In this city, only about 20 minutes’ drive from downtown, you can walk along a bush track and feel thousands of miles away from the crush of central Sydney.
Turn a corner, though, and you’ll find yourself facing a familiar line of skyscrapers across the harbour.
I recently came across the term “urban forest”, used to describe all the trees in a city, with no distinction between bushland, street trees or those on private property.
It’s a prompt for me to think of the bush not as something separate from the built environment, but as a network extending through it, as vital as any human-made infrastructure.
Images: self-portrait and landscape drawings from art journal, c. 2016
After dance classes I would walk back through the city keeping an eye out for reflective surfaces in which I could record myself as part of the urban environment.
In the absence of a mirror, an ordinary selfie would do.
This small performative exercise developed into more involved photo sessions in chosen locations, which in turn became material for sketches and paintings.
It’s an ongoing (maybe life-long!) project, partly inspired by the whole-body self-portraits of US painter Joan Semmel, where the focus begins to shift away from the face to the expression of the body in response to place.
Images, top to bottom: Mirror Selfie, Wynyard (acrylic on watercolour paper); Martin Place (acrylic on watercolour paper); back arch with cranes, North Sydney (pen drawing in sketchbook); pen and watercolour sketch in art journal
Simple and sturdy with their canvas-textured hard covers and heavy-weight, off-white paper, Daler Rowney’s Ebony journals have served me faithfully for 20 years, as a place to document the process of art-making; to research, experiment and workshop ideas.
Sometimes messy, sometimes elaborate, they hold an eclectic mixture of different media and textures, combining practice drawings and paintings, image designs, reference pics and (more recently) mock-ups of comics.
My early journals (below) bring me back to the excitement of art school days when I was just beginning to grasp what painting methods and subjects interested me, and so much of this knowledge was new.
Note: I’ve used all sizes of the Ebony journal, but for process diaries, I keep returning to the A5. Only four journals are photographed here; I’ve used a fair few more, and in terms of my entire journal, notebook and sketchbook collection, well, this is but the tip of the iceberg…
The Beaten Track, 2018, oil on linen, 56.5 x 46.5 cm (detail). An icebreaker to get back into oil painting after a very long period working in acrylics. It was also nice to return to the uncanny bushland of my subconscious.
A woman stood on the back of a flatbed truck looking up at the sky, and the bush was all around her.
A scene, glimpsed through a bus window, that inspired the two paintings below. I will be donating the smaller, red work, Forest (Clare), to a fundraising auction in support of Alexi Keywan, a fellow artist suffering from terrible complications following surgery for endometriosis. There will be 150 works by different artists available.
Bids can be placed in person at the event in Sydney this Saturday from 5.00pm at Theodore Bruce Auctions, 6 Ralph St, Alexandria, or online via bit.do/reflexauctionbid, with more information available on Instagram and Facebook using the handle @ReFlexAuction.
In August this year I moved out of my studio of nine years, after the landlords had their development application approved. This three-storey warehouse opposite the Annandale Hotel in Stanmore, Sydney, was at different times home and work space to a number of artists including Elizabeth Day, Justin Trendall, Maria Cruz, Stephen Birch, Jacky Redgate, Brandt Lewis and India Zegan. Sculptor and painter Peter Hardy had been there for about 30 years. So we had a pretty good run, but it’s sad when these increasingly rare inner-city artists’ spaces go.