Late in 2019, Melbourne’s established digital printmaker, Sophia Szilagyi, was invited by The Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney to create and exhibit her artistic response to the living plants in this iconic public garden. Szilagyi immersed herself in the heritage listed oasis, getting to know its landscape and the plants. ‘Plants like people’, she says ‘have an individual presence, a spirit of their own’. 

This body of work invites the viewer to feel the powerful, romantic expression of the plants and the landscape, beyond just their shape and form. By documenting their ever-present past, Szilagyi encourages the viewer to experience their metaphysical realm.

The world we see is made of light reflected off the things we look at. Szilagyi works with light as a painter with a paint palette. She does not define herself by any particular artistic medium – her experience as a dancer, printmaker and photographer allow her a unique perspective to shape light. This sensitive perception of light, and therefore dark, creates the alluring sense of mystery in Before Dark.

The use of a monochromatic palette and theatrical style of lighting is timeless, it pays homage to the nostalgic and dramatic black and white landscape photographs and films of the early 1900’s and yet it’s medium is truly contemporary.

Since she created this work, we have watched nature transition through bushfires and now the strain of a global pandemic. Before Dark is a timely collection of work as the quiet stillness comforts our unsettled state of consciousness.

‘Love emerges from loss and becomes memory

and that memory informs and enriches art.’

Deep South by Sally Mann.

 

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.

Exploring identity through colour and light

 

Abandoning perceptions meant to differentiate, Krisjan Rossouw creates a play on Pop Art with tribal paint and traditional ritual clay, in the endless colour spectrum, forsaking imagined or imposed notions of who we are based on how we are told we are seen. Typical of Rossouw’s oeuvre, closer examination retains the personal collaborative relationship he explores with the subjects he shoots. A continuing direct dialogue between the viewer and the viewed. Continuing his signature approach to lighting, Rossouw illuminates his subjects in alternative hues, elevating them to an unnaturally saturated level. Seemingly playful in it’s creation of a club of fictionalized ‘cultures’, multiple questions arise: The perceived versus the real relationship between skin colour and cultural identity. If no two of us where the same ‘colour’, what possible societies would result?  Rossouw’s hyperbole presents a critique not only on the ideal of the ‘rainbow nation’ (the term used to describe post-apartheid South Africa) but also the greater concern of the burgeoning global culture of systemic division and the senselessness of assumed superficiality weaponized and enlisted in the drive to divide.

Below, Megan Dicks catches up with Krisjan Rossouw to discuss this new series.

Megan: Your extraordinary eye for African portraiture has been applauded internationally over several years and just when we thought you couldn’t possibly exceed the work you’ve created to date, you have absolutely captivated us with your latest series – Culture Club. This work is particularly exciting as it seems to have thrown a powerful new light on your art practice, in terms of your brave and playful visual dialogue with the socio-political interpretation of colour and culture. What does this series mean to you?

Krisjan: There has been much happening in the global political landscape around division and ‘otherness’. Similarly, and particularly across Africa, there’s a growing culture of ‘us and them’ driving multiple agendas which continues to concern me. I needed to address these somehow, to better understand them. Culture Club grew from that exploration: a response to the imagined or imposed notions of who we are based on how we’re told we’re seen. A fictionalised parallel place where the idea of colour became celebratory, where we literally became the ‘rainbow nation’ (the term commonly used to describe South Africa in the post-apartheid) is where Culture Club came to exist. The hyperbole presented interesting possibilities to me. If we were each a different colour, what possible society would that yield? It’s a naïve ideal, certainly, but once I started working and shooting, a deeper resonance began to reveal itself.

Megan: Yes, an interesting thought ‘If we were each a different colour, what possible society would that yield?’

Culture Club has been described as modern African Pop Art. Yet your muses are washed in traditional materials such as initiation clay, binding the old with the new. Tell us about the process and direction behind Culture Club?

Krisjan: I have an ongoing interest in traditional adornment employed in ritual. Across Africa, traditional clays and body adornments are still used for ceremonies, important rites of passage and celebration. They co-exist with the modern. When exploring the idea of Culture Club, this idea of timelessness, where the past and present co-exist was key. Warhol’s use of saturated colour in his portrait prints and paintings, even the repetition of the singular image were early references, and the paradox of these being executed with traditional elements interested me. As the series evolved, I found myself stripping back any additional elements (like the found objects and flora employed in some of my previous series). The bright and contrasting colour between the subject and the backdrop, and the interaction with the subject (a collaborative aspect pivotal to all my work) was all that seemed required to communicate the image. In fact, the image became more about expression than colour at all.

Megan: Cape Town is a stylish and dynamic city and you and Deon have your finger on the design pulse. So aside from a visit to your fabulous art gallery – Deepest Darkest – which destinations make you proud to be a Capetonian?

Deepest Darkest Art Gallery – De Waterkant Heritage Village.

Norval Foundation – Art Museum, Steenberg Estate.

Zeitz MOCAA – Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.

South African National Gallery – Cape Town City Centre.

Everard Read Gallery – Franschhoek and Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.

Grande Provence Gallery – The Heritage Wine Estate in Franschhoek.

OZCF Market – Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.

The Spice Route – Paarl.

Babylonstoren – Paarl.

 

For an earlier post written by Megan Dicks following her Cape Town travels – Read Here.

In a recent voyage to the terrain of his childhood, Lucena, Brazil – Eduardo Santos traveled through temporal and geographical distance to a land of isolation and memory.

Earlier photographic work by Eduardo Santos fused colour into movement. However, in the works inspired by Lucena, the artist draws on a mineral realm, bleached by the sun. In this new series, works that were once bolstered by the magnetic gravity and velocity of the earth’s horizon seem to now float and ascend. In starkly minimal compositions, the patterns of fishing nets intersect with the trails left by the tug of the tide. Minute traces expand into vast topographies. The intricate stands for the monumental.

Ethereal and sensitive to every tiny remnant and texture, these photographs are inspired by reverence for an obscure and secluded coastal landscape. A homage to both the motherland and the mother. Here, on pearlescent beaches, the pale reach of the sky fuses with the sand and the ocean meets in an ellipse. In this unknown place, the horizon has the power to fold in upon itself, inverting the waves into the clouds. And on the skin of the sand, humans and creatures leave their trails – raking delicate pathways on the sand.

Schedule a time to view Eduardo Santos’ collection.

Browse Eduardo Santos’ online catalogue.

Otomys Contemporary artist, Ian Rayer Smith, explores the interplay of light through gestural and expressive strokes; figurative forms are abstracted with emotion and presence. For Ian Rayer Smith, the ritual of painting presents itself as a form of meditative self – expression. Such a deep connection with his practice contributes to the great sense of energy that is felt before his work.

We were fortunate enough to recently visit Ian Rayer Smith in his Manchester studio. Located in the industrial, canal area of Manchester, the studio space exudes colour and life. Paintings, sculptures, inks on paper and sketches share a layered conversation with one another. Step inside this dynamic studio space via the below gallery!

Anna van der Ploeg is a contemporary artist based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her interdisciplinary practice is comprised of printmaking, painting and sculpture. The success of two solo shows in Cape Town and artist in residence programs in France, India and Japan have been formative to her process based practice and furthered her appreciation for different methods in print. Van der Ploeg is interested in exploring proximity to discomfort and what we choose to reveal of ourselves. Using diverse materials – paper, wood, ink, metal, rust, wax – she approaches these questions from multiple angles. Van der Ploeg’s parallel role as a beekeeper permeates her visual language; the rich, ritualistic performance allows her to embody this veiled figure and mine it’s metaphors.

 

Request a Pre Sale Catalogue.

Schedule a time to view Anna van der Ploeg’s collection within the Melbourne gallery.

 

Artist - Anna Van Der Ploeg - Put Your Hands Together For The Busiest Person IN The World - Otomys Art Online

You have spent significant time between France, India and Japan – How have each of these countries informed your practice? 

The residency in Japan was also a training in Mokuhanga watercolour woodblock printmaking. This appealed to me for combining two things I love: print and wood. Since then I have included the blocks themselves into my practice. Woodblocks are a willful, anachronistic affectation in a world that has largely dispensed with ancient forms of print; the ubiquity of digital printers has made them obsolete. The use of colour and appreciation for subtlety in Japan had some influence on me. And then just being in a place of such paradox and confusing contradictions was incredibly stimulating. In India I worked in very simple media – ink on paper – and in a very hermetic setting. I think it opened a more personal dialogue in my work than I’d made myself available to previously. My days were glaringly punctuated by meals, and it lead to thinking about mealtime more generally, and how it is spent and shared. France fine tuned my lithography skills, affirming that this inaccessible medium is as unique as I suspected.

Artist - Anna Van Der Ploeg - Opposites Attack - Otomys Art Online

Having traveled extensively, you continue to return to Cape Town. What makes this city the place that you call home?

What indeed? This goddamn relentless wind blew me away with the NikNaks packets and then sucked me and my little green passport back. A friend moved to Joburg and said ‘you know, everyone in Cape Town goes on about the mountain and the sea, but, you know, I never used them!’ However, I’m here on the mountain and I miss it when I’m gone. Returning made me realise that I am, for better and worse, a Cape Town girl, a cliché I am content with. How this estranged city identifies with the rest of the country is something more complicated. The political climate, emerging voices and thoughts contain some sort of urgency. It is a space that I can’t idealise or always understand, and so it draws me in.

Artist - Anna Van Der Ploeg - How Is It To Get What You Wanted For So Long - Otomys Art Online

The titles of your paintings really speak to us. In an era where ‘Untitled’ is commonly used to reference an artwork, how do you determine the titles of your work? And how important do you find the relationship between the title and the work itself?

Reading and writing is a central part of my process. I start with writing down thoughts, links, worded illustrations, or notes from something I’m reading.  I can’t help a little cheesy wordplay, taking an opening to associate one thing to another with combining their words. It seems like a lost opportunity not to. I like the notion of the role of art to address the unspeakable, but that that work still has a title. To different extents, titles are footnotes, guides, or steal the show completely. Titles are important. In one account in Svetlana Alexievich’s Chernobyl prayer, someone says: ‘we think language, but language also thinks us’. I admire people who manage to tailor language to their own needs, to use it in a way that is entirely their own.

Artist - Anna Van Der Ploeg - Do I Look Ok? - Otomys Art Online

You have a parallel role as a beekeeper. Can you share some insight into your time shared with this extraordinary species? 

Beekeeping is such a rich practice. I took it up after two things happened synchronously. Firstly, I was walking in a hiking group and we were attacked by a swarm of bees. One man was stung more than 30 times. Everyone was stung, except me!

Then I read J.M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals (1999), in which an observer figure, removed from being human or animal, is alluded to. This text explores the sympathies between all species.

After that it seemed obvious that I need to keep bees! The hierarchies in the beehive and a hive’s ties to the keeper are a synecdoche for our own social structures, allowing me to probe the experience of our proximity to one another, the discomfort we sometimes find there, and what we then choose to reveal about ourselves. Beekeeping became quasi-performative, allowing me to step into anonymity, out of the hyper-visibility of being white and female in post-Apartheid South Africa. This distance provided space to interrogate the pre-accepted cast of the play in which I am an actor  – space in the shifting self-perception of young adulthood, and in making art that represents others.

I wanted to understand the relationship of a figure of power to a micro-organism; of myself to this world within a box, but it turned out I only cracked open the lid. The practice of beekeeping proved to be dense with symbolism located in diverse histories and mythologies. It is physical thinking, methodical and responsive engagement, away from the studio and making art. My fear, clumsiness, laziness has been felt in the way the bees react to me. For all the control, it is also totally unpredictable.

Artist - Anna Van Der Ploeg - The Distance between a You and an I - Otomys Art Online

After the success of your last solo show Growing To Another Sun at Smith Studio, Cape Town. What have you been working on and towards?

I’ve spent a lot of time working on applications for Master of Fine Arts programs abroad; going through the motions of interviews and funding applications. Much of the application process requires reflection on your previous work. It took longer than I expected, but the time made room for research, learning and really thinking about where I want to be in the next couple of years, how I want my work to grow and what I want to communicate.

Join us this coming week as we open Undercurrents by Sophia Szilagyi. This retrospective collection presents a rare opportunity to view an extensive body of work not exhibited for some time. Presented alongside major new works in Sophia’s signature style of evocative and painterly archival pigment prints, this is an exhibition not to be missed. Megan Dicks sat down with Sophia Szilagyi ahead of the opening.

It’s been six years that Otomys Contemporary has represented you and I can’t tell you how honoured we are to have you in our stable. The first time I saw your artwork so many years ago, I actually saw it upside down on a printing table and I’ll never forget that moment – I was immediately entranced! Before we go on to explore that alchemy that exists with your art tell me a bit about you. Do you love to cook, to garden, to listen or play to music? 

Thank you for having me! I am 46, my husband and I have a 13 year old and we live in the northern suburbs. I grew up in a creative family, it felt right to study the visual arts and become an artist. I call myself a printmaker, as that was my formal education and is my source of reference in terms of art making. After finishing my honours degree, I worked as an intaglio printer. Despite what some people may think, I am not a photographer and my work is not photography, although I do use snapshots in gathering source material for my images. I love to be in the garden. Any garden really. I am not so keen on vegetable gardening, I am more drawn to the forms of foliage and flowers. There is something very special and grounding about planting and nurturing your own plants and creating your own space. I enjoy cooking and eating!  Cooking is a little like being in the garden – your senses are at work – touch, sight, and smell.  It takes concentration, love and care. As with gardening, it focuses on the mind, and I enjoy that. Oh, and I should add, I am a coffee snob! I adore my coffee and take great care in making and perfecting it. Being outdoors, socialising and exercising in some way on a regular basis is important to me. Walking, swimming and tai chi are all a part of maintaining a healthy mental and physical balance. When I walk, I look and think.. And I really enjoy a good afternoon nap!

It seems to me that you create space in your life for contemplation – And one of the ways you invest in this is by steering clear of social media. So, you may not appreciate it, but from my perspective, there’s a wonderful freedom in your approach – I admire this about you. Sometimes I’m concerned that the world is going crazy. Whilst instant digital communication offers great inspiration and connection – It also saturates, represses and deceives. Whilst you could be wildly promoting yourself and all the parts to your day to build a sunny and glossy Instagram profile, you choose not to. Why? 

To put it most simply Megan, I don’t use Instagram because it takes up too much of my time and, being prone to anxiety, too much of my emotional space. For some people Instagram is perfect, it is just not a good match for my personality. I would rather spend my time doing something which I find more supportive.  

If you could invite any two people to your upcoming exhibition, who would that be? 

I would invite British artist David Hockney. This may seem an unusual choice, given the difference in our art styles, but when I saw the most recent exhibition of David Hockney’s work at the NGV, I was enthralled.  By incorporating Ipad drawings, large scale paintings and split screen video pieces, his use of scale was magnificent. Some of his pieces were so large they had to be printed in panels, and to see a whole work, you had to turn your head left, right, up and down. Hockney’s work is all encompassing, just as it is when you are in a landscape. Aside from this majestic scale, I truly admire that as a traditional painter he has completely embraced new technology and thus supporting a new art language. In my art I hope not to imitate what I see but rather to capture the emotions I feel; my mood in the space, the vastness, the cold, how open or claustrophobic it feels. The possibilities of expressing one’s emotional experiences in nature by using traditional and new technology is of interest to me.

So, if you were to choose one work from Undercurrents to gift David Hockney, which one would that be and why?

I would gift David Hockney an edition of my Evening Waves at 1200 x 4500mm. This large work has been created from reams of photographs I took of the back beach of Sorrento late one afternoon.  Evening Waves records my emotional response to this site; to the time and space and how it felt to swim in that powerful and unpredictable ocean. A single photo could not do that for me.

Evening Waves is an astounding work Sophia, we are yet to have a client who is not transported by the strength and beauty of this work!  You have one more person to invite – who would that be?

Although he is no longer with us, I would also love to invite Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer. His subject matter, lighting and colour has always captivated me. Once again though, what interests me most is Vermeer’s use of space. Not the physical space but the psychological space. His images are intimate; when I look at them, I feel as if I am witnessing something private and personal, where the subject is unaware of my presence. There is a strength in the simplicity of the potentially mundane actions he painted – a letter being read, milk being poured or purely a conversation being had. The beautiful Girl With A Pearl Earring, where she is looking directly at you, it feels as if she has heard me sneaking behind her and has spun around to see who is there. I do not know what is going on her mind, but something has or is about to happen. Paradoxically, although the subjects are quiet and intimate, as an audience we share the knowledge of how it feels to be in your own private space. I love that something so personal can be understood on a communal human level. And that is what speaks to me so clearly in his work. One of my pieces which I am exhibiting in Undercurrents is heavily influenced by Vermeer and that is Girl At The Piano. I happened to see my daughter through the doors sitting playing the piano with our dog in the room, both were completely unaware of my presence and too involved in what they were doing to care. It was such a beautiful moment and after I took the photograph I crept off, not wanting to disturb their space. This is the work I would gift Johannes Vermeer.

With 14 large works and 15 small works to be exhibited in Undercurrents –  Is there one or two that are more meaningful to you? 

Each of my works takes me back to reflect on a particular time and how I was feeling then. In this way, like a diary, they are all important to me. However, some are louder than others. Breaking, Wave and Grounded were all worked on at a particular time that was emotionally challenging for me to express.

I worked long and hard on these three and when they were finished, I felt enormous satisfaction and relief. Calling although depicting the Australian landscape, was channeled by my love of the English moors in The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I can’t help it, sometimes when I’m in certain landscapes, that’s where my mind goes!

Scrub is my most recent work which evolved through many stages and forms. Originally it was a foreground detail of a seascape on the Great Ocean Road. As I worked on all the images, the foreground detail instinctively became the whole subject matter. Scrub explores more closely the textural and sensory elements of the landscape, in a way which is new in my work. 

It is always such a delight talking to you Sophia, you show strength and beauty in the way you navigate life and it is palpable in your work.  We understand you are not a photographer or are you a painter – you are a digital printmaker, which in some ways is a hybrid of the two and your talent and skill in this medium has enabled you to create a profound study of the emotions of our Australian landscape and some of the people who inhabit it.

Congratulations – we wish much success with Undercurrents. 

Thank you, Megan and Hannah for helping me put together this exhibition. I look forward to sharing it with everyone. Best wishes, Sophia.

 

Opening Thursday 2nd May 2019, 6 – 8pm to Wednesday 22nd May 2019
567 – 569 Victoria Street, Abbotsford VIC 3067
RSVP gallery@otomys.com