#gaffa gallery Exhibition opens 21st January 2021 to 1st February. Gaffa Gallery is at Clarence Street, Sydney, one block from the Queen Victoria Building and Town Hall. Covid precautions in place. Drop by or contact me for an appointment.
In the Dutch summer of 2019 I began sharing a small studio in the forests on the edge of The Hague, The Netherlands. I had been walking into the parks and forests for some time but the cold does make it hard to draw or paint for prolonged periods. I had noticed a small blue and white nineteenth century tea house near the Raadhuis De Pauuw in Wassenaar. Initially the park administration and Gemeente (council) did not want to share the information about the Teahouse built by Prince Frederick for his niece, a sculptor. I suggested to the woman at the Gemeente Wassenaar that perhaps the studio lease was owned by a woman with young children who worked part time, was a professional artist and wondered why she was paying the rent on this small studio she did not have the time to use, but kept it on in the hope that she could resurrect her career someday. I said I did not want to take over the space but share it and perhaps collaborate with the owner. She smiled and said give me your phone number. A few days later Florence rang me and our chance meeting in the forest developed into a friendship as we share the studio through the isolation and stresses of 2020.
In early 2020 Covid19 was found in our community. My family, our colleagues, the EU moved into a lockdown that would extend through to our departure for Australia at the end of August. With my teens and husband working from home and my teaching work cancelled I had more time to spend in the studio, indeed, it became a refuge as well as a safe place to work and isolate.
Before the pandemic I followed the Australian bushfire news from my studio in the forest. The summers of 2019 and 2020 in the Netherlands were unusually long and hot and dry. Having spent almost a decade in The Netherlands I thought I could see the impact of Climate Change around me. There were sudden bird deaths, less nestlings, old moss beds originally laid in the nineteenth century that were drying out and falling away causing dune erosion and algae sat reeking in many canals that usually hosted water birds and their young.
I started drawing and working with gouache on paper in the studio in the summer of 2019 and moved to oil painting in the late summer and autumn. While I originally planned to use the studio as a base and move about the forests and dunes to work, I ultimately ended up working in the one clearing by the Princessetuin garden painting the same view again and again. I had police tape across the gate and a sign in Dutch on the door to discourage members of the public from entering the studio while I worked. “Afstand AUB!” Before the virus it was not uncommon to have someone march up the short stair and pound on the door or even just throw the door open and enter, they would say in Dutch “Is this a cafe?”, “Have you tea and coffee for me?”, “Have you a toilet?” BTW, I did NOT have a toilet or water so I carried in water and a thermos and would either have to meet with a friendly tree or cycle back to the house for relief. With so many more people walking, albeit well distanced, it became easier to cycle home.
The shuttered windows wrapped around the studio allowed natural light and a safe way to communicate, occasionally, with passers by as more and more people found their only way to get out of the house was a walk in nature. The dogs would spend the day with me in the studio and warn me if I was absorbed in my work and their was someone approaching the windows. I placed gel on the stoop outside and would Dettol wipe the park bench in the clearing, often used by children, families and the elderly alike.
Being absorbed in the shifting green landscape was a panacea to the difficulties of negotiating the stress, the sadness and the losses of 2020. Repetition of the same landscape over the seasons was absorbing and inspiring. The changes in depth and complexity, line and colour, while ultimately impossible to catch in their complexity, became my project. Sometimes grand changes in composition became necessary if a summer storm or winter squall took down branches of even an entire trunk. Light changes on the same day might completely change the depth, focus and colours of what I was looking at. It became a year long meditation.
Sometimes I would receive feedback from others using the forests. “I can see the influence of Dutch painters yet there is something in all of these that is not at all Dutch. Is that Australian?” Or “You have a different way of looking at our landscape, it makes me see it differently”. I was please when a local woman said she had been running in the woods for many years but the paintings had made her realise there was so much colour and change that she hadn’t noticed and now she would slow down, stop, and just look. I took this as a great compliment.
The observations by strangers that I brought something of my culture, my Australian eye, to painting in The Netherlands, led me to think on the early European landscape painters in Australia and how it took artists such as John Glover and Arthur Streeton to translate their experience of the antipodean landscape and how they and other artists laid the foundations for a recognisable Australian landscape tradition. I mused on the persistence of the Australian landscape in the mind of a painter and thought perhaps it is like the lens of spoken and written language, where it is said a culture cannot really be understood unless you become fluent in the language. Art is often considered a visual language.
I could have very happily spent another year, or a few, in the Teahouse of De Pauuw. I was becoming fascinated with the flowers, thistles, nettles and grasses of the canal banks and with individual trees, with the shifting light. I would have loved to paint there with snow on the ground, leaves and boughs, with ice on the canals.
I do miss seeing Myriam, my kids maths teacher, jog by and the goedemorgen of the many locals. The distanced, cautious chats with friends in the open air, the trees and canals. With travel, conferences, teaching, school, celebrations closed down for the foreseeable future the Kleine Atelier was my haven and the hub of many a zoom and conversation with friends and family around the world. I am grateful to the lovely Florence Fernhout and the Wassenaar Gemeente for the opportunity and to the staff at the Raadhuis De Pauuw for the use of their toilets and kitchen prior to the pandemic shut down. I am also grateful to the lovely council worker who cleared up the area and the local police who would come by on their fiets to check on the security of the site.
Over 2021 I am looking forward to painting the Australian landscape with its unique light and colour and forms. I have been doing some drawing and small paintings from my memories of the clearing. It is like trying to capture an image by closing your eyes, but it inevitably fades. And so we move on. Happier New Year folks. I hope it brings you colour, light and joy.