Category Archives: Artists

The greening of Deepwater Country

“Artists sometimes whisper to one another about the new palette that emerges when the rains stay away”

I TEND to blend into the landscape wherever I am living. The hues of the Blue Mountains were wrought on my vision for three decades, and I lived on Moreton Bay long enough for its marine palette to become second nature; but I was born in the New England, this vast cluster of upland valleys known as ‘tablelands’ after the plateaus and mesas that rise in their midst.

The Blue Mountains are draped with scrub and fern. Moreton Bay might be at sea level, but its islands are the leftover pinnacles of ridges and peaks that once rose above river valleys, their crowns layered with red earth and sand. The New England’s surface is blanketed with remnant wood- and grass-lands, now tucked in by pastures as varied as patchwork quilts.

DELUNGRA DAZE: The head of the driveway where I waited for the school bus

My first view from our settler’s homestead was of the distant chalky-blue hills running north from Bingara to Warialda, sometimes lit like rich strips of indigo against the gold of crops. The shapes of these tree-studded hills, mottled with dusty greens, came leaping out of me in a series of works I executed within months of returning to live in the Deepwater region in 2017.

The green ridges of Tenterfield, stooped under mist, became a theme in early 2018. By the time I was throwing paint around on canvas regularly, some of the high country around Glen Innes had started to brown off. We assumed it was the usual wintering of grass crisped by frosts, but when the spring rain drizzled instead of pelted, the ‘D-word’ crept into conversation.

It is harsh, there’s no arguing with the reality, but even drought doesn’t dampen the creative spirit. Artists sometimes whisper to one another about the new palette that emerges when the rains stay away… the pinks, yellows and apricots keep the landscape alive while the crops and cattle fail.

It’s not something to crow about, but as my brush kept at it though 2018, I noticed how the perennial blue of the sky started to offset land gilded by drought. 

The result was a small collection of works that told the story of local woman Ada Bezzant, who drowned herself in the Deepwater River in 1927.

The Choices of Ada Bezzant

Her reasons seemed as clear as Virginia Woolf’s, to me: a decade of loss that started with a young son blown apart on the Western Front, and ended with an ailing husband dead in faraway Newcastle.

Ada and her family ran a sawmill further along the road that still bears their name, situated just metres from the river she chose to end her life in.

CHOICES: ‘Ada and the Dam’ (oil on canvas by Michael Burge, 2018. Private collection)

Creating art about suicide encouraged me to make works of sufficient beauty that the pain of loss runs seamlessly into the landscape, so it was gratifying when a judge at the 2018 Frost Over Barraba Art Show commented in his notes that awarded ‘Ada and the Dam’ a painting prize, that the bittersweet feeling of loss and regret shone through.

DROUGHT: ‘Drowning Without Water’ (oil on canvas by Michael Burge, 2018. Private collection)

‘Drowning Without Water’ is the work that told me I was capturing the colours of a parched landscape. Perhaps that’s why I wanted to express the presence of water in the title and the blatant droplets of paint? Here is Ada, her clothes rightly just out of style for 1927, walking to an unseen river.

I spent a year thinking of her, even found her grave off to the to the side at Deepwater’s cemetery. I understand the challenges of country living, how they can wreak havoc on families when death makes its inevitable call. With apologies to Ada’s surviving relatives, some of whom we have met since moving here, I borrowed her tale for a while for this series of ‘New England Gothic’.

Creative Juices

By 2019 even my brushed dried up… bushfires are hardly inspiring, and adrenalin drains creative juices almost completely.

GREENING: ‘Torrington Plateau from Deepwater’ (pastel on paper by Michael Burge, 2020)

Almost… when the green tinge returned I could barely contain my desire to capture it, and a series of works emerged with greens so impossible that no-one would believe such bright hues, captured not with liquid paint but dirt-dry chalk pastels.

The drought is not over for everyone, but the rains have stayed for us, and the Deepwater River is flowing again. I saw the plain of Dundee so water-soaked the pools reflected rays of light. I saw hillsides with verdant green at their feet, while the seed heads of the grasslands tinged the sloped with a new dry gold. I saw weather where for so long there had really been nothing but dry skies. I saw change that seemed like it was never going to come again.

GOLD: ‘Hill above Yoongan Creek, Deepwater’ (oil on canvas by Michael Burge, 2020)

The Deepwater Country collection bleeds from greens and greys, to a fool’s gold, and then back to a surreal burst of colour that I’ve heard some locals confess to being desperate for. I know I was.

Deepwater Country runs until the end of August at The Makers Shed.

Sculptural Story of Shadows and Silence

THE recent installation of a major work of public art at a junction of the New England and Gwydir Highways through Glen Innes has generated plenty of community queries about the title of the sculpture and the inspiration behind it. Arts North West talked with its Walcha-based creator James Rogers to dig deeper.

“This is no signpost or billboard. No voice cheers it on other than the harsh glare of our daily cycle, weeks and months at a time as the light of the sun and seasons’ angle shapes our moments at the crossroads.”

What we found was an artist thinking about the long-term experience of his work in the context of its setting: not just the centrepiece of a roundabout in a major traffic corridor, but one that sits within an upland valley of the NSW Northern Tablelands.

“‘Blue Hills’ is an abstract, painted steel construction composed of 52 hand-cut, long, curved strips of steel and accompanied bridging elements,” James explained. “The strips are cut from 600-millimetre dia tube. This character of element is something I have been working with in the studio for some years.”

Despite its apparent simplicity, according to James ‘Blue Hills’ took on its own life during its creation.

“I composed the work over five months in Walcha, accumulating groups of the steel slivers into loose-leaning bunches that connect at the foot and the top, into a generally circular form,” he said.

“As work proceeded, lyrical elements were added to accommodate structural considerations and activate the ridge of the sculpture, maintaining a dialog from top to base and back to the ridge of the listing, arrhythmic drapes.

METAL MAN: Sculptor James Rogers working on “Blue Hills” in his Walcha studio (photo by: Caroline Downer, Arts North West)

“The density compounds across the space as the structure circulates. Steel is endlessly plastic and further welding and cutting kept the process alive.

“I work alone and with a small forklift as my assistant. I felt very close in answering the sculpture’s physical demands as the work unfolded.”

Patterns and distance 

Quirindi-born James Rogers is a regular Sculpture By The Sea exhibitor who studied the art form at the former Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education before living, working and regularly exhibiting in Sydney. His public commissions include ‘Song Cycle’ (2001) at Walcha, another sinuous metallic work situated inside a roundabout.

It’s clear that James spent time gauging how ‘Blue Hills’ would appear from road level in a moving vehicle.

“I see the work as a composition of long shadows,” he said. “The tonality of distance is blue and the silence of the Tablelands, so blue; but on closer experience the blue is itself a composition of forms, an interplay across a space of light and shadow, of form and void”.

“Further familiarity may reveal counterpoints of rhythm that invoke pattern, but it all moves on, the blue still unfolding as a memory of looking forward, around a roundabout and indicating some choices made.

“The sculpture is a distillation of nature’s space with a detached countenance that asks us to look into the silence in the shadows.”

No signpost

According to James, who relocated to live, work and exhibit at Walcha in 2009, his work must speak for itself over time.

“Now that ‘Blue Hills’ is installed, and all the barracking and raspberries blended over, the sculpture gets on with its job, mute and silent,” he said.

“No plaque will speak for it adequately if the eye is not enticed. This is no signpost or billboard. No voice cheers it on other than the harsh glare of our daily cycle, weeks and months at a time as the light of the sun and seasons’ angle shapes our moments at the crossroads.

“Whether north, south, east or west, it is a drivers’ and passengers’ exchange. It is all first-timers and learners, fresh-faced and old hands that negotiate an evaluation of delight at their transport through the intersection. No two arrivals will be the same from foggy dawn to day’s end.

“A successful work of art, I think, induces silence, while in our core we suspend disbelief, and the eye’s curiosity moves ahead of what might be daily and commonplace utterance.”

This article was first published by Arts North West. Main image by Carol Sparks.

Handmade for the holidays

“People should never be shy of signing up for a workshop and having a go.”

LEARNING A NEW creative skill can be a big step for busy people, so there’s no better time than the holidays to make a plan to attend a workshop; and Glen Innes at the heart of the NSW New England region is the destination for handmade.

STONE SETTING Precision work on a pendant.

Resident silversmith at The Makers Shed, Richard Moon has been teaching metalworking and jewellery-making techniques for four years, and runs regular full or half-day courses for beginners and those with a few skills at the Glen Innes venue.

“I thoroughly enjoy helping people realise their visions in jewellery form,” he says. “It’s always a reminder of how I started out. Attending a two-day ring-making workshop in 2007 really set me on my course to becoming a full-time silversmith”.

“It really is possible to design and make a piece of jewellery in just one day,” he says. “We have all the equipment here at The Makers Shed, and if you want to bring a friend or two along, we have six silversmithing benches ready for your workshop. I’m here to ensure everyone goes home with a unique handmade experience under their belt, and a special piece to wear or give as a gift. You’ll sleep well that night, because even though the process doesn’t take up much space, it’s extremely challenging on the mind!”

CUTTING EDGE Printmaker Nadia Kliendanze finds inspiration in the everyday.

Also giving an upcoming workshop at The Makers Shed is Inverell’s award-winning printmaker Nadia Kliendanze, whose exhibition ‘Printed Matter Only’ is showing throughout the summer.

“I love to teach printmaking and linoprinting in particular, which is my favourite print medium,” Nadia says. “Beginners usually catch on fairly quickly. Those that already have an artistic practice of some sort create their own original linoprints, however, I have a selection of images that complete beginners can use. After all, it’s about learning the process, not learning to draw”.

“I undertook a Diploma of Fine Arts at my local TAFE and discovered printmaking,” she says. “I was initially attracted to the media because of its graphic nature and also the fact that it was an easy way to share my artworks with lots of people at a reasonable cost”.

PRINTED MATTER ONLY St Stephen’s Green, linoprint by Nadia Kliendanze.

“Later on when I undertook a visual arts degree and a masters in printmaking at Monash University I continued to work more intensely in that medium.”

Nadia’s exhibition encompasses botanical motifs, iconic destinations in Australia and Europe and often references well-known prints from the past, such as Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave’, but she also turns her attentions to the everyday.

“Sometimes I create a print out of something I have seen on my morning walk,” she says.

HANDMADE HEAVEN Ceramicist Anita Stewart is a member of Glen Innes Pottery Club.

Glen Innes-based ceramicist and potter Anita Stewart regularly has work on show at The Makers Shed, and is gearing up to share her skills over the summer at the Glen Innes Pottery Club, situated like the Shed on Grey Street, the town’s main drag.

“Discovering clay for me was like a fish taking to water,” she says. “I studied Fine Arts in Western Australia for three years. Like many artists, I had been practicing before I actually decided to do formal training. At Fremantle Tech I did units in painting design and drawing, then in 1995 I travelled to the New England region and discovered the wonderful ceramics courses run by Max Powell at the Glen Innes TAFE”.

“The inspiration to create a new body of work usually comes when working on new forms at the wheel. For instance, the last federal election inspired my ‘message in a bottle’ series. Using the surface of the pot as a canvas I add multiple layers to create an image that speaks. The New England Landscape has also given me great inspiration for my work.”

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE Ceramic vases by Anita Stewart.

According to Anita, the Glen Innes Pottery Club was established about 30 years ago, and has remained a vibrant part of the community. “Lots of well-known potters have been a part of the club,” she says.

Winner of multiple awards for her ceramics, Anita laughs when asked to define what it takes to be a practicing artist, adding that “stamina, determination and absolute passion” are essentials for anyone wanting to make a long-term career of creativity; although she believes people should never be shy of signing up for a workshop and having a go.

“It’s really nice teaching people how to work with clay because it’s a very tactile medium and they usually seem really pleased when they’ve created a functional and colourful work of art,” she says. “The wheel can be a bit more of a challenge, but they are overjoyed when they manage to throw a pot on the wheel.”

A complete range of handmade work by artisans from across the New England region is always available at The Makers Shed, and a regular schedule of creative workshops.

www.themakersshed.org