Grasses 2021, oil on canvas 137.5 x 137.5cm, Lucy Culliton
Lucy Culliton paints the things that she finds beauty in and the things she hopes others will find pleasure in. Her inspiration arrives in the form of the live and inanimate beings and objects she holds dear within her country home and its garden in the Monaro district of NSW. Her bursting, character-filled country house is also home to her menagerie of pets and artistic subjects – from dogs and cats to emus, sheep, horses, chickens, rescue pigeons and even a pig.
A graduate of the National Art School in Sydney, Culliton’s career trajectory has gone from strength to strength following her major survey exhibition at Mosman Art Gallery in 2014.
Her work is held in the National Gallery of Australia, the Portrait Gallery, Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Macquarie Bank and Parliament House collections. She is also a regular exhibitor in leading public awards including the Portia Geach Memorial Award which she won in 2006 and was highly commended for in 1999. She has been a finalist many times in the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes at the Art Gallery of NSW including this year where her stunning works – ‘Self (Bogong moth jumper)’ was a finalist in the Archibald and ‘Carina’s bogong moth jumper’ in the Sulman. Last year she was also a finalist in the Archibald and the Wynn Prize with her portrait of her neighbour, sustainable farmer Charlie Maslin and her painting of Maslin’s farm.
Self (bogong moth jumper) 2021, oil on board 90x70cm
Culliton’s distinct style connects the viewer to the objects or beings she is capturing, her paintings relate closely to each other and to her lived history and ways of being – whether it be unplugged fans, old wheels, knitted coat hangers, woollen dolls’ dresses or babies’ layettes, her signature western shirts on hangers or one of the many sentient beings that live with her.
Neopolitan, CJ and Marble Cake, 95x120cm, Lucy Culliton
Unnamed sheep, oil on board, 40x40cm, Lucy Culliton
Her powerful series of ‘head and shoulders’ sheep portraits from 2016 are a standout for us not only for their portrayal of beauty, elegance and intelligence but for the way they are so lovingly centred and framed. Similarly, her chicken paintings draw on the humanness of the animal, not in that garish personification style popular with some artists but in an authentic way that radiates true animal/human connectedness. She layers her subjects with feelings – mutual respect and understandings of differences – while celebrating with human commonalities – hair and feathers, faces and necks. Culliton’s paintings celebrate with joy the beauty to be found in all perspectives, if we only took the time, as she does, to look.
Culliton is the master of the composition, something that truly sets her a part in our eyes, she says that she is influenced by Margaret Preston here in the exactness of her object and animal, human placements. She is fascinated by the negative space which she views as the place where everything else exists.
Culliton’s vases of flowers, fields of flowers and bush-scapes are equally throbbing with life and energy, as if she sees the world as one big, pulsating lifeforce of inter-connectedness. It’s what sets her apart as an artist.
Cactus, 2004, Lucy Culliton
‘Lucy Culliton is an artist imbued with the collector’s impulse to amass and record, a hunter who finds her treasures in the theatre of the everyday. Cacti, mechanical engines, antique bottles and lightbulbs have each in turn gripped her attention, leading to an intense focus on a single subject which borders on the devotional.
A realist by temperament, Culliton extracts the objective truth from her chosen forms with accuracy and precision, but never at the cost of painterly expression. Each leaf must reveal its botanical parent, each feather a particular bird. Animating the still-life genre to suit her means, Culliton’s paintings become celebrations of bounty redolent with luscious colour, intricate pattern and the powerful rhythms of repetition’ – Jan Murphy
Culliton’s life on the Australian farm and it’s accompanying rural culture has provided a rich vein of subject matter for the painter whose tributes to the bakers, knitters and breeders competing in the Royal Easter Show originally brought her work to national attention.
Originally based in Sydney and later the Blue Mountains near her family, Culliton worked for ten years as a graphic designer before making the bold move to the edge of the town of Bibbenluke in 2007, ‘only slightly nearer to the coast than it is to the snowfields in far south New South Wales.’
‘Around the house there are quite a few ‘china cabinets’, those glass-fronted free-standing cupboards invented to display treasured household items of yore, such as coffee-sets, figurines and sherry glasses…green glass bottles, knitted toys, dolls, snow domes, salt and pepper shakers, prizes from sideshows, shells. They’re not so much arranged behind the glass as crammed in, subverting the whole notion of the display cabinet.’
‘Outside the back door are pots of rampant succulents. Beside the driveway are enclosures for pigeons and other birds; on the way to the studio, a minute’s walk away past a voluble cockatoo, there are sheep, ducks and a massive pig in a commodious pen. Behind a fence are sheep and emus … Lucy Culliton may be the only artist who’s ever made series of paintings of taps, light globes, castors, cactus cuttings, padlocks and sparkplugs.’ – National Portrait Gallery
Culliton’s large scale works are currently on exhibition as part of The Big Picture Show at King Street Gallery (on until 23 Oct in Sydney) alongside Cummings, Jones, Jumaadi, Laurie, Macleod, Murphy, O’Doherty, Peart, Selwood, Tu’u, Warren, Wastell. You can check out the catalogue here.
And if you still want to hear more on this intriguing artist, we found this great episode of Culliton chatting to Namila Benson from Radio National’s Arts Show in February this year about her inspirations and philosophies, about home life at her farm and the importance of the rescue animals in her life. She also discusses the ideas and histories behind those amazing bogong moth jumper paintings which won her accolades this year. Listen here.
And last but not least, you can follow Lucy’s instagram feed here to see all the gorgeous rescue animals, gardens, Monaro landscapes and 'those' jumpers.