Yvette Coppersmith was always going to be an artist. Just after year 10, a career advisor asked her ‘if time and money didn’t matter, what would you do each day?’. The answer was clear. With the support of her parents, Yvette changed schools, committed to creating a painting portfolio which would allow her to pursue fine arts at university. She went on to study painting at the Victorian College of the Arts straight after year 12, and hasn’t looked back.
Uncompromising focus and determination have been constant throughout Yvette’s career. Her early work was created in a photo realist style, with a focus on portraiture. Lately, though, her style has expanded to include still life and bold abstract forms. She is always conscious of pushing her work into new territory – ‘being excited and challenged by your work is vital’ she says.
Right now, Yvette is working on a very important project. She is creating a portrait of Gillian Triggs, the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission. ‘It gives me an opportunity to honour someone who’s work is fundamental in holding our governments to account’ explains Yvette below. ‘It’s quite rare for a country such as Australia NOT to have a Bill of Rights, where the High Court holds the government to account on their new legislation. The Human Rights Commission is the key independent body in our political landscape’.
Aside from maintaining a prolific art practice of her own, Yvette also teaches art. She takes private lessons in her home studio, and will be running a series of portrait drawing workshops at the National Gallery of Victoria.
Yvette is represented by Fort Delta in Melbourne. Her latest exhibition, Companion Piece, opens April 28th at Fort Delta.
Companion Piece by Yvette Coppersmith
Opens 28 April until 28 May
Location Capitol Arcade (Basement Level)
Shop 59/113 Swanston Street
Tell us a little bit about your background – where did you grow up and what did you study?
I grew up in the Yiddish speaking community of Melbourne, learning the language in primary school and speaking with my Grandparents. I still live in the same area I grew up. I feel like south east is my ‘hood, but also I am north side for exhibitions frequently. I feel connected to two communities.
Thanks to my very supportive parents, I have always been able to follow my passion for painting. My parents took me to see a career advisor after year 10, she asked me: ‘If time and money didn’t matter, what would you do each day?’ It was clear that I needed to change schools to give me a larger portfolio to study Fine Arts at University. I studied in the painting department at the Victorian College of the Arts straight after year 12, and I’m grateful for such a formative education!
How would you describe your work?
Lately I find that question harder to answer in a nutshell. I started as a portraitist, working with self-portraiture and people around me. I’ve been interested in the dynamics of the gaze as a female artist, representation of the figure and psychological aspects of the subject. Now my work also encompasses still life as a genre. Also, stylistically over the past 15 years, I’ve really pushed myself from making photo-realistic paintings, to a more intuitive and imaginative approach.
Underpinning my practice there is a sense of intimacy – whether that be a likeness of a person, or a pictorial arrangement. I make work primarily for myself, involving a conflation of what I’d want to hang in my home, what is going on for me personally, and what will provide a meaning for others.
Working with portraiture allows me to be drawn to interesting people that I feel compelled to spend time with, in a very personal way. During my time as a portrait artist, I’ve met some incredibly inspiring people. One project that’s been ongoing since last year is a painting of Daniel Keighran VC, for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process? Do you work on multiple works at once, do you have a rigid plan while painting or a more intuitive approach? What types of materials do you use?
The approach that I have found to work best is to have up to about a dozen paintings forming at once on rotation. That may include realist portraits and semi-abstract work. Some things are pre-planned, and some I just start, and intuitively respond to.
I work in oils, which gives me a certain freedom to layer paintings…much of the developmental work and experiments happen in the layers that are beneath the surface of the finished painting. The pieces with more textured surfaces have undergone many transitions until arriving at something that feels resolved.
I’m always conscious of pushing my work into new territory. It can be frightening to venture into the dark and try and find a way forward, but those are the most exciting risks as an artist. Being excited and challenged by your work is vital.
Tell us a little bit about your upcoming exhibition, Companion Piece.
The body of work for Companion Piece brings together different aspects of my practice. Those elements are the figure, still life, and portrait. One of the models I had a shoot with in 2013 – and since then I’ve made so much work that was sparked by that whole interaction, now I’m revisiting that subject matter in a way I would not have at the time.
Another friend who has been modelling for me is Tunni Kraus, who was involved with a series of work I made in 2010 called Loft Suite, based on the warehouse he lived in. It’s been wonderful to work with a model who is himself a creative, and a trusted critic, giving support and feedback as the show forms. The show is, on one level, about the companionship that has arisen whilst making these works.
Besides maintaining your own art practice, you also teach still life and portraiture drawing and painting classes. What is it about teaching others that you enjoy?
I first started teaching in 2004 when I was a photo-realist painter, people came to learn that particular process. Then I had several years gap where I needed to experiment in my own practice and wasn’t sure yet how I wanted to teach. I began running workshops again in 2014, I feel the breadth of my work allows me to say to people there’s infinite ways to make a picture. I love being a support as people take risks and try something new, while giving them some tools to do so.
Last year I travelled to the Northern Territory and worked with Indigenous artists in the remote community Epanarra and in town at Tennant Creek. I’ll be running a still life workshop in Yiddish at the annual Yiddish weekend retreat in May. Currently I give private lessons from my home, and I’m also running some portrait drawing workshops on at the National Gallery of Victoria.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
My work schedule is from the moment I wake up to when I go to sleep. I love routine, but it has to be flexible too, for the unexpected things that provide inspiration. Sometimes I am in the studio before dawn and work until late. Or I might go for a run first and then get into work. I basically work until I have to go to an exhibition opening.
I am best early in the morning but also there are days when you’re in the zone and you just want to milk it and sleep seems an inevitable nuisance! There are studio marathons every fortnight or so – last week I did 17 hour all nighter in the studio, and went straight to judge an art competition the next morning.
Which other artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
I’m looking at NY artists Tal R, Mira Dancy and Yevgeniya Baras at the moment, but I also love so many Australian artists it’s hard to narrow down! My Instagram is an archive of many of my influences.
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 and social media alike has been an amazing way to connect with artists both here and abroad.
2. Ocula.com for their articles as well as international resource of artists and galleries
3. Libraries and bookshops in discovering new things randomly on the shelves without any algorithms.
4. Going to galleries alone is the best. Lucian Freud said when he’s in a museum, he views the entire history of art as a useful tool to resolve his current painting dilemmas – I feel the same.
5. Shopping! I love seeing homewares, interiors, fashion, design and what the trends are with colour and pattern. Even if I don’t buy anything it’s such an enriching tactile experience looking at things and having little chats to the people working in shops. Op shops for unexpected finds – a serious hobby of mine.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
In grade 4 I won the school talent quest for a monologue I wrote and performed. It was a cross-dressing transformation from an old man to a young female with an absurdist fictional biographical narrative. Of course I didn’t know what drag was – but I loved dressing up and performing. The judges deliberated for a week – it was between me and a child prodigy violinist. I won a bag of lollies and Mum made me share them at school.
What would be your dream creative project?
I feel like I’m living the dream I envisioned when I finished uni, the reality is it’s a lot of work, but painting is so dear to me! I’d also like to have a solo show internationally in the near future.
What are you looking forward to?
I’ll be artist in residence at Geelong Grammar, Corio campus in May, and am looking forward to meeting young creatives and working in a new context outside my home studio.
I’m also going to be part of a huge international drawing show curated by Charlie Roberts over three galleries in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Paris in May to July. I am also heading to Brisbane for my first show at Edwina Corlette in August.
But most of all, I am looking forward to continuing to work on a portrait of Gillian Triggs, the President of the Human Rights Commission. It gives me an opportunity to honour someone who’s work is fundamental in holding our governments to account. It’s quite rare for a country such as Australia NOT to have a Bill of Rights, where the High Court holds the government to account on their new legislation. With the opposition party not doing much in that respect – the Human Rights Commission is the key independent body in our political landscape.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
I’d have to say my own backyard because as much as I love to see other neighborhoods for architecture, gardens, and inspirational walks…there’s nothing like having your own private realm to dream in!
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
At my Mum’s place – her partner is an awesome cook and between them they made a very special dinner. The flavours were popping in the Eastern European style – chicken, paprika, cumin, oregano and garlic.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
It’s like any other day to me – in the studio, the art shop or galleries!
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
The small pockets of urban parks. A recent discovery was Ardrie park in Malvern East. Hedgeley Dene, Malvern East is great too. Both have an element of the Botanical gardens in miniature scale.