When did you start painting?
I’ve been painting all my life! Although I did start out in drawing, but I had painted my first realistic horse at 12 and a portrait from a photograph in tonal paint, which I worked out was the best way (blue, if I remember correctly) by the time I was 14. I was in the NSW high schools exhibition for best of HSC in Year 12 and continued part time, through “sensible” university studies and afterwards, with gaps of about 6-8 months when I had children (two).
What is your work about?
I am an abstract, expressive painter of (usually) large format canvases. As a process-based abstractionist and expressionist, my paintings document the performative act of painting, capturing the rhythm of movement, thoughts and recent experiences as they play out in real time in front of the canvas. My work engages with colour and transparency to create depth, in a palette that borrows from those of the Old Masters, but with a modern twist.
My work addresses the speed, movement and image saturation of contemporary life – the “Blur” – always part seen and part gone, especially as experienced through travel. I exploit the mark making, haptic qualities of paint to express this – its ability to give the illusion of visceral force and substance within the virtual world. My art addresses many subjects: everything from the big questions – Heaven and Hell; love and wealth; and creation itself that are the basis of Baroque and Rococo art – to those as prosaic as the “paint" itself, seeking images which are equally compelling, thereby reflecting the mashing up of information in this internet frenzied, global world we live in.
Current paintings riff on a recently seen “Rembrandt and the Old Masters” exhibition (AGNSW) and continues a body of work contemplating the surfaces, light and movement of the Baroque and Rococo art seen in French and Italian travels in 2017. The forms in these works reflect the “busy”ness of contemporary life and movement in travel; the lushness and beauty of the surfaces, colours and textures- and the spiritually emotive effect -of the paintings I was seeing daily.
In particular, I began to reflect on the role of veneration, power, education and inspiration in historical subject matter and how the grandeur of such subjects contrasts with contemporary art and culture where the “self” (or “selfie”) is paramount. The paintings reflect “Everything (the historical art) and Nothing (just marks, asserting the self)”.
My previous work tracked movement in the environments I paint -which includes my physical environment as well as eye movement and that of my mind (where my reality is always happening anyway!) – the energy, reactions, thinking, feelings, connections to world events, what I’m doing or seeing, etc. I try to notice my thoughts and responses to stimulus (be “mindful”); and track my projected or actual bodily movements through spaces, and paint that.
My most successful paintings capture this synergy of movement, thought, musicality and process.
So, do you ever paint a subject (or start with one)?
Apart from mark-making being central to my paintings (so no, they’re not “about” anything), they end up being a composite of what’s bubbling away mentally or an event, a situation etc that is huge enough to stop me in my tracks or live with me for some time (travels)! I guess I start with a subject to the extent that the work is the cumulative result of time spent thinking about something that just comes out in the work (like the Viking references that came from the Netflix series!) Not knowing what I am going to paint and what I am going to end up with, is the thing that keeps me painting. I am constantly surprised by what happens when you get out of your own way (or your left brain).
The act of painting itself is my fuel and the way I find my subjects, if any, allowing thoughts to bubble away and putting them down, almost as they occur. Meaning comes during the interplay between myself and the painting during the making process. Often the work may end up in quite a different place to where it began, and it is this that keeps me painting.
What is your favourite medium?
I love oil paint! Increasingly, I paint with the newer Acrylics that stay open and allow time to remove, rub, scrape, layer etc, but they rarely “take over the space” or radiate from their frames, as oil does, so I often over-paint with oil. Oil paint also allows more transparency and luminosity of colour. Besides, I like the slippery, slidey feeling of it.
Describe your creative process.
I approach making art in a stalking manner! I usually have a library of images that I like, often gleaned from the internet or other artists work (both contemporary and historical) and, for a new body of work, I study this until I have an overwhelming urge to get painting. A series usually asserts itself (no prior limitation having been set by me) as it keep returning in subsequent paintings. I truthfully often don’t have anything in mind to paint, just, perhaps, some colours or a need to use bigger brushes or challenge myself in some way.
So most paintings start from brush marks and a challenge. Then one work leads to another – a problem or sidebar is raised that I would like to attempt in another way, and then I’m off! It is very physical, quick work, all to the accompaniment of music. (Sometimes the music influences the painting and can be the basis of the titles).
I always start a few paintings at a time, but usually, by the end of that first day, one painting is calling me to -or demanding- that I concentrate on it. Then I resolve that one and begin, usually the next day, on the next painting calling loudest. I may then revisit earlier works in a major way, having learned more from the painting at hand, or tweak them throughout the period of painting that body of work.Whenever stuck or becoming stale, I start on multiple works so I don’t “close” too early.
I am trying for the limits of one body of work to continue to the next, and it seems to be happening. I see an internal logic to bodies of work that, to the “outsider” may appear quite different. I’ve been painting long enough now for the different series to be circling back on themselves, revisiting earlier concerns and developing and progressing them.
Actually, I try to avoid overthinking my process too much, and work quickly and almost athletically, the painting itself supplying some of the energy I need to complete it. I’m usually absolutely empty about 30 mins after I have stopped for the day. I enjoy the creative possibilities of following the “White Rabbit” – conversing with the painting, taking risks and encouraging “happy accidents”.
You say you work quickly, why?
Frankly, my best paintings usually take the shortest time. They are fresh, unpredictable and usually break new ground. I often finish a large painting in one sitting of about 8 hours, after which I am totally exhausted. But this often happens after a few false starts and, it has to be said, a break from the studio of a couple of days (eg a weekend). I turn up to the studio as often as I can (usually 4 days minimum) but I need lots of energy to concentrate and battle with the canvas. When everything falls into place, I am on a high for days afterwards, but also, I am totally, physically shattered and can rarely do anything useful in the studio for the next few days.
Mostly these paintings need a little tweaking which can happen after looking at them for a few days, and I may start some other canvases or switch to a smaller scale that can be handled more easily and to keep things interesting. Some smaller paintings take less time, and some canvases are more contemplative and take longer. All are evidence of the ebbs and flows, the need for action and quiet times that are part of my artistic personality.
Do you have a studio routine?
Yes – it’s a bit superstitious, but seems to work! I usually put the keys in same place near the door (so I can find them after a days session when my head is in the clouds); boil water for tea and immediately enter the painting room and switch on music. I don’t feel right if there’s no music playing.
At the beginning of a body of work (or to shake one up) I look at my best previous work or images from other artists as well as taking a general surf through the internet, or my photos. I have always cleared admin work, news items, emails and social media before I enter the studio – I keep it just for being creative.
What I’ve read, seen or am thinking about melds together and feeds my brain, then I get out of the way and kind of record responses and part images that are then layered (as these sources are), recording the mental digestive process in paint. I may start the work by drawing, just to extend the mark-making and develop different, more immediate responses to what I’m thinking about or have seen.
I like my work to show the history of how I got there. I give myself over to the process and trust that the “a-ha” moment will occur, which it always does eventually.
I also use sections of my older paintings as structure or a jumping off/starting point, which are then abandoned to the process of painting and being “in the zone” over time, so they take on a new life. This allows a consistency between bodies of work to develop, though at least one painting in the next series will be a departure and so, lead to the next body of work (which still has some continuation in style or theme).
Are you a studio painter exclusively?
I often sketch in the landscape (or wherever I am and wanting to relax) but my real creations are in a large, hired, separate studio space (currently in Katoomba). I have worked on and off from home, but really like working where I can get art supplies, have a coffee or meet someone afterwards and feel like I am part of the world. Otherwise, I tend to lock myself in the studio and become obsessed. When running workshops or ArtRetreats with ArtClassSydney, I will paint en plein air or at least use paint to take notes of what I am seeing.
You stated that music was important to you, what’s your studio sound track like?
All my music is now “Easy Listening”! I have a huge number of play lists that include jazz greats, modern and historical composers, electronica, folk, blues, Café Del Mar, Antony Hegarty, Björk, Radiohead, Eddie Vedder, Nick Cave etc etc. but only the smooth stuff so I don’t get annoyed when painting.
How do you come up with titles?
The best ones come to me while I’m painting, like remembering the title of a well loved book – kind of like recognising what I am painting. But I admit, I also keep a list of great titles that come to me out of the blue and, when stuck, check this to see what suits the painting. Lines from what I am reading, poetry, song titles etc.
What are you working towards?
I have a solo exhibition in the Foyer Gallery at Gosford early 2019, for which I want to paint a number of works that will lead to the next solo exhibition, at Muswellbrook Regional Gallery in August-October. I want to push boundaries for this latter one, hopefully incorporate some installation or ceramics or sculpture, which I’m aching to return to.
Do you have any advice for younger painters?
Forget the “Shoulds” – all those rules or beliefs of what a painting should look like or be. Just paint and paint and the rest will come. Also, work hard/have discipline – but don’t forget to play. It’s this last thing that has given me the breakthrough to more creative, unique work that is a joy to create.
The “Ah Ha!” moment was giving up on the art world and painting for myself – which, conversely, has lead to more attention from the art world.
During the GFC, it was relentlessly difficult to get work shown and so, have any positive feedback. But I realised that I really did paint because it was the only thing I wanted to do and moreover, I needed to do it. So focusing on the work and not the result has helped me through down times. And truthfully, unless I am travelling or have other important commitments, I am painting regardless of scheduled shows. Lately, these have also been consistent, for which I am truly grateful (so not too many downtimes!).
As for getting my mood up – music always helps as does the gym and exercise. And I love instagram -it’s a great way to meet other artists and find support, see new art and to get your art out there!