The Artist and the Art

Upcoming Exhibition

 

'New Coastal Works', Metropolis Gallery, Geelong, 4th January to the 29th

 

This collection of paintings explores the dynamic colours, forms, patterns and textures of the places where the ocean meets the shore. The works 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, inspired by the understated beauty of ‘micro’ habitats of coastal heath, of growing things in a harsh, maritime environment, with their captivating visual rhythms and natural hues. Immersion in this oceanic meeting point can mean that there is no horizon; on the other hand, foreground detail may extend toward luminous skies and cloudscapes. 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.

 

Current Work

I paint landscapes in oils, always with high quality materials, always with passion, and the utmost thought and care. I have exhibited in metropolitan and regional galleries in Victoria. I work from a studio in Ballarat, a lovely old city with easy access to inspirational landscape, down to the Bellarine, the Great Ocean Road, and across the Bass Strait to Tasmania.

My landscapes are inspired by loved and much-visited locations in coastal and inland Victoria and Tasmania.  They are generally studio compositions, rather than plein air, painted and composed as an invitation to contemplation, and release from your present moment. 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 are reconnections with the natural world, increasingly of psychological and emotional importance to all of us. They may be inspired by a particular place, but they also carry an interior impulse, a thought, a feeling, a longing, a 'nature fix'.  

There are recurrent themes, coastal spaces, for example, and 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.  The ability to look and listen, even to discover this kind of silence, is ever rarer and more valuable in our jangling, wired present.

Many of the works are loosely inspired by the actual island environments of Tasmania.  Sometimes, the manner is stylized, moving toward the romantic and baroque, lyrical and poetic interpretations of these environments. 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 also an encounter with that liminal space, the continent's edge, the interface of vast sea and ocean exanses with mutating shorelines. 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.

Some are 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 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. Howeverm 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 aim to create works of elemental energy and consoling tranquility.

My paintings propose a harmonious relationship with the natural world, though this may be accompanied by an elegiac note. My art begins with observation, but has a dream-like edge. I seek 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. Immersion in the closest foreground rolls out to the seductions of a horizon 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. 

 

Autobiographical Note

Wherever I have lived, I have sought out and remembered the most arresting and beautiful aspects of the place. It has always been important to me to have easy access to the natural world. After moving to Australia, I enjoyed the landscapes of WA, the experience of living on large acreage on the NSW tablelands, by the Bay in Melbourne with easy access to the Mornington Peninsula, and now in Ballarat, surrounded by the unique beauty of Victorian country, and the Great Ocean Road, as well as having easy access to captivating Tasmania, just across the Bass Strait.  It has been my great privilege in life to have encountered such a sequence of wonderful visual dramas, and this has been important in my development as an artist.  My current work is taking me in the direction of a strong focus upon landscape; whilst loving the natural environments around me, I have consistently been aware of their fragility and transience, as they are consumed by the relentless encroachment which results from human need and desire.  This situation tends to lend a new depth and urgency to the role of the landscape artist.

Over the years, my life has turned out to be far from linear, it has been a fascinating garden of forking paths. My working life has moved, at various stages, through lecturing at universities, writing as a freelance critic, gallery work and, throughout all this, practicing as an artist, which has become my focus over the last decade. During this time I have also had a very busy family life, raising three daughters.  There has been a nomadic element to my life, which I have enjoyed, being curious about the world, challenged by encountering new environments, and fascinated by diverse cultures and landscapes.  After living in various places in the UK, growing up in East Anglia, studying and teaching in the Midlands, the Cotswolds and the West Country, living and travelling in Europe, I immigrated from the UK to Australia; here, my life has moved interstate several times, from Perth in WA, to Armidale in NSW, to Canberra, to Melbourne, and most recently to old, gold, and cold, Ballarat.

Art has always been of great importance in my life, and studies. After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts (University of Warwick, First Class Joint Honours), a year in Florence attending Florence University and art classes where I could, and travelling around when possible, I completed my post-graduate studies in the UK (Masters and Doctoral degrees).  I taught literature, philosophy and cultural theory at universities in the UK, and on moving to Australia I continued to teach arts and humanities subjects.  I also wrote regularly, for many years, for the national press, before I started devoting more time to painting.  I gained gallery representation, with good sales and recognition building over time. Since then I have been exhibiting and selling in galleries around Melbourne and Victoria.  In my work, I have explored themes that focus upon both cultural memory and the experience of landscape.

 

Solo and Themed Exhibitions:

2018 'New Coastal works', at Metropolis Gallery, Geelong (forthcoming January 4th - 29th) 

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  Artist of the Month, 'Ocean Story' at Qdos Arts Gallery in Lorne (forthcoming, July)

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, Brighton, Melbourne.

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

2012 ‘Vintage Funfair: Small Works’, at APTE, 538 Heidelberg Road, Alphington, Melbourne.

2011 ‘Bayside Reflections’ at Suburban312 Gallery, Brighton, Melbourne.

2010 ‘Shorelight’ at Suburban312 Gallery, Brighton, Melbourne.

2010 ‘Bay Dreaming’ at Suburban312 Gallery, Brighton, 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, 1 - 30 June

2017 'January Summer Salon' at Metropolis Gallery, Geelong

2016 Christmas Show at Metropolis Gallery, Geelong

2016 'The Lost Ones' Gallery, Ballarat, Synergy Art Auction, March 19th

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 Sandringham Yacht Club 

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.

2009 Castleman Galleries, Black Rock, Melbourne

 

Gallery Representation:

Metropolis Gallery, Geelong

       http://www.metropolisgallery.com.au/artists/stella_clarke/index.htm

 

Galleries temporarily holding consigned pieces:

Convent Gallery, Daylesford

     http://conventgallery.com.au/exhibitions/stella-clarke/

Tusk gallery, Camberwell

         https://tuskgallery.com.au/artist/stella-c/

   

Past exhibitions: 

Gallery on Sturt, Ballarat

Qdos Gallery, Lorne

Pantechnicon Gallery, Daylesford (now closed)     

Surburban 312 Gallery (now closed)

Manyung Gallery, Mornington Peninsula

Without Pier Gallery, Cheltenham

 

Collections and Awards:

2017 Special Merit Award, 'Patterns' Exhibition, Light, Space and Time Online Gallery 

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

Beaumaris Primary School, Melbourne.

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

 

Related Activities

2017 April-May assistant curator (inc. 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 at ACU, Ballarat

2014 Art prize judge in Haddon, Victoria

Donations of work to charities, and fundraising activities, including for the Heart Foundation, Anglican Church fundraisers for the homeless, and the Royal Neurosurgeons Foundation.

 

Education:

Bachelor of Arts Joint Honours First Class, Warwick University, UK (including one year at University of Florence)

Master of Arts, Warwick University UK

PhD, Warwick University UK

 

Media:

Interview on Mornings with Gavin McGrath, ABC Radio Ballarat, September 2016

'Stella Clarke at Qdos', Surf Coast Times, July 2016

Channel 9, 'Postcards', May 2016

'Waves of Creativity' in The Geelong Advertiser July 9 2016

Social media coverage in fine art and design blogs (see Facebook page for details https://www.facebook.com/StellaRClarke/).

Law Institute of Victoria Journal, 'Portrait of a Legal Life' May 2015

Art NationABC, Feature Article, 2010

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

 

Previous Work

 

The 'Art of Nostalgia' series:

These figurative works have occupied me from when I started out as a painter around a decade ago, and they have been popular. They were orginally inspired by aspects of my family and cultural history. Several factors combined to inspired 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.  Most of these works are sold, a few key pieces remain.  I may return to these in future.

There are recurrent motifs in these works; the child adventuring, for example, the old holiday caravan. The core of my work, regardless of subject, has often been both emotional and representational.  Whether I am focusing upon an old photograph, a memory, a face, a sea, a beach, a child, a machine, or a landscape, my aim is to discover the artistic composition that will best express for me the visual or emotional charge created by what I see or remember. There are often landscape elements to my figurative or narrative work, and figurative elements in my landscape work that give rise to a story elements, so there is ongoing cross-over. 

It is important to me that any viewer of my works can find a way in, and experience some moment of recognition or enhanced awareness as a result.  They do not require long paragraphs of text to complete them, or make them comprehensible.  I am happy if my paintings communicate something directly, if a profound personal or thoughtful response follows. I hope that what has moved me to create a work will move others too. There is always an emotional key that opens the aspect of reality that I have chosen to represent.  I try to paint in a way that creates visual drama, challenge, stimulation, or beauty.

 

Notes on Earlier Exhibitions:

'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

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 style and design. 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.