In 1997 our family moved from cosmopolitan Sydney to the mining town of Kalgoorlie (population 30,000) in inland Western Australia. Nine and a half months later we moved on from Kalgoorlie to Perth – where we still live. I was happy to find myself in the city of Perth, however two major moves within 12 months resulted in a wicked dose of transplant shock. All my art ideas dried up. I was floating in Art Purgatory. While flailing around searching for a lifeline, I took up watercolours and simply went outside to paint – en plein air. No cameras, no grids, no tracing; just the tools of own eyes and hands.
Here are a few watercolours from that period. I see them as transitional works spanning the time when I was suffering from visual artist’s version of “writer’s block”. It was necessary to return to direct observation of surroundings; rather like going back to basics.
“View from Pier Street” was painted while I was perched on a concrete step at the bottom of an East Fremantle street. Beyond where I sat was Riverside Drive, Swan river and the banks of North Fremantle on the far shore. I didn’t use watercolours in a classical way as I’ve never learned to use watercolour properly. Instead I was sort of drawing with paint.
“Fremantle-on-Canning” was painted from my parked car while Lucy was at kindergarten. The good thing about using watercolours this way was that I could complete a painting in one session of 60 to 90 minutes. I didn’t have the luxury of time to muck around.
“Albany Morning” was painted while we were on holiday in a town about five hours drive south of Perth. Albany is a quaint port town and has a slightly New Zealand feel about it. I got up early to paint while the rest of the family slept. It was a still, cold, frosty autumn morning.
“Beyond Pier Street” was a view from an upstairs window of our house looking over the port of Fremantle. This was a line-and-watercolour sketch using coloured pencils in conjunction with watercolours.
I painted the Nelson watercolour while holidaying in New Zealand. A policeman insisted I move my car while I was painting the first version of this watercolour. He said I was parked facing the wrong direction and, “You wouldn’t park that way in your own country [Australia] so why think you can do it over here?!” I couldn’t speak my mind back because I didn’t want to be given a parking fine. After he ‘cautioned’ me, I repositioned the car and started again. Some resident must have thought I was ‘casing the joint’ and called the police. Danger: Artist at Work.
On that same holiday I painted beside disused railway tracks at a place called Paekakariki, north of Wellington. It was a bit creepy working among the derelict carriages. Train ghosts!
I found my watercolours to be rather hit and miss affairs; more to the point, they were more often miss than hit. But at least they got me looking at the world again so they were an essential part of the art journey. Through their use I worked my way out of Art Purgatory. Later in 1999 I returned to my oils with a fresh sense of purpose. In 2001 I found my way back to coloured pencils. I eventually gave away all my oil paints but I still have my watercolour set – just in case I stumble back into the wilderness again.
When all else fails – the lifeline out of the void is practising what you learned in Art 101: Observe and draw.
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