06 Aug 2015
I grew up loving art. I went to six primary schools in seven years. Something I learnt along the way was that drawing defined who I was. Drawing breaks down barriers when you’re always the new kid. With great relief, I went to one high school. Applecross High is a public school with an art program. We were a tight-knit group of art nerds who went to school on Saturdays for five whole years just to do art! The success of this program lies in the fact that the tutors are practising artists.
I went on to study Fine Art at Curtin University, with the best portion of my third year spent on exchange at Chiang Mai University, Northern Thailand. It was there that I was alone to really play with the medium of paint. In 1993 conceptual art took precedence over the expressive, with the landscape genre considered the most anachronistic of all painterly pursuits. The degree course left me questioning everything.
After University I worked six days per week as a picture framer for 17 months to save enough money to travel. I backpacked for almost two years through Vietnam, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Greece (working in a hotel and selling sketches to tourists) then Turkey before settling for six months in London - working as a picture framer in Notting Hill. From this base I travelled throughout parts of Europe, seeing some of the world’s greatest art and architecture, including a Mark Rothko retrospective in Madrid in 1995.
From London, I booked a return flight to New York. I stayed with a friend I had met in Vietnam. He lived on the top floor of a brownstone on Montague Terrace - Brooklyn Heights. I felt like an imposter who had landed on the set of Sesame Street. He made me a makeshift bed in a huge bay window overlooking Manhattan - Twin Towers still intact. I visited art galleries daily and recall vividly seeing a show titled, 'The Conversation of St.Paolo Malfi', by Julian Schnabel at Pace Wildenstein on Greene Street. His enormous paintings had an emotional effect on me - unexplainable at the time. I think now it was their rawness and their honesty. They exemplified the alchemical painting process of substance to spirit and spirit to substance.
From New York, I journeyed across America to Colorado to visit my sister who had settled there. She encouraged me to visit the west coast before returning to London and it was there I saw The Ocean Park Series by Richard Diebenkorn. At the age of 23, I had found someone who would continue to inspire me to this day. I also visited Mexico, specifically to see the inspiring home and studio of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Back in Australia I settled in Fremantle and started painting and picture framing for work. My first exhibition reflected some of the places I had visited but it wasn’t until 1998 that I started to paint my own backyard – the Fremantle Port. I was living in Pakenham Street in the old D&J Fowler building and I visited or walked past the harbour every day. After two more exhibitions in 1999 and 2000, I wanted a change and took myself off to Rajasthan, India. A solo exhibition titled Jali emerged from this trip - Fremantle Art Centre, 2002. During this time I was still picture framing part-time at an Indigenous art gallery in Subiaco - now known as Mossenson Galleries. It was there over a six-year period, I discovered a passion for Aboriginal art and culture.
During this period, residential design also entered my life and I took to it intuitively. I was exposed to architecture from a young age through my Dad. His plans were hand-drawn with the finest Rotring pens, which had to be held almost 90 degrees for the ink to flow through the needle-like tip. He had a great eye and I often went to building sites with him. The smell of curing concrete always conjures up memories of weekends spent with him. Dad had been living overseas for many years, he passed away in 2002, aged 55. I would have loved to get his feedback on my first design project (Glyde Street) but it wasn’t to be.
At 31 yrs, I followed my partner to Tasmania for a period of four years while he studied Ocean Engineering. Whilst there I enrolled in a Diploma of Design and Multi-media and a Cert IV in Interior Design. I gained some much-needed computer skills and taught myself to use drawing programs for residential design work.
In Tasmania, I worked as a picture framer part-time whilst also working towards an exhibition titled Island Tracks. I found an empty building opposite the Boags beer factory and after asking around discovered Boags owned it. My friendly landlords charged me a token sum to rent it as a studio. The first painting I completed in this studio made the final cut in the Glover Prize for landscape painting.
Local Tasmanian artist, Philip Wolfhagen was someone I admired from afar for his use of subtle colour and beeswax, which I have added to my paint ever since, giving it a buttery consistency. Idris Murphy, Steven Harvey, John Olsen, Aida Tomescu, Churchill Cann, Henry Wambini, Guy Grey-Smith and Kevin Lincoln are painters I also greatly admire. They all have influenced how I look at the landscape and they all have a way of making the complex look effortless.
The Tasmanian experience has shaped where my painting is today. I am being more selective about which design projects I take on to ensure my number one passion 'painting' comes first.