Art Among Trees

This is a guest post by Tessa Koumoundouros. 

Nillumbik Artists Open Studios invites us to explore art and place by visiting our choice of artists' studios located in the bushy suburbs of Nillumbik Shire.

Thirty-three artists are opening their studios to the public this weekend, the 19th and 20th, and next weekend, the 26th and 27th of November, for rare behind-the-scenes glimpses into how they make their work. The different artists work in a diverse range of styles and mediums, from Jack Latti’s eclectic clay plant pots to Sally Howell's whimsical illustrations of Australian wildlife.

Many of the artists reflect the local bushland setting in their work, from textures and shapes drawn from geological formations and our unique flora, to landscapes and representations of the fauna that inhabit them.  Some of the artworks are even created using materials directly sourced from the land itself.

Artists Syd Tunn and Ona Henderson, who helped start the Open Studio program over 30 years ago, use home-made charcoal and reed pens to create their artworks. Their work has been featured in many gallery exhibits and books such as Dr Penny Olsen's Feather and Brush. In the below video, Syd demonstrates how he makes the pens he uses, with ink from reeds sourced from a nearby creek and charcoal from willow branches, which also explains their history with Nillumbik Artists Open Studios.

The program’s coordinator Elanna Sanderson generously took some time out from her busy opening weekend preparations to answer a few questions for Wild Melbourne.

How did you get involved in coordinating Nillumbik Artists Open Studios? What drew you to the program?

I have lived in the Nillumbik Shire for over 20 years and have a deep affection for the people and landscape that make up the community, particularly in Kangaroo Ground.

Growing up in Kangaroo Ground, I was so lucky to wake up to fresh, clean air and songbirds.

I have a visceral connection to the true beauty of this area. In a way you can sense the change of seasons and ecology and this directs a certain way of life. Having an appreciation of your sense of place breeds creativity; you find inspiration from your surroundings, the way you live and the patterns of life around you.

Jacquie Hacansson's colourful glasswork. 

Jacquie Hacansson's colourful glasswork. 

The clay pots of Jack Latti are influenced by the shapes, sizes and colours of the plants they will contain. 

The clay pots of Jack Latti are influenced by the shapes, sizes and colours of the plants they will contain. 

I have worked in St Kilda in the creative industries for a number of years, but I always hoped to have the opportunity to work back with the people and places that I am so fond of.

In 2015 I started my Masters of Art and Community Practice at the Victorian College of the Arts, which encouraged my thought processes into the importance of socially engaged community practice and how the arts can act as [an intersection] for multidisciplinary learning and knowledge sharing.

I started as Coordinator of the Nillumbik Artists Open Studios program earlier this year, and it’s a role that I see as far more collaborative then managerial.

I was drawn to the unique narratives that were told through the artists in the program. Social, political, environmental, religious and personal stories are addressed and it’s so special to have a program that pulls together such a diverse range of practices as a result of lifestyle choices and geographic proximity. I wanted to assist in getting these stories told and I feel that the arts should be accessible to everybody.

On the Nillumbik Artists Open Studios website you mention that love of landscape ties the different artists together. Can you provide examples of how this is represented in their work?

In 1951, Clifton Pugh and a small clique of friends purchased a parcel of land in Cottles Bridge and established Dunmoochin, one of Australia’s first artistic communes. Upon Pugh’s death in 1990, he left properties within the Dunmoochin area to be developed and maintained by the Dunmoochin Foundation. Today, the Foundation offers artist residencies, with a focus on promoting arts practice, research and environmental study to artists working in artistic, educational and environmental fields. Dunmoochin is an utterly immersive space, set in the heart of bush landscape and has continued to encourage a vision of how a community can gain knowledge and inspiration from living and working in a close relationship with nature.

'Road to Dunmoochin', Mark Wotherspoon. 

'Road to Dunmoochin', Mark Wotherspoon

We have two artists in residence at Dunmoochin this year - Jodi Stewart and Mark Wotherspoon. Since commencing her residency, Jodi’s work in painting, drawing and sculpture has reflected her response to the solitude of the bush. Mark describes his work as basically landscape painting and is moved by the world that we live in. Mark notes that because Dunmoochin is part of a Trust, the environment - lightly wooded forest with open areas of clear pastures - is protected. Being surrounded by bush, one can immerse oneself in the natural world as it really is.

Baldessin Press & Studio is home to four artists - founder Tess Edwards, Karena Goldfinch, Robert Hails and Silvi Glattauer. These artists work in varied mediums of photography, printmaking and mixed media and draw on the natural landscape of St Andrews. Local flora and fauna are prominent subjects throughout their work.

As our society becomes increasingly more urban and virtual, what role do you believe art can play in helping us form and maintain connections to our sense of place and the environment?

Yes, society is becoming more urbanised and virtual, and some would argue that there is a great sense of detachment from the natural world. However, I feel that rather than detest technological advancements, we should embrace their possibilities, as they can offer channels to speak to [the] next generation. The major David Hockney show at the National Gallery of Victoria is a current example of the possibilities of the synthesis of art and digital technological platforms. At age 79, Hockney exhibits over 1,200 pieces of work, some featuring the mastery of digital drawings and video of large scale landscape as a product of the iPad and iPhone.

'Regent Honeyeater Silver Banksia', Kate Hudson. 

'Regent Honeyeater Silver Banksia', Kate Hudson. 

Michael McWilliams’ self-portrait, 'The usurpers', in this year’s Archibald Prize is a beautiful illustration of the role that art can play in raising environmental issues and concerns. McWilliams’ work illustrates introduced species that have gone on to become pests or that have adversely affected the land. In his self-portrait, he has chosen to paint species that he believes have caused the most environmental damage. In this sense, art is helping to spread the word about the environmental impacts of agriculture.

I feel that art, whether it is performative or visual, has the capacity to challenge authority, tell stories, chart history and reimagine realities - whatever age you are.

What do you hope people will take away from visiting the studios and meeting the artists?

I hope that visitors make new memories, connections and relationships with the people they meet and the places that they encounter along the way.

The locations of the studios start 30 minutes north-east from Melbourne's CBD in the popular bushy suburb of Eltham, and extend out to lesser known areas of Nutfield further north and Bend of Islands along the Yarra in the east. Visitors are encouraged to explore these areas as they visit the artists' studios. Many of the artists also open their studios by appointment throughout the year. You can find more details about the artists and plan your Nillumbik Artists Open Studio adventure here


Banner image entitled 'Mistletoe Bird' courtesy of Silvi Glattauer