Zoe Grey

In Artist Profile 55 (2021), Zoe grey wrote on her own practice, and her relationship to the landscapes of her home in lutruwita/Tasmania as it changes through the seasons and the years. Grey's densely joyful landscapes are on show at Despard Gallery this month.

I grew up on Peerapper country, in Marrawah, a tiny town on the western edge of lutruwita/Tasmania. Isolated and exposed, Marrawah has a rugged environment – the trees bend in roaring winds and the swell rises high out of the Southern Ocean. Time spent within this unique landscape guides my painting practice and my process observes my evolving relationship to that place.

For now, I work out of a studio in nipaluna/Hobart, though I still call Marrawah home. When I return, I engage with the environment as I always have – surfing, swimming, diving, wandering the beach and coastal scrub, my days dictated by the weather. I make drawings, small paintings and visual notes out in the landscape and in my shack studio on the ocean’s shore. Working back in nipaluna, those studies guide figurative representations of landmarks, rocks and native plants while memory, familiarity and feeling inform abstract reimaginings of weather, light and pattern. 

I see this approach as one of ‘call and response’ – calling out to my felt experiences of place and responding through the visual mode of painting. The work Leave in Order to Return, 2021, speaks to this. When making the painting, I called out to the endemic Nettley Bay gum leaves that blow in the wind. The orange base of the work responds to the vibrant lichen that sprinkles the shore. Familiar rocks are re-presented, the same ones I learned to walk over as a kid. Painting moments like these leads me closer to home. 

Flowing parallel to this is an engagement with the luminous, tactile, luscious qualities of my adored medium, paint. My painting approach is unplanned. I lay down problems to solve and mistakes to fix, allowing the surface to build up in layers. My colour choice and mark making are often informed by the colour or mark that came before it. Through this process of responding to the paint, the composition evolves.

When handling the structure of a painting, I aim to create compositions that invite the viewer inside the work, enticing the eye to move around and discover details, textures and forms – similar to how we explore the landscape. This echoes a desire to disrupt some tropes of historical western landscape painting – the polished, romantic vista and the signification of ownership over the land that is pictured. I strive to challenge this – formally, by disrupting the horizon line, shifting depths and contrasting levels of detail, and conceptually – by remembering and acknowledging through each stage of my process, that I am connecting and making on stolen Palawa country.

preminghana, the mountain at the bay’s end in Marrawah, helps me remember this. A culturally rich and significant site for Tasmanian Aboriginal people, preminghana’s ancient form has been engaged with and connected to long before my family arrived here. Painterly tracing of that mountain’s familiar, iconic form gently nudges me to consider – I am a recent arrival, so tread lightly. I also have a deep personal connection to the mountain and painting it leads me home, wherever I am. I grew up seeing it everyday from our family house on the opposite side of the bay. I’d walk the beach, watching it grow bigger as I drew closer and I’d surf underneath it, its looming head humbling me. I know the stretching shadows it casts in an Autumn sunset, each lump of its silhouette etched into my mind. Caught off Guard, 2021, recalls a summer swim, where I resurfaced after a dive to the mountain filling my blurry vision. Its twofold form peaked behind two jagged rocks in the foreground. I smiled seeing that familiar, comforting shape framed in-between the rocks, and felt an immediate urge to capture it. I know that striking landmark so well, yet it continues to intrigue me in new ways. 

My upcoming exhibition with Despard Gallery, ‘Just Between Us,’ aims to reveal how re-calling and re-presenting place helps to deepen and strengthen my connection with home. The work reflects and questions how the act of painting can be a process in unpacking, maintaining and nurturing a relationship to this special environment. Each painting depicting place is an attempt to better understand my sense of place. 

This essay was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 55, 2021.

Just Between Us
28 July – 21 August 2021
Despard Gallery, Hobart

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