Meg Walters Q+A
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 grueling 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.