Hi Anna, how are you?
I’m pretty good thanks. I have been feeling the cold this winter! Tomorrow is my 46th birthday and on that day I collect my first pair of reading glasses from the optometrist. So I’m feeling my middle agedness, but feeling good about being able to thread needles more easily again!
What was your route to becoming a visual artist?
I feel like I could answer this question a couple of ways. The simplest and quickest answer is a bit of a cop out. The second is more convoluted and maybe more helpful or truthful and/or revealing. So I’ll give you both:
Answer one: I feel like I have always been a visual artist. As long as I can remember I have loved to make and draw, experiment with colour, use my imagination and be inspired by my immediate environment.
Answer two. I made being an artist a priority (and started calling myself an artist) when I moved out of the inner city and took a break from teaching about four years ago, so just after I turned 40. Before this I had been teaching art and design at Brighton Bay, a government funded foundation year course. Brighton Bay was a place that helped students explore the foundations of art and design, it let them build a strong folio of work and develop the skills and confidence to apply to University. It doesn’t exist anymore, which is a shame, as it was very successful. I learnt a lot from my fellow teachers at Brighton Bay, and even more from the students. They came from a fantastic mix of backgrounds. Some from elite private schools, others from tiny country schools, and all the in-betweens. They just had a common and collective energy which was very infectious.
The course was losing enrolments and eventually closed. This coincided with our decision to move to Montmorency. I bit the bullet, and enrolled in a Masters of Visual Art by distance, meeting with students and lecturers only once a year. This let me get feedback and I could use my home studio and be able to take my daughter to school, and so on. Around this time I decided to give making quilts for money a go. This was perhaps a little unrealistic, but I managed to sell a few.
Around 2012 quite a few things seemed to come together. It was the start of The Craft Sessions, and I also met local women artists Siri Hayes and Penelope Aitken. My friend Felicia had been talking about her ideas for a craft retreat for a while, so after taking time out from teaching I looked after her youngest daughter one day a week so she could get her ideas off the ground. It was a mutually supportive arrangement. Felicia has been a great sounding board and supported me heaps. I have also gained a lot from teaching at The Craft Sessions.
Siri, Penelope and I have been meeting up for a few years now. We worked together for the exhibition ‘A Crafted History: People and Place’ and have cooked up various projects. We have formed a collective called ‘Paradoxa’. Penelope and I have a lot in common. We completed the same art degree, and also found ourselves supporting our creative practice through work at universities. We met through our daughters, who are now best friends.
Way back when I was 18 I moved to Melbourne from Gippsland to attend Uni to become a high school art teacher. After graduating, with teaching jobs very thin on the ground, on a whim I took off to a cattle station in Far North Queensland to home tutor an 8 year old girl. Here I used my art, craft, and design skills in all sorts of ways. I made clothes, drew, painted, partly because there wasn’t much else to do but mostly because it is what I do. The landscape was breathtakingly beautiful. The weather and the environment demanded respect, lush and muggy in the wet season, then harsh and very hot in the dry.
After my year in the outback I found a job in Orbost, in East Gippsland, at the Secondary College. I threw myself into the community. As well as teaching Art and Graphics at the school, I founded a ballet school for primary aged students, illustrated info panels with local rangers for the coastal national park, and helped design and make sets for the local theatre group. After two years, I decided I needed to see the world and I set off on a backpacking adventure overseas.
I travelled to the U.S. and Europe and settled in London for a few years. I worked at a charity, was a nanny and even cleaned the members lounge at Wimbledon. All this time I was drawing in diaries.
My father was born in Hungary, an only child, he came to Melbourne with his mum as a refugee in 1949. His father had been lost to the Holocaust. Many of his family ended up dispersed across Denmark, Sweden and France. A highlight of this time was visiting and meeting many of these relatives. Meeting these family members for the first time in my twenties, and visiting Budapest with my parents, filled a gap I had always felt as the child of an immigrant. After four years in London I suddenly got homesick. I longed to swim in the ocean at Wilsons Prom and walk in the Gippsland bush.
So I packed up my life, left my spontaneously married Ukrainian refugee husband, and flew home to Melbourne. I caught up with my country mates, and found myself stuffing envelopes for a day at RMIT. I ended up staying four years at RMIT, thankfully not stuffing envelopes, I worked various admin jobs and also managed to fit in a postgrad degree in Graphic Design. It was at RMIT that I met artists and designers and my husband (not the Ukrainian – he did come to Melbourne, but the marriage didn’t last). The vibrancy of working, and living, in the inner city in the early 2000s opened up my world and over the next decade I did a series of small exhibitions that all commented on community in some way.
I am back to the start. I feel like my art is still exploring the making and inspiration I felt as a child. I have recently had opportunities to exhibit in public galleries and I’m proud to be contributing to our culture as a contemporary visual artist. I’m really looking forward to what things like The Craft Sessons, and the Paradoxa Collective, can do.
Who or what were your early influences?
As a kid I was taken to a Picasso exhibition at the NGV. At around the same time Mum taught me to sew using a traditional method of patchwork. Both stuck with me. One of Dad’s politics books had a Chagall painting on its cover. I liked that a lot. It had whimsy, structure, expression, and a use of colour which I found mesmerising.
As a teenager in the country seeing a Jenny Watson work at the local gallery really stood out. It felt like it talked to me in how it used sequins and a female figure and I think a horse and maybe some floral fabric. Although I lived on a farm I was a bit scared of horses, I preferred my pet calf called Doris.
But life on the farm in the bush, that was is probably my biggest early influence.
How would you describe your work?
My current work is almost all textile based. I use traditional craft techniques such as embroidery, patchwork and natural dyeing. The works range in scale from very small intensively threaded semi-abstract landscapes to large geometric patchworks that I hang as installations in the bush. I also paint with gouaches on paper.
Tell us a bit about your philosophy and process?
I think my philosophy and process is about hope. I am interested in honouring and appreciating what we have in the here and now and how we can preserve this into the future by remembering the past.
One way I try to do this is through my stitched works. I think of these as my take on ‘femmage’, a term coined by Feminist artist Miriam Schapiro in the 1970s. I interpret femmage as a combination of ‘homage’ and ‘collage’ that honours womans’ craft techniques, feminism, and my role in all the parts of my world.
How has your work developed since you began and where do you think you are headed?
Since my first solo exhibition in 2003 my work has evolved a lot. While I continue my exploration of colour and composition I am now investigating ways of thinking about place. My work has changed in scale and texture with many small stitched abstract landscapes and the large fabric banners that I hang in the bush. So things are now both more intimate and also more public.
Do you have a favourite piece of work or series?
The small stitched landscape works from my ‘Stitching Place’ series are favourites. I feel these really show my evolution as an artist and completing this series allowed me to explore exhibition opportunities elsewhere and to a wider audience.
Do you teach or give workshops?
For the last three years I have taught at The Craft Sessions
I also work with a group of year 12 Art students in a high school. I teach them more as a fellow artist. Once a week I hang out in their class, offering ideas and suggestions. I love doing this and I also get to paint sets for the school production, put up exhibitions for the school and dip in and out of other classes. I love working in education but I am quite happy not to have the responsibility of being a classroom teacher so I can focus on my own art practice.
Where can people see more of your work?
I have exhibitions quite regularly. Checking out my website and subscribing to my mailing list is a good way to find out more.
Thanks for the chat Anna, hope we can catch up again soon.
No worries, thanks for the interview. I would love to catch up again over a cuppa and craft!
Connect with Anna here: