The Artist and the Art

 

STELLA CLARKE

(BA Hons., MA, PhD)

mobile: 0475521501

email: stella.clarke@outlook.com

Stella is a British-Australian artist, with a studio in Haddon, just outside Ballarat in regional Victoria.  She was born in East Anglia, in the UK., but has lived in Australia for many years. She has moved around a lot, living in different areas of the UK and Australia, but has really come to rest now amongst the trees, the quiet, and the birdsong of this bush block. It is an inspiring place to create, to see the year turn, through chilled and misty winter, bright wattle time, and into the blue and gold of summer days. You see gum trees through every window, catching the glow of late afternoon light, or glistening after rain, and there is always the company of wildlife. Stella feels very lucky to have been able to make this studio gallery space here, where she can welcome visitors and share my work.

Stella doesn't have to go far (lucky with these lockdowns) to find a pocket of the landscape in which to immerse herself, to exercise her senses, to notice all the intricacies of the sights and sounds around her. When she experiences this complex tapestry of interconnected things, she often thinks of Henry Thoreau's words, 'man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to leave alone', and wishes we could all afford to leave more of nature alone to recover and thrive; but in the meantime, she makes as little impact as she can while she walks quietly amongst it, observes it, and tries to record her impressions in paint,

She takes photographic, plein air or written notes, which she later uses as a basis for composition and interpretation in the studio. She works in oils or acrylics on canvas, or with charcoal and graphite on paper. Her canvases cover a range of sizes from small up to two metres wide. She has developed a distinctive style, which exhibits harmonious tonality, lively expression and dynamic composition. Her aim is to create visually stimulating and emotionally resonant works, which are a homage to the beauty and atmosphere of places she loves.

For Stella, landscape painting now is not a simple matter, when the fragility our natural environments is a matter for concern, and when so much is constantly disappearing in the relentless push of urban development.  Her hope is that her paintings can be a reminder of why we need to sustain connection to that realm, and not lose it. 

 

THE LANDSCAPES

Stella's landscapes are inspired by locations in coastal and inland Victoria and Tasmania. Quite often, it is not a particular place that is the real subject of the work, but some aspect of it, the light, the wildflowers, the rocks, the way the grasses are blown by the wind or the reeds are bent by running water.  The paintings 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; the colours of the sea or sky, the view at a cliff edge, the reflections in the water of a dam or the shores of a lake.  Stella attempts, in her paintings, to take us into beauty, nature and silence. The artworks embody an interior impulse, a thought, a feeling, a longing. Stella tries to create works elemental energy and consoling tranquility.

Each painting begins with looking. That act of quiet, close observation is a meditative act which pauses the business of the world, and feeds into the painting as it emerges. The work proceeds through forms of documentation, photos, sketches, and visual notes. The scenes Stella paints involve a strong representational motivation, in deference to the places that have inspired them, because the artist wishes 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 also personal, abstract, expressive, imaginative and ornamental elements too.

By exploring the concept of landscape in poetic ways, Stella invites the spectator to experience nature in all its emotional resonance, sensual dimensions and visual drama, combining the sublime with the mundane, the wider view with the immediacy of plants, leaves and twigs that you move through as you walk. The closest foreground can roll out to horizons of luminous skies and cloudscapes. The works may 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, Shore

Recent works include a focus upon coastal zones. Some of these works were exhibited at Metropolis Gallery in Geelong, and a collection is held at Blue Stone Cottage Gallery. Stella explores 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 natural energy and beauty to be found on our coast.

The idea of the 'island', with its connotations of remoteness and wilderness, is a recurrent theme. These works conjure the sense of silence, but for the sound of wind through rocks and heath, waves breaking on pebbles and sand. Crossing the unpredictable waters of the Bass Strait to reach the dramatic, brooding coastlines of Tasmania, Bruny Island and King Island has become a central part of Stella's art. Stella's coastal paintings are also inspired by the unique beauty of the wild, land's-edge environment along our Great Ocean Road. These coastal works are encounters with that liminal space, the continent's edge, that dramatic interface of vast sea and ocean expanses with its constantly mutating shorelines. 

Water and Gold: Bush Landscapes

These inland works arise from the position of Stella's artspace, on acreage in Haddon in central Victoria, the old goldfields region or the Golden Plains Shire, just outside the fast-growing regional city of Ballarat. Blue Stone Cottage Studio is surrounded by beautiful gardens and bushland, which are a profound inspiration. Stella walks out under the region's big skies, along its tracks, through its bushland and fragrant eucalypts whenever possible. The changes in this distinctive landscape, after spring rain, throught bright summer and into the lowering skies of autumn, all offer inspiration. It can also be a harsh landscape, with a fragile ecology. Like much of Australia, it endures drought, flood and bushfires; but its beauty, its golden grasses, rich bird-life, teeming wildlife, and tracts of bushland are fascinating.

The history of the area is remarkable, both human and geological. 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 low hills in every direction. There is no town there now, no stations, and no railway. Just a very long track, the  Ballarat-Skipton Rail Trail, winding out through forests and paddocks, enticing walkers and cyclists both under hot sun or in chill winds. Blue Stone Cottage Studio is in an area once called ‘Kelly's Rush', and evidence of old diggings are right outside the studio. Though the darkness can seem absolute there, so thick you can touch it, the stars can be exceptionally bright.  Stars, of course, had a lot to do with the fact that there was a vast pot of gold at this rainbow’s end, it was exploding stars that made that gold. 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 the shiny stuff. There are enough precious metals in the earth’s core to cover it’s entire surface with a four-metre thick layer. Some of that 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 even 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, but perhaps the only gold that now remains is the yellow of wattle blossoms in spring and the sun-burnt grasses.  The colour of gold is never hard to find, and it goes into Stella's current landscapes which which are based upon this rural region. 

The Art of Nostalgia: Slow Living

This series developed when Stella began work as a painter around a decade ago, and they have had deep emotional appeal to many people. They were originally inspired by aspects of family and cultural history. Several factors combined to inspire these works; childhood memories, a sense of nostalgia as an immigrant, an experience of personal loss, a 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 starting point might have been an old photograph, a memory, a face, a beach, a child, a car, a caravan, a carousel or a landscape.  There are often landscape elements to this figurative work, but the 'Art of Nostalgia' paintings are mainly figurative, human, iconic and narrative. 

Now, the glance backward to the lifestyles of our parents and grandparents has renewed relevance. We realize that the pace of life for many of us, the rate at which we are consuming the earth's resources, the relative comfort and affluence of our lifestyle in Australia has come at a price. There are costs to our physical and psychological health, there are costs to the natural environment. Increasingly, there is reason to take some inspiration from simpler ways of life, with less stuff, less pressure, and a lighter footprint. 

Exhibitions: 

2021 Art Gallery of Ballarat, Back Space Gallery, 'Nature Works', a joint exhibition upcoming, postponed from May 2020 due to the pandemic.

2021 Art Trax, Beaufort: Hidden Gems Artist Studios group show

2021 Smythesdale Art Fiesta, VIC

2020 Arts Trail Studio Gallery Exhibition, postponed from March to spring 2020 due to the pandemic.

2020 Bullarto Gallery Bushfire Benefit; co-curator with artist Phillip Edards, and exhibitor, mixed show, raised $10 000 for Wildlife Victoria.

2020 Summer Salon Metropolis Gallery Geelong

202 Graphic Impressions/Tusk Gallery, selected works Melbourne

2019 Christmas Show, Metropolis Gallery, Geelong

2019 Smythesdale Arts Fiesta Art Exhibition

2019 'Water and Gold: New Works' at The Convent Gallery, Daylesford.

2019 Small Works Art Prize at Brunswick Street Gallery, Melbourne

2019 'Coastal' at The Keeper's Gallery, Smithton Road, Ocean Grove April 18th - June 18th.

2019 Arts Trail 2019, Golden Plains Community of artists

2019 'Water and Gold' and 'Nostalgia: The Figure in the Landscape', two collections exhibiting at Blue Stone Cottage Gallery

2019 Golden Plains Community Arts Trail Open Studio at Blue Stone Cottage May 4th and 5th, 10am - 5pm

2019 'On the Bass Strait: New Coastal Works', solo/feature exhibition at Metropolis Gallery, Geelong

2018 'Fields of Gold' selected landscape works, The Convent Gallery, Daylesford.

2018 'New Coastal Works I', solo/feature exhibition at Metropolis Gallery, Geelong

2017 Flanagan Art Prize

2017 Metropolis Gallery, Summer Salon

2017 Metropolis gallery, Stock Room Show

2017 Camberwell Art Show

2017 Albert Park College Art Prize

2016 Metropolis Gallery, Christmas Show

2016 'Island Moodscapes', series exhibition at Gallery on Sturt, Ballarat

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

2016 'The Art of Nostalgia' featured collection at The Convent Gallery, Daylesford

2016 'Ocean Story' solo/feature exhibition at Qdos Arts Gallery, Lorne

2015 Albert Park College Art Exhibition, Melbourne

2015 The Flanagan Art Prize

2015 Camberwell Art Show, Melbourne

2015 Puhoi Art Exhibition, New Zealand

2015 'Summers in the South' solo/feature exhibition at Qdos Gallery, Lorne

2014 'Domain of Memory' solo/feature exhibition at Qdos Gallery, Lorne

2013 ‘To See the Summer Sky is Poetry’ solo/feature exhibition at Suburban312 Gallery, 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

2012 ‘Vintage Funfair by the Sea’ solo/feature exhibition at Suburban312 Gallery, Melbourne

2012 ‘Vintage Funfair: Small Works’, solo exhibition at APTE, Alphington, 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

2011 ‘Bayside Reflections’ solo/feature exhibition at Suburban312 Gallery, Melbourne

2010 ‘Shorelight’ solo/feature exhibition at Suburban312 Gallery, Melbourne

2010 ‘Bay Dreaming’ solo/feature exhibition at Suburban312 Gallery, Melbourne

2010 Art Sydney

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

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.

 

Further Information:

2020 Arts Council of Australia Grant

Collections:

Epworth Hospitals, Geelong

Ballarat Clarendon College

Sir Zelman Cowan Centre Collection, Melbourne Victoria University Art Collection

Pinarc Disability Services

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

Art-related activities:

2017 Assistant curator and marketer, exhibition of works by Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Jamie Boyd, at Gallery on Sturt

2016-2017 Gallery assistant, 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 in the humanities, lecturing in UK and Australia

Contributions are regularly made by the artist to bodies such as the Heart Foundation, the Anglican Church (fundraisers for the homeless), the Royal Neurosurgeons Foundation, the Jesuit Refugee Services (the JSS and the JM), Newman College, the University of Melbourne, and Pinarc Disability Support in Ballarat.

Education:

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

1984-1985 University of Florence

1988 Master of Arts, Warwick University UK

1992 PhD, Warwick University UK

Media:

2020 'Looking to the Natural Landscape for Inspiration', the Times News Group

2018 '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.

 

Biographical notes by the artist:

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.

During my years as an academic in the arts, studying and teaching aspects of art history and theory, and modern art movements, was part of my focus. Perceptions of landscape, and the place of the individual within it, are highly significant within the literary genre of the novel, from its early beginnings to contemporary writing, and literature was also central to my teaching and critical writing for publication.

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, and 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.