Reader Reflections: Looking Ahead – Part II

Hindsight is 20/20. So, we asked artists and people working in the arts how this year has fractured or evolved their approach to creative life and what they would like to see change for the better in the arts.

Reflecting on the year that is, brings us into the present to plan for the future.

Alejandra Sieder – Artist

Alejandra Sieder, Torus, acrylic on canvas, free-hand paint, 120 x 90 x 3cm. © the artist

If there is something that 2020 brought to my life is the word “courage”.

I have been an artist and designer for 26 years and I never had the courage to jump and dedicate myself to the visual arts 100% because there was always an excuse not to do it, not to take risks, not to try. I decided to quit my job as a designer at Telstra in December and then came the global COVID pandemic. This brought an internal process of meditation, analysis, fear, doubts, and emotions into my heart. The doubt that for years I had felt about leaving my career as a designer and risk doing something dramatically different from my art came up with intensity. Overnight it became an overwhelming certainty: I didn’t have a choice, luck had it that I had to jump with both feet into my art. I was sure that this has always been my path, and there was nowhere to go but forward. I began to analyse what my next steps should be, where to focus my style and get my own voice once and for all. That voice needed to express itself in the arts so people feel firsthand all the changes we were experiencing and understand that we do not control anything in life, we can only control what we do, think, feel and act with respect to a situation because that is what we are experiencing in 2020. And that is what I did. I dedicated hours of work, study, trial and error until I found my own voice. I understood that a life filled with colour can become black and white, and vice versa.

This year was governed by the prohibition to move physically, a prohibition to see the people we love, to do the things that we had always done. On the other hand, this 2020 made us move into the Soul. There we all had to make a dramatic change and get the best of us because we were in an abyss and we had to make decisions. This year has brought the key time and opportunity to find our own voice to inspire us and give us opportunities to choose to live in the truth of what we feel, or in the unfulfilled dreams.

Alice Watson – Artist

Alice Watson painting her beloved Murray River at her home in Yackandandah, Victoria

My art practice has been both fractured and evolving during this tumultuous year. I live in a small town in North East Victoria, and I am both a teacher of visual arts as well as a practising artist.

With the restrictions due to COVID-19, I rapidly began to realise that the two little shows I wanted to organise at the end of this year were not going to eventuate. I had spoken to the owner of a space in Albury where I could show my work over the Christmas period, as well as a little pop-up shop in Yackandandah where I live. When the restrictions hit regional Victoria, I could not even cross the border into NSW to see my children, let alone hope that there would be enough foot traffic to warrant a show.

I felt my wings had been clipped a little, but I continued to paint. I also decided to rent a studio space not far from my home to make the most of the extra time I had. The studio space enabled me to, not only begin using oil paints but, psychologically place myself in a position where I began to take myself more seriously as an artist. From there I decided that if I couldn’t show my work in real terms I would do it online. My oldest daughter volunteered  the arduous task and spent hours putting together photos of my work and sensitively juggling my requests with patience and stamina. When it was finished I was proud of us both.

The first oil I painted in my studio was one of the Mighty Murray at Noreuil Park in Albury, where my family and friends spend much of their time during hot days. Ironically it is this stretch of water that separated me from my younger children but has a nostalgic place in my heart. ‘Noreuil Park’ was a popular painting on my Instagram page. Resonating in people a strong feeling of home. Especially to those who could not get back to their border town.

Amanda Shotbolt – Fine Art and Conceptual Photographer

Amanda Shotbolt, 2020 is about looking out for the new opportunities

In a lot of ways, this pandemic, with the lockdown, lack of studio availability, inability to use models like normal has been extremely frustrating. And yet, it has forced me to think outside the box and really challenge my creative process. As a result, little unexpected silver linings have popped up, and often from unexpected sources. So my key takeaway moving forward is to continually challenge myself and evolve my process, no matter how uncomfortable. To really just stop and look, and to seek out those little opportunities you weren’t necessarily noticing before.

This image was originally a throwaway test shot from a COVID race day. But it’s very much an allegory for the here and now. Sitting up in your tower, with your binoculars closely searching for the little opportunities that emerge in your own creative orbit.

Angela Morrissey – Artist and former art teacher

Angela Morrissey, Expressionist Daffodils I, 2020, oil on canvas, 52 x 40cm. Featured as the month of May in the 2021 Vision Australia calendar

This has been a very challenging year for everyone! We have not been allowed to go out and have been stuck in lockdown. It has been especially hard for people like myself with fragile health. I haven’t caught the Coronavirus thankfully, which is why I have stayed indoors and away from the public. I didn’t want to risk catching it so therefore I kept in lockdown.

Rather than let it get me down, I decided to throw myself into my artwork by creating lots of drawings, paintings and prints. There is an online art exhibition here in Bendigo called What I Did Last Week that features new artwork by local artists created each week. It has given me the motivation to create something new each week. Rather than feel sorry for myself being in lockdown, I made use of my time and locked myself in my studio; creating new artwork each week. It has allowed me to grow and develop as an artist. It is important to keep creating something new on a regular basis and to keep changing your style. I am not creating art the same way as I was at art school – hey – I am not creating art the same way as I was five years ago! You have to keep growing and learning new things – otherwise, you die inside.

This year I have really got into Steampunk Manga, propaganda posters and really refined my Expressionist style of painting. Expressionism is an artistic and literary movement originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, which sought to express emotions rather than to represent external reality: characterised by the use of symbolism and of exaggeration and distortion. I am especially inspired by Franz Marc, Wassily Kandinsky and Otto Müeller and apply their styles and techniques to create my own unique style of art, which I am constantly redefining and changing.

I would like to see more art exhibitions like the Linden Postcard Show that let you enter online and give you a good chance of being accepted. I am an established artist but I still have a long way to go before I am accepted into the Archibald Prize and become the toast of the Sydney art scene! That’s why there needs to be more art shows that give artists like me a chance. We are not beginners but not famous either. We are somewhere in between and just need more exposure and to be given a chance to showcase our art. The Linden Postcard Show is well known, and lots of people go to see it, and there are great cash prizes. My art has even been featured on their website along with many others.

I would like to see more art exhibitions that guarantee acceptance into the show and make it easier to enter with lower entry fees. Some of the entry fees and terms and conditions are outrageous!

It would be great to see more galleries give young artists a “fair go!”

Anna Taylor – Artist and teacher

From the series ‘Save me, we are nature’, acrylic on canvas with drawing. Photograph: Christopher Sanders

Im a visual artist and teacher.

This year Ive had an exhibition postponed three times, now scheduled for January 6! Well see!

However, I managed to teach via zoom, running a seven-week course with Made to Create in Melbourne. Now my classes are all on zoom.

I was ill for a long time, and coined the mantra, the possibilities within limitations” – a very handy mantra for these days.

I write as well and had a poem published this year in the Womens Archives in Richmond. This time in Corona.

Ive kept painting and doing lots of drawing too.

So! Persistence is a vital skill for an artist, so thats what Im doing. Persisting!

Bronwyn Lewis – Artist and teacher

Bronwyn Lewis, Dog’s Breakfast, 2020

COVID-19 has broken my heart and closed down my teaching studio, where I taught 100+ students weekly.

Devastated… Rollercoaster… but I am just one tiny spec in the trauma of the world.

When it all started I put a note to myself on the fridge, to:

1. Make Art

2. Meditate

3. Exercise

4. Be Grateful… my emotional survival kit.

Tears, tantrums, hope, anger, fear, pride… I still feel it all, changing daily. Making art has simply kept me sane. Art is a leap of faith, a tenuous balance between fear and joy.

I have been more productive than ever before. My last most productive stage was when my marriage broke up; classic cliche of an artist needing hardship to produce.

I have forced myself to do something every day,  and I now have a good body of work ready for whenever.

That’s my COVID experience.

Bronwyn Rodden – Artist 

Bronwyn Rodden, Sea Witch House. Photograph: John Bennett

I am a visual artist working primarily in handmade inks, based on the Mid North Coast of NSW. 2020 has been a year of ups and downs for many artists, myself included, but also, gallery owners. I was sad for the owner of Platform Gallery in the Blue Mountains, a venue that provided a dedicated space for women artists, which was forced to close under the strain of COVID-19. My works were sent back diligently, but of course there are always casualties. This little Sea Witch house is made of paper, so quite a risk sending it by courier, but artists in the regions have to courier their work quite often.

Our local community galleries report that there has been interest and sales, though we are missing the social interaction with other artists provided by show openings which cannot go ahead at present. Our Regional Gallery at Coffs Harbour is working hard to bring into reality a new and much better venue, despite our present difficulties. In the meantime, the existing gallery, which is open for a limited number of visitors, gave local artists an opportunity to participate in an exhibition of digital still life photographs from their studios, displayed in a number of local venues as well as the gallery.

I am impressed with the many novel ideas that online galleries, such as Art Aviso, have come up with. One small online show, Door to Door has now been extended to Europe, giving us a sense of connection beyond our shores that Australian artists really appreciate.

While I’ve felt less motivated to work this year than I have in the past, I appreciate the breadth of the lockdown impact across the whole arts sector, and I am so pleased to be able to access online and occasional live exhibitions despite our situation. Artists have always risen to challenges; I’m sure our generation of artists will do this, and many new ideas will surface.

Carol Rowlands – Artist

Carol Rowlands, Winds of change, acrylic paint on canvas, 40.5 x 40.5cm

Locked down. It was a terrifying prospect. The first few days  – nothing, then a slap on the wrist.
I can paint. This sends me into a place where time doesn’t exist.
I paint. The painting becomes a view of the City as I reflect on happier times.
The journeys to the City; to art galleries, exhibitions, coffee with friends, projects, bustle, ideas, happiness, life.
The painting records cloudy skies that swirl like a horses’ mane, winds sneak along laneways, push at stalwart buildings. Noisy vehicles jostle their way along freeways, to adventures unknown. People hide in buildings, while the streets are empty.
Gardens hide away from development, under freeways, at the tops of skyscrapers. A lone child rides on a playground horse, capturing a time of freedom, lost for this hopefully short time to Coronavirus.
Like my City, we have all been buffeted and bruised by our Coronavirus experiences.
But we have been given time to reflect on what is important to us, and given us inspiration. We can now move forward with steadier steps into a post-corona virus future.

Dee Jackson – Artist and Tutor

Dee Jackson, R U OK? from the artist’s studio

2020 was shaping up to be one of the best for my Watercolour Art practice. I was feeling confident about the future and had art classes, art trails, workshops, portrait demonstrations and a judging commitment, all booked for 2020. Then COVID-19 restrictions came into play and everything was cancelled from March 13th. Not quite the Ides of March’ – but 13 was still an unlucky number.

Fortunately, I had several portrait commissions to keep me busy for the next couple of months. After that I felt that I was adrift. I could have been reorganising my studio space as many of my more industrious friends seemed to do. I could have been creating paintings conceived long ago but not yet begun. However, I did none of that. I was anxious and adrift. Unable to meet in any other way, I began to spend more time connecting on social media (mainly Facebook). Many of my ‘arty’ friends seemed to be struggling, too, so we asked each other – “R U OK?” Often my Facebook friends have been very open with their feelings – whether it was frustration over cancelled art exhibitions or closure of their gallery space. Sometimes it was sharing their joy on the birth of a new child or the grief over the loss of a loved one. Some have won art awards, some have had illness – yet we all seem to have been given extra time to care more for our wider community of friends.

As a social person, I have appreciated staying in touch with my circle of ‘arty’ friends enjoyed seeing or posting funny, beautiful or uplifting and inspiring images, trying to counter some of the doom and gloom. And, we have asked each other – “R U OK?” Making the effort to check in with our friends (Facebook or other), to support them and stay in touch has been very important – and I am hopeful that we are more caring as a result. Slowly the art scene is remerging, sometimes with virtual exhibitions or in bricks and mortar” galleries. I am lucky enough, once again, to have portrait commissions in the pipe-line – new or repeats etc. Art openings may be restricted but art classes have resumed – so I am working once again and have enough to keep me busy until the end of 2020. Have we turned a corner? Maybe! Going forward, I do not know what 2021 will bring but am hopeful that our community will still remember to ask each other – “R U OK?”

Diane Moore – Artist 

Asher Moore, photograph. Taken in Victoria

Unjust, unfair or just back luck. Whatever you call it, I see Victoria and the arts worst hit. Even before COVID-19, I had been told that having a career as a photographer was an urban myth! When my son secured an underwater photography position, I was so pleased, on many levels. However, when the pools closed, the job dried up. Residencies, opportunities and rent-free studio spaces were only to be seen interstate of which he could not avail.

I would love to see Victorian galleries and other art organisations, help the emerging young photographers and, importantly, remunerate. Yes, I have seen ‘volunteer’ in amongst paid positions for events. I acknowledge volunteer positions can be a stepping stone, but artists still need a living. There appears to be an attitude that even when photographs are considered integral to a campaign, payment for these is often first to be scratched, if considered at all. How can this attitude be changed, not just for my son but for many like him who have completed qualifications and are bursting to live their dream career?

In saying all of this, I know creativity is part of a person. It can not be separated. With continued practise skills develop, and beauty emerges. Maybe it’s harder to find, or maybe, now, life’s pace has slowed down enough to find this beauty, even unexpectedly.

Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens – Not-for-Profit Arts Organisation 

Neha Gupte, Memories of Home Night Queen, hand drawn and hand painted motifs modified digitally, fine art canvas print, 61 x 81.3cm

Like many other organisations, Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens watched our entire events calendar collapse over the course of a few days in March, including all our exhibitions, with the introduction of the COVID-19 restrictions. At the time, we were installing the much-anticipated ‘PLNTS’ exhibition at Lion Gate Lodge, in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.

While we are extremely fortunate that we could share this exhibition online via the Botanic Gardens Gallery, the loss of the physical exhibition was devastating for our artists, volunteers, members and our community at large. ‘PLNTS’ exhibition is a celebration of our love of plants, honouring the amazing species growing in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, the green heart of the city. Our online gallery was visited by thousands of people, providing colour and light during a dark time.

The exhibition finally hung in Lion Gate Lodge in July, under strict COVID-19 guidelines, to enable our community to visit the exhibition to view and purchase artworks. Proceeds from the sale of original artworks go to the artists and to Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens, helping our not-for-profit organisation to continue its support of the horticulture, conservation, scientific research and education programs within your Botanic Gardens; the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan and the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah.

We proudly returned with the exhibition ‘Cultivate’ this October as part of Sydney Craft Week. As 2020 forced the world to pause, we collectively cultivated new daily lives and relationships, looking for novel ways to connect to one another and to our immediate surroundings. Art enables us to do this; to connect. This exhibition is the best of what we do at Foundation & Friends, combining six beloved Botanic Gardensexhibitions together for the first time. These artists, all standouts from prior exhibitions, have created work connecting you to your Gardens, each representing a different exhibition: ‘Artisans in the Gardens’, ‘Botanica’, ‘Harvest’, ‘PLNTS’, ‘Treecycle’ and ‘Wild Thing’.

You may ask why we choose to exhibit art in a Botanic Garden? Our answer has been the same for over 35 years, and its that art connects people and the art that we exhibit connects you to your Gardens. Art is a powerful tool of connection, as it has been throughout history. It brings people together, and it allows us to pause, to reflect, to wonder, to share and, above all, to hope. A crisis has a way of distilling whats important to people personally, and to a culture at large.

We would like to thank each and every individual who has contributed to our exhibitions, from an army of enthusiastic volunteers to the many talented and hardworking artists. We wish to extend our gratitude to our members and to the public for supporting Foundation & Friends, the arts and the environment during these challenging times. We look forward to welcoming you back to the Royal Botanic Garden, where we greatly anticipate reconnecting with you at the ‘Cultivate’ exhibition.

Georgia Hill – Artist

Georgia Hill. Photograph: Teresa Tan

As a large scale muralist and exhibiting artist, this year has been fantastically undone – the pace I usually maintain of international travel and projects, art fairs and exhibitions was incredibly lucky and extinguished instantly, and I came to a grinding halt in every way.

The pandemic, combined with the summer’s bushfires and mid year BLM protests, has replaced a year of painting with reflection and stark juxtapositions – then and now, feeling entirely the same but entirely unsure, hoping I can do better/was I ever doing enough, do I really want to make that banana bread, and ultimately letting the fog of uncertainty set in and take over any view to the future.

I think the feeling of discomfort and not quite knowing what is next is familiar to many artists, whether it’s in how an artwork will evolve or where your practice will lead you. I feel like this year has seen me fall through floor after floor of my work changing, my mind changing, the people around me changing – it feels like chaos in slow motion, with a side of guilt that I’ve been very privileged not to be thrown onto the frontline of any of these truly life-changing developments.

This break in my work has led to my first real pause in five years, which has been rough, frustrating but invigorating. I had certainly lost a sense of what my work means to myself. After developing my practice in the large-scale mural world of relentless travel, meeting community and public art expectations and, to be honest, using my studio as a storeroom rather than a workspace, I had lost sight of why I was breaking my back for this work, which is something I’m excited to answer for myself moving forward.

This disruption to the pace and ideology of the arts, and the world, could truly be for the better – while change isn’t easy, we need to interrupt the momentum of the status quo pulling us along. While I’m not sure where the positives will come from as far as government funding and incentives, I do feel the arts community is primed for the necessary creative approaches. I would like to see more opportunities for public art beyond the community brief, for BIPOC and LGBTQIA voices to be held in constant regard as we grow into the new normal, and also see the true value of artists be upheld in a way that it is not a ‘lucky break’ to make a living in this line of work.

I feel the fogginess clearing and I’m regaining some parts of my motivation come back, both for my work and for myself. I’m trying to be patient and ready for the wisdom that might come through in time, that if you feel helpless you can help others, and that I’ve done more with less before.

Helen Otway – Artist and Owner, Founders of Mist Galley

Mist Gallery, Cabarita Beach NSW showcasing local artists including Dylan Cooper and Helen Otway

What a crazy time to open a new art gallery! Well, you wouldnt be alone in thinking this. But, with the odds stacked against me, that was exactly what I did. I opened a small gallery at Cabarita Beach, far north NSW.

After seeking a sea change, I put my energy back into my love of art.  Having trained early in my career as an art and generalist primary teacher, I never really had the time to practice my own art. However, as the years passed the pull back to art became stronger and stronger.

Whilst it took a little time to feel comfortable calling myself an artist, it is what I do. I paint. Opening a small studio at the M-Arts Precinct in Murwillumbah was my first step to immersing myself in the artist culture. Being surrounded by other artists was incredibly rewarding. But then COVID-19 hit and the doors closed for 8 weeks. No more interactions with artists or art buyers. And the recovery was painfully slow.

So, what do you do when things are at their lowest point? Open a gallery? Well, why not! After noticing a vacant shop at the iconic Cabarita Beach, thats exactly what I did. Mist Gallery was established in September. Having met many artists in recent years, I was able to bring together eight local artists to show in our first exhibition, ‘Love Where We Live’. And together the artists captured the beautiful coastline and hinterland of the Northern Rivers. Now having been opened for just over a month, I can say that there have been times when the gamble loomed larger than life. With borders still closed and people not confident to spend, it was starting to look a little scary. I didnt know if I could continue to sit in a gallery with little or no visitors. Local business owners were also feeling the pinch. However, the beautiful artwork started to draw people in. They could relate to the seascapes and landscapes. A conversation would transpire, and smiles would appear.

With still very few sales, I was not confident that I had made the right decision to open a new gallery during a financial recession and global pandemic!  However, smiles and compliments about the gallery and the art slowly turned into sales. Of course, the opening of the borders helped and tourism reopening also meant that the locals were back in business. Our second exhibition opened in mid-October with another group show, ‘Wild at Heart’ exploring our connection with animals, plants and nature, particularly in a time of a health crisis. Ten artists are part of the exhibition who couldn’t wait to have their work on show. Artists include Amanda Bromfield, Anne Smerdon, Bronni Krieger, Catherine Lane, Helen Otway, Judy Oakenfull, Kate Debbo, Narelle Hallem, Noel Hart, and Steve Tyerman.

So, did I make the right decision?  Time will tell.  But for now, its looking promising.

Hilary Sims – Artist

Hilary Sims, Studio ‘If these walls could talk’

My walls in my Studio would tell a story of:

Frustration, joy, defeat, total exhaustion, delirium, bliss, my cat peeing on the floor and me screaming “get out”, pop music, beautiful classical music, phone calls to my Mum, daughters and friends discussing a whole bucket of subjects, heater on, heater off, snacks, drinks, looking at the time, happy with the time and furiously painting for a deadline… more bliss, rejections from competitions, feeling blue and rising up again, and then theres rushing off to my paid job in a grumpy mood.

Being an Artist is a rollercoaster ride, but I wouldnt change it for a second.

We need more competitions and more avenues to show our work. COVID-19 or no COVID-19: THE SHOW MUST GO ON.

Janet Matthews – Artist

Janet Matthews at easel

My story and drawings have always been linked with my life, always in a positive way. Ive noticed a change in the story in my drawings in response to the isolation, the state of nature and the fragility of the world. The theme of ‘We are in this together’ has spoken to me very strongly. My work has embraced, even more, the stories of togetherness, friendship, family, flying free. Always with humour. Making people smile and forget their troubles has been my aim as well as engaging people with my subjects, so they see the world differently. Making people aware of our wildlife, making them personable and engaging, will hopefully help more people support saving our wonderful creatures. I have been drawing cockatoos flying free, groups of birds sitting closely together sharing gossip or a joke, flowers with lots of bees hovering around. Ive drawn ladybugs clustered together in a group, on top of each other, some flying in from outside, like a festival or a rally.

I have noticed that I am drawing more large botanical artworks, which are very complex. So I can be surrounded by flowers when I am leaning in to draw the minute details of the stamen etc. A bit like closing in to smell the flower fragrance and being surrounded by the plant. My drawings of groups of birds make me feel like I am part of their conversation, a very personal moment while creating my detailed and realistic drawings.

Exhibitions have become more online, presenting lots of opportunities, but also many challenges – definitely a learning curve. Photographing artwork for publication on websites has been a skill I have had to perfect. Selecting subjects that will speakto others strongly and clearly via this new media has been exciting. Verbalising my artworks storyhas also been a skill that I needed to improve. Connecting with others has been a very important aspect of my drawing, and this all extends my reach.

With no classes, workshopsa and interstate workshops, this year, due to our restrictions in Victoria, Ive had time and been inspired to create an e-workshop series, where I teach how to draw different subjects in colour pencil using a step by step description with images of each step. Online books, a very new concept for me, but a wonderful way to share my knowledge with those who are unable to come to my studio to learn. Making these e-workshop books has given me a focus and a weekly deadline for me to stay motivated and connected. This will be part of my future, an addition to the personal and hands-on teaching from my studio.

Art is my voice. Making people smile, becoming aware of the world around them more closely, connecting us all to nature. Thats my future.

Jasmine Mansbridge – Artist

Jasmine Mansbridge, in her Hamilton studio with a work titled SHAPE SHIFTING

The coronavirus experience has been so broad and has affected me in ways which I think will continue to reveal themselves in time. To understand how it has affected my work in particular it will help to give you some context.

I lived in Katherine until I was 26 and have since lived in rural NSW and am now based in regional Victoria, so making and sharing my work has always been a challenge for me. Nothing has ever been easy.I also have young children, so, as a Victorian, this has meant the best part of the school year has been at home. Another challenge to an art practice. Less time. Over the last few years I have travelled a lot with my art – painting murals in Beijing, Hong Kong and London. This year I was to do residencies in Beijing and France. Both of which are postponed. I also had an exhibition in London at the Other Art Fair postponed, and a solo exhibition cancelled.

My mural and large-scale commissions have dried up. I am locked in Victoria, without firm dates. I am unable to plan new projects. Based three and a half hours from Melbourne, I also had a studio in Geelong for shipping, logistics and convenience. This I moved out of in March when I was unable to travel anymore – basing myself back in my home studio.

These are the on-paper losses from coronavirus; however, there have been silver linings:

I received a Sustaining Creative Workers Grant and was able to build a new and improved steel sculpture which has now been exhibited at Swell Sculpture Festival and Wollombi Sculpture festival and is now going permanently to the Hillview Sculpture Park.
While commissions for murals have stopped I have consistently received commissions for studio work all year, so much so my income has been consistent with the year before.
I have worked out more efficient ways for working. I’m painting on unstretched linen nailed into my studio walls. Simplifying the freight and shipping process. Also saving money.
I have had time to explore more experimental ideas, and I feel the work has improved with these progressions.
The gallery where my former studio was let me set up a space in the unused artist in residence space, where I could come and go while social distancing.
I have been able to participate in online shows, both in London and the Hamptons. I have also made time to have zoom studio visits” with some of the contacts I have made over the last few years travelling.
I have dedicated some of the funds I would normally use to travel to have short videos made instead, talking about the work and sharing these on my platforms, with really great engagement.
Overall, I feel that, despite the change of plans, the forced stillness has in many ways benefited my practice and me as a person.
I have never had such high levels of self-care (I have quit coffee) and I take better care of myself than I did before. I have also enjoyed spending more time with my children and being present with them.

It will be interesting to see how things pan out in the next 12 months, but I am very much looking forward to going to a good old fashioned exhibition opening, seeing art in the real and travelling again when the time comes.

Jen Valender – Artist

Jen Valender, Of Alkaline, Death Rattle, 2020, video still detail

The lockdown in Melbourne ultimately become a period of deep focus. Over time, I turned this attention away from the pulsating news media and towards my art practice to draw inspiration from the monotonous routine of quarantine. What resulted was a suite of moving image works born from innocuous clips of ordinary household spaces and sounds that reflect the zeitgeist of the pandemic. This process, most importantly, has been a reminder that there is plenty of juicy material at hand if you simply pause and allow it to find you. Moving forward, Id like to see less paperwork and more sunlight.

Jenni Ivins – Artist

Jenni L Ivins, ‘The Apart Together Game’ made with the community in isolation

I make Mind Drawings – intricately detailed pictures where lines can be read in more than one way. Prior to COVID-19, I shared these with the community in interactive touring exhibitions, engaging communities in conversations about differences in how we see and how this affects communication.

My three solo exhibitions booked for 2020 were cancelled, along with the community engagement and income they would have generated. So, my practice had to evolve – using resources I already had until I negotiated with a funding provider to change how I would spend a grant received for the first exhibition. I turned my attention to supporting my community by providing free weekly workshops in the Mandala Mondays Facebook group. Originally planned for only four weeks, we have now passed six-months. Participants make their own mandalas and post pictures in the group, but some enjoy just watching the sessions because they miss the connection and idle chatter that participants experience in real-world workshops.

My studio setup was a black cloth draped over an exercise roller attached to an exercise bike with elastic bands; an old iPad on a stand that got repaired a few times, and I ordered suitable lightbulbs and headphones; the new iPad never arrived.

The Mandala Mondays success led to an eco-dying workshop that I recorded for Cardinia Council. When they invited artists to apply for a COVID-19 Arts Response Grant for a project that benefits the local community, I adapted an idea I had been incubating pre-COVID-19 days. This was to make a board game about Cardinia Shire in isolation using drawings made by those who have a connection to the Shire. My application was successful. After three and a half months of community engagement on Facebook, the A Part Together Game, was published in the Pakenham-Berwick Gazette, so families can play at home and see their drawings in the game. I extended the project in response to community feedback, not begrudging the time, as I was effectively earning the JobKeeper payment that I was finally receiving.

When it was clear galleries would remain closed, I presented my ‘Fairies Without Wings’ exhibition online – in a fashion. Creating a short introductory trailer was problematic in a house with few doors, that now incorporates a classroom and a busy office, as well as my art space cum recording studio. In the relative quiet of 3am, I hid under a cardboard box with my script, torch and phone, draped a blanket over the top and recorded the audio track. It took seven days to make a short video, using PowerPoint, as my other software was no longer compatible with my updated computer. I made many adjustments until pictures and captions aligned with the spoken words. Then I uploaded it to YouTube. I made the next videos straight from my phone: quicker albeit imperfect action but a completed project: https://youtu.be/GGbPY1GeH24

Though artists will always find a way, the change I’d like is financial support for all artists to adapt to online delivery.

Jenny Reddin – Artist

Jenny Reddin in her studio with a new work; A Wild Seed in a Tame Place, mixed media on canvas, 140 x 120cm. Courtesy the artist and West End Art Space, Melbourne

There is a long dark hallway ahead of me with a door at the end that is ajar a tiny fraction.  I can see a slither of light and shadows moving within the light but I cant see clearly what it is that is moving.  I am drawn towards the door with both excitement and anxiety because I dont know whether whats on the other side of the door is welcoming, or whether it will be so different from what I knew that I will be adrift in a strange new world.  One thing is for certain; the world has changed. Gone is my blind faith in global wellbeing. Every handshake, every sneeze and cough, in fact, every public contact point holds threat. Will I be able to touch a handrail or doorknob without panic? Will I hand out hugs and kisses with my usual sense of joy? Will my gallery still be there and will they still want to display my work or will they go to the cold separateness of on-line only?

The door opens, and almost all is OK. There have been losses but there are survival stories as well. Restaurants, shops and galleries open their doors, and there is colour, movement and energy again. My gallerist opens her doors and welcomes me back and the creativity that has been going on all this while has resulted in something special and unique. We will recover. We will learn and grow from this time; art will continue with a new appreciation for life.

Jeremy Eccles – Writer and Specialist Arts Commentator 

Having just attended the inaugural Yarruwala Wiradjuri Cultural Festival in the Western Riverina, it’s clear that an exciting cultural revival is going on out there.

For, when we normally think of Wiradjuri artists, names like Jonathon Jones and Brook Andrew immediately spring to mind. But they are Sydney, even international artists in comparison with Veronica Collins, William Carter and Melanie Evans, all of whom have stayed on Country and reflect it in their work for the Festival. And their interests are less the national political concerns that Andrew in particular concentrates his art on, more the fraught Wiradjuri history of culture and life around the Murrumbidgee River over the aeons and its disturbance by pastoralists whose ‘clearing the land’ often included murdering its people.

So a culture that was once in danger of annihilation is now enthusiastically embraced by elders and youngsters, by visual artists and by performers who are recreating and inventing dances with great seriousness, retelling stories, rediscovering language and gathering at places like the derelict Warangesda Mission, to which so many have family links. And that 1879 institution with its Gribble connections may have saved the Wiradjuri clans in that area from extinction.

While southern Australia’s cities have inevitably been naval-gazing around the COVID-19 crisis and the issues it has raised this year, rural and regional people have been relatively undisturbed by the disease and its urban carriers. Yarruwala proves that. Further, in the remote north of the country, such carriers have been legally excluded, with the result that traditional First Nations life has been immeasurably strengthened by an isolation that thrust elders and their potentially wayward offspring together in ways reminiscent of pre-colonisation life.

So I would like to predict an enhancement of more traditional/classical thinking and ceremony, with Indigenous art-making less dependent on Western art methodologies, spreading throughout rural, regional and remote Australia as a consequence of this odd year.

news.aboriginalartdirectory.com/

Laurie Franklin – Artist

Laurie Franklin, So I painted my Toyota van because it needed some colour, painted van and potato printing

I feel like I’ve won the lotto. The internal dialogue has opened up and sketch books are scrawled in and no piece of scrap paper is safe from being painted or doodled on. I even painted the exterior of my Toyota van with oil paint and acrylics. It was white and now is a large abstract landscape. I parked it at the shops and a woman approached me and said, ‘Why did you paint your van?’ I could have snapped back a smart comment like… “I ran out of canvas”, but I told the truth. ‘It was white and needed some colour.’

My imagination has taken flight and 2020 has been a year of artistic connection and intense creative fire. I have shared this passion by teaching free art classes on Zoom for my work colleagues, many of whom havent painted since school. Not only does it help fill the social interaction that both I and they need, but it has let people invite that therapeutic part of painting into their lives. Several participants have said that it has made a huge difference to their mental health. We hope to continue in person when lockdown lifts.

When I was stepped down from my night shift work in March, I figured I would be looking at three months where I could focus on my art before stepping back on the treadmill of my job. Five and half months later, the burn to create has grown and consumes me. I have more energy than I did at the start of the year and it led to experimentation with new techniques and materials. I bounce out of bed, knowing I can work the whole day. Without interruptions or distractions. The extended lockdown in Melbourne has taken away the ‘should’ – I should go catch up with so-and-so… I should find another job… I should be doing… something else

In a nutshell, Lockdown took away my procrastination and gave me the precious gift of facing my exuberant creative whims. Instead of saying ‘I dont have time to play with printing, I need to finish that oil painting.’  The internal dialogue is: ‘Well… I could carve potato and sweet potatoes, print with cabbage, lemons and mushrooms, and print on tiles and fabric.’

So a part of me is scared as to how this unbridled creativeness will be curbed when Lockdown is lifted. I need to be gentle and ruthless. Ruthless about holding onto this golden gift of rolling creativity whilst working with that gentle whisper – ‘The future is unknown.’ I need to be gentle with others, understanding that maybe their experience havent been as positive. Supporting our community is more relevant now than ever.

The plans we make might happen as we step into the future. Personally COVID has been a reminder to: call someone to say you care; and make the most of today because there is always an idea that wants to see the light of day.

Lilly Antoneavic – Artist

Lilly Antoneavic, BLACK PRINCE

Reflecting on this year, I was stuck at home for over 6 months, but as an artist I do not mind it so much. This period at home actually gave me time to make even more art. In my case portraits and cats.

A change in the arts, I would love to see is more galleries offering cheaper rates to exhibit. And the big art competitions such as the Archibald and Doug Moran art prizes to let all artists be presented, not just a chosen few. After all, we are all artists, and all artists have something to say with their art.

As for looking ahead, in my case I am looking ahead to paint and exhibit more of my beloved feline artworks.

Lisa Sewards – Artist

Lisa Sewards, Pyrocumulonimbus, a charcoal sky, pigment print on archival BFK 300gsm, detail, full size 196 x 134cm incorporating etchings on Awagami Tengucho paper

During the initial phase of COVID-19 so much was abandoned including my warehouse studio and my printmaking press, with my main focus shifting to ensure my family felt safe and secure in unprecedented times.  In the long and ongoing restrictions in Melbourne my arts practice was forced into my home and my attention wavered. I began reading Australian short stories and loved how instantly I was drawn into the writers’ world and just as quickly flung out leaving my own mind to contemplate and reimagine the story further.

As my collection and research of short stories grew and developed, my ideas and imaginary began evolving and from a hugely fractured year a new body of work is currently being created that pays homage and reflects on the short story genre in Australian Literature. I was drawn to the underlying threads and motifs in many of the stories about grief, displacement, hope and humanity – all threads connecting to my own previous bodies of work and solo exhibitions.  Climate change is a strong undercurrent in many of the short stories and hence along with global diseases I was reminded how our beautiful world is vulnerable and precious.

I took this image many years ago on Black Saturday in my suburban backyard unaware of the unfolding tragedy.  It will be incorporated into several new large works on paper that reference several of the short stories of the Australian bush fires and the personal and planetary grief. The short stories I am reading include past and present published authors, one whose publisher closed this year leaving only a raw manuscript, and an unpublished writer. Short Stories will include works on paper and paintings and is to be shown at fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne in March 2021. It is a space that is at the heart of supporting independent performing and visual artists in Melbourne and in turn requires our support to enable it to survive into the future.  This exhibition will lay a path to reflect on the year that was 2020 and also how the intersection of the visual arts and literature is a powerful combination to continue bringing important messages to the forefront of peoples minds and conversations.

Mansfred Krautschneider – Artist

Manfred Krautschneider, Origin, 2020, edition 1/8, 70 x 86cm

Will my already delayed exhibition be delayed yet again?

Anxiety abounds for many artists, as it does in my works for itssolo Manfred Krautschneider – Light and space are liquid – The Surreal Abstract Reflections slated to be held November -December 2020. These works observe reality as seen in reflection, from outside, or tangentially, in order to acquire something essential and surprising about the subject. To this end, I have photographed the streetscape as reflected on imperfect surfaces. In them, the multiple reflections and transmission on and through windows, awnings, water etc, produce smears of emotion and beautiful dramas. Instead of concrete mementos, I prefer the subtle mnemonics of these more ambiguous images, allowing deep associations to emerge over time. Thus these abstracts become loaded with psychological triggers that project them into the surreal.

Being a painter, photographer and new media artist, I respond strongly to the fluidity of space and light that characterise this series. One could easily mistake these usually unmodified photographs for modern or contemporary paintings, and Ive leant toward ever more abstract reflections that still manage to conjure up powerful feelings, including a sense of isolation and premonitions of conflict and destruction. In them we inhabit a messy threshold between past and future as memory and anticipation jostle for primacy. I hope that, like me, you find their content exciting and unsettling. Successfully holding the border between recognition and abstraction, my surreal photographs transform suburban streetscapes into transcendent images.

Maria Cindelle Ancajas – Artist

With any new year, I always resolved to be more productive. The start of 2020 was no different. Then boom, the pandemic happened. During the quarantine, anxiety has taken over me. I went days of doing nothing because I’m too busy with battles in my head. I look at other artists online, I see them creating art, and I ask how do they do it? Along the way, I learnt that your worth isn’t measured by your productivity. It’s okay to take a slump, to take a break. Concentrate on the little things. There are days when all I could do is type one sentence. There are days when I could write a paragraph. I realised that a creative life entails living in the moment, and feeling those emotions with the hope they could inspire your art.

I’d like to see more accessible support for artists be it in the form of residencies, scholarships, and grants. Some people still look down on artists and don’t see or treat what they’re doing like a real job. I want artists to be paid with their real talent fee.

Megan Seres – Artist

Megan Seres, Brink – self-portrait, oil on linen, 82 x 66.5cm

Isolation, it is often said, has profound effects on our bodies and minds. In her text ‘The Risks of Social Isolation’ published in the American Psychological Association,  Amy Novotney speaks about research scientist, Louise Hawkley, pointing to evidence linking perceived social isolation with adverse health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life.

Thats quite a list and given the perfect storm were all swept up in, worthy of our attention in the isolation of our homes. This deficit in normal human social interaction can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and knowing that each person would have a unique response to this time, I wondered how many would be pushed to the brink, including myself. I know all about PTSD, having experienced it with childhood trauma. This invisible wound can cause memory malfunction, subverting to an uncomplicated method of cataloguing signals and translating traumatic memories as pictures or body sensations.

Strangely, the amygdala function (your centre for creativity and rumination) increases, whilst functions such as memory, planning and self-development decrease. I can ruminate for hours, leading to a state that exists between and betwixt, my liminal space. This can lead to anxiety or depression but if I flip the script it becomes the ideal state for creation, a time of new perspectives, self-understanding and transitions, but only if I remain open.

Trauma tends to shut people down and the visuals that formed in my mind’s eye were numerous: a body closed in foetal position, a silent scream, standing alone in a vast empty landscape or at the edge of a precipice. ‘Brink – self-portrait’ is an internal response that pushes my wounds outward, externally weighted down by the earth’s jagged cries for change, a future suffocating under all that is and should not be.

When I stood at the precipice over a decade ago, I identified my trauma for what it is, for the power it held over me and I knew that finding forgiveness and making the decision to heal this fracture was the only approach to a fulfilling, creative, loving life. With the love and support of family, friends and colleagues, recovery brought me to the place I am now… a loving mother and a dedicated practitioner of the arts.

It’s an extraordinary privilege as an artist to come to a part of myself that was previously unknown, absent or incomplete and to watch that voice unfold, speak, reach out. Sharing stories is crucial to the arts and intrinsic to our wellbeing. Participation is an important feature of democracy and the erosion of this due to artistic fads threatens diversity of opinion. From an audience point of view, I would like to see more risk-taking and kindness. A change for the better.

Our world, every living creature, is at some point on the brink… and a world full of suffering will always have the potential to heal.

Nancy Lane – Artist

Nancy lane, City on a Pallet, found object assemblage, 95 x 110 x 16cm

Cliché as it sounds, this year has led to doors closing, but new doors opening. An exhibition planned for May with Creativity Cluster, a group of nine women artists that I facilitate, was postponed when Melbourne went into lockdown. However, the lockdown led the City of Melbourne to offer COVID-19 Arts Grants. Our group successfully applied for a grant to create a website and post our planned exhibition online, which we launched in July. As a result, instead of only Melbourne locals seeing the exhibition, we have now had nearly 50 per cent of our viewers from interstate and overseas.

The doors of River Studios, where I am normally an artist in residence, also closed, which meant no interaction with fellow artists. However, this led to reviving friendships and regular chats by Zoom with an artist from Berlin that I had exhibited with in 2018 when she was living in Melbourne, and with colleagues in Laos where I had previously held two of my solo exhibitions. The gallery where I sell my small wall sculptures and brooches also closed its doors. However, with no access to my studio, I had time to do the behind-the-scenes administration and web posting that was required when the gallery transitioned to online sales. Amazingly, during August and September, my sales doubled over previous months when the gallerys doors were open.

The doors of other local galleries closed as well, where I had been scheduled to participate in several group shows. However, this led to my looking for opportunities online, and these were varied. For example, two different galleries asked for contributions based on aspects of our COVID-19 experience. I found this challenging and thought-provoking. It provided an opportunity to reflect creatively on the situation we were in, despite being hampered by having to work from home instead of the studio.

Being flexible, staying optimistic, doing what I could, trying not to stress about the things I couldnt, looking for opportunities: these all contributed to a year that has passed surprisingly quickly with some unexpected positive results. These attitudes should continue to serve me well as next year approaches. Nonetheless, I have sorely missed River Studios and am looking forward with keen anticipation to this old door reopening.

Rhain DiPilla – Owner/Curator, The Old Auction House

Rhain DiPilla installing Soothe: Bouquet Garni for the Soul, a textile installation by Caroline Sarah

2020 has shown us both how essential and vulnerable all of the arts industry is. From artists and makers, festivals and concerts, to commercial galleries and not-for-profits, we need to look past our internal fractures, antiquated funding models and ingrained medium hierarchies that so often invalidate and devalue certain sectors of our industry and aim to support everyone involved. No one would have survived lockdown without the arts industry to bring them hope, distraction and joy, so economic hardship can’t be the death knell for a generation of artists.

Selva Veeriah – Artist

The events of 2020 are nature’s way of slowing things down so that humanity can reflect on what it means to co-exist on this planet. This year has somewhat fractured our perspective and way of life so that they may heal and evolve. We have been conditioned with values that divide rather than unify. We need more love, empathy, generosity, and mindful presence. We need less of everything that divides us based on race, religion, and wealth. The pandemic is giving us a timely opportunity to come together and move forward as one; although, it may not be apparent at first glance. The arts can play an important role in reshaping the individual and collective belief systems. The stakeholders of the arts need to shift their focus to encourage more artists, works, and projects that raise awareness and speak to the core values of mankind.

Sophia Halloway – Development Officer National Gallery of Australia,  Freelance Writer, Critic and Curator

Sophia Halloway working at home, image courtesy of the author

The COVID-19 pandemic forced me to slow down. Like a passenger in an abruptly slowing vehicle, the world around me came to a screeching halt while I forged ahead at the same velocity as always. Until I didnt. This is the law of inertia, which can just as readily be applied to the lifestyle of arts workers. An object in motion will stay in motion until an external force acts upon it. The pandemic brought this momentum to rest.

As arts workers we are always in pursuit of something. If not my day job, it is my freelance work as a writer and critic, or the occasional curatorial project. Of course, with the cancellation and closure of so many exhibitions and galleries, these aspects of my profession were no longer possible. There is a certain anxiety that comes from slowing down, despite how much one may need it. A scarcity mindset. This has become the culture of professional life, but incongruously, it is not at all conducive to creativity, professional or otherwise. When we are constantly producing, we are not leaving space to create.

I felt a strange relief when the work dried up, alongside a pang of guilt. So many peers were struggling with the impact of the pandemic to their livelihoods. Meanwhile, I was relieved to have cause to stop. I am a critic, after all, and my inner critic, too, is well trained. To be constantly producing is to fill all space, any potential second into which doubt might squeeze itself. I was addicted to productivity and affirmation. The stillness of isolation was a rehabilitation of sorts. It was not until I embraced this quietude that I truly began my creative recovery. I turned my critical eye to life as it was before – filled with distractions that create a façade of success but in reality, disturb genuine creativity.

As we emerge from this pandemic, many artists will feel differently about this sudden deceleration. Rather than coming out the end of a process of creative recovery, they will be dejected. Given the economic impacts of the pandemic, particularly to the arts sector, time will become scarcer. The pressure to produce more in less time will be even more acute. There is much discussion of the economic recovery of the arts sector, but I propose a greater consideration of our creative recovery. In a world that will demand more and more of us, how can be savour those small moments that truly feed our creativity?

These are the moments we have turned to, and longed for, in isolation. Looking ahead, I hope that we continue to delight in every moment – proximity to our loved ones or the simple pleasures of homemade sourdough – but also savour stillness and solitude. I hope that as we continue to face the inevitable challenges of a struggling sector, we hold these moments close and continue to seek pleasure in our creative lives. This is how we will recover, collectively and creatively.

Tony Schaefer – Artist, Writer, Teacher

Tony Schaefer, Emergent Threshold – Spiritual Transformation, 2020, digital art

If 2020 has shown us anything, it is that materialism is not able to address the problems that presently face us. The constant buying of unneeded ‘stuff’ and time spent ‘scrolling’ through social media feeds, brings us little joy or comfort. Leadership is absent on many levels with no personal responsibility taken, for any of what is happening. The helpless feeling of seeing the plight of those on foreign shores under-going so much grief. And the politicisation of every aspect of our lives creates more separation and more anxiety. My guiding light is to be able to express a spiritual solution, through my artwork and my personal experience of transformation through ‘A Course In Miracles’.

This planet has been through at least six mass extinction events that we know of and 2020 feels like it’s ‘pedal to the metal’ toward a bottomless cliff. Yet the change that IS required is actually built into each and everyone, but for the desire to know your self, and I mean REALLY ‘Know Thy Self’. When armed with this personal revelation, individually, we will reach a critical mass and move into a new paradigm of personal responsibility and universal understanding. As you read this remember it starts with you and radiates outward, from deep within the core of you, and touches all those you love and many more beyond your present time and space.

Keep in mind, this too shall pass. When we can look directly at the way things ARE, and not how we would like them to be, then something can change. Is there inequality in the world? Yes. Is there inequality in the workplace? Yes. Is there inequality in my neighbourhood? Most likely. Is there inequality in my relationships? Perhaps. Is there inequality in me?… You could replace inequality with racism/sexism or any other, but if it lives in you it lives in the world and will continue to until it no longer lives in you.

We approach a threshold, a needful transformation, beyond which I can not speak, only to say it is a joyful recognition and one we all must share. Welcome to your future!

Verena Heirich – Artist, Performer

Courtesy Verena Heirich

For so many 2020 has been the year that has stopped people in their tracks.  But for me my train was stopped rather abruptly five years ago by motherhood.  Whilst I was able to finish my Master’s during my pregnancy and the first year of having my baby, the struggle was real.  My residence reverted from underground gallery back into a house, closed to the public.  My degree was sent in the mail, but there was no party or exhibition to celebrate.

None of this is to say that my (now two) incredible and wondrous beasts are nothing short of spectacular little humans and I am immensely glad that I was lucky enough to start my own family.  But, through the dirty nappies and sleepless nights the world I left seems so far away.

And then lockdown kept us all a little closer together.  The thing that stood out for me the most was that of all the people I spoke with (mainly mums), everyone was making the most of this time together at home.  Having recently moved we now live right next to bushland near the George’s River. Taking strolls through the bush with my daughter has been peaceful and inspirational though the pandemic. And it was that feeling that brought my practice back to life. Sure I’m a bit rusty, but with each stitch I make the cobwebs fall away a little more.  My mind is already focused on 2021 and the possibility of starting again with another underground gallery. I can’t wait to see you there!

Yvette Young – Artist

Yvette Young, Hobby artist, Delivery day

I became much more interested in participation and would submit double entries in prizes. This image shows me delivering in the end to the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes at the Art Gallery of NSW. I would like feedback on my work in illustration and even happy, fun distribution.

 


Thank you very much for all the thoughtful submissions we received for this special project. We hope you enjoy the myriad voices that contribute to our vibrant arts community.

 

For mental health support, get in touch with Lifelife and Beyond Blue
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636