Category Archives: Artists

North Star artist set to shine

“It was such a relief to finally be able to devote most of my time to painting.”

ART lovers at Inverell’s town gallery noticed a vibrant new palette in two popular 2018 group shows: the colourful, highly organic work of Kate Owen.

One of her bold abstract canvases took home an Inverell Art Prize award, and another was acquired by the gallery during its contemporary exhibition. Yet despite this flush of attention it’s been a long journey back to the canvas for this North Star artist.

And now, she’s about to open her first solo exhibition at The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, as the centrepiece of the High Country Handmade Showcase.

“I have always been ‘arty’ as have my two sisters,” Kate said.

“We all created art from a young age and I did art all the way through high school, earning the art prize in my senior year in 1988.

“I went on to do fashion design at college in Sydney and work in the industry for quite a few years before opening my own business in Moree designing and making bridal gowns and special occasion clothing.”

Not long after the turn of the millennium, Kate embarked on large-scale oil paintings, but admits to putting the brushes down when she “got busy with children”.

Her creative outlet as a young mother was through running gift, homewares and café businesses at Goondiwindi.

“I have always done something with a creative bent, however, I knew one day I would get back to my art,” she said.

“Along the way I did a few workshops here and there, mostly in acrylics in order to teach myself how to use them as the practical side of me liked the fact that they dry fast and are easy to clean up!

“A few years ago I made a promise to myself that I would get back to painting when my youngest son went away to boarding school and I no longer had children at home.”

That was at the start of 2017, and ever since Kate has devoted as much time to her art as possible in order to improve and evolve her work.

“It was such a relief to finally be able to devote most of my time to painting, if only to free my mind of all the stored up ideas and express them on the canvas,” she said. 

Life of its own

When asked about her painting technique, Kate said she leaves a lot to happenstance.

“I try hard not to concern myself with the final outcome before starting, because ultimately it is the process in getting there that creates the outcome which is never apparent to me from the start,” she said.

“Some paintings have many layers beneath which gives the final work more complexity, especially when glimpses of previous layers are left.

“I also love collage, I never throw away any bit of painted paper that could just be perfect at some stage for a particular work.”

Kate admits to being inspired by French painter Henri Matisse, a master at fluid form and bold use of highly-saturated colour. She’s also long been a fan of American illustrator Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar.

“When I want to create a body of work that has a particular theme I print pictures of photos I have taken and choose images that have particularly strong shapes,” she said.

“I look at these then put them away and then go to work on the canvas with just the memory of what I’ve seen.

“This is a technique I learned from Catherine Cassidy who I greatly admire. I was lucky enough to do a workshop with her in Sydney last August.”

COLLAGE COLOUR ‘Oasis’ (detail) by Kate Owen.

A particular inspiration for Kate is Elisabeth Cummings, the multi award-winning and highly collectible Australian artist.

“Her use of colour, line, texture and scratching back creates incredibly in-depth work,” Kate said.

“She states: ‘When I get going the painting has its own life and starts demanding certain things of itself’.”

“This resonates with me completely as often I feel that the painting controls me and not the other way around.”

Kate Owen’s solo exhibition The Happenings opens at The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, at the High Country Handmade Showcase, March 3.

Feature image by Grace Cobb.

Painting herself a place in the country

“Living in the country encapsulates everything I am, if I am honest.”

ARTIST Jane Canfield has picked up a swag of awards and citations for her work capturing the light, colour and industry of Australian rural heartlands. Now, her inspiring paintings are on exhibition at two galleries in the New England region, and she’s planning to turn her gaze to this unique part of the country.

As Canfield explains, the journey only begins once she experiences a place by visiting.

“I always have to be influenced by something I’ve seen,” she says.

“Although more and more I find I catch a ‘snippet’ of something and it appears like a photo in my head.

PLEIN AIR ‘Sheds and Fences, 2016’ oil on linen.

“I am finding that I like to semi-abstract what I have seen, painted or drawn, but I hope that you can still see the landscape or the inspiration that influenced the painting.”

Widely recognised as a skillful practitioner of painting en plein air (literally, “outdoors”), NSW Central West-based Canfield is often asked to describe the process.

“Many years ago I remember reading that if you find a comfy spot, you will always find something to paint, and I have found that to be true,” she says.

“Sometimes it takes time, like walking through the landscape for a while with my backpack full of art materials, dogs running around before I start to get the feel for it.

“I often spend time in a an area, not just working but talking to people. I love meeting new people and listening to stories. I think it all informs my work.”

A creative career was inevitable for Canfield, whose father and uncles were also artists.

“Dad always wanted me to be an oil painter,” she says.

“But he was the artist in the family, so I remember at 14 confidently stating I would go into graphic design, much to Dad’s, should I say, ‘disdain’? Although he and Mum supported my choice.

“I always drew and painted, but just never thought it would be a career for me.

“It wasn’t until Dad passed away, far too young, that literally two weeks later I picked up the oils and off I went.

“There was a very strange moment as I sat in my graphic design studio, and had a canvas in front of me propped on a chair, and I thought: ‘Do I dip the brush in the linseed or the turps first?’.

“I heard my Dad’s voice tell me to ‘dip it in the turps Doobs’, which was his pet name for me. Perhaps it was the power of suggestion? Who knows?”

Grabbed by the mundane

I like urban areas that are not just pretty scenes, nothing slick. I think I turn them into my own.

Jane Canfield has painted extensively throughout the country, but her new home, an historic inn in the Central West town of Lidsdale, affords her plenty of inspiration.

“It is a coal mining area, so traditionally a little bit industrial; a little bit ratty in parts, but I like that,” she says.

CANFIELD COLOUR ‘Bright Day 2018’, gouache and pastel on paper.

“I like urban areas that are not just pretty scenes, nothing slick. I think I turn them into my own.

“I recently returned from a painting trip to Tasmania and although there are no Tasmanian works here, the work ‘Bright Day’ was definitely influenced from that trip.

“The mundane is what grabs me. Places where we live.”

Canfield recalled receiving a highly commended award at Cowra Regional Gallery for an early work she saw as “just an urban painting”.

“But the judge picked up on what really does concern me: the urban ‘creep’, the lack of planning and how we have stepped backwards as far as architecture is concerned, allowing developers to just push up these horrible ‘cheek-by-jowl’ monstrosities with no concern for airflow, light, gardens, and space!

“But it’s all about the mighty dollar. We used to have innovative architecture. Now to use designers or architects seems to be an elitist thing. We are turning into a ‘cookie cutter’ mentality. It saddens me.”

Canfield’s energetic brushstrokes speak of her battle to preserve this urban/rural divide.

“Living in the country encapsulates everything I am, if I am honest,” she says.

“As a kid, being the only child of an artist, we lived in mainly rural areas. I could entertain myself, go off to the creek, walking, riding my bike or spending time with friends.”

Canfield admits that part of what draws her to the country is affordability, but it’s also about “the little things, that is what I love”.

“I often just go and stare into space. If you saw me you may think I’m just goofing off. But it’s thinking time, listening to the birds, the wind in the trees.

“As I write, sitting in my 1850s sandstone Cobb & Co inn, the sun is setting, the temperature is dropping just a tad. I can hear the ravens and the blowflies. The light is amazing. I feel the history,” she says.

“Really, I don’t know how or why people want to live in the cities.”

Jane Canfield’s exhibition ‘Place’ is showing at The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, until February 28. Works are available to purchase online. She also has work at Walcha Gallery of Art.

PLEIN JANE ‘Winter Trees #9, 2018’ oil and charcoal on board.

The new age of Iron

A Writer on the dawn of Lithgow’s Ironfest .

THIS year marks the sixteenth anniversary of a unique festival in the Central Western NSW town of Lithgow – Ironfest – the brainchild of a couple who escaped the city of Sydney for life on the other side of the Blue Mountains.

Their story was published in the April-May 2010 edition of Blue Mountains Life magazine (Vintage Press).

LIFE OF IRON Ali and Macgregor Ross, co-founders of Ironfest.
LIFE OF IRON Alison Lynes and Macgregor Ross, co-founders of Ironfest.

Iron Founders

Macgregor Ross and Alison Lynes’ life of Ironfest

Macgregor Ross and Alison Lynes nearly cancelled the first Ironfest in 2000.

“I’m not a fatalist,” Mac asserts, “but there was something about it which was meant to be”.

“I’d spent a few years gathering a database of metal artists I’d met on the festival circuit, we’d named the date and Ali designed our logo, but exhibitors were very reluctant to come over the Mountains. One by one they all cancelled.

“Then a local said: ‘You’ve been talking about this for years, why don’t you just do it?’ I don’t know if it was synchronicity, but the next day people started agreeing to come along and join in.”

Ali shows me what that first event entailed, in a converted shop-cum-home on the main street of Lithgow, where she, Mac and their daughters live and work.

“We created a gallery circuit,” she explains, “with two shops, the walkways down the sides and both back gardens full of art,” she adds.

“On a truck in the back lane there was a band called The Mull Pigs, with the audience sitting of roofs in all directions. There was one fire twirler, and a local blacksmith.”

Even before Ironfest, metal played a part in Mac’s life. While working for the federal police, he took a bullet on the job.

“I was looking for a way out of that career anyway, but the injury created an eight-year hole in my life.”

“One of the best things about Ironfest is there’s no crappy food and no rides, but the kids still love it.”

His path to recovery took his thoughts back to a 1982 trip to Mexico, where he was first inspired by the art of metal. By the time he’d met Ali and had some direction in his life, it was the precious metal gold which became his pass to the Central Western town of Lithgow.

“With what I had left from the compensation payout for my injury, I purchased one gold bar,” Mac says. “The bank manager was not that keen on our idea of buying an old shop to live and work in,” he remembers. “We had limited assets, and Ali’s business books from her shop in Newtown, but I had the gold bar in a paper bag and just pulled it out…”

Bank loan approved, the chance to head west allowed this couple to reinvent themselves. Like many artists, Ali (who works in glass and draws), and Mac (a metal artist) struggle with deriving an income from their creative work. Ironfest was a way to turn that around, for themselves and others.

From an initial attendance of around 400 people ten years ago, numbers at the 2009 Ironfest soared to an estimated 10,000. This expansion is the result of constant vigilance about the couple’s creative vision and their ownership of the Ironfest brand (the event is run under the auspices of Ironfest Inc – a registered, incorporated not-for-profit association). Such growth also created a few waves in the Lithgow scene.

Lithgow has a long history in the metal industries, something which inspired Mac when he found out, almost by accident, that this town at the western foot of the Blue Mountains was the birthplace of the steel industry in Australia.

KNIGHT SCHOOL The Ironfest crowds thrill to the sound of mock fighting.
KNIGHT SCHOOL The Ironfest crowds thrill to the sound of mock fighting.

The centenary of Lithgow’s metal roots happened to be around April 24, 2000. In the same way Federation in 1901 gave Australia a symbolic separation from its British roots, the ability to produce its own steel for the production of high-grade weapons gave the new nation a form of industrial independence. Finding the historical reference was “like finding a gold nugget,” Mac says.

Key to the first year’s success was the pitching of the story of Lithgow’s metal heritage to ABC radio, which provided great coverage.

“Now we have news clips about the festival sent to us from Al-Jazeera television,” Ali laughs. “We can’t understand a word they say, except ‘Ironfest’.”

Ironfest was always going to attract those interested in weaponry, and over the years it’s become a celebration of the art of combat, from the Australian Napoleonic Association to the jousting tournaments brought to the festival by Rod and Michelle Walker.

From one blacksmith in 2000, they’re now expecting seventeen exhibitors of this ancient art.

Mac and Ali have faced many challenges to the longevity of Ironfest, including perceptions about town that they are millionaires. Ali clarifies their position on this: “Artists are very often expected to create their work for free,” she says, “but we set up Ironfest so that artists could generate income. We offer a chance for people to contribute something creative which they’re good at, even if they make fifty bucks”.

“It’s a portable event,” Mac adds, explaining how Ironfest has relocated to other venues and now has a home at Lithgow Showground, and may well go further afield in the future.

The two are quick to explain how executive and production committees of supportive locals were borne of the willing voluntary crews the event attracted right from the start.

“You cannot rely on the goodwill of volunteers forever,” Mac adds. “We rely on people investing their time and energy, and we try to match that with a way to earn money from Ironfest too.”

When asked how co-producing a major event impacts on their relationship, Ali says: “Usually at Ironfest time we’re like ships passing in the night”. With two girls, there is a family unit to keep running, and both Rosa and Maya are proud of the family festival.

Rosa likes to relate that ‘Ironfest’ was the first word she ever spoke, and Maya has often used Ironfest updates as her class news at school.

“One of the best things about Ironfest is there’s no crappy food and no rides, but the kids still love it,” Ali says.

Some of the old-fashioned thrills the event provides for the young and the young-at-heart include beheading re-enactments and ‘Knight School’ for would-be pages who get to mock fight with foam weapons.

A graduate of the UK’s Winchester School of Art, Ali also runs a popular local boutique called Rock Star, in addition to her glass art and attending art lessons.

Mac’s not afraid of admitting that his creative practice has suffered a bit due to Ironfest, but it’s been a great way to exhibit and sell metal art he’s had sitting around in their iron-dotted town garden.

Between the shop and home, and the steel shipping container which is the Ironfest office, there’s a collection of Mac’s art, which seamlessly melds into the garden itself, from beautifully wrought garden chairs to delicate iron and plant fusions.

“I do as much of my art as I can, but I think I have found my life’s work in Ironfest,” he reflects.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.