The Artist and the Art

 

STELLA CLARKE

Stella Clarke BA Hons First Class, MA, PhD (Warwick) was born in 1964 in East Anglia, UK. She graduated from Warwick University with a degree in English and Italian in 1987. She spent a year in at the University of Florence, and took art classes at the Cecil-Graves School of Art. She travelled extensively in Europe, visiting galleries and studying art history wherever she went. She taught literary and arts subjects at universities in the UK, before emigrating to Australia in 1998 with her husband, Andrew. In Australia, Stella continued to teach for several years, but as a full-time parent also began to develop new careers both as an artist and a writer. 

Over the past ten years Stella has exhibited in several galleries in Melbourne and regional Victoria (to May 2018, there have been around 230 mainly gallery sales). Her work has been covered in a feature article on the ABC TV and on Channel 9. For fifteen years Stella was also a national critic, reviewing contemporary Australian literarture (with around 200 published articles). Her experience both as a writer and literary judge has given Stella profound insights into Australian culture and landscape, which are very valuable to her in the creation of her artwork. 

A love of the natural environment and a commitment to landscape painting are central to Stella’s work. Her practice involves spending as much time as possible in the locations that inspire her, both locally and further afield on the Victoria coast and in Tasmania. Stella documents what she sees, and takes copious photographic notes, that she later uses as a basis for her paintings in the studio. She works mainly in oils, on canvases covering a range of sizes up to 2m x 1.5.

After moving from Melbourne some years ago, Stella and Andrew now live in regional Victoria on acreage, where Stella has her studio. They have three daughters, Rebecca, Jasmine and Imogen, and two rescued dogs. 

 

Solo/Themed Exhibitions

2019 Upcoming in January, 'New Coastal Works II', at Metropolis Gallery, Geelong

2018 Upcoming in September, Blue Stone Cottage Gallery, 'Fields of Gold', Ballarat

2018 'New Coastal Works I', at Metropolis Gallery, Geelong

2016 'Island Moodscapes' at Gallery on Sturt, Ballarat

2016 'The Rail Trail Works' at Gallery on Sturt, Ballarat

2016 'The Art of Nostalgia' works at The Convent Gallery, Daylesford

2016 'Ocean Story' at Qdos Arts Gallery, Lorne

2015 'Summers in the South' at Qdos Gallery, Lorne

2014 'Domain of Memory' at Qdos Gallery,Lorne

2013 ‘To See the Summer Sky is Poetry’ at Suburban312 Gallery, Melbourne.

2012 ‘Vintage Funfair by the Sea’ at Suburban312 Gallery, Melbourne.

2012 ‘Vintage Funfair: Small Works’, at APTE, Alphington, Melbourne.

2011 ‘Bayside Reflections’ at Suburban312 Gallery, Melbourne.

2010 ‘Shorelight’ at Suburban312 Gallery, Melbourne.

2010 ‘Bay Dreaming’ at Suburban312 Gallery, Melbourne.

 

Selected Group Exhibitions

2018 Biennale of Australian art

2017 Albert Park College Art Prize

2017 Flanagan Art Prize

2017 Camberwell Art Show, Melbourne

2017 Metropolis Gallery, Storeroom Show

2017 'January Summer Salon' at Metropolis Gallery, Geelong

2016 Christmas Show at Metropolis Gallery, Geelong

2015 Puhoi Art Exhibition, New Zealand

2015 Albert Park College Art Exhibition, Melbourne

2015 The Flanagan Art Prize Exhibition

2015 Camberwell Art Show, Melbourne

2013 ‘Ocean Light’ at South Yarra Art House, Melbourne.

2012 ‘30th Professional Artist’s Exhibition’ Caulfield Grammar, Melbourne

2012 ‘Grand Opening Pop-Up Exhibition’, The Equilibrium Art Centre, East Brunswick, Melbourne

2012 ‘Canterbury Art Exhibition’, Melbourne.

2011-12 ‘Annual Christmas Show’, Manyung Gallery, Mornington Peninsula.

2011 Art Melbourne

2011 Opening, The Breslin Gallery and Arts Hub, Fitzroy, Melbourne.

2011 ‘Subjectivity’, Gallery 577 Brunswick St., Fitzroy, Melbourne.

2010 Art Sydney

2010 ‘Pink Lady Art Exhibition’, Brighton, Melbourne.

2010 ‘Bayside Rotary/Porsche Art Exhibition’ Melbourne.

2010 Art Melbourne

2010 Flinders Art Show

2009 ‘Postcards from Oz’, Without Pier Gallery, Hampton, Melbourne

2009 ‘Our Melbourne, My Victoria’, Without Pier Gallery, Victorian Artists’ Society, Melbourne

2009 ‘Pink Lady Art Exhibition’, Brighton, Melbourne

2009 ‘Bayside Rotary/Porsche Art Exhibition’, Melbourne.

 

Current Gallery Representation

Metropolis Gallery, Geelong

(Coastal Landscapes)

          www.metropolisgallery.com.au

 

Galleries temporarily holding small consignments:

          Convent Gallery, Daylesford (Art of Nostalgia)

           Tusk gallery, Melbourne

 

Collections and Awards

2017 Flanagan Art Prize, Finalist

2015 Flanagan Art Prize, Finalist

2010 Bank of Queensland Emerging Artist Award Pink Lady Art Show Brighton, Melbourne

2003 Contemporary Art First Prize New England Art Show

Epworth Hospitals, Geelong

Sir Zelman Cowan Centre, Melbourne Victoria University Art Collection

Numerous private collections, across Melbourne, and Victoria, nationally and internationally.

 

Related Activities

2017 Assistant curator (writer & research consultant, social media promotions) 'The Prodigal Son' exhibition of works by Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Jamie Boyd, at Gallery on Sturt

2016-2017 Gallery assistant and art marketer, Gallery on Sturt, Ballarat

2015 Art prize judge, Ballarat (ACU)

2014 Art prize judge, Ballarat

2000-2014 Critic/arts journalist, state and national press (around 200 published articles)

1991-2004 Academic, lecturing in UK and Australia

Donations of work to charities, and fundraising activities, including for the Heart Foundation, Anglican Church (fundraisers for the homeless), the Royal Neurosurgeons" Foundation, the Jesuit Refugee Services (the JSS and the JM) and Newman College, the University of Melbourne, Pinarc Disability Support

 

Education

1983-87 Bachelor of Arts Joint Honours, English and Italian (Double First Class, Warwick University, UK).

1984-1985 Study year at the University of Florence

1988 Master of Arts, Warwick University UK

1992 PhD, Warwick University UK

 

Media

2016 'Paintings of Childhood Memories', Art of Nostalgia series coverage, Ballarat Courier

2016 Interview, Gavin McGrath, ABC Radio Ballarat

2016 'Stella Clarke at Qdos', Surf Coast Times

2016 Channel 9, 'Postcards'

2016 'Waves of Creativity' in The Geelong Advertiser

2015 'Portrait of a Legal Life', re portrait of Lady Cowan, Law Institute of Victoria Journal

2010 Art Nation, ABC, Feature Article

Various articles, including in Art Almanac, NGV Gallery Magazine, 3MBS The Score, The Bayside Leader, The Melbourne Weekly Bayside.

 

 

MY STORY

Mine is a story of moving-between countries and landscapes. There has also been constant tension, and movement between, city (for work and school) and country (for the soul!). What stays most clearly in my memory is always the country.

I grew up in rural East Anglia, in the UK, in 'Constable country', near to Flatford, and very close to the coast.  From the end of our long garden, as children, we could look out across wide open country toward marshes and the North Sea, and in the blue distance we could see the big ships travelling out from a busy port to cross the channel.  

The vast airiness of walking, or riding my bike, of playing, under big skies, in changing weather, was a definitive dimension of my childhood. The splash and chill of salt sea, the crumble of damp sand under bare feet, rolling sea mists fill my memory. There was the build and tumble of high clouds, the crunch of fallen vegetation on a forest floor, the mystery of trees, the invitation of wheat and barley fields as playgrounds.

There was the deeply felt rotation of the seasons, from winter's low grey skies and Siberian winds, to the explosion of blossoms and blooms in springtime, the golden days of summer and the richly colored, elegiac tones of autumn. I was privileged enough to have a childhood of relative physical freedom, more outdoors than inside, with the stimulus to exploration and imagination always present. My school did not offer much in the way of an artistic education, but when I was inside I was very often drawing. We had no television. We didn't have much really, but what we did have was an endless supply of large folded sheets of paper, on the front of which were printed my design-engineer father's drawings of circuitry, and on the back - an exciting white expanse...

Then I went away to University in Warwickshire, and on to live in Florence as a student.  There, I had the most amazing opportunity to educate myself in the history of art and how to really draw that any artist could wish for.  I spent months trailing along the Arno, around the Uffizi and other galleries, copying masterworks, and attending classes at the Cecil-Graves School of Art. There was also the singular beauty of Tuscan landscapes, travel around Italy, Sicily and Europe, which of course, is everywhere filled with art.

After moving to Australia at the turn of this century, I encountered vast new landscapes, and a richly different history of art (aboriginal art, Drysdale, Boyd, Nolan all astounded me).  I had the opportunity to explore and interpret as best I could the unique beauty of many different places.  

I lived in Western Australia, both by the ocean and in the hills.  I loved the pale silky sand, and the profound blues of the Indian Ocean.  I immersed myself in the hill's dry summer heat, the high scent of eucalypts, the red earth driving outback, the wilderness of dunes driving north, the Jarrah gums and greening scenery driving south to Albany and Denmark.  I enjoyed the work of contemporary landscape artists like Robert Juniper, and also writers like Tim Winton, whose evocations of landscape are probably unsurpassed in that region.

Later, after moving to Armidale in the high NSW tablelands, we renovated an old weatherboard cottage, which we called the Yellow House, on a large acreage of wild bush.  We would watch storms roll in from the long wooden veranda. Once, lightening exploded through a gum tree next to the house and the air went red. There was a majestic river Red Gum by the path that went down into our eucalpyt forest.  There were three gum trees in front of the cottage, which we called the three sisters; we have three daughters.  Often, we drove down the rainforest escarpment through Bellingen to the lush coastal zone of Coff's Harbour.

Then, years were passed in bayside Melbourne, with a different sea.  There were early mornings and long evenings on the beaches, soft scenes redolent of Clarice Beckett's atmospheric tonal works, and going back to those of Roberts, McCubbin and Streeton at Mentone. Days by the jetties, watching the traffic of ships and boats, and much roving around on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula, with its windswept pines recalling the mesmerizing, ominous landscapes of Rick Amor.

Now we live on acres outside Ballarat, surrounded by the sometimes stark beauty of Victorian country, not far from the incredible drama of the Great Ocean Road, as with easy access to captivating Tasmania and its islands, just across the wild Bass Strait, there is an abundance of inspiration (some of it from Tasmania's wonderful artists).

It has been my great privilege in life to have encountered and fully immersed myself in such a rich sequence of landscapes, all of which have their own history in art, and this has helped my development as a painter.

As for what sort of artist I am, I am in accord with what Tasmanian painter Philip Wolfhagen says about his work, that it is 'perceptual' rather than 'conceptual'.  It is more about what I see and feel, than what I think. I am aware, however, of the fragility and transience of the natural environments around us.  Here in Victoria, we live on a frontier where human occupation is constantly encroaching upon the bush and coastal rim, which is defenceless apart from the threat of bushfire. Perhaps this situation lends a new depth and urgency to landscape painting.  

 

 

THE LANDSCAPE PAINTINGS

 

My landscapes are inspired by locations in coastal and inland Victoria and Tasmania.

They address that need, which many of us have from time to time, to get outside of our present state, our present moment, into a reflective or regenerative space, into silence. They may be inspired by a particular place, but they also carry an interior impulse, a thought, a feeling, a longing, a 'nature fix'. 

I try to create works both of elemental energy and consoling tranquility. My art begins with documentation, visual notes and observation. The scenes I paint involve a strong representational motivation, in deference to the places that have inspired them, because I want to keep trying to understand the language of the natural environment, and keep its forms and patterns, the shapes of trees, the activity of light, respectfully in view. However, there are abstract, expressive, imaginative and decorative elements too.

By exploring the concept of landscape in poetic and imaginative ways, I invite the spectator to experience nature in all its emotional resonance, sensual dimensions and visual drama. I want to combine the sublime with the mundane; the wider view with the immediacy of plants, leaves and twigs that you move through as you walk. I like to roll out the closest foreground to horizons of luminous skies and cloudscapes. The works can be understood in terms of biophilia, the idea that humans are wired with the urge to connect with nature, and that it is essential to our well-being.

Ocean, Island, Bay

Recent works include a focus upon coastal zones, where I frequently go, to explore the dynamic colours, forms, patterns and textures of the places where the ocean meets the shore. These paintings celebrate the fragile wildflowers and wind-sculpted plants that cling to cliff edges, thriving in an onslaught of salt air and sea-spray. In that sense, they are unconventional landscapes, focusing upon the foreground, coastal heath, growing things in a harsh, maritime environment, with their captivating visual rhythms and natural hues. These works begin with close observation, but can evolve into an almost dream-like expression of the visual energy and beauty to be found on our coast.

There are recurrent themes, like the idea of the 'island', with its connotations of solitude (as opposed to loneliness, very different things). I try to conjure in my works the sense of silence, but for the sound of wind in branches, air moving through grasses, waves breaking on sand. There, teeming wild things push our own lives back into less significance, give us a chance to stop being so anthropocentric, to meet with some kind of otherness, if only temporarily. The ability to look and listen, even to discover this kind of silence, is ever rarer and more valuable in our jangling, wired present.  

Crossing the unpredictable waters of the Bass Strait to wilderness domains, and dramatic, brooding coastlines, is a journey into an internal as well as a geographical space. It was fascinating to me to stay on Bruny Island and realize that people had sailed directly, one hemisphere to the other, from where I grew up to land in Adventure Bay; what a journey between worlds! My paintings are also inspired by the colours forms, light and vegetation of the unique beauty of the wild, land's edge environment along our Great Ocean Road. The works are encounters with that liminal space, the continent's edge, the interface of vast sea and ocean expanses with mutating shorelines. 

 

Fields of Gold

I now live and have my studio in rural, central Victoria, in the old goldfields, just outside the fast-growing regional city of Ballarat.  I get out under the region's big skies, walk its tracks, drive its roads, move amongst its gum trees and paddocks as often as I can.

 

Suddenly, back in the middle of the nineteenth-century, many thousands of people set up home in this now rural area, drawn by the lure of gold. Rail-track crawled out across these low hills in every direction. There is no town there now, no stations, and no railway. Just a very long track, winding out through forest and under under big skies, and, at this time of year, in biting winds.

We have our place in an area onve called ‘Campbell’s Diggings'. Though the darkness can seem absolute there, the stars are bright - and stars had a lot to do with the fact that there was a vast pot of gold at this rainbow’s end.

Exploding stars made gold. Apparently, there wasn’t any on this planet to start with, but shortly after the dawn of time big chunks of high-velocity, high-value metals were pelted into a toffee-like, still-molten earth, from the four corners of the universe. Most of it sank to the middle, which – amazingly – is chock-full of shiny stuff. There are enough precious metals in the earth’s core to cover it’s entire surface with a four-metre thick layer. There is growing interest in space-mining on asteroids, but dig a little deeper at home and you will hit pay dirt!

Anyway, a lot of gold slowed down and stopped in Victoria; and until not very long ago (relatively) it was just lying around winking and twinkling on the ground. Or you could stick a spade in and dig some nuggets up like spuds, or sieve it out of any little rivulet that took your fancy. In 1852, a local paper carried a report which said ‘every little creek and water-course is auriferous’; yes, the place ran with rivers of gold.

 

Everywhere, there is uneven ground dug-over 150 years ago, hidden mine-shafts are a hazard. Ghostly relics of this crazed era still shape the landscape, where perhaps the only gold that now remains is the yellow of wattle blossoms in spring and the sun-burnt grasses.

One of the walks I most often do is to join the 50km rail trail at some point along its route; there, you really get a feel for the seasonal nature of this region, its rather bleak winters and bright, white summers, and the open country reminds me sometimes of the place I grew up.  But of course, the light, the trees, the tones of the landscapes can also be very different.  And this landscape is much harsher, the light harder, the natural life more fragile, more marginal, and more difficult, probably, to paint.  But the colour of gold is not hard to find, and it goes into my new works about this rural region. 

 

THE ART OF NOSTALGIA PAINTINGS

These figurative works have occupied me from when I started out as a serious painter around a decade ago, and they have proved to have deep emotional appeal to many people. They were originally inspired by aspects of my family and cultural history.

Several factors combined to inspire these works; my childhood memories and sense of nostalgia as an immigrant, my experience of personal loss, my delight in all things vintage, and an ongoing questioning about the cultural role and experience of women. 

There are recurrent motifs; the child adventuring, for example, the old holiday caravan, the funfair by the sea – a special zone for awakening childhood imagination. The core of my work, regardless of subject, has been both emotional and representational. Whether I am focusing upon an old photograph, a memory, a face, a beach, a child, a car, a caravan, a carousel or a landscape, my aim is to discover the artistic composition that will best express for me the emotional charge created by what I remember.

There are often landscape elements to my figurative work. It is important to me that any viewer can find a way in, and experience some moment of recognition or awareness as a result. These paintings do not require paragraphs of text to complete them, or make them comprehensible.

I am happy if my paintings communicate something directly, if a thoughtful response follows. I hope that what has moved me to create a work will move others too.

 

The studio will be open to visitors later in 2018.

I am currently represented by Metropolis Gallery in Geelong, this gallery holds recent coastal landscapes.

Other work is available from the studio.

 

My next exhibition will be in September 2019.  If you would like early or further information, please email me at stella.clarke@outlook.com.

 

 

 

Notes on Previous Shows

 

'Metropolis Gallery Summer Salon' and 'The Christmas Show' at Metropolis Gallery, Geelong

My artworks in these group exhibitions were seascapes (perhaps with evocative vintage elements, a child on the beach, a caravan). They were inspired by local coastal scenes, and designed to capture iconic structures (a lighthouse, a pier, sea baths) within compositions that focus upon visual drama and mood, and the evocative play of light.

'Island Moodscapes' at Gallery on Sturt, Ballarat

These small paintings were poetic interpretations of landscapes and seascapes, which are currently froming the basis for new work. They were created from memory, reverie and visual notes collected with my camera. I think of them as moodscapes, rather than simply landscapes, because their final form was filtered through an interior process. I explored natural environments that appeal to me, including explorations of Tasmania and Bruny Island (further afield than my recent Ballarat Rail Trail collection also shown at Gallery on Sturt, but for Victorians only a ferry ride away). These were expressive palette-knife paintings, with Langridge hand-made oils and wax; there is pleasure in the fluidity, sensuality and texture offered by these materials. Palette-knife painting allows for the translation of harsher elements in the Australian landscape, but also, as the knife slips across the canvas, making its own way with and through the paint, it can suggest some of the random, beautiful, and chaotic aspects of a natural environment. The energy of these places is magnetic and challenging, but I particularly enjoyed the challenge of resisting the epic urge to represent them on a wide canvas, and instead like to distil them into a series of small studies, sonnet-sized canvases.

'The Art of Nostalgia' works at The Convent Gallery, Daylesford and 'Domain of Memory' at Qdos Arts Gallery, Lorne

My 'Art of Nostalgia' paintings are figurative, human, iconic and narrative. They may have landscape elements that pull them toward romantic compositions, or they might move toward a more stylized approach Often, they are inspired by childhood, personal or cultural memories. I delve into old documents and archives of photos for inspiration. They about finding a place to get outside of the present, this time not physically but in the domain of memory. From further away, we gain, after all, a better perspective on where we are now. Where there is a vintage thematic, I try to go beyond decorative appeal to a psychological and emotional revival. Sometimes these paintings are about female experience, catching a keynote of life decades ago, when girls had fewer freedoms and were more socially constricted, and more importantly were less visible than they are today, certainly in art. So, the girl-child or hand-bag carrying housewife is commemorated in these works, given visibility, and also, in some cases, unusual freedom, whimsically projected into wild landscapes where they can travel freely, even taking flight.

Vintage depictions of female characters are also offered in juxtaposition, whether the outcome is negative or nostalgic, to our present condition. I think it surprises some people to find these figures iconized in paintings, but others, especially women, tell me they love the sense of unexpected recognition and familiarity they offer. As figures, they may also be metaphors for certain emotional states. There are expressions here of other psychologically inflected aspects of my experience; for example, I grew up with the subterranean resonances of wartime memories from my parents and grandparents. Each of us carries, of course, a psychological hinterland of mixed-up memories and images of the social crucible from we emerged more or less to be the people we become. Colour, form - good underlying drawing - and composition are a focus of my artistic enjoyment in these works, as is the pleasure of paint.

'Ocean Story' at Qdos Gallery, Lorne

Many of these works are now displayed in the Epworth Hospital Corporate Collection This group of paintings again includes both nostalgic, story elements and a group of seascape studies that respond to the uniquely beautiful but incredibly wild and dangerous coasts of Victoria. They capture the experience of being immersed in its sights and sensations, and the caravan paintings are an extension of this idea. When I put a figure in a landscape, I imagine a story. The women and their vintage caravans are playful, dream-like projections into wild corners of this windswept coast. My work imagines what it might be like to be alone and part of the silently evolving chronicle of sea and air, land and sand. They also express the need for physical freedom that all of us, but particularly women, expereince. The paintings 'retro' vibe harks back to another epoch. They evoke a 'blue-sky' space, somewhere beyond our present moment; a place either to dream or to remember.

'The Rail Trail Works' at Gallery On Sturt, Ballarat

This is a group of small studies based upon landscapes local to where I live, which are now in the collection of owned by The Epworth Hospitals group. The Rail Trail is cherished by those who know and use it, at over 50 km long, it removes you from traffic and people. The trail stretches ahead between land and open sky, through eucalypt forest, paddocks with watching cattle, kangaroos and horses, birds dipping down over dams, hawks balancing in thermals, old wooden bridges and higgledy back blocks of small 'places'. This is fairly tough country, not soft, not pretty, but with its own raw character. In summer the country is dun-coloured or bleached out against a singing, high blue sky, aching for rain. Occasionally it is cut through by charcoal swathes in the wake of grass fires. In Winter the sky lowers, a lazy wind cuts through you and the tones become muted and subtle. At all times, though, it offers silence and an austere beauty, its subtle slopes and hues closer perhaps to a Lloyd Rees painting than calling for the obvious prettiness of impressionism. Mornings and evenings, or under storm clouds, the slanting light wakes up the colours. Having grown up in wide, flat, 'Constable country' in England, in cold weather and under fleeting cloud shadows, this stern country, of all Australian landscapes I have seen, resonates interestingly against my visual expectations. It is resistant, and a challenge to tame it into paint.