In the studio: Kirsten Chambers

“ – stories that are from the past.”

Northern New South Wales artist Kirsten Chambers uses memory to reimagine scenes around her hometown of the Byron Bay hinterland. Through journeys via car, bike, or foot, she captures nostalgic scenes which revisit her first arrival to the area; a vividly new, dramatic period of her life. Ahead of her upcoming exhibition, Hinterland, at Anthea Polson Art in Queensland, the artist shares her insights surrounding narrative and memory within her work.

Kirsten Chambers, Back Roads, 2023, oil on panel, 20.3 × 40.6cm. Courtesy the artist and Anthea Polson Art, Queensland

Your paintings are reimagined scenes around your hometown. What is it about the Byron Bay hinterland that inspires you?
Having lived here for nearly twenty-five years, I have memories from this time, before the area was gentrified. The scenes in my paintings are usually journeys or car trips in which I then insert old memories. There might be an element or place in the painting that is not there now. Things that I’ll think about, or memories I’ll recall when I visit the area – stories that are from the past.

I’m interested in the layered meaning which you mention you enjoy pouring into the work. Can you share more about what’s behind the layers in your work?
For the viewer, art is a projection vehicle. But art is different for the painter than for the viewer. Many artists resolve old memories or meaning through painting, but when you pass that over for other people to enjoy, the audience brings their own meaning to it. I am reluctant to give too much of my story away, as I don’t want to dictate the work for the audience. Whatever it was for you is not what it is to the world.

Tweed Rail Trail, 2023, mixed media on polyester canvas, 152.4 × 152.4cm. Courtesy the artist and Anthea Polson Art, Queensland

Your paintings are mud maps of the Byron Bay area that you feel a connection to. Do you have a particular memory or life observation that you find yourself returning to through painting?
When I first got here, I found it tough. I was still in my twenties and had moved two states away. It was a significant culture shock to go from Adelaide to northern New South Wales, which at that stage was a lot wilder than it is now. I always think about the difficult times at the start. It was the most dramatic time of my life, everything was new. I think I work through those hard times when I paint.

Can you tell us about your upcoming exhibition Hinterland? Are there any specific life observations or themes you are looking at for this show?
My Hinterland paintings are nearly all mud maps because most of my experience is from walking, driving, or riding through it. It’s not a static scene, they’re all tiny journeys. I am trying to capture the feel of these journeys, the winding of the roads. I’ll take a drive and sketch and photograph. I’ll go onto Google and scan photos to fill my studio with, which I use as the basis of my sketches. I’ll spend much more time on the drawing and planning, as when I paint, it is quite fast. I want to know the journey off by heart, so the painting is free.

Beyond Hinterland opening in November, what is coming up for you?
I am aiming to put more narrative into my work. I want to have many more stories, even if I have to hide them under my work, layer under layer. Stories of me and my friends, about human experience. I’ve got a few plans.

Kirsten Chambers’ Hinterland is on view at Anthea Polson Art, Queensland, from 25 November to 9 December 2023.


Holly Terry is an art and design writer and artist based on the Sunshine Coast (Kabi Kabi Country).

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