Sisters Catherine and Jennifer Strutt have an eye for colour and design – their quirky and interesting works encompass mixed media assemblages – both artworks and jewellery. Their upcoming exhibition at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery, Let the Chips Fall Where They May, was inspired by a box of vintage paint chips they’d collected years before …
Hi Catherine and Jennifer. You’ve had what sounds like a wonderful, vibrant upbringing surrounded by art and music. Could you briefly describe your early introduction to the arts, and how these experiences helped shape the artists you are today?
From a very young age, we were colouring in. The smell of coloured pencils and all their colours rolling around was exciting to us. We worked out that some colours looked “pretty” together, and some looked “yucky” together.
When we drew pictures to complement our story writing in infants school, we were always careful about composition and colour, so as the picture didn’t look ugly.
From this age also we were aware of a condition we thought everyone had that we called “The Colour Number Thing”, or academically, Synaesthesia. This is roughly a crossing over of the senses in the developing brain where we have/see certain colours for certain letters and numbers and which we still have. It was at this time we believe colour became one of our most favourite(d) things.
Our parents were great water colour painters, not professionally but capable, and there always seemed to be an appreciation of art in our family. Throughout our whole primary and tertiary schooling we were always encouraged in our work and the people, teachers and lecturers who mattered to us really loved what we were doing. This gave us great incentive and inspiration to pursue an art career and the confidence to do it our way.
You have a background in visual arts … Where did you study, and what shape did your careers take when you finished your tertiary education?
In 1991, straight out of high school, we went to TAFE on Hunter Street, Newcastle and completed an Associate Diploma in Fine Art. From here we went to the University of Newcastle and completed both a B.A. Visual Arts in 1993 and finished with a Post Grad in Painting/Printmaking.
Our time at TAFE was the most amazing and formulative years of our whole training. We were students of the most amazing artists Newcastle has to offer: Michael Bell, Peter Read, Claire Martin and John Turier, among others. We became extremely great mates with John and were thrilled to be studio assistants for him for one of his Sydney exhibitions. We learnt so much from this time and have always loved our time at TAFE. Everything we are today is because of the very solid grounding we received there.
How did you first stumble across the idea of creating unique jewellery items?
After every exhibition of work, we have a studio cleanup. We thought it was a shame to throw out the off cuts of coloured and coated timber we were sweeping up and decided they might look OK as small artworks around our necks. We made a few more as a result of the attention they received from our friends and then decided to have a small stall at a market. We made so many sales, we decided to fine tune our designs. We now sell them online and in select boutiques and galleries around Australia.
What types of pieces do you typically make … and what materials do you mostly use in their construction?
We have two styles we normally work in for our artworks. With the older style, the idea for the work is presented in a diorama like setting on a small half circle stage. They look a little like theatres with the props arranged on stage.
The second and newer style is presented in a flatter grid like composition, and our ideas are presented on the different shapes within the grid. Every work is typically constructed from paper, paint, aluminium, fabric, resin and wood.
Your upcoming exhibition at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery is called Let the Chips Fall Where they May. What’s the significance of this title?
Whatever happens, happens. Life is out of our control.
Tell us a little about the exhibition … What types of artwork will you have on display? Is there a theme that ties all the pieces together?
We have a box of vintage paint chips in the studio we had collected years ago. After looking at the colours and names of the colour chips, there seemed to be for us a whole exhibition in that box waiting to be made. Every work has started with two or three paint chips with interesting names and colours. From here, we constructed the works from whatever images and ideas that came to us from them.
You’ll also be presenting an artist talk at the Gallery on May 26. What topics will you be covering in your presentation?
Work practice, our collaborative artist lives, how we make our work etc.
Where can readers find out more about you?
Thanks Catherine and Jennifer.
Interview by Jo Atkins.
The Glasshouse would like to acknowledge Kensington Contemporary for their support with this exhibition. See Let the Chips Fall Where They May at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery from 13th May – 10th July.
Catherine and Jennifer Strutt will present an artists’ talk on 26th May at 5:30pm. Tickets: adults $15; members $12.