Since graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts in 1992 I have been exploring the still life genre and the idea of hunting and collecting.
From my initial paintings of hundreds of red delicious apples to collections of moths and butterflies which I gathered during my five year stay in Cairns, and my discovery of Ellis Rowan and her adventures and beautiful artworks, I have moved on to collections of birds and animals mainly taken from the storerooms of Museum Victoria and also from live animals in zoos around the country. I am also gathering my own collection of bird and animal specimens particularly my much painted foxes.
These creatures are my “intelligent collaborators, symbols of thought and imagination” as Kynaston McShine says of Joseph Cornell’s constant use of birds in his artwork.
All these objects and creatures are presented on the white cloth as a kind of altar-like offering to the viewer. This display also represents the connection with the tradition of still life which I am very much a part of, particularly after reading Norman Bryson's Looking at the Overlooked which tracks the journey of the still life genre.
The continuing presence of the spoons, spectacles, telephones, guns and keys with which the creatures seem to be “drawing a spark from their contact” as Andre Breton suggested in his earliest writings, reminding us that life can be absurd, beautiful and sometimes like any fairy-tale, just a little bit frightening.
I studied at the Victorian College of the Arts from 1990-92. While the main building was located on St Kilda Road the Painting Department was housed at the back of the National Gallery of Victoria.
Being able to access the collection on a daily basis and study it up close had an enormous influence on me and gave me an appreciation for great painting technique.
A favourite artist of mine was Hugh Ramsay, an Australian artist considered one of the great students of the Gallery School. He was celebrated at the Paris Salon of 1902 but died at the age of 29 in 1906. I found some beautiful sketches of his in the storerooms from his time at the Gallery School.
The other photo below shows students from the Gallery School in 1896. While I'm not sure which one is Hugh Ramsay, Fredrick McCubbin is in the second row in the middle. I ended up living in a house in Mt Macedon overlooking Hanging Rock on the same dirt track where McCubbin had his summer house, Fontainebleu.
It was a great honour that VCA purchased some of my graduate paintings for their collection and included them in the 100 year anniversary exhibition of the gallery school.
After five years in tropical Far Noth Queensland my husband, Mark Stewart, who is also a painter, and I returned to Melbourne where we had our two sons. We spent time on the Mornington Peninsula where I had grown up and moved to inner city Melbourne and then to central Victoria, including Woodend, Mt Macedon and our beloved red church in Bendigo. Ultimately though we craved the wilds of Queensland and have moved to the Sunshine Coast where our boys can enjoy the sun, sea and river life and as artists Mark and I can find continual inspiration in the abundance of nature around us.
I hope these paintings with their use of the exotic and the everyday elements and bound within the ongoing concerns of Natura Morte help us to see the world as a wonderful and magical place alive with possiblity...
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Or maybe we should think of the world as being alive with impossibilty...
Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
"Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast", 2013, oil on canvas