Art Inspiration > A Product of Your Environment
BY COLLEY WHISSON
Isolation doesn’t always equal desolation; growing up in Australia we have always had to contend with the tyranny of distance. As long as your influences and mentors are sound, you are halfway to success.
I feel extremely honoured to be raised as an Australian artist. My country has a small population of approximately 25 million. Our first school of Impressionist Artists was called the Heidelberg School, named after the outer Melbourne suburb in which these artists were based. In the mid-1880s Heidelberg was at the end of the line—as far out of the city as you could get. This group of united artists encouraged and cajoled each other to extract the best from themselves, while subtly setting a high standard for every young Australian artist who followed them.
I believe every painter has the choice in which direction their work will go—I chose to be an Impressionist painter. I also believe we owe it to the entire movement to keep pushing the boundaries, so that we don’t become merely an echo of the past, but instead become an artistic movement willing and able to describe our ideas in a modern, exciting and relevant manner.
After seeing the work of Heidelberg School member Sir Arthur Streeton early on in my painting life, my artistic direction was set in stone. Streeton was known as the Grand Vista painter. In my early days I believe I fell into the trap of trying to mimic his choice of subject matter, but it just wasn’t right for me. Even though I still enjoy painting the odd vista, I’m more willing to let the subject choose me these days.
I’m no longer content to settle for a painting to be a mere reproduction of the subject in front of me. Now I’m searching for a deeper understanding of light, shape, edge and brush economy. The other artist that has influenced me greatly is Australian watercolorist Harold Herbert, for his directness and ability to simplify.
Research and development is my main priority when I go out in the field these days. I’ve been known to go to extreme lengths to discover a new angle or particular viewpoint. I ignore any preconceived ideas with the sole aim of finding a subject, one that I hope I’ve never seen before in my life. I need to be relaxed, intuitive and at my most inventive when I find my subject.
I strongly believe an Artist needs to be part Scientist and part Inventor. The Scientist in me needs to be able to tinker away at the small details like color mixing, while the Inventor in me needs to be able to think laterally, being flexible enough to think outside the square. Before I commence a painting I must also have the fundamentals correct and understood. As they say in the theatre, ”If it ain’t on the page it ain’t on the stage.” I began my painting career by taking regular trips outside, drawing first, and then later painting in oils.
All this time I was aiming to develop a style and approach that was uniquely my own. With that experience under my belt and with the benefits of modern technology I can now capture and store a library of reference material in very high definition for further investigation when the time or mood suits me. Finding a new subject for me is like finding a rare gem.
My next phase is to use my outdoor research to formulate a plan of attack. Instead of blindly going into my painting day, I like to approach each painting as well resourced and researched as possible. I have built my career on plenty of drawing practice, but now I like to use small, quick still life sketches as a way to further develop my spatial awareness of shape and form. By keeping to a strict time limit I am forced to extract the most relevant information so I can achieve the most enlightened visual message.
In order to keep growing artistically, I like to rely on the best bit of career advice that I’ve received to date: Paint four paintings for the galleries and one for me. This one for me is where I need to play and be free from all my day-to-day restraints.
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