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Sam Michelle's Realist Still-Lifes Capture The Beauty Of Two Landscapes

Creative People

Artist Sam Michelle has been quietly creating art for twenty years. The last time we caught up with the realist painter she had nervously decided to take the leap away from a longstanding corporate profession and towards a creative one. And it worked! We are always down for celebrating that kind of bravery.

Three years on, the artist now works from her home studio in Blind Bight, a tiny coastal town 55 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, where she paints her sharp, vivid oil-on-canvas paintings in a detached studio beside her living room. We caught up with the artist ahead of her solo exhibition at Gallerysmith next month.

24th August, 2020

‘Australian Flora’, 2020. Photo – Suzi Appel.

‘NZ & Australian Natives’, 2020. Photo – Suzi Appel.

Sam in her studio. Photo – Suzi Appel.

‘NZ Flora’ diptych, 2020. Photo – Suzi Appel.

Sam at work. Photo – Suzi Appel.

‘NZ Kowhai, Hydrangea & Flax’, 2020. Photo – Suzi Appel.

‘Feijoas’, 2020. Photo – Suzi Appel.

‘The Tui & Flax’, 2020. Photo – Suzi Appel.

”Feijoa, Kiwifruit & Apples’, 2020. Photo – Suzi Appel.

‘Dual Citizen’ opens on September 17th. Photo – Suzi Appel.

Sasha Gattermayr
Monday 24th August 2020

‘Painting for me was always a precocious, personal outlet that I kept private for many years, self-directed but always learning.’ – Sam Michelle

When artist Sam Michelle left her career in finance to pursue realist painting six years ago, it had been twenty years since she’d first picked up a paintbrush, and only one since she exhibited publicly for the first time. But artistic passion was in her blood, and it fuelled her determination.

‘My maternal grandfather was a jewellery designer and my nana was a ceramicist and china painter, so we were surrounded by creatives and creating while growing up,’ she explains of her idyllic childhood in New Zealand. ‘My interest in flowers and still life developed from there.’

From the ‘quiet little hamlet’ of Blind Bight, an hour’s drive from Melbourne, she now paints her striking realist paintings, depicting sumptuous native flower arrangements and delicate domestic scenes. Her admiration for ceramicists and textile designers has begun to infiltrate these household tableus, appearing in details like tablecloths and fruit bowls.

‘Painting for me was always a precocious, personal outlet that I kept private for many years, self-directed but always learning,’ she explains of her quiet pursuit. ‘But I feel really connected to this new body of work and because of that, I feel that it has taken me into a new phase of my career. I can’t wait to explore that further.’

That body of work is her most recent collection of paintings, those which make up her upcoming exhibition, Dual Citizen. The series has been created to commemorate this year as the balance point in Sam’s life, the timestamp between her first 18 years in New Zealand and the last 18 years she has spent in Australia. This neat cleave between the two places she calls home is one of the tidier metaphors in what has been a messy and chaotic year.

‘Although I call New Zealand home, these works acknowledge that I feel this way about Australia also,’ she reflects. The series of paintings begins by depicting sentimental slices of Sam’s childhood: a basket of feijoas, the flowers in her grandmother’s garden and the sea crabs accidentally trodden on while swimming at the beach. These scenes of youthful bliss give way to new visions of a distinct Australian tablescape, one filled with banksia, wattle and hakea. Sam uses native landscapes as signifiers to mark the shift between her homes, but integrates them with a flawless style and precision.

When you consider the amount of native flora surrounding Sam’s studio, it’s no wonder she’s constantly inspired by the natural world. With the award-winning Cranbourne gardens just a ten-minute drive away, plenty of coastal gardens and local nurseries to peek into, there is no shortage of new subject matter!

Presales for Sam’s exhibition ‘Dual Citizen’ opens this Thursday August 29th, contact Gallerysmith to be put on the mailing list.  

‘Dual Citizens’ is due to open to the public from September 17th to October 10th. This will depend on Victoria’s current restrictions.

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net