It’s always so interesting to view your home town through the eyes of a more recent arrival or temporary visitor – someone who has lived all over the world, and sees your familiar surroundings with fresh eyes.
I got this feeling during a recent visit to the Thornbury home and studio of artist Bobby Clark, who relocated here 6 years ago with her sculptor partner Steve Clark aka Den Holm. Though they’ve been here for quite a while now, Bobby and Steve talk about Melbourne with the sort of genuine affection and appreciation that can only come when you’re new enough to really *notice* the things that life-long residents probably take for granted.
‘There is something about Melbourne that is so special’ Bobby says below. ‘Anything is possible here, and the industry is so nurturing and encouraging’.
Melbourne’s supportive creative community has indeed given Bobby the encouragement to professionally pursue a long held passion for making art.
Bobby is originally from a small, riverside town in Scotland called Greenock. After studying fashion and textiles in the UK, Bobby came to Australia with her partner, Steve, with the intention of travelling the world. But they never left ! Instead, this industrious pair quickly fell in love with Melbourne, settling in Thornbury, where Bobby now works from a home studio.
We LOVE Bobby’s distinctive paintings on paper, with their minimalist geometric compositions and muted colour palette.
Bobby and her partner Steve are curating and participating in a new group exhibition, opening soon at Steve’s Reservoir studio. The show has been conceptualised in conjunction with their friend and fellow artist Jordan Kerwick.
New Slang – A homage to home
A group exhibition featuring the work of 17 Australian and International contemporary artists
Opening Dec 1st, 6pm – 9pm
Exhibition runs until Dec 7th
4/74 Newlands Road, Reservoir
Tell us a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you are doing today?
When I think back to the path that led me to where I am today I sometimes get a little frustrated, as what I ended up doing was staring me in the face my entire life! My grandfather was a great artist, who worked out of his green garden shed, painting oil portraits of weather-beaten elderly fishermen. He was offered a scholarship with Glasgow School of Art in his youth, but forbidden to go by his parents, who believed a man should only develop a more masculine, traditional trade. He spent his life working as a painter and decorator and creating stage sets for the local mental health hospital. I spent a lot of time with my grandfather growing up, and was always in his shed tinkering around, and I think my love of painting started here.
I was always encouraged creatively as a child. My grandmother would set up still life sets for me to study and paint, my parents were very creative, and my aunt was a human fact file about all the great artists and taught me a lot. I ended up working with my cousin who is a set designer, and then ended up studying fashion.
Fashion led me to textiles, and then the realisation that I really wanted to create art and photography. It wasn’t until moving to Melbourne with my partner that I started to realise that a career as an artist was possible.
There is something about Melbourne that is so special. Anything is possible here, and the industry is so nurturing and encouraging.
How would you describe your work, and what influences your subject matter?
My work is minimal and abstract – a balance and connection between shape and composition. It took me a while to understand where it was coming from. I have always been a methodical worker and have a strong connection to object placement. These days I can see a very obvious connection and reference to this in my paintings.
Currently I am drawn to The Labyrinth Home of Spanish sculptor Xavier Corbero. His use of arches, openings, raw materials and stairwells are inspiring the spaces and palette of my paintings. I have also just started collecting books on the life and works of Pablo Picasso. I find him extraordinarily fascinating. The more I read about his life, the more obsessed I become. His paintings change shape and meaning the more you understand about the man behind them.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process? Do you have a rigid plan while painting or a more intuitive approach? What types of materials do you use?
Painting is my meditation, it’s my mental sanctuary. My creative process is ritualistic. I always start by cleaning and decluttering my desk, organising my tools and getting fresh, clean water. Music is a very important part of the process. There is something about a classical composition or Hawaiian folk music that takes me to another headspace. I have a specific playlist that I listen to every time I paint, it helps me shut out the world and get inside my head.
I use the same paper every time, Archers fine art paper and acrylic paint. I am trying to experiment with canvas but it takes me quite some time to adapt to a new medium – no surprise, as I am a creature of habit.
My work process is extremely intuitive, I don’t plan my paintings or reference other work as I feel this slows the process and subliminally manipulates the end result. Placing the first shape is terrifying as it sets the balance for the final piece. Some days it works, some days it doesn’t, and I understand that. It’s not something you can switch on and off, it’s all connected to my mood and emotions.
What inspired your transition from making photographic art pieces to your new paintings?
I feel like there is a distinct line between my photography and art. I think I am connected to photography because I have an extremely bad memory, and it allows me to capture a moment of time or beauty and hold onto it forever. I am very sentimental with photographs, as they connect history with memories and allow me to access things I would have lost along the way.
Art for me is something deeply emotive. I think that’s part of the reason it took me so long to start producing work, as it’s incredibly personal. You are putting yourself on the canvas for judgement. It’s very raw.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I try and start the day with something physical. I feel everything a little too much and without exercise I can really struggle with my high energy and emotions. Exercise helps me have a clear view for the day.
Every day is different for me. While I love routine, my days are completely irregular. I work freelance as a photographer, manage social media accounts and creative direction for some local businesses, while trying to paint as much as I can, so my week can get a little crazy at times.
I have recently just become fully self-employed, so I am getting used to being in charge of my own schedule and am trying to keep a cap on how many coffee dates I try and squeeze into one day.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Dane Lovett, artist – Lovett is an incredible artist, he has the skill of a renaissance painter, with contemporary subject matter.
Den-Holm, sculptor – I am totally bias but I am constantly inspired by my husband Steve Clark of Den-Holm. His sculptures, as well has his mind, are ever evolving and mind blowing. His ambition is infectious and he pushes me to achieve not only through his words but also through his ideas and work.
Zhu Ohmu, ceramicist – I have just discovered the work of Rose Wei of Zhu Ohmu and am mesmerised by her form and material of her work.
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
Some of my go-to resources are Pinterest, Nowness, Apartamento Magazine for design, architecture and interviews, and Papier Mache Magazine for photography inspiration.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
I don’t think I have reached that place as of yet. I think the day I have my first show will be that moment. It will be 29 years in the making. I have had some incredible career experiences and huge learning curves along the way and only feel like now I am slowly figuring out who I am and what I want.
What would be your dream creative project?
My next dream project is to paint an Australian store or building with a huge scale art piece/mural. I am working on making this happen. I would also love to collaborate with an Australian fashion label at some point too. I have a few really exciting things in the pipeline. I don’t like to tempt fate so I’m remaining tight-lipped!
What are you looking forward to?
My group exhibition! I have been wanting to exhibit work for quite some time. I’m also working on a joint solo show with my husband (and incredible sculptor) Steven Clark, that will open next year.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
I am really into Collingwood at the minute. I love getting lost in the side streets over there, dreaming of the house I one day want to live in. I really love Thornbury and Northcote too. I’ve been here long enough to really get into the soul of the place, there is a great sense of community here, and it’s been a long time since we have lived somewhere where I can walk down the street and bump into people I know. It’s the nicest thing to feel like you belong when you are so far from home.
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
My amazing friend and cook Julia Busuttil Nishimura of Ostro recently cooked us pork crackling with apples, fresh sage and shallots. It was one of the best roasts I have ever eaten.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Eating breakfast and sipping coffee with Steve and our little black seal/staffy Scout in Thornbury, chatting about our week, and planning our next getaway (which never quite happens).
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
The Black Spur, a prehistoric drive through Jurassic Park!