AUSTRALIA Living Land expresses the temper of the Australian landscape. Three emerging Australian artists –  Zak Tilley, Harriet Goodall and Meg Walters explore Australia’s wrath and serenity, which, at this moment, seems raw and fragile yet holds a deep and resounding beauty. The richness of Australia’s ochre, fragile bush and lush vegetation are unified here to mark the bold and complex character of Australia.

Otomys Contemporary’s Megan Dicks speaks with Meg Walters about her practice.

Meg It has been such a delight getting to know you over the last few months, chatting over Chai Latte’s in Byron Bay and learning about your art and your history. You describe yourself as an Australian abstract figurative and landscape painter who lives in the Byron Bay region, however your heritage and your journey to reach this point holds many more exotic layers. What is your background and how does this play out in your art?

My cultural heritage informs a large part of my work.  It’s through the amalgamated memories of my upbringing in both Bermuda and Canada, and now my home in Australia that my work takes shape, forming a sense of imagined place that is neither real nor imaginary, yet both simultaneously. 

I lived in over 20 homes before I reached adulthood so while I have memories of these tangible, temporary places, it was the landscapes of my mind that held the most calcified memories for me. Hiding under my bed during a hurricane as the branches whip on my window pane, the sound different types of snow make under the weight of a step and the reward of loquat juice running down my chin after scaling a tree in Spring. These memories are all much more real to me than any home and have been a driving force of inspiration in all that I do.

As far as my career goes, I’ve had a rather segmented start. When I was 18 I moved to London to study at Chelsea College of Fine Art and was filtered into photography and sculpture, two mediums I still practice today that help inform and strengthen my painting practice. My imagination longed for the natural world and Australia beckoned. It’s here that I completed a degree in Illustration at Newcastle University before embarking on a ten year career in the music industry. Fast forward and I’m now entering into my third year of studies at the Byron School of Art. 

There is languid movement in your work, a seamless flow in an unconstructed, almost spiritual landscape. Is it right to say there is a sense of nostalgia in some of your work? If so, is this for a place that existed in your past or for a place created from dreams?

Memory and past together create nostalgia and that underpins a large part of my work. Memories are flawed and we can bend them to fit our own narrative, in the same way that we can create our own reality and world. I’m interested in unique narratives. Stories that don’t necessarily fit the mould or are even believable on first glance.

Just like how a dream pulls together segments of stories in a timeline that doesn’t necessarily make sense, my paintings are constructed the same way. I like to manipulate time and memory to illicit a specific sense of place or emotion. 

The work you have painted for the upcoming exhibition – AUSTRALIA Living Land – offers us a place of sanctuary, a respite after a gruelling Australian summer. What was the influence behind this body of work?

This body of work is immediate and filled with a very real urgency for me. The inspiration comes from spending six days in some of Australia’s most inaccessible, remote and inhospitable landscape. Hiking in Tasmania’s isolated South-West, I felt the impending influence of the inescapable elements. There was no reprieve from the natural forces which included blizzard, 120km winds, hail, sleet, torrential rain and scorching sun. 

The aliveness of this land captivated me. The people who’ve forged these paths before me; their stories, combined with my own was a main driver in creating these works. The respect for the first nations people and their resilience to live symbiotically with this unforgiving land is astounding.

The harshness of this land took me to new places mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. It’s difficult to explain the isolation, the exposure and chaos of my time in Tasmania, but hopefully my paintings speak for me on this point.

You mentioned that the research and preparation required for each work can take days or weeks. What is involved in this process?

My subject matter is largely informed by whatever I am experiencing externally or internally at any given moment. Sometimes it is as real and pure as the landscape of Tasmania, and sometimes it is more metaphorical and takes shape by way of symbolism used to represent conceptual, emotional inner work. 

Once I have an idea, it can take me months to find the right reference material. Ideally, I like to take film photographs myself that I then use as reference material. When that’s not available, I source libraries, old national geographic magazines, obscure youtube documentaries, newspaper clippings and everything in between. I spend weeks sketching and playing with colour, finally working my way up to a large scale painting.

Lastly, is your art practice guided by intuition or is the impact of the viewer of your work more closely considered? 

My work is hugely guided by intuition. When a concept is being formed, I consider the viewer among many other things, but once I have an idea, I can only create when I can remove myself from any cognitive discussion. The creation comes when I can place myself into my imagined world and make from that space, using my memories and emotions as a guide.

AUSTRALIA Living Land

567 – 569 Victoria Street, Abbotsford VIC 3067.

Opening Saturday 14th March (10 am – 3 pm) through to Thursday 16th April 2020.

Otomys Contemporary is open by appointment only.

Catalogue request / schedule an appointment via info@otomys.com.

AUSTRALIA Living Land expresses the temper of the Australian landscape. Three emerging Australian artists –  Zak Tilley, Harriet Goodall and Meg Walters explore Australia’s wrath and serenity, which, at this moment, seems raw and fragile yet holds a deep and resounding beauty. The richness of Australia’s ochre, fragile bush and lush vegetation are unified here to mark the bold and complex character of Australia.

Otomys Contemporary’s Megan Dicks speaks with Harriet Goodall about her practice.

A sensitivity and lifelong connection to the Australian land is so brilliantly revealed in your work as a full-time sculptor. Tell us about your early years growing up on the land?

I was a child of the bad drought of the 80s and dramatic dust storms often rolled in, over the flat plains that stretched out west from our dry front lawn. Our property was several thousand acres and boasted the last rocky hills for the next few hundred kilometres so our favourite childhood play place was an actual bushrangers hideout in the eucalyptus shaded boulders. I have never seen ‘big sky’ sunsets so intense as sitting on those granite rocks. 

The corrugated iron shearing shed was the playground of my youth. Mostly we worked in the shed yards, moving large mobs of sheep with kelpies and motorbikes or walking up laneways but always scratching in the dirt with a stick and picking up treasures along the way. Boredom bred a close study of my surroundings. My father and grandfather were farmer-graziers so summer was 24-hour harvest time with huge headers circling in the heat of the night, spotlights making tracks through the crops. Afterwards we ‘burnt off’ the stubble with flaming tires pulled behind our truck. Dad was Captain of the local fire brigade so he was often called out to fight fires on forty degree Christmas days. Most days were a cycle of tension and relief; disasters were common and we all pulled together. 

My parents were creative thinkers and aesthetically sensitive. It was always implicit that art was the best way to capture the secret language of the land. They often had creative friends to stay and my aunt was a full-time abstract colourist working in oils and we were at all of her Sydney openings. My first welded sculpture of a small horse was made in my father’s farm workshop at age 8. It still sits on their mantelpiece. His workshop was a place to connect.

Your sculptures are made from natural found materials, so your art supplies are simply all around you, however I imagine they are not easily foraged. Your meticulous consideration of the colors and surfaces must be the beginning of a time-consuming process.

My eyes are trained now to look in a different way; I am always searching for rich colours in abandoned or decayed places. As I travel around the bush, I am compelled to explore where many fear to tread! I like the eerie echo of lives passed, the sadness of the scrapheap and when I find a relic and I know it is unloved, I can give it a new life. Of all the pieces I work with, I am very conscious of the origin and can usually remember exactly when and where it was discovered. 

I particularly relish pulling down and repurposing hinge-joint fence lines and netting because they represent so well the boundaries my ancestors declared to claim ownership. The intersecting lines are beautiful to a basket maker and weaver. My husband is a farmer and fencer so it’s part of our world.

Burnt-out cars on the road side have also been a long-time fascination with their unusual patina and swirling colours. The frisson is in the danger element; that these symbols of wealth and prosperity have been stolen and torched – that ownership denied in an instant.  I have been given permission to explore a vintage car yard burnt in the recent bushfires – a vast hundred acres of rusting hulks – the life’s work of a hoarder destroyed. It is post-apocolyptic and devastating in so many ways.  Often time creates aerial landscapes on the rusty surfaces. I only collect materials that have the most beautiful marks and rich variety.  

Cutting, welding and grinding is hard on my body and often dirty and I don’t think many people would enjoy the stuff I do but I don’t begrudge the freedom it grants me to immerse myself in making art. 

The repetitive nature of weaving or even simply connecting pieces is antithetical to the flurry of an inspired moment when resolving a composition. I envy the abstract expressionist painter, splashing and rubbing the canvas with passion but it is good for my busy mind that once I have an idea, I am then forced into hours and hours of slow monotonous action. It makes me still myself and is a discipline that always bears fruit. 

Your selected natural materials are then bent, twisted and woven to express the temper of the Australian land. Following this recent intense season of drought, fire and flood which you were greatly impacted by, I’m particularly intrigued by the gentle delicacy of ‘Willawarrin Backroads’ which floats loosely above in its own shadows, almost obscuring any sense of tension or drama.

I collected the section of hingejoint fence in this piece from a scorched fireground at Willawarrin on the mid north coast of NSW in January while my husband was at home preparing our house and animals for the threat of the Morton fire not far to the South. It was very wild and frightening for everyone but fortunately this fire stopped short of us in Kangaroo Valley. 

The very slight gradation of black-browns and lack of colour is apparent in all the many burnt landscapes I have travelled through and the wending lines woven through my work are a theme I began years ago in a representation of topography. These then became somewhat more like the scribbly lines of insects under bark. It seems the only living creature left in the all the quiet burnt areas are the insects.   This piece is like a tribal relic, a skeleton of something you might find left behind in a post-disaster world. 

Your sculpture successfully exploits the nature of the Australian landscape which is often known for her harsh and unpredictable character, yet in decayed and burnt materials you have found beauty and enhanced this. Australian artist, Louise Weaver said ‘creating art is how you relate to the world’. What is it about the Australian living land that gives your art practice context?

I think to really know life in the Australian bush you have to equally recognise its ever present death and decay. I just collect remnants and tenderly stitch them back to life with natural fibres, lines and colours that re-imagine nature’s own. 

I feel like my practice is an exploration of the dichotomy of belonging and displacement I feel in so many ways. A kick-back against our environmental recklessness and celebration of the radical beauty at our disposal. It’s make or break!

AUSTRALIA Living Land

567 – 569 Victoria Street, Abbotsford VIC 3067.

Opening Saturday 14th March (10 am – 3 pm) through to Thursday 16th April 2020.

Otomys Contemporary is open by appointment only.

Catalogue request / schedule an appointment via info@otomys.com.

AUSTRALIA Living Land expresses the temper of the Australian landscape. Three emerging Australian artists –  Zak Tilley, Harriet Goodall and Meg Walters explore Australia’s wrath and serenity, which, at this moment, seems raw and fragile yet holds a deep and resounding beauty. The richness of Australia’s ochre, fragile bush and lush vegetation are unified here to mark the bold and complex character of Australia.

Otomys Contemporary’s Megan Dicks speaks with Zak Tilley about his practice.

Your work lures us in to experience the Australian outback, to feel its raw color, cool rivers, wildlife and rocky canyons. How is it that you know the rugged beauty of this land so well?

That is an interesting question – I wouldn’t say I know the land as well as I’d like to. I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney and am more familiar with the temperate Eucalypt forests of the Blue Mountains and the coastal scrub of the east coast. My works, particularly my most recent work around Mparntwe (Alice Springs), are a visual response to the landscape that I now call home. These paintings depict my initial (and somewhat unfamiliar) interactions with the landscape. This is particularly through the lens of my settler heritage which I find an interesting way to explore colonialism and perceptions of the landscape, belong and not belonging.

Australia is believed to be the oldest continent in the world and in many ways the heart and soul of this country lies in her quiet, isolated and sacred center. You’ve been living in Alice Springs for one year now – how does the environmental and cultural landscape inform your practice?

Central Australia has made a huge impact on my practice, particularly philosophically. It has made me question a lot of aspects of my practice, most notably intent and sensitivity. My works have become more critical of my relationship with the landscape, as a way to navigate the guilt of appreciation of a land – a land who’s history of neglect, abuse and removal from its traditional owners and custodians, is intertwined with my settler heritage.

Can you give us an insight to your art practice? I mostly like to paint studies plein air, depending on how bad the flies are – and the heat.

These works are gouache and oil pastel on paper. I then take them back to the studio and amalgamate my experience on larger surfaces of usually ply, and  sometimes canvas. I am incredibly inspired by the colours of the landscape, especially out here (in Central Australia). The vibrancy of my palette reflects that, but also, I use these often oversaturated colours to depict that sense of dreamlike wonder when one is in awe, viewing and admiring a truly unique and incredibly majestic landscape.

This past summer in Australia has left indelible scars on communities, wildlife and the land. How has this impacted on your body of work for the group exhibition Australia Living Land?

The works I have painted for this exhibition depict my various encounters with the Australian landscape this summer, from thick smoke haze and pyro cumulonimbus storms on the south coast, to dust storms, and flooding of the rivers in Central Australia. My depiction of recent climate events are limited in my works due to sensitivity of communities, and my own processing, and everything I have painted has been from my  experiences on the South Coast.

Although your work embraces the temperament and striking natural beauty of this country. I believe your art practice is exploring something deeper than the visual. 

Yes, my practice is a critical analysis and personal investigation of my relationship with the Australian landscape. I suppose this is and will always be through an inevitable lens of colonialism, whether it be climatic, identity, or other environmental issues that I am depicting. However, there is always hope that my work sparks at least conversation with someone or anyone that views it, or helps my viewers think more deeply and sensitively about their place and their intent in the Australian landscape.

AUSTRALIA Living Land

567 – 569 Victoria Street, Abbotsford VIC 3067.

Opening Saturday 14th March (10 am – 3 pm) through to Thursday 16th April 2020.

Otomys Contemporary is open by appointment only.

Catalogue request / schedule an appointment via info@otomys.com.

Otomys Contemporary’s Rebekah Stuart is a multi-disciplinary artist exploring an alternative aesthetic to the traditional and Romantic landscape, whilst also exploring the potentials for art and dance to coalesce.

Training in dance and movement for over 23 years and working as an artist for 25 years, Rebekah Stuart has developed a practice through reconstructing fragments of nature and the subconscious via digital media and the body to recreate new worlds. The worlds Rebekah Stuart creates speak to a larger force where she believes that when we keep this tender conversation open, we may arrive at a place much like a resonant symphony.

From this evening (Thursday 6th February) through to Sunday 9th February, Rebekah Stuart will perform Rehearsal for Death at La Mama.

Rehearsal for Death is a glorious exploration of life’s only certainty: death. In this physical theatre piece, Rebekah Stuart and Sophie Thompson dance through mortality, decay, and grief. Taking inspiration from storytelling and ritual, the dancers revel in our shared impermanence, and measure the weight of mortality on the living.

‘In creating this show we wanted to embrace the feeling of uncertainty and impermanence, while honouring the deep pain that comes from witnessing and living through the death of a loved one. In our rehearsals we found joy, laughter, ecstasy and absurdity existing alongside the pain of loss and the anxiety of inevitable decline. We hope to offer our audience the gift of being reminded that we are all living on a knife edge, and our bodies will eventually fail us. But for now we have them, and by dancing through this brilliant chaos we can come to understand what this means.’ – Notes Rebekah Stuart and Sophie Thompson.

La Mama Courthouse – 349 Drummond Street, Carlton VIC – book tickets here.

With a rich history spanning over 50 years and a national profile, La Mama is Australia’s home of independent Theatre. It plays a critical role in the Australian cultural landscape, as a place for responsive, new, risk-taking work to occur. La Mama has a distinct artist focus, and provides a unique audience experience. Treasured for its advocacy for those seeking to explore beyond the mainstream, La Mama champions artistic individuality and freedom, prioritises accessibility, and celebrates a diverse community of artists and audiences alike.

Rehearsal for Death is created, produced, directed and performed by Rebekah Stuart and Sophie Thompson. Operating Stage Management and Lighting Design by Jordan Carter. Imagery and text courtesy of Rebekah Stuart and Sophie Thomas.

Otomys Contemporary represents Rebekah Stuart’s fine art collection – browse here.