I first met Melbourne artist Elizabeth Barnett back in 2012, during a visit to the original Schoolhouse Studios complex in Abbotsford, which was co-founded in 2011 by Elizabeth, with fellow creative Alice Glenn. I was instantly drawn to Elizabeth’s delicate, illustrative painting style, and was equally impressed with the incredible drive she and Alice had shown in founding this vibrant studio complex, which at the time housed over 75 local creatives.
Fast forward three years and a lot has changed for Lizzie. She’s a Mum now, her painting days are structured around daycare drop off and time spent with her son Archer, but every spare moment is spent in her Richmond studio. Her creative practice has also shifted and developed over time. Originally trained in printmaking, in recent years Lizzie has shifted to painting in acrylic on linen – she enjoys the immediacy that this medium affords her, and the way she can create an almost watercolour-like effect using translucent layers of acrylic paint and medium. Her paintings invariably depict jungle-like spaces, overflowing with Fiddleleaf Figs, Philodendron and Hoya. Elizabeth’s work is often inspired by plant life, fuelled in part by her daily walk in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
We’re thrilled to announce that we’ll be hosting a solo exhibition at TDF Collect with Elizabeth at our new gallery space in Collingwood later this month! The exhibition, entitled In a Temperate Climate, opens on Thursday May 28th. The paintings capture quiet, plant-filled domestic spaces, which feel welcoming and strangely familiar.
Elizabeth’s beautiful paintings will be complemented in the gallery space by a lush green plant installation by our dear pals Wona and Charlie of Loose Leaf! We’re so looking forward to this exhibition, as it also gives us an opportunity to unveil our brand new Collingwood gallery space – we hope you’ll join us!
All the works in the exhibition are now pictured on the TDF Collect website and we are accepting pre-sales for the show via email. All enquiries please email email@example.com – thankyou!
In a Temperate Climate by Elizabeth Barnett
28th May – 3rd June 2015
14 Little Oxford st
Opening drinks – Thursday 28th May, from 6.00pm to 8.00pm.
Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to becoming a fine artist, and to doing what you’re doing now?
I grew up in Melbourne by the beach. My mum is really creative and was always making things when I was a kid, but more in a craft sense than an art sense. My first memories are sitting at my grandmother’s side painting with her while she worked on one of her watercolours or pastel landscapes. It was heaven being in her studio at the back of my grandparent’s house. It has always been my dream to be an artist, and I have always been supported by my family and friends in this pursuit. I had amazing art teachers in my last few years of school and I am sure that cemented for me my passion for visual arts.
When I left school I went straight to art school studying a Bachelor in Printmaking at the Victorian College of Art. After VCA I printed at the Australian Print Workshop, worked at the Printmaker Gallery on Brunswick Street and Melbourne Etching Supplies in St. David Street Fitzroy, and I showed work with a few galleries around Melbourne including Dickerson gallery in Richmond (sadly it has since closed).
The following year I studied printmaking Honours at RMIT followed a few years later by a year studying Masters in Illustration and living in London. London blew my mind! I loved being immersed in a city and documenting my time there in my art work.
When I got home from London, Alice Glenn and I started Schoolhouse Studios at the former Steiner school in Nicholson street. We initially had the site for 8 months but it got extended to a little over 2 years. Alice and I were both looking for studio spaces, but wanted something more supportive than the usual studio set up. I had seen some pretty amazing studio models in London like Cockpit Arts and wanted to do something similar. Nicholson Street was perfect. It had ready made classrooms, a basketball court, and an orchard! To us it felt a bit like the Heide community but in the middle of Melbourne! We ran classes, exhibitions and gigs, kept chooks and had a veggie garden. It was heaven. I left when I was pregnant with Archer, and Hazel Brown took over my role as co-director with Alice. They have since set up in a warehouse in Rupert Street in Collingwood.
How would you describe your work?
My paintings are of intimate domestic spaces. They are quiet spaces that I crave in my daily life but don’t often get to experience (life with a toddler doesn’t allow many quiet moments, so I paint them instead!). I wanted the paintings to be like jungles, filled with joyful and colourful plants to immerse yourself in.
I walk every day in the Botanic gardens and I have become more interested in the different species of plants they have there, especially in the glass house and Guilfoyle’s Volcano… it is a treasure trove of inspiration!
We are so thrilled to announce that you’ll be exhibiting with us at TDF Collect this month! What has inspired this body of work?
The paintings depict quiet domestic spaces, often sunrooms or balconies filled with plants and colour. The spaces appear recently vacated, if only for a moment, by the occupier of a seat, leaving in his or her wake a half eaten piece of toast or a cup of tea. The spaces could be anywhere, but they are particular to Melbourne’s temperate climate because of the types of plants grown inside.
I’ve found much inspiration in the ongoing renaissance of indoor gardens across the globe; seeing the spaces of fellow creatives and the abundance of plant life that fill their homes and studios is exciting, and finds me often visiting the many wonderful local nurseries and plant shops in Melbourne, like Glasshaus, Loose Leaf and Mr Kitly among others. Living with plants and being so close to the Royal Botanic Gardens brings me a lot of contentment, I think being surrounded by plant life can really affect your mood and your perception of things in a positive way.
Can you give us a little insight into your process? What materials do you use? Is each work pre-planned or created very intuitively? Do you work on multiple canvases at one time?
I am a big pre-planner, I draw a lot in my sketchbook, I make little watercolours and write a lot. However, when it comes to putting these ideas onto the canvas I usually take a more intuitive approach. By the time it comes to paint, it’s like all of the ideas and sketches have distilled, and they come out in fresh forms on the canvas. I then block in colour and slowly build up depth and layering. I work on a few at a time and often in pairs (I think this could be a printmaker thing!). If a painting isn’t working from the get go, I usually paint over it and start again. I think my best work is when it comes organically and isn’t forced.
I use really good quality linens to give a bit of texture to the paint, and I use acrylics and a LOT of medium. I like to water down the colour so that they appear more like watercolours, with a lot of light reflecting through the paint.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I wake early (sometimes I am woken earlier than I would like) and I take my son to daycare. Then I hurtle back to Lennox Street and pick up a coffee from Cheerio, and then up the hill to the studio. Often my studio pal Anna is in early too, but if not I turn the music up loud (country and folk in the mornings before everyone else gets in!) and I browse blogs, online magazines and the paper, drink coffee, write in my journal, make a watercolour and draw.
By 9ish the others at the studio arrive (there are 5 of us in total) and we all get down to business. I usually paint solidly until 11.30, have an early lunch of leftovers or a mushroom wrap from Demitri’s Feast or sushi from Swan Street. Then back to work until 3ish when I go and pick up my son.
We then go for a walk to look at the ducks and plants in the Botanic Gardens followed by the oval for a kick of the footy. Things fall into a kind of chaos from this point until baby bedtime, after which time I either take up residence on the couch and knit while watching a TV series with my husband, or I go to pilates or yoga depending on which day of the week it is.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Katia Carletti – I met Katia via Instagram and we did a few swaps and have become great friends. We are weirdly similar in many respects, especially our secret love for romantic comedies.
Dane Lovett – I loved the series he did of records and plants in jars. It felt like they were of my living room. Vinyl EVERYWHERE and jars of plants growing roots.
Laura Jones – I adore her paintings of floral arrangements. Her use of colour and composition is inspiring.
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
1. Instagram – I follow a lot of plant loving people and I love seeking out different plants and scenes to base paintings on. I love the intimacy of the little photos, and people’s willingness to share their special corners and arrangements. I think these little images have really inspired my work. I never thought I would say that social media inspired my work, ever!
2. Pinterest. I have heaps of boards of plants and rooms and colour palette inspiration.
3. Art books always migrate between the studio and home. At the moment I am revisiting David Hockney, Ellsworth Kelly’s plant drawings (a beautiful birthday gift from friends) and the new Strange Plants II book.
4. The Planthunter. What an amazing blog. I love reading the different stories, they really get me thinking.
5. The radio or podcasts. Sometimes you need to take yourself away from the visual world and think about something else. I really love listening to podcasts about things that are completely unrelated to art. It is amazing where one can find inspiration in a podcast about economics! I have a real soft spot for Margaret Throsby on the ABC!
What is your proudest career achievement to date?
Probably running Schoolhouse Studios and the Place of Assembly exhibition that Alice and I curated for the Melbourne International Arts Festival. It was epic.
What would be your dream creative project?
To do a residency overseas. Maybe revisit London or San Francisco for a bit.
What are you looking forward to?
Winter! Strange I know but I love being able to rug up in woollen things and sip hot chocolates by an open fire or go for brisk walks on frosty mornings!
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
I have to say Richmond because that is where I live and I really love the community here. Although I’m not into sports at all, so as long as I avoid Swan Street on a Friday night, life here is pretty great!
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
It wasn’t that recent but it really sticks in my mind, Da Noi on Toorak Road in South Yarra. It is a tiny little Italian restaurant with Sardinian influences and the menu changes daily.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
We are woken early, toddlers don’t distinguish between weekends and weekdays. We have breakfast at home cooked masterfully by my husband, or a takeaway brekkie burger from Cheerio, then down to Gleadell Street market to get our fruit and veg.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
The Arboretum in Olinda. My friend Kate introduced me to this magical place a few years ago and I love to visit it in different seasons. Now is an amazing time of year up in the hills.