During this time of self-isolation OR home quarantine, when cleaning out cupboards and stored paraphernalia, I am coming across all manner of documents, articles, images and books from my history.
The following article was published in The Bridge in September 2004 and the Victorian Artists Society Bi-monthly Newsletter in two parts, Oct/Nov 04 and Dec 04/Jan05.
BUNDANON: artist in residence
In 1993 the properties known as Riversdale, Bundanon and Eerie Park were officially given to the people of Australia. These properties cover 1000 hectares located on the Shoalhaven river inland from Nowra and the New South Wales South Coast. Arthur and Yvonne Boyd lived at Riversdale then Bundanon, which includes Bundanon homestead, built in the 1860s and listed on the Register of the National Estate.
The Bundanon properties include vast natural and cultivated areas fronting the Shoalhaven River and climbing the heights of the Shoalhaven escarpment. The Artist in Residence (AIR) program forms a significant aspect to the education, exhibitions and other access programs organised within the Bundanon trust.
I am immensely honoured to have had the privilege of participating in this program during June 2004. My application was submitted in July 2003, with notification of my selection in December for the month of June. The written proposal was kept broad to allow for experimentation and changes within my artwork.
“My perceived intention with this residency is to respond to the environment. I am particularly concerned with experiencing the various natural environments at Bundanon. This is a unique property with opportunities for me to create artwork relating to aspects of the natural environment whilst being influenced by the geography, weather elements and history of the site.”
I would be away from home for five weeks taking three days with breaks to get to Nowra and four days traveling via Bairnsdale and a friend back to Melbourne.
The little Golf was heavily loaded with all sorts of paper, mediums, tools, clothes and other essentials. I had plans for traveling around the area to visit sites in the district and hopefully enough money to keep me going. Fortunately, I shopped at Nowra before the half hour drive into9 Bundanon along a dirt road not quite sure where I was going, arriving at the property at 2:30pm on Friday afternoon.
I was welcomed at the property, shown my apartment/studio and proceeded to ease the weight from the little car.
Four o’clock saw me with a cup of coffee sitting on the balcony watching the late afternoon sun dropping behind the escarpment and the kangaroos bounding across paddocks for dinner. The arrival of full moon called for my first photographs and drawing. I was very excited the following morning to return to the complex to inform the other residing artists that I had seen a Wombat.
“Congratulations” were passed on. My evening walk to the River had me feeling quite embarrassed over my excitement as I counted seventeen of the grazing, round, brown, furry creatures.
The Bundanon property is open to the general public on Sunday. Visitors came to the historic house and grounds, to walk to the Shoalhaven and picnic under the decorative trees.
I found the first days at Bundanon quite awe-inspiring. Yes, I am an artist in my own right, yes, I can produce whatever artwork I wish, yes, I have the skills, discipline and ability to fulfil my expectations, yet I was humbled in the presence of the spirit of Arthur Boyd. Wherever I walked I saw Arthur Boyd’s paintings, I had an overwhelming sense of the property saturated, with the essence of Arthur. I overlooked his studio from money, famous Pulpit Rock silhouetted against the sky, the cattle, flame trees, river bends, escarpment bush – Arthur had painted it all.
For me this was a time of looking, feeling, wondering, reassessing, much thinking, writing and listening. I realised my privileged position and questioned “Why me?” Why had I been selected? Why did I have this opportunity? What is it that I do that allowed me to be here? What would I do? How could I contribute to the significance of the place? What did I want to say? How would I say it?
Having spent several days allowing, the property to soak into me, process the questions and some personal observations it was time to get on with the job.
The artwork began to develop as two main series. I had wanted to make some drawings for some time, and this was an opportunity to do so. The task was to make six large 700 x 1000mm drawings based on found organic objects relating to a vessel form.
The second project I decided upon was to make cast paper vessels using two large river rocks found on the property. They developed into containers for collections based on the variety of environments and natural elements at Bundanon.
One of my commitments to the residency was to interact with school groups who came to the property. After being at Bundanon for four days and nothing yet but a small paper vessel and a cow’s pelvic bone hanging on my wall I wondered what the students could gain from this interaction.
Fortunately, I had been advised to take hard copy images in support of my residency. This went up on the walls and along with a computer slide show of previous artwork I was able to take the students through a timeline of my recent work and to discuss my thoughts and ideas on the work to be produced during my stay.
During my four-week residency four groups came to my studio.
A very exciting aspect of the residency was having the opportunity to spend time with the Bundanon collection. I was shown various paintings of early Boyd works and many prints that Arthur Boyd undertook.
In the collection is a box of drawings or sketches really. The sketches are catalogued in decades of Arthur’s life, the earliest being a grade four pastel work.
From the sketches I was able to gain an insight into the thoughts and ideas that were the basis for some of his series of prints and paintings. One piece is an A3 scrap of paper covered with oil paint fingerprints and an exquisite sketch in felt tip pen.
I think he was probably painting at the time. An idea came into his head and he had to get the image down before it disappeared. To be able to look at these working sketches very much assists in seeing a complete overview of an artist’s process of making art.
Although Bundanon is only 21kms via road to Nowra the property maintains a sense of isolation. It is the last property along the road, has no passing traffic, no streetlights and visitors come on Sundays.
As a group of artists, we found ourselves quite reluctant to leave the property and I ventured out only when necessary to purchase supplies.
On occasions we had communal meals and some evenings spent with great conversation discussing art, music, books, films and each other’s lives. These were very convivial hours together after fairly long days on our own.
For me every day included walking, sometimes two or three times per day, making immense use of the digital camera to be able to use the images instantly they went onto the little laptop that I took with me. I would collect items for the installation work and collate these in the studio along with making drawings. My reading time was first thing in the morning or evening and perhaps over morning tea and lunch.
I have come away from Bundanon with two satisfactory series of work and many ideas to follow on with.
An artist’s residency at Bundanon for me has been an incredible experience in many ways. As artists we seem to constantly question our worth, our abilities, our skills and the messages we convey. My residency at Bundanon gave me thinking and working time that is a luxury not always available. I feel that the experience has been of benefit to both me and the students who came there. For me the opportunity to spend time and make artwork in the environment of Bundanon was an opportunity I recommend to artists of all disciplines.