Arts-Matter, a Sydney based cultural programming platform, recently hosted an evening at The Australian Galleries to celebrate the opening of renowned landscape painter Belynda Henry’s new solo show “To Paint is to Love.”
Susan Armstrong, the co-founder of Arts-Matter, began the evening by speaking to guests about Henry’s fascination with Australian landscape and her prolific 20-year career – having been selected as a finalist for the Wynne prize, the Archibald prize, and the Paddington Art Prize on numerous occasions.
Belynda’s latest exhibition is a personal and emotive response to the beauty, resilience and vulnerability of our Australian landscape. Working en plein air around Sydney Harbour and from her studio lodged within the landscape, this exhibition includes her largest and most unrestrained paintings to date.
The show also features the sounds of recorded bird calls from around the artist’s studio as well as a suspended sculptural installation by floral artist Tracey Deep. Guests were treated to an intimate demonstration of Tracey’s practice as she created an on the spot floral sculpture that highlighted her unique skills, affinity with nature, and distinct creative sensibilities.
Following a private tour of new works, Belynda and her longtime gallerist Stuart Purves sat down for and intimate conversation about the artist’s life and career, moderated by Arts-Matter co-founder Michelle Grey.
Post event, the programming platform connected with Belynda Henry and Tracey Deep for a follow up interview about the show, their creative process, and the role of artists in today’s troubling times.
Arts-Matter: Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of your latest show?
Belynda Henry: The idea for the exhibition was born from a conversation with a creative partner and the writer for my upcoming book, “To Paint Is to Love.” It was suggested as a parallel to Henry Miller’s book, “To Paint Is to Love Again.” It is something that is going on for me at the moment on a deeply personal level. Miller wrote, “to paint is to love again, live again, see again.” I feel like I’m seeing my work and path into more abstract work in a new light. And of course, I have always loved to paint.
A-M: As New York art critic Nixon Marters said, "An abstracted landscape is a metaphor for the artist’s emotional landscape, not the physical one,” tell us about how this statement relates to you and your practice.
BH: This statement resonates with me especially upon reflection of this past year. Am I painting the landscape? Or am I looking past that? Yes, we can take a photo or look at the scenery or vista and think what a beautiful landscape that is. But after painting it for over 20 years, you need to think beyond that. Painting is meditative and so important for me as another universe or space to transport or disappear off into. It can be healing or confronting. I have realised when I do go into the trance like act of painting, when you are really in the moment, it is not actually the landscape I am painting, at times it can be an emotional outpouring of dreams or fears. Abstract painting, we all know comes from the subconscious mind.
A-M: Landscape painting is very much ruled by the patriarch, can you tell us a bit about being a woman in a field traditionally dominated by men?
BH: Traditionally, yes. But now more than ever this is changing, and it is a wonderful feeling to see this unfolding. There have been many artist couples throughout art history – Francoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock, Valerie Strong and John Olsen – where all of these women were
equally as talented if not more than their partners, yet at times all of them sacrificed their own art making for their husbands. Thankfully we are living in a time where women have begun to create their own space. Looking back only fifty years ago in any art history book, it was completely male dominated, especially in Australia. However, times are starting to change, and I’m excited and honoured to continue pushing boundaries for female artists, both established and emerging.
A-M: Tracey, can you tell us a bit about your practice of being a floral sculptor?
Tracey Deep: My practice as a floral sculptor evolved from working with Australian flora and all things to do with “mother Earth,” with an emphasis on natures textures, patterns, and tones, through an intense pursuit of playfulness. I create works for commissions, launches, and collection – over the last few decades my art practice has evolved into sculpture and installation art. I explore the use of found objects, industrial materials, and fibres, while working towards making more sustainable art, and transforming materials into organic forms and connecting my works back to mother nature.
A-M: Can you tell us about some of the social issues that are reflected in your work?
TD: My work has been one of many voices for unearthing all the devastation humanity has caused on our natural environment. My heart speaks through my work and translates the devastation through storytelling in 3-dimensional form with the use of found objects, organic material and industrial refuse. My most recent exhibition “Ancient Forest” was a crying out for human beings to open their eyes to the devastation of our ancient forests, and an awakening to the importance of saving our forests for future humanity.
A-M: During these troubled times, what do you think is the role of the artist?
TD: I think the role of the artist is to constantly be story telling through our own mediums to make a visual statement of world issues that impact on our everyday lives. It’s a way of connecting people to issues of the heart, to make the world a better place for us all, and for future generations.
“To Paint is to Love” is on view at The Australian Galleries until Dec 23rd.