This is a story about the house that I used to live in. I have mixed feelings about this house. It was not a great time in my life although the house itself was a very unique house that attracted me. It was built in 1910 which was the same year my maternal grandfather was born. The estate would have originally owned all the land on the hill back when Eltham was most definitely a country destination and not the edge of suburbia that it eventually became. The house had associations with many notable people across various artistic fields. This was interesting but it wasn’t what connected me to the property.

It was a rough diamond in need of gentle polishing when we found it. One evening before we moved in a friend and I drove slowly through the driveway, pausing at the residence to show him our new place. It was unique in that it could be accessed from the north and the south roads. This referenced its past as a larger estate, well known in the area.

It was night time and there were no lights on in the house. I already knew the previous tenants had vacated as the house was empty when we inspected and bought it a few weeks earlier. The large unconventional shape was almost foreboding on the dark evening. My friend and I stayed inside the car as it seemed the right thing to do.

I’m not sure how to describe what happened next.  Whilst I knew my friend couldn’t see him, I ‘saw’ an older man stoop to look into the front passenger side window to see who was in the car. His right hand was resting on the car’s roof. He was wearing a mid-brown woollen jumper with taupe slacks. Once he was satisfied that it was only me, he straightened up, turned and walked back towards the house. I wasn’t afraid and I actually wasn’t even surprised. We then continued our drive and I dropped my friend home without any fuss.

Later when we were all moved and settled in, there were times I would sense her in the house. Making some baked goods in the kitchen, she would watch over my shoulder – just to keep an eye on me. “Just watching, darlink. Just watching.” she would say in her strong Russian accent. Nina was short with her long hair pulled back in a bun. Always smartly attired, she enjoyed the company of me and my daughters. She was never able to have children but loved having them around. In fact, both of them loved the life and energy we brought to the house.

There was a spot in the living room where Clem would sit, drink his whiskey whilst reading. He loved his books. He had founded the literary journal Meanjin Quarterly which promoted Australian writing. Nina was the head of Russian studies at Melbourne University. Both scholars, when money got tight they would sell off parcels of land to help make ends meet. The house was basic when we inherited it with some beautiful work done by the architect Desbrowe Annear. When required, rooms were  extended in quite an ad hoc manner. Its rambling lay-out was endearing to me but infuriated my designer husband.

Nina became ill and with her strength ebbing day by day, she soon never left her bed. Clem would sit near her bedside reading as Nina dozed. She was grateful for the exciting lives full of love and laughter that she and Clem had shared. Sadly too soon, she passed away. Clem couldn’t cope with the great weight of sadness he felt at this enormous loss. He drank more and more whiskey from his favourite crystal low ball to help blur reality but upon waking each morning, the house was still cold and empty without her. Not long after, Clem moved out and died a few months later. His colour had been gradually draining out of him without his Nina around.

Our family moving in with all the noise and light that two young girls bring with them stirred Clem and Nina. The house that they had poured more than fifty years of their lives into was to be a home once more and they needed to know it was in good hands. I was unhappy not to have stayed there longer but you can never know what strange turns life is going to take. I’m grateful to have known Clem and Nina Christesen.

supernatural insect woman series

Not a great name but it is an accurate way to pin down my elusive thoughts for now.
I saw the Mirka Mora exhibition recently at Heide gallery and it reminded me that flights of fancy are more than acceptable in my field. Also I’ve been playing with some new paints that I recently bought and that is always inspiring.

Mum and I were also discussing the real life constraint of whether or not the customer feels that they can live with a piece of art. It’s all well and good buying art as investment – though clearly this ain’t my style. I’ve actually been discussing this with friends recently but that will be another post.

I can appreciate that certain works were ground breaking in style, technique or ideas as the time but again this doesn’t mean that I ultimately want to continue to view it in my house whether that be my intimate bedroom space, a more public living space or even walk past it often in a hallway. Please note that I’m not saying that I don’t like the work. I’m just saying that I don’t want to live with it.[The above commentary more refers to the ‘angry penguins’ group such as John Perceval, Sidney Nolan, Joy Hester and Albert Tucker (on display at the art gallery) than Mirka Mora’s work which was on display in Heide II]

This is all relevant just now as my first solo exhibition opens in the Long Gallery at Montsalvat, in Eltham.

What feeds me

How do I feel? Actually I feel very calm. Possibly it’s just asking a deeply hidden anxiety but I don’t think so. I’ve done the work so really there’s nothing more to do right now but cruise into it all.

I’ve been asked to sift through and find some items to place into a cabinet in order to add to my story

          Things that inspire me
          Things that I need
          Things that I write
          Things that I read
          Things I draw
          Things that I play with
          Things I think about

Clearly my blog is all part of this too but I can’t exactly put that inside a glass cabinet. This evening I’ve fished out some old sketch books and marked some pages that I think will work.

I did enjoy the process of hanging and found it all relatively painless. I can see that the miniscule changes could become irritating after awhile but for me the novelty of my first hang was all good.

It’s a gorgeous space in and of itself which doesn’t hurt my euphoria (plus a stunning autumn day). In fact, I did wonder if it being such a classic beauty of a space might overwhelm my work but I felt right in the space.

This afternoon since I got home, I’ve just been taking it easy. I’m in a very relaxed positive mood and one thing I love to take my time doing is to cook. There’s quite a satisfaction to be had in preparing food. My mother had given me home-grown Jerusalem artichokes straight from the garden. Into the sink they went to help ease the dirt from their skin. As I began to peel them with what may have been the world’s sharpest peeler (most fingernails are intact…) I delighted at how fresh they were. Thanks mum! An entire Paul Kelly cd’s worth of songs later and they were peeled, clean, sliced and caramelising nicely in my new copper pan with lashings of organic butter and sprigs of thyme from my front garden. Adding half a litre of vegetable stock and before you know it, a batch of delicious homemade soup for my fridge and a batch for my freezer.

So the link here is that good seasonal produce, mindful preparation and satisfaction of the senses all feed my art and fortunately at the same time – my belly

solo exhibition – Montsalvat

Pieces of me – exhibition

Why paint nudes?

The glib answer is that it is easier than painting clothing. I guess by stripping things back to their base parts I’m attempting to pare back the image. Recently I’ve definitely been attempting to paint less . By that, I mean look more and apply the pigment only where it is required. Self- control has never been my strong point so I do find this challenging.

 I started out attending life drawing classes as a teenager, these then became my images from which I began to paint and basically the well has yet to run dry. Recently I’ve been embracing my version of self-portraits. Obviously self-portraits are a well established subject matter throughout history. Selfies are just the modern incarnation. I understand that I’m following in a long held tradition of artists painting self-portraits. I’ve benefited from the more tech savvy youth to recently embrace the selfie and this has helped launch my new direction. When I blog, I’m exposing other slices of myself through words. These paintings are yet another side of me.

Some of these works expose literal pieces of me, others more metaphorical pieces of me. I certainly feel there is a bit of me in every work – whether it be a portrait of a friend or an abstract play of a brush along the canvas. They convey my love of strong colour, bold strokes of the knife, brush or my fingers. I enjoy the sensuality (and the downright mess) of the physical application of paint.  The curves are the place I like to get into. I like to flow with them, using my imagination to let my fingers  dance along the skin.

Solo exhibition

Please join me for my first ever solo exhibition.

Opening night Thursday May 22nd 6.30pm – 8.30pm. Show runs until Sunday June 22nd and is open daily 9am – 5pm. It will be held in the Long Gallery at Montsalvat, 7 Hillcrest Avenue, Eltham.

Have a glass of wine, enjoy some local art and soak up the surrounds.

It’d be lovely to see you there!