How would you reconstruct an image of the Australian suburban castle? Is it the patchwork of a brick facade at the castle gates, or the call to arms of magpie song? Is it the royal flair of a jacaranda tree in full bloom? Or perhaps it is the watchman, the royal guardian, waiting patiently for his king or queen to return.
The suburbs around Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne Australia is the only suburban life I have ever known. Most Australians live either by the sea or in the city. Sometimes both the city and the beach, as in my case. I live in the metro Melbourne is a seaside suburb called the Mornington Peninsula. Many of Australia’s major cities are very close to the coast of Australia.
I have painted this quadtych series of suburbia during Stage 4 Covid-19 lockdown. This is how I have visually expressed my surroundings, through my art, during this unbelievable time in our lives.
The leafy eucalyptus suburbs are silent, peaceful, charming, and eerily empty of people and traffic. The only sound is the songs of our native birds.
This week all of these birds visited my very own backyard. We have had a surreal mild sunny still winter this year. Appropriately I have named each painting in honour of each of these four Australian birds.
1. Rosellas’Bend, Australia
2. Kookaburra Crescent, Australia
3. Galah Crossing, Australia
4. Magpie Drive, Australia
Welcome to the neighbourhood and have a great day Australia.
I only just realized that my suburban works now look like Covid 19 paintings. Those empty streets whilst everyone is in lockdown. The beautiful cold sunny days we have experienced remind me of living in San Francisco. The empty streets of my paintings have actually become reality. I think to myself, “How beautiful is the suburbia I live in.” Then a split second later I feel the anxiety of not knowing. Not knowing what will happen next, not knowing if eventually we will all get sick? Not knowing if my young university grad children will ever have careers or even be able to ever leave Australia again. Empty streets are to me landscapes of geometric shapes and color but let’s hope this summer brings some sort of normality back into our lives.
There truly is nothing like Australia. Although in my life, it took me almost two decades to finally see it, we are so lucky to experience the beauty that surrounds us in this great country. After living abroad for almost twenty years, I returned home to Melbourne in 2001. It wasn’t until later that I learned how inspiring the Australian suburbs can be. Now, this suburban landscape is what motivates me; pushes me to create new works to represent the place I live.
There is a uniqueness in the Australian suburbs that I believe is only captured through art. Some people may find them quotidian, but I know I am not alone in my passion for the domestic scenery. Artists such as Jeffrey Smart, Reg Mombassa/Chris O’Doherty, David Hockney, and Edward Hopper are known for revitalising the suburban world through colour and vivacity, which is what I wish to express in my representations of the Australian backyard.
It’s the manicured lawns, geometric fences, brick facades, diverse letter boxes, telegraph poles and unique Australia flora that make our beautiful Mornington Peninsula so distinctive. There is no other place in the world I would rather be. Not only this, but this stunning scenery is home to a thriving arts community. In particular, Oak Hill Gallery stands out for me as a hub for local artists, giving creators like myself the opportunity to share their craft and follow their passion.
I first recall visiting Oak Hill Gallery when I finished my studies at Chisholm TAFE in Frankston in 2009. I was concerned that after completing my Visual Arts Diploma I would lose the strong network of friends and artists I had met at Chisholm, but finding Oak Hill calmed all of my concerns immediately. Not only was I welcomed into a community of creators and volunteers, but I found a place to showcase my work and learn new approaches to creating art. We are so fortunate to have, hidden amongst the oak trees and roses, this little community gallery to inspire us. Now, eleven years on, I am still involved with all the life-drawing, printmaking, painting, pottery and children’s classes. Additionally, there are exhibitions year-round which invite artists young and old to collaborate and exhibit their works, just like myself when I first encountered this great space.
It is this stable support base that encouraged me to complete my double Bachelor of Arts, and Fine Arts and Visual Culture in 2017. This time of research and study allowed me to hone in my fascination with the ephemeral nature of the suburban landscape. Through my work, I documented the degradation of the domestic scene through modernisation, gentrification and commercial developments. In this study, I realised that the only permanence that we experience is constant transience: Nothing stays the same and there is always sometime new developing. I am obsessed with the impermanence of the Melbourne suburbs, and often find myself driving around with my camera, on the hunt for the perfect lighting, perfect shapes, shadows, colours, and most importantly, beauty in the mundane.
The Disappearance of the Australian Backyard
Living in one of Australia's seaside suburbs the traditional landscape has become an important subject matter for my artistic practice. The suburban sprawl has seen developers squeeze two story townhouses on smaller lots, at the expense of the "Traditional Australian Backyard". Homes are packed in and butted up against one another. There is a sense of loss, we are losing our backyards.
Nostalgic childhood memories of backyard birthday parties, barbeques, hills-hoists, swings, trampolines and picnics were all a part of growing up in the suburbs. We were encircled by nature, gardens, trees, vegetable patches and imagined adventures. All of this is slowly disappearing.
The Disappearance of the Australian Backyard series signifies this sense of loss. Working with a telescopic layering effect, using oil paints on canvas, within the constraints of the focusing circle, the construction and deconstruction of this space is my primary focus.
This body of work is a voyeuristic glimpse back to the something familiar, the personal space of the backyard which is slowly disappearing into distant memories.
I painted this artwork of Olivers Hill as a young girl. It was a gift for my mothers birthday and if you look down in the parking lot you can see her Orange VW parked near the beach. She still has this painting hanging in her home in Byron Bay. We lived up on the hill and this was our view. It doesn't surprise me that after living abroad for twenty years I would end up back on the Hill painting the exact same view. Like they say, "There is no place like home". I swore as a young girl I would never come back to dreary Mornington Peninsula, and now I could not contemplate living anywhere else in this world.