Judy and visual art

From my earliest years, I was constantly drawing – most often, human faces. My school exercise books are full of portraits of the children around me and of the hapless teachers.

I most often drew with whatever I had for the lesson – lead pencil, or dip-in pen. At home I drew members of my family and church with coloured pencils, or with a fine-point dip-in pen in Indian ink. The Sun-Herald Junior published many of my drawings and poems, from the age of 10 to 16, paying me a guinea or ten shillings for each! In 5th year high school (when I was 16), several of my portraits were published in The Torch, the annual school magazine of Hornsby Girls’ High School. I listened avidly to the Argonauts Club, the ABC Children’s Hour (daily on the wireless), but until I turned 16 I didn’t have the gall to send them anything of my own. And then for the last frantic year of my childhood, I sent them paintings every week, amassing countless Purple Certificates, and being chosen as one of the illustrators in their annual children’s story book (The Gold Smugglers 1961).

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Miss Simpson (French) 1957

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Dad 1958

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published in Sun Herald Junior 1956 and 1959

At Hornsby High, a selective high school, most girls studied Latin. Art was on the same line, which I thought was most unfair. I loved Latin, and kept on coming top in it, but once I realized that coming top would exclude me for ever from studying Art, I began working very hard at failing Latin. By 3rd year I managed, and was allowed to move into Art for 4th and 5th years. And so my last two years at school were full of my two most favourite pursuits – singing and painting. I wanted to study art after finishing school, but my parents and the school’s careers adviser joined forces in forbidding me to consider such folly, and I was duly packed off to university to study languages. (As I had not spent my childhood learning to play a musical instrument, studying music at a tertiary level was never an option).

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Mr Colman, English lecturer, University of NSW 1962

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Betty Arnold, Sydney University Pro Musica Society 1962

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Micheal Sweeney, Gordon Public School practice teaching 1963

In 1962, when I was in Arts I, Sydney University held a painting competition for students. I was aware of the poverty of many migrant families living in the inner Sydney slums, and I painted two poor Italian children sitting in the gutter. However, that exhibition, mostly full of what I saw as ugly and nihilistic daubs, incomprehensible to me at that time, frightened me off from the possibility that my realistic brand of painting was ever likely to be wanted by the world – so I stopped painting, and threw myself into singing.

My family moved to Canberra at the end of 1962.

Canberra at that time was a very sleepy country town, apart from a few embassies and a very small university. (No lake, no national library or art gallery or museum or school of music…..) My university notebooks and Anglo-Saxon text books from this time are richly decorated with portraits of fellow students and lecturers. And I began to draw portraits at fetes for money. I also began using oil paints in earnest. I was commissioned to paint a formal portrait of a fellow student who happened to  belong to an important diplomatic family. I’m afraid my leftist scorn of the pretentions of high society won over my need to earn money, and I painted out the almost finished portrait of a girl my age wearing long gloves standing against the regal staircase in their home. But paintings were a good present for 21st birthdays and weddings…..I have a large collection of portraits of my singing friends from this time, mostly members of SCUNA.

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mum, in my father's bookshop in the new Monaro Mall, Civic 1963

I was often asked to create posters for various performances around town.

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Susie Hough, Choir of St. Paul's, Manuka 1963

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Colin Matheson, performing as Bastien in SCUNA's Bastien and Bastienne, 1963

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In 1966 I returned to Sydney to study for a Diploma of Education (not available in Canberra in those days). Luckily for me, Sydney Teachers’ College had a marvellous gentleman called Stephen Flack in charge of the art department. Unluckily for me, I was supposed to be studying Librarianship, as Anglo-Saxon was considered useless for teaching, but I absented myself from those tedious classes and spent all year painting in Mr Flack’s art room, running a student choir I started, and making music in the Sydney University Music Department (with Peter Maxwell Davies, Peter Sculthorpe, Winsome Evans et al).  Of course I failed my Dip Ed, but I learnt a lot about music, and my paintings were published in the Teachers’ College magazine. (By this time my paintings were becoming decidedly Expressionist!)

From 1967 – 1971 I taught in private schools in Canberra – initially languages, shifting to music in 1969 (Girls’ Grammar). During these years I began to compose in earnest, and my visual art life took a back seat – other than illustrating Bindi, a children’s book written by my father under the pseudonym V.L. Lawrence – portraits in pen and ink wash )and my Compleat Chorister (scraperboard), and designing costumes for Canberra Opera and my Canberra Children’s Choir.

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William Herbert, world-famous tenor, now teaching singing at the new Canberra School of Music, from 1966

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Johnny Aitchison, organist, Canberra Children's Choir accompanist 1968

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Howard Munro, Canberra Children's Choir 1969

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illustrations for my father's novella Bindi 1969

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cottage on the Manar property near Braidwood (for Canberra Children's Choir retreats) 1970

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scraperboard cover for The Compleat Chorister, for the Canberra Children's Choir 1971

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scraperboard illustration for The Compleat Chorister.

Click here for another illustration from The Compleat Chorister

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costume designs for The Feaste of Christemas 1971

I was by now playing bassoon in the Canberra Youth Orchestra and the Amateur Sinfonia of Canberra.

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Colin Russell-Jones, horn in Amateur Sinfonia of Canberra 1969

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Chris Burrell, conductor of SCUNA 1968-1971, bass in University Consort

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record of SCUNA performances 1971

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Donald Hollier, head of Academic Studies at the Canberra School of Music, who composed the opera In Dulci Jubilo for the Canberra Children's Choir 1970

From 1972 – 1974 I lived in Hobart.  I had to leave Canberra for various complicated reasons – and I chose Hobart because of its physical beauty (I was a keen bushwalker).  Larry Sitsky, with whom I had been studying composition, told me it would be musical suicide – and he was right! So I abandoned the Conservatorium in favour of studying art full time on a scholarship at the College of Advanced Education. This was a most satisfying time! I loved every minute of it!  Unfortunately, my scholarship was revoked when it was discovered that I had a degree – and then I had to mind children and clean houses after art classes in order to pay the fees as well as live, and I found it impossible. (My narcolepsy was beginning to ruin my life – undiagnosed at that point). So I left art school and lived off portrait painting (in oils) for a term or so. However, the only people wanting to pay for oil portraits tended to be rich families wanting carefully posed studies of daughters in their best velvet dresses – whereas I wanted to paint poverty-stricken old people with interesting faces, and working people, or at least people doing interesting things. So by late 1972 I was back into school teaching  - but this time, at Sacred Heart College in New Town, teaching music and art and French from K to 12!  The nuns were marvellous – they gave me a hall for high school art classes, where I pinned up huge swathes of paper, and bought paint which, when hurled at the wall, created very satisfying dribbles which could be manipulated and transformed. The girls loved it!  I also bought leather working tools, and had girls of all ages tapping industriously all over the school grounds. I started an Art Club (as well as a French cooking club!) in my flat over the road, and I illustrated a couple of magazines.  (I also conducted the university choir, and formed my own choir).

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Adam and Eve, oil painting 1972

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paid illustrations for brochure for Hobart Intervarsity choristers

By the end of 1974 I was back in Canberra. Jessica had decided in September that it was time for her to enter the world – and marital bliss having eluded me, I felt obliged to return to Canberra where Jess would have a grandmother and cousins nearby. At the beginning of 1976 we moved to a small community past Tharwa, Caloola Farm. Here I learnt to create rugs to my own designs, drew in conté pictures of milking and shearing (one of which was bought by the College of Advanced Education, now the University of Canberra), and made beautifully intricate leather belts – all of these things were sold in our weekend shop in the old wool shed. I began work on a huge circular horizon piece – I sat on the roof of our little cottage, and drew the hills around us. Then I cut a huge piece of wood into a circle, and began applying impasto to make a bas-relief of the hills. However, being a single parent of a toddler makes such work almost impossible – and the wood, with its hills, was ruined in the great Caloola Flood (along with my Teachers’ College oil paintings). Decades later (about 2007) I discovered the sketches, and created a mini-version in water colour of the circular piece I had had in mind – and gave it to the adult Jess for her birthday!).

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Jess, born September 1974

In about 1977 I was approached by Albert music publishers, who wanted to publish my Compleat Chorister. They wanted a new scraperboard cover not reflecting the Canberra Children's Choir. It took me months to get this done (being the single parent of a toddler, living in the bush with no transport, intermittent electricity and intermittent water, made it less than the daily top priority!). By the time I finally submitted it, the editor who had wanted it, had died, and so the publication did not happen. 30

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Caloola Farm, Top Naas, via Tharwa, the community where Jess and I lived from 1975-1979

In early 1978 I went to an ASME summer school (Australian Society for Music Education), where the main speaker was a Hungarian, telling us about the Kodaly method of music education.  This was so inspiring that as soon as possible I and 4-year-old Jess moved back to Canberra, where I got back into a life of frenetic music performing and teaching, and organized scholarships to study in Hungary. In 1979 I was commissioned to illustrate a small book, Going to Church in the First Century, for which I produced about ten large and intricate scraper-board illustrations. This book has been reprinted many times. In 1980 I put together five volumes of my compositions, arrangements and favourite choral pieces under the general title So Good A Thing; also under this title I held a fund-raising concert for my study in Hungary. By late 1980 I found myself, seven-year-old Jess in tow, studying at the Kodaly institute in Kecskemét, Hungary. Once again my note books are full of sketches of students conducting or singing. My portrait painting skills proved very useful over the European summer – I earned my keep quite easily during the long three month break through daily portrait sketching in England and Switzerland (spending a day under lock and key in Basel because I hadn’t obtained a licence!)

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scraperboard illustrations for Robert Banks' Going to Church in the First Century 1980

 

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scraperboard cover for five volumes of collected choral music

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Sabine (later Kuhn), Basel, Switzerland 1982

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Yuko Nomura in conducting class, Kodály Institute,
Kecskemét, Hungary 1982

Back in Canberra in 1983 with my Diploma of Music Education, it was by now clear to me that I needed to spend my energy in the creation of music. I was bursting to use my newly-acquired understanding of the path to music literacy for young children through unaccompanied singing using relative sol-fa, but no primary school in Canberra wanted such a thing taught. I began to earn substantial sums from composition, and my group Gaudeamus, which I formed at this time, soon developed performers for whom I composed a great deal. So for most of the eleven years during which I composed and directed choral and music theatre performances with Gaudeamus, my visual art skills were used only in the creation of posters, stage sets and costumes.

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One of my happiest memories from those years is the time in 1989 when I was the Creative Arts Fellow at the ANU, and was given the run of the workshop at the back of the ANU Arts Centre – where I sat alone for hours each day, painting a huge 4 metre in diameter adaptation of a Hildegard of Bingen mandala, as the set for my new music theatre work Terra Beata – Terra Infirma. This ended up being a collaborative painting - Gaudeamus members assisted once I had mapped it out. Another collaborative venture was the Lyons bus shelter - Gaudeamus students helped me paint both the walls as shown and the ceiling (dog angels) to my design. We won an ACT bus shelter competition - and this shelter remained unvandalised for years.

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click on image to see the completed mandala

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I had for some years been nursing the hope that when Jess finally left home, I would go back to art school  - but lo and behold! Just as Jess was reaching the point of independence, I fell in love with a mother of four young children, and to help her fulfill her dreams, I urged her to go to art school! And the more I vicariously observed Brenda’s progress through art school, the more I lost my nerve in relation to my own visual art understandings, or the lack thereof.

 

Brenda became a woven tapestry artist. Here she is sitting in front of her tapestry Many Mansions (water colour 2009)

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The necessity to earn enough to support seven people forced me back into full-time school teaching – but not, luckily, in a state school, where my musical loves would not have matched expectations, but in a Steiner school in South Australia. My discovery of Steiner education is one of the most delightful things to have come from that period of difficulty. At last I had discovered a school system whose fundamental premise matched my long-held belief that music, especially singing, is a gateway to the opening of the soul, and must be given to all children. So while my visual art self foundered, my music education self found a huge new need which I took great delight in trying to meet. In 1991 I had been commissioned by Orana Steiner School in Canberra to create a book of songs for use in Steiner Schools - this led to the creation of two books: "Songs of the Tree of Life": volume 1 "The Early Years" (1998) and volume 2 "The Middle Years" (1996). I painted the cover for volume 2 in water colour; the smaller volume 1 has a pencil drawing of the same tree.

Full-time school teaching is impossible for me because of narcolepsy, so I very quickly give up the impossible task, and lived once again on a mixture of part-time school teaching, Voicebox Youth Opera, composition and conducting. It was at this point (mid 90’s) that I began to travel to Steiner schools in other parts of Australia, especially rural Australia, where music teachers with my sort of devotion to accuracy and a certain aesthetic are rarely found at all, let alone in Steiner schools (which are often seen as bastions of hippy fluff!) And also at this point I began to paint mandalas, and to run mandala-painting workshops. I was also pursuing an interest I had had since my Sacred Heart days of the relationship between design and mathematics. I began to paint works based on the Fibonacci series, and on the Golden Mean – and I remembered lectures I had attended in Hungary where I had learned that Bartok’s compositions are based on these principles.

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Fibonacci trees

In 1994, in Adelaide, I founded Voicebox Youth Opera, which continued in South Australia until 1998 and flourished in Canberra from 1997 - 2002. This group, helped by funding from the Australia Council, as well as the South Australian and ACT arts bodies, was the vehicle for several extravaganzas in which I was able to endulge my love of things visual. Several of the music theatre works I had written earlier in Canberra I was able to present more fully, as well as several new works, designing and making ellaborate costumes and sets, and also directing the entire staging of each production. I had more freedom in designing and directing shows in South Australia - the ACT arts bodies had often castigated me for straying from my musical box, and depriving ACT designers and theatre people of their rightful jobs. In South Australia no-one seemed to mind that I loved doing all of it, so I had a ball! I also enjoyed some rare moments of exploring the natural beauties of South Australia and recording my impressions in water colour.

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gigantic chess board painted for the floor of the theatre in which A Pawn in the Game was performed with 32 actors as chess pieces 1995

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watercolour of petrified tree forms in sand at the Coorong, South Australia 1996

In 1997, back in Canberra, I wrote a piece of music theatre called Adam’s Rib?, exploring the attitudes of men towards women over the centuries. As a backdrop I painted a huge travesty of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam – God became a large black Momma, flanked by friendly dog - angels, and Adam a small white female with red hair (click here to see the backdrop). In 1998 I put on a musical version of C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, for which I and an army of eager helpers created scores of large 2-D trees based on the stylized mediaeval Mozarabic tree which I have been fond of since I discovered it in 1971 (it figured in my oil painting of Adam and Eve, 1972, in my scraperboard in The Compleat Chorister, 1972, in the huge tree I made for A Canticle of Light in 1976; it became the stylized G which I used as the logo for my performance group Gaudeamus).  In The Magicians Nephew, one of the most beautiful, transcendent moments of my life was when in a dress rehearsal in the Street Theatre, I left the orchestra to their own devices, and sat up in the lighting box, watching the lighting person achieve what I had hoped for for the Garden of Life. To the unearthly beauty of David Cassat’s music (he, Liam Waterford and I shared the composition), the host of trees, smaller and larger,  painted in a wide variety of beautiful, unreal colour combinations, moved slowly around the stage, while the lighting shifted from back lighting (the trees being silhouetted against subtle changes of colour on the white scrim) to full light on the trees, heightening their colours, while the rest of the stage was plunged into gloom. It’s moments like that that you are glad you are alive.

Another group, Imagine Music Theatre, which I founded in 1994, and which continues today, has provided me with the opportunity to explore music theatre ideas in a workshop setting with young people during the school holidays. One of those workshops, dealing with the notion of utopia, gave rise to a visual idea which I really enjoyed carrying out. I took Esher's drawing of caterpillar-like automatons crawling randomly up and down architectural impossibilities, and by substituting people for the caterpillars, created a frightening nihilistic world. I made this drawing large (about 3.5 metres square) consisting of scores of small sections which fitted together like a jigsaw. The young people helped me paint a huge mandala depicting natural beauty, peace and plenty. We stuck the Esher-like drawing over the mandala - and then, after their dramatised presentation of a portion of Orwell's Animal Farm, the actors voiced tentative hopes for discovering meaning in life - and as each one spoke, s/he removed a small portion of the black and white nihilistic picture, revealing a little of the beauty beneath it, until finally the Esher-like image had been entirely removed, and the beautiful mandala was revealed in all its glory.

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Voicebox Youth Opera's final performance was The Grandfather Clock (based on the novel by Anthony Hill) in 2002. I had, in 1999, on a Churchill Fellowship to research music theatre, spent a summer studying set design in England, and had made scale models of what I hoped would be possible as set components for The Grandfather Clock. In the event, lack of production funding made all of this impossible. I did manage to create a dancing skeleton through the use of fluorescent tape on the Timekeeper's suit; the movement of wheels we created through dance (the dancers holding wheels of various sizes).

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wished-for large, complex set for The Grandfather Clock as designed in 1999.

Click here to see The Garden of Dreams from the 2002 performance, showing the multitude of stylised trees which I designed and which were painted by the actors

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the Timekeeper with his scythe, in the 2002 performance of The Grandfather Clock

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poster for Variables concert of Hungarian music 2006?

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CD cover for Pastance

In 1997 I founded two organisations: Waldorf Wayfarers (now Wayfarers Australia) and The Variables, a specialised vocal octet. For both groups I designed posters, programs and CD covers. I also designed a CD cover for one of Pastance's CDs, Joy.

The Waldorf Wayfarers' first overseas tour in 2000 led to the creation in watercolour of a spiral image depicting the various strands of the tour's repertoire. This image has remained central to Wayfarer's publicity. A Wayfarer's tour to Central and Northern Australia in 2002 led to my creating a 96 blocks six-sided 3D puzzle, with six different scenes from Kakadu painted in acrylic. Even though I created this puzzle myself, it still takes me three hours to get it right!

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one of the six faces on the Kakadu blocks puzzle 2004

click image for another face, an image of Kakadu Lagoon

An interesting artistic side-line opened up in 2008 through my reconnecting with Charles Freer, who, along with his siblings, had sung in my Canberra Children’s Choir decades before. The adult Charles was a visual artist and a gifted teacher, at that time working in the Birrigai school, where his love of the outdoors was an indispensable asset. Charles, my daughter Jess, her partner Hunter and I ran a multi-disciplined holiday camp at Birrigai, with me helping the children write their own songs about the environment, and Jess helping them both create installations and make theatre. From this camp came the idea that Charles and I would help children create a permanent outdoor work of art at Birrigai, related to its physical environment. I had dabbled in mosaic at home – Brenda had adorned our Rivett home with various mosaic trimmings and visual effects, and I had made next to the front door a mosaic version of my favourite Tree of Life motif. So Charles and I agreed that we could, helped by multitudinous Canberra school children, create a 50 metre long mosaic on the main pathway at Birrigai, depicting the geological eras through which the world has evolved. Over the next year or so, Charles encouraged several primary school classes to make drawings of the different life-forms in the various epochs. In order to make the task slightly less daunting, and also to help the finished work be more interesting, we decided to invite two ceramic artists to join us. Linda Davey helped primary school children make small 2D clay examples of flora and fauna, and Jyoti Diambec gave high school Orana children the task of creating larger 2D creatures and mountains. Another year went by while all of these pieces were created, fired, glazed and fired again. Then the four of us spent a weekend crawling all over a huge length of white paper in proportion to the Birrigai path, designing how we would integrate all of the clay pieces into the final mosaic-ed whole.  Meanwhile Charles and I collected as many varied tiles and bits of broken ceramic as possible, and then we ran several camps at Birrigai at which children, and also later volunteer adults, were taught how to cut the tiles, sorting them into colours, ready for assembling into a multi-coloured backdrop to the ceramic shapes. I was responsible for the final overall planning of which tiles to glue where. The task was huge, and hugely enjoyable! After a year or so of glueing, and finally grouting, each individual panel of the 20 large panels, the finished path was “opened”, or “launched”, or whatever one does with paths, in March 2012, just before I set off around the world with my Wayfarers choir.

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I had been from 2006 - 2009 attending occasional part-time art classes at the Canberra School of Art in order to reinvigorate my visual self. It wasn’t until 2010 that I had the courage to try to study art full-time again. By then I was living with Jess and her family, on an aged pension, and there was no longer such a pressure to earn my living. So I put together a portfolio of drawings and paintings from my decades of dabbling, and was accepted into a full-time degree majoring in painting. I loved it. I am sure that if I had gone to art school straight from school, as I had wished to do, I would not have looked back. (But who knows? Perhaps I would have missed singing?? Perhaps composition wouldn’t have had much of a look-in?) I did well during the two years (2010, 2011) – but had to miss out on some areas, notably the mastering of computer graphics, because of grandmotherly responsibilities (Jess was studying for her Dip. Ed).

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Bottles and Bins: gouache, 2010

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Canberra Centre Sails: acrylic, 2011

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Cleanliness is Next to Godliness: oil pastel, 2011

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Homage to Tom Bass: pen and oil pastel, 2011

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Three Trunks, Botanical Gardens: pastel and watercolour, 2011

 

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beginning to learn about computer graphics - my head, topped with my granddaughter Raphi, overlaying a pencil drawing of autumn leaves 2010

2012 was a year off art school, as I had promised several members of my Wayfarers choir that we would tour the world in 2012. 

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scarecrows in rice field, Yilan, Taiwan 2012

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Venice 2012

The 21 week tour through Asia, Europe and UK was immortalised through 21 sketches (one each week!)

While I was overseas, I communicated with the Art School to enrol in Painting 3 in 2013, without the theory component necessary for the full degree (narcolepsy making it virtually impossible to achieve what was necessary in that department) – but was informed that the Art School was no longer offering Diplomas. So that was the end of that. However, I am very grateful for the impetus those two years gave me to re-open that door.

I had hoped that I would create in 2013 a series of paintings based on my decades of work as a musician, to display during the three-day So Good A Thing festival I was planning for December 2013, the 100th anniversary of Canberra. However, I should have known – the admin work to get the festival up and running was so huge that painting became impossible. In the end I only managed to display previous drawings and paintings, along with photos and posters and other memorabilia.

One of my most enjoyable experiences since then has been painting the huge backdrop for my opera Marco in Taiwan this year (2014), together with Taiwanese artist Jiren Lai. Because of my teaching and rehearsal commitments, we had to work early mornings and late at night. It was extremely satisfying to co-create, almost needing no conversation, with someone whose work I totally respect. Next year (2015) Jiren and I aim to co-exhibit paintings looking at endangered species of flora and fauna of both Taiwan and Australia.

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I am still not sure that I have nailed my style – if I can put more time into painting over the next few years (hoping my eyes will last that long!) maybe I will get closer to certainty on that score. I know what I love looking at – William Robinson, Cressida Campbell, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Stanley Spencer…… but I can’t pinpoint what they have in common. Maybe it’s looking at real things through some sort of altering-lens, making them more beautiful than they really are, magical, insubstantial…..

I’m very happy to be commissioned, as long as what is in my nature to create is what a viewer wants.


Copyright © 2014 Judith Clingan
All rights reserved