Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Meet Your Maker: Debra Goldsmith

Working with a space the size of Stockroom's main gallery can be overwhelming. It's a pretty big room to deal with. This month we have some large scale oil paintings by Debra Goldsmith that seem to just be custom made for it. They work perfectly on the warehouse scale. Surrounded on all sides by the organic imagery of trees and forests, its easy to feel lost in another world. I put some questions to Debra about her work and she kindly offered up some very interesting insights into her art.

 Debra in front of her painting, Ghost

 - - - - 

Kent:
So, Debra, standing in the middle if gallery one is like being in the middle of an eco-system. Part environmental, part psychological. What has drawn you to focus on trees for this body of work?

Debra:
I started with one tree and it just grew from there! With each tree I paint, I see more in them to inspire me and the desire to paint them increases. I see trees in such a completely different way now to when I first started painting them. I have always felt a strong connection to the earth and the older I get the more important I feel it is that we, as humans, understand the importance of this. Because of our largely urbanised population and technology driven lives, this connection is becoming increasingly tenuous or non existent to the point of nature phobia. One of the reasons trees inspire me is because they are a major element in wilderness and natural environment which can be commonly appreciated due to their inclusion in the urban environment of city parks, backyards and street scaping. The tree paintings are also a continuation of my interest in combining a sense of stillness with feeling/intensity and I want the paintings to be experienced via this duality of feeling. The balance of opposites has always interested me as I believe this to be an integral and constantly challenging element to our human experience. As with all my work there are multiple layers of symbolism/narrative that develops subconsciously. I would say that although I never think of labelling my paintings as such, there is a feeling for me that these paintings are actually closer to portraiture than landscape in some way. Having said this, while I was painting these trees, the surface of the tree felt more like an abstracted landscape to me than as simply bark. Through art there is the possibility to communicate that which is beyond words, beyond the limitations of the conscious mind and can be understood by seeing and feeling. I feel very passionate about trees, forests and the natural environment, in particular wilderness. I hope that through these tree paintings I can also give a sense of humanity and the feeling of the human presence in the natural environment.

 opening night drew a great big crowd

Kent:
The scale of these paintings really put you 'inside' the space of the image. How do you go about painting at this size?

Debra:
Trees are big so it just seemed right to paint this size. If it was at all practical I would paint bigger, however, storage and moving big paintings is always an issue. Having spent much of my working life painting big spaces (scenic art for film, designing and painting restaurant and nightclub interiors, murals etc.) I enjoy working on a large scale and I also prefer to work without knowing what the finished result will be. I feel very relaxed about not knowing where a painting is going to take me. I always work directly on the canvas. rarely using any preliminary drawings. although drawing itself has always been very important to me and in particular life drawing because of the immediacy, energy and time restrictions. I take heaps of photos of trees but if I use them for reference it is only at the very beginning of the painting. The painting has to develop a life of it’s own. The feeling of being ‘inside’ the space of the image is not just to do with the size but is also because of the balance of opposites I referred to in the Q1. Contrasting light and dark, simplicity and complexity create space in the image. I need to have a level of of harmonious tension! If you are following this you are doing well...I really prefer to let my painting do the communication!

Kent:
Do you find that your location (in Taradale, central Victoria) impacts or feeds into your work in different ways to other places you've lived and worked (say, St Kilda for example)?

Debra:
I lived in St Kilda and Elwood for many years, but I did grow up on a farm near Leongatha in South Gippsland and always maintained connection with the country and natural environment even while living in the city. Living in Taradale I have spent many, many hours walking and riding horses in the bush which I would say has definitely had an impact on my work. Simply spending time in the stillness of the bush on a regular basis, being surrounded by varied horizons has an affect on perception. I have lived here for 13 years now and never had any interest in painting trees until 2003. I travelled to Europe in 1991 and that trip influenced my subsequent work. I have been inspired by real trees that I have seen and particularly love the eccentricity of the many varieties of eucalyptus. I like to spend time in different types of wilderness areas and have a particular pull toward Tasmania where I have had experiences which have impacted me spiritually, psychologically and creatively. Another thing about living in Taradale that has impacted my work is the prolonged periods of working in isolation I have experienced here. It can be challenging but it also meant I have felt a sense of total freedom that grows from that isolation.


 taking it all in

Kent:
This series has been put together over a period of years, what's next on the horizon for you?

Debra:
I’d love another trip to Tasmania in the not to distant future. I am overdue for a dose of Tasmanian wilderness! There is much more that I need to do in terms of trees/wilderness/natural environment inspired paintings, although I can never know what shape these will take until it happens. The connection/disconnection between humanity and wilderness is something I want to explore further. My paintings are always shaped by my life experiences, although more in a symbolic than literal sense and it is always a surprise to me how this evolves. Painting is something I have always needed to do and it has been very difficult for me during the times when I haven’t been able to paint as a result of the circumstances in my life but I have learnt not to fight it. When I have returned to painting my work has changed because of what has happened in my life. Then I am back and I just love walking into my studio and being hit by that intoxicating smell of linseed oil and gum turps. It just makes me feel so good!

- - - - -

Big thanks to Debra for taking the time to share her thoughts with us. The exhibition runs until 3 June, so come on in if you haven't already and experience the works. This is very gallery director-esque of me, but for work of this intensity and scale, they are priced incredibly well too!