Artist Wendy Stokes

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An artist’s residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris in 2014 has formed the basis for local artist Wendy Stokes’ latest exhibition, Within and Between – Walking in the space of Landscape.

endy draws parallels between the Mid North Coast and Paris as inspiration and explores how the art of drawing can best capture this experience for her latest exhibition. She’s also offering a drawing masterclass for anyone keen to put pen (or pencil) to paper …

Hi Wendy. It’s been a while since we caught up. What’s new in your world and keeping you busy these days?

When we last spoke, I think I may have commenced my creative Monet journey. My work as a long term project has been realised. Different aspects of it have been shown in major solo exhibitions, across the regional galleries network in NSW: Coffs Harbour, Tamworth, Grafton and Maitland. Now it is a pleasure to have an opportunity to highlight a glimpse of the new direction I am taking at the Glasshouse – and what informed it. 

You were fortunate enough to be awarded a residency in Paris in 2014. How did this come about?  

While my work revolves around my familiar coastal location on the Mid North Coast, it is underpinned by ideas, which delve deeply into practice. I was interested in extending this through research and in doing so, took perhaps an unfashionable direction and stepped back in history – to take a close look at the late installation of Claude Monet. This was through the eyes of an Australian artist, whose work is preoccupied with place and atmospheric space. 

For me, this meant experiencing The Nymphéas suite in the Orangerie, Paris, studying Monet’s rare sketchbooks and the sites which he inhabited and directed much of this work. This association and interest led to visiting Paris in 2010, being awarded the highly competitive and coveted Research Residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris in 2014 from UNSW School Art & Design and receiving a Masters in Fine Art by Research 2016.

How long did you spend in Paris – and what are some of your favourite memories from the visit?

The residency was three months, allowing time for complete immersion into the project. The residency complex accommodates over 280 artists at a time, each with their own studio and living amenities. The location is unbeatable, set on the River Seine opposite Île St Louis and Notre Dame, and each resident is given free entry to the museums and galleries. 

You are your own person to see whatever interests you, work in your studio, visit other artists and their studios and generally slot into a wonderful routine of living amongst the culture and history, while living and sharing dialogue with contemporary artists from over 50 countries. 

Being able to make unlimited visits to study works and pick your times free of tourists, have access granted to study Monet’s rare sketchbooks, and work in the Giverny garden outside of hours was special. For any Australian artist, that is a treasured experience – and being awarded the opportunity was fantastic in itself.

Claude Monet’s Garden at Giverny was one of the sites you explored. What impressions did you take away from this site?

The Giverny Garden has always fascinated artists, particularly those who paint and have taken the aesthetic route into Abstraction. This was very much the case with artists from the U.S. in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, and contemporary artists still undertake innovative contemporary projects in the garden. 

Monet had designed the garden specifically to fulfill his vision to have infinite subject matter at hand and also be a place of contemplation. He was preoccupied with colour, scale, and the play of light. It is from this garden that Monet’s infamous Nymphéas suite was [slogged] out, and the rest is history. 

I made 13 private visits to draw in the garden. To me, the garden was all about a play with space and inhabited a deep “sense of place”, resonating with connections to my childhood.

Your upcoming exhibition at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery draws on your experiences in Paris. What are some of the themes/ideas you aim to explore?

While Paris provided fertile ground for many potential projects, this exhibition focuses on the connection between drawing and painting, what and how it is informed, how one’s own experience of sense of place filters into other locations through journey. These experiences are heightened through my daily experiences of walking and engaging within the landscape. 

Through an historical retracing and walking the landscape sites, I have been able to find parallels in my own locations and ways of working which connects to integrity of experience. 

The Glasshouse show sets itself apart from the previous, in that it is blending the experiences, rather than keeping each location isolated; it becomes about understanding the complexities and parallels of a sense of place and how they interact through journey and time.

What medium/media have you used to capture this new body of work?

I deliberately designed my Paris research around drawing, as it is an initial primal act of connection and means of expression. It is the response to the first encounter and as one continues to draw, one becomes more familiar with “place” as your body moves through it. 

Finding “place” through the drawn mark begins to come part of you, and you absorb the natural rhythms of a site. Painting becomes a reconfiguration and re-enactment of these marks, more like notations of experience. 

The aim behind the work is locating parallels between places, creating a sense of quiet, reflecting a shifting space, inviting the viewer to participate in inhabiting their own sense of place. I have used a variety of drawing media and view the major piece in the show as a painterly drawing.

To coincide with your exhibition, you’ll also be offering a two-day masterclass. What will you be sharing with participants?

My experiences and interpretation of landscape. My aim is that each participant will learn ways to develop their own approach, primarily through the act of drawing. I hope to encourage them to embrace and investigate a range of approaches to seeing and interpreting “landscape”, in order to find their own meaning, rather than imitating mine. 

This will definitely be a hands-on approach, spending one day in the landscape and the other in the Artlab, following the philosophy I took during my residency. 

What artistic skill level would the masterclass be suited to?

To anyone who is open to explore variation in their work, be open ended in expectation, look more closely at how they consider landscape and their participation in it when making work, rather than spending time on a fixed representation. 

I have found in my teaching newcomers are an open book, without pre-conceived ideas or habits and have much to offer. It will be two days of sharing and enjoying what we do.

Where can we see more of your work/find out more about your art?

wendystokes.com.au

Thanks Wendy.

Interview: Jo Robinson.

Studio photos courtesy of Jeremy Rogers.

THE PLUG

See Within and Between – Walking in the Space of Landscape at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery from May 18 – July 21.
Exhibition opens on May 24 at 6pm.
Wendy Stokes’ Masterclass – 25th – 26th May, commencing 10am. Cost: $180. Bookings essential.
Visit glasshouse.org.au for further details.

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