’s much more emphasis on sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry and I think that’s so important. That’s one of the reasons I love Auguste so much, the label has a beautiful philosophy I agree with around sustainability, especially being part of 1% For The Planet. One day I might combine my arts practice with garment design but for now the study is my creative outlet from my creative profession!
Your father is also a renowned Australian artist. How has his work influenced your brush?
The greatest influence my father has had on my painting is that my works are painted from life. You can capture such a freshness and immediacy when you work this way and the process itself is very satisfying. You learn to understand the way light describes form and about human visual perception. It really teaches you to appreciate beauty in the everyday and connects you to you subject… painting can be a kind of practice of mindfulness in a world where career pressures and fast lifestyle can leave you feeling a little disconnected from what’s real about nature and life. It reminds you to be grateful for what you have. Whether it be observing a still life of some fruit that changes as you paint over the week, painting a landscape where you’re out there experiencing the elements, or chatting with your sitter and getting to know them to capture that in a portrait – it’s very rewarding!
You’ve recently be selected as a finalist for the Archibald Prize for the fourth time and have an impressive list of other accolades. What achievement are you most proud of?
Being included in the Archibald Prize has been a fantastic career highlight and I’m so honoured to see my voice included in an exhibition that I see as a snapshot of Australian art in present times. When I was 28 I won a grant from Arts South Australia to study at two schools in New York. One of the schools, The Art Students’ League of New York, is over 140 years old and artists including Jackson Pollock, O’Keeffe, Rothko, Ai Weiwei, Rauschenberg have passed through over the years. It was so wonderful to be at a place with so much history and to be able to focus on my practice undistracted for a full three months amongst other passionate artists. Heading off on my own to New York felt like a huge achievement a the time and I made the most of my time there, visiting museums in upstate New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago as well.
Can you tell us about your artistic process?
At the moment my focus is mostly on portraiture and still life. I paint both these types of work in my studio in Adelaide. If I’m working on a still life, I’ll set it up under my skylight and paint every day for around a week, or as long as it take to complete (weather permitting!). I put flowers in the fridge overnight to help them last longer. With portraits, my sitters come to my studio and we generally have between 5-12 sessions to complete a portrait. We listen to podcasts or music and talk – it’s good fun! With my self portraiture work I’m interested in exploring concept a little more so for these works I enjoy letting myself be inspired by texts, other artists’ work, images and symbols. I attend a life drawing group and a portraiture group when I can and I volunteer at the state gallery, which is also a source of inspiration!
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
I believe perseverance and commitment can take you a long way in a creative field like visual arts. When I took it up more seriously I really dropped a lot of my other pursuits (including cutting back hours at my other job at the time and curtailing my lifestyle and spending habits for a while) so I could give it my 100% of my focus and energy.
The other piece of advice is to view a career in art as a process of continual learning and practice. Grab any opportunity you can to extend yourself, whether this be study, travel or time with another artist as mentor. I took a small business management course, which really helped me understand the value of keeping good financial records and putting yourself out there in the public eye (like giving free demonstrations and entering exhibitions) so people can get to know you and your work.
Tell us a bit about your studio. What makes this space special?
I love my studio. I’m really lucky in that the space is situated in my backyard. I sharehouse with friends here but the home is owned by my family and my father actually designed and built the studio himself many years ago! I think he’s really happy to see the space continued being used and appreciated. It’s very rustic but I’ve made my own adjustments to freshen it up in recent years including installing track lighting, a hanging system for exhibitions and pulling up the old carpet to reveal these gorgeous old red bricks. One of the highlights of my yearly calendar is hosting a SALA (South Australian Living Artists) Festival exhibition at the studio and inviting the public in for a glimpse of what I do here. Last year I’d just returned from 3 months painting in France so I installed Parisienne inspired flower boxes at the windows and filled them with colourful ranunculus, had some old world French songs playing and served macarons, cheese and French rosé to accompany my paintings.
If you could hang any artist’s work on your walls, who would you select?
This is a tough one!! Some artists who make my shortlist are Goya, Manet, Velasquez and Sorolla and I love the landscapes of Wyeth and Sydney Long… There’s also Lawrence Alma Tadema and Bouguereau but I couldn’t go past a JW Waterhouse painting. His works were inspired by history, legends and poetry, painted in pre-Raphaelite style. I saw an exhibition of his works at the Royal Academy in London in my early 20s and I remember feeling so captivated by the beautiful images. My favourite would be a version of Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, threading flowers through her hair beside a lily pond.
And lastly, is there something you’ve seen, read or heard lately that’s really stuck with you?
Through my study at TAFE, I’ve learnt recently that the fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world, after oil. It was really eye opening to realize this and highlighted how important it is to work towards a sustainable future across all industries. In general I’m very mindful of what I consume and my own practices in the studio. I’m all for protecting our beautiful world for generations to come <3
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