While 2020 was a difficult year for Australia’s creatives in general, particularly performing artists and arts producers, our visual artists just kept thriving and expressing, social isolation not such an issue for them. And while exhibition launches did get cancelled, with time on our hands and confined to home, many of us embraced exploring and buying art online – a positive step towards all of us being able to afford and own a piece of Australian art, and in turn, support our local artists.
We wrote about so many brilliant Australian talents in 2020 – new and emerging, mid-career and settled in, all of them shining so brightly. Here we highlight a selection of our favourites from the year, as reviewed in our weekly ‘Notes from the Shedquarters’ by our resident arts writer, Jennine Primmer.
Edan L Azzopardi for his conservational spirit
Azzopardi’s latest series of paintings showcased Australian birds in all their colourful and shapely glory from the monochromatic Australian White Ibis to the colourful Eastern Rosella. We also loved that 10% of every artwork sold was/is donated to Bush Heritage Australia and Bird Life Victoria.
‘The aim of my bird paintings is to build awareness and put the spotlight on some of the more vulnerable Australian bird species.’
Azzopardi’s birds celebrate hope, diversity and the conservation of beauty while capturing both strength and a complicated simplicity that really cuts through. We love the pared down style with their graphic, deconstructed patterns and geometries harmonising within organic shapes. The final works manage to capture the essence of this fascinating species with a sense of humour and authenticity. He researches his bird’s behaviours and matches the colours exactly to what exists in nature.
‘I find through playful placement and artistic exaggeration I can get the birds to fill the entire page comfortably. It’s not until the bird paintings are grouped together that the array of colours really start to be the main focus. I love the way that colours that should not work together in a single artwork look amazing when you put all the bird paintings together. I guess this is what happens in nature.’
Bird watching at it’s core is about celebrating and conserving, through taking a moment in time to truly look and discover – the more we look the more we see and the more we cherish. It all layers through the value we place on nature and our place within it.
Nicholas Blowers for his haunting still-scapes
A finalist in 2020’s Wynne Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW with his work Savage entropy in Paynes grey, Blowers layered oils are dark and sensorial, evocative and just so damn moving.
Originally from the UK and now living and working in Tasmania, Blowers’ captures of stillness are quietly mesmerising. The nightly, dusky colours and stark compositions are photographic in their intricacies yet imbued with so much life, light, dark secrets and whispering histories.
‘There is a busy, chaotic feel to my work; a world of debris and clutter that one often finds in the Australian landscape. I have always liked certain subjects because of their unruliness and anarchic structural elements. My interest is in form, texture, pattern and the connectedness of things. Where each thing – a branch, a twig, a clod of mud – has its own presence and is distinct’.
Blowers paintings bathe us in the beauty and the strangeness of the Tasmanian bush-scape. His gnarly, root bound trees and meditative waterways are gentle and evocative, poignantly revealing to us their tales and murmurs, glimpsing us a moment in time, beneath the surface of our wild Australia.
Alison Percy for her gentle touch
Alison Percy lives close to the Murray River in the NSW/Victorian border town of Albury, she is captivated by mark making and the fluidity and gesture of line. Her energetic and passionate nature reflects across her landscape, figurative and floral works.
With a background in graphic design, interior design and calligraphy, Alison’s eye for detail and heartfelt connection to nature sees her now focus solely on her painting and drawing practice, seduced by the beauty she finds in the places and spaces she lives.
Alison’s beautiful layered works captured us last year, especially the gentle landscape works with their watery, illuminated colours, the bush felt as if through sunlit and half-closed eyes.
Her whimsical snow gums and mountain ash sinews whisper ‘look deeper’ while her densely rendered bushland scenes hide the mysterious secrets and nurturing stories of lost trails and leaf-strewn pathways.
Alison’s iridescent palette bathes us in silvery greys, gumnut greens and cloudy pinks, reflecting back their misty tales and the remembered scents of the Australian bush, weathered and deeply felt.
Adam Pyett for his reverence for trees
Pyett’s gorgeous suite of works exhibited at Jan Murphy Gallery in Sept/October 2020 took the concept of landscape painting to a higher place with colour exploration, allegory, memory and the emotions associated with memory taking precedence over realism.
His collection of majestic trees encountered all over Australia, feel like a love letter from the artist to ecology with colour, emotion and nature intertwined. Pyett layers through a subtle capture of sunlight, shadow and the surrounding skies, creating painterly and deeply human connections.
In this body of work I have concentrated on making landscape paintings where the painting is more important than the landscape. In a painting the sky need not be blue and the leaves of a tree need not be green. The relationship between colours in a painting is the most important thing.
Working outside in the landscape, Pyett draws without colour and then works on his paintings back at his studio, adding a conjured palette that expresses his relationship with the tree and his memory of the feelings and connections experienced in it’s presence. With a nod to the traditional strokes of Streeton and even some Pre-Raphaelite whimsy, the final paintings are so incredibly beautiful, spiritual in their sensitivity and heavenly textured surfaces.
John Bokor for his nonchalant interiors
We were super excited when John Bokor’s exhibition Inner World hit King Street Gallery, Darlinghurst, late last year. King Street has such a shining stable of top notches including our other super fave, Idris Murphy.
We’ve been following John’s career for many years now, he’s a hard-working award winning artist with several prizes under his belt and held in several important suites including the Art Gallery of NSW’s permanent collection.
An accomplished Plein Air artist, John finds his focus now on sumptuously crafted still-lifes and iridescent, invitingly lived-in interiors.
Bokor’s masterful style, honed through many years of practice, practice and more practice sees him at mid career with a solid reputation as a collectable artist and, well, just so much painterly talent.
He has honed his unique style authentically, layered upon a strong drawing practice and a deft style that smudges through languid lines, building and echoing a visual lived history of airbrushed strokes and buttery layers.
With colours that buzz in their modernity, contrasting against interiors that feel vaguely traditional yet haphazard in their allure, the final works are so confident in their gestural lines and perfected patches of mapping, hue and light. His exhibition made us want to lounge amongst those painterly sofas, take tea at that dishevelled table. Bokor’s seductive colours build and settle, radiate and rest.
I also like to show all aspects of the work, from the early drawing stage to something that’s finished. I want people to see the hand in it.
It’s a rare talent and perspective which Bokor intersperses with funny winks to his audience like the ‘spray n wipe’ dispenser next to a half drunk bottle of red, all beautifully rendered within the most luscious of still life compositions.
Eva Nolan for her science meets art synergies
Eva Nolan is an emerging, Sydney-based artist and recent graduate of UNSW Art & Design. Her research and arts practice examines ‘the contemporary relevance of biological taxonomies in our understanding of multispecies relationships….’ ~ Eva Nolan
Nolan's intricate and ‘speculative’ ecosystems for her exhibition at the Olsen Annex in November last year were created in the round ‘beneath a magnifying lens, entwining a plethora of diverse species teeming with life’.
Her delicate graphite drawings on paper offer ‘a contemporary reimagining of biological illustration’, questioning and imagining the relationships between species and the complex connections within eco systems and all living things.
Uniquely, she chooses to layer and compose various species (flora and fauna) holistically bringing together in a modern and unexpected expression. She turns the tradition of sterility observed in scientific and botanical studies on its head, keeping the nostalgia and charm of her homage, while creating absolutely stunning, gentle works.
Emily Imeson for her painterly exuberance
Born in Orange, NSW in the early 90s, Imeson is a true Plein Air artist with the Aussie bush in her veins, she melds her painting and landscape exploration in to one driving force, ‘celebrating and preserving the ancient connection between humanity and the land.’*
Her evocative palette of deep purples, luminescent greens and Aussie bush hues compliment her textural line work with just a hint of the theatrical.
She won the Macquarie Group Emerging Art Prize last year and was Create NSW’s Young Regional Arts Scholarship recipient in 2018.
Having spent the past few years as a perpetual nomad, passing through some of Australia’s most iconic landscapes, Emily can speak with authority on the therapeutic benefits of being engulfed by nature. For Imeson, it is fundamental to her wellbeing – living in a 4WD and working from a camp studio where canvases are routinely supported by tree branches instead of easels, providing calm and perspective amongst life’s dramas.*
Stylistic influences from Australian landscape artists like Idris Murphy, Elizabeth Cummings and even Arthur Boyd are hinted at but Emily’s confident style feels defiantly fresh, bold and positively exuberant. Her connection to the Australian bush is true and authentic and we are predicting big things for this young artist on a mission!
Imeson says “I find the immediacy of painting from life and the distortion resulting from processes of remembering, to be an interesting way to articulate human experience.”
She was recently selected for The Outback Way, Australia’s Longest Shortcut Billboard’ exhibition (her work is on show near Hartz Range N.T) in an ‘Artback’ project supported by The Australian Government.
*words by Carrie McCarthy, 2020
Image via Saint Cloche Gallery
Tracey Deep for her creative alchemy
If you’re like us and obsessed with nature and environmental art, you will love the delicate and whimsy of Sydney-based sculptor and installation artist, Tracey Deep. Even her name is poetic.
Saint Cloche Gallery in Paddington describes her as a ‘creative adventurer and biology enthusiast’.
Deep worships at the alter of nature, reimagining natural objects collected from the coastal shores of far North Queensland, Western Australia and beyond. Her mediums range from sea sponges to burnt tree willow and palm fronds, coral to driftwood.
Using a range of materials often found in ephemeral sculpture, Deep somehow harnesses the beauty of the natural object, capturing a transcendent moment in time, through delicate reconstruction, texture play, repetition and patterning. Deep’s ‘living sculptures’ can be found in the National Gallery, Victoria and Macquarie Bank collections and as Deep herself puts it #mothernatureismymuse.
Robert Malherbe for his refined practice
Malherbe has been a favourite artist of ours for such a long time, something about the sculptural sumptuousness of his languid nudes. He basically just knocks most everyone else out of the ball park, painterly-speaking, and his 2020 exhibition in Berlin via Michael Reid Gallery was no exception.
Malherbe first exhibited in London in the late nineties and has staged solo exhibitions since 2003. Based now in the Blue Mountains, he received an early-career survey exhibition at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in 2016 and has been a regular finalist in most major art prizes.
His angular landscapes feel just as connected to humanity as his nudes do, and in fact the colour palettes barely shift between his human and scenic themes. His confident, gestural strokes and impasto marks are so spontaneously brave in their application, you feel as if you can walk amongst the oceans, skies and plant life, smelling, touching, longing. Just exquisite.
Sue Smalkowski for her magical captures
South Coast artist, Sue Smalkowski captured our hearts with her beautifully evocative paintings and drawings, celebrations of the natural world and in particular the Australian desert and the Illawarra coastline and escarpment.
Smalkowski’s lyrical paintings expand the viewer’s relationship with the landscape in unexpected and positively joyous ways. Her obvious emotional connection to the land is mesmerising, drawing on her luminous and unexpected palette of golds, pinks, deep fuchsias and kookaburra greys, colours that evoke Australia’s flora and fauna and make our hearts sing.
Richard Lewer for his authentic connections
Based in Melbourne, Richard Lewer exhibits regularly in Australia and New Zealand and is known for his video and animation, paintings, and delicately beautiful drawings, which evocatively rework some of life’s less pleasant elements.
Lewer’s charcoal drawings are remarkable in their depth and layered feeling, they are dense and character-driven (whether human, animal or landscape), telling stories, often about resilience after loss. He is an artist who takes the time to know his subjects. He visits and immerses himself in communities that have been affected by adversity (East Gippsland in the case of his winning drawing for last year’s Paul Guest Prize). He then thoughtfully and empathetically draws or paints these stories from the inside out.
Lewer positions himself as a journalist of sorts with a large part of his artistic process involved in connecting with, and talking to, people in their places and spaces. He says he does this ‘to better understand a point of view, a community’s reaction or just to make better sense of the world around.’
As an artist and contemporary social realist with a distinct style, he gets to the heart of the human experience, drawing or painting through a connected and emotive narrative.
‘His work explores the way that places can become repositories for the psychic residue of extreme events, painful activities or our deepest fears.’
~ Sullivan & Trumph