Lucy Vader Painter

How do you fit all that you do in, building design, painting and sculpture?  Or is the only slow time when you have to rest your leg after breaking your ankle?

I consider myself to be rather lazy but most probably I’m not. I feel dreadfully guilty when doing nothing. I have quite specific moments of great productivity. Whilst I do procrastinate sometimes, it’s only because there’s a greater sense that if I leap in too quickly I won’t have let the fullness of my intentions percolate properly yet. It can take some contemplating before the avalanche begins.

I work out how much time to allocate to each of my responsibilities. Sometimes I will commit three days a week to design and buildings, and four days a week to painting, other weeks I will break the days into three-hour slots, switching from design to painting. The sweet spot of each day is between 2.30pm and 5pm. Odd but that’s the exact time of day where it all starts to flow. My preference is to only paint, to be honest.

As my broken ankle heals I’m starting to hobble around the studio. To date it’s been too difficult, but now I’m doing a strange hopping and painting routine. It’s good to be back in the saddle!

Can you expand on your sheep paintings?

 Let’s Play Again in that Field, Oil on Canvas

I began painting sheep intuitively – first of all though they were imposed on me, by a sculpture commission in 2010 that included some sheep. From there I gravitated toward representing them in my paintings. As their meaning unfolds for me I am learning about my relationship to Australia, myself, my history, and the notion of character and identity.

As they found their form on my canvases I found the form pleasing, quite non-confrontational, yet meaningful. They began in my final year at National Art School – much to the chagrin of the general vibe for minimalist and non-reprentation my teachers seemed to go for. I persisted.

There are of course many underlying relevancies that can be applied to the representation of sheep in art, including Austraia’s cultural and economic history, and my own. It is a very Australian image that I have been expanding in my work, yet look closer and it is so very un-Australian. Could one select a less suitable animal to commence the economy of a new nation on?! On my recent trip to New Zealand, the unsuitability of sheep to Australia is highlighted by contrast. There, such perfectly Scottish and sheeplike terrain, and they fondly tell me that they laugh at Australia’s rather skew-whiff choices; here so terribly wrong. And yet! As testament to both the stoic character of both sheep and the rural colonial Australian, here they, we, still are. In Australian paddocks the sheep, in their all-season woolies and during unpredictable weathers, have bitten grass down to nubs and paddocks down to gravel, but they survive, and so do we. It’s an alien marriage in a foreign land that somehow works in spite of the glaring obstacles.

The solitary sheep is a theme that appears in some of my works and on a psycho-analytical level may represent something of my relationship to the world. Then I add an extra sheep in, some companionship, avoiding a direct gaze to the viewer, then some more, socially together, but still languid and contained within themselves, non-confrontational. Then full-on up close and exuding humanity, and still self-contained. Their interpretation is available to the individual and is not for me to impose too didactically.

The physical form of the sheep, once I commenced my continuing interest in painting them, is one I like depicting. Following on from the famously intensive life drawing that is key to National Art School, the undulating curves seemed to follow! Perhaps from there I progressed to my other representative theme, skyscapes – sheep in the sky?!

Discuss your work, “I will love your forever” and how this one came to be?

Portraits like I will love you forever are part of my desire to move the lens of the gaze inward and outward from my figurative subjects. The distant figure in the field becomes a close up individual. The humanity in their eyes and demeanour is something that happens outside of my control, when the painting takes over and I’m a vehicle. How did it come to be? Who knows! This is the curious thing about painting for me. I am one of those artists who lets the canvas dictate the direction, rather than have me impose my will upon it.

 I Will Love You Forever, Oil on Canvas

It’s good to completely dismiss any negative stereotype about sheep, ie, herd mentality, or being followers. These, when studying sheep behaviour, are excellent characteristics, and are part of a dynamic social structure that includes protection, strong social values, stoicism, and great love for each other. Observing the care of the lambs in the flock is a beautiful thing, and their nightly concerns of survival mean daily vigilance from their intrinsically passive and non-violent natures.

I think something of these worthy values is captured in the painting “I will love you forever”.

Discuss the contrast of colour in your work?

Colour is of course really important to me. It is key to the sense of destruction and order that I move backwards and forwards in, over the course of producing a work.

I traumatise canvases into quite a state of visual disruption, all with colour. Then my challenge is to calm the entire scene into something less active.

I find the resulting work of my rather explosive colour appears more realistic to life than if one were to paint, say, brown for a brown table, green for green grass, white for clouds, etc. I like that our brains think we see specific colours, when in fact a broad and somewhat holographic spectrum of illusion plays out before our eyes. Colour pops and contrasts are critical to me for a completed work, in the way they vibrate and contrast to the colours surrounding.

I can understand the connection with sheep and cattle but where do the deer come in?

The deer are those who graze and run wild on the Upper Hunter, and are considered a pest (so not!). So they appear in my work as one of the animals in the landscape around me.

Listen Carefully, Oil on Canvas

My choice to paint them is once again, in part, an attraction to painting form: the curves of the antlers are irresistible and I love pondering their almost universal allure as I work on paintings of them. Is it the Fibonacci sequence unfurling in those shapes? Perhaps, but all I know is they bring so much visual delight. And then of course I go and destroy it all with brutal paint scrapes. This is part of the process for me: a worry about “completion”, a preference for destruction, and a certain disgust for the perfect.

Your work comes in various sizes discuss this issue and how you decide?

Size is a funny one in art. Proportions I find unbelievably important. One proportion I deeply loathe, strangely enough, is the golden mean.

Large is my preferred scale, so as to completely immerse myself into the experience of the painting. And very small is also appealing, for the gem-like quality, and how the scale of the brush stroke can effect the composition. Sometimes I will do a small study and wonder how I can achieve the same on a grand scale without having a brush half a foot wide.

You make such a lovely but simple comment, “I love to see my works in happy homes” can you expand on this?

Ultimately in my work I’m looking to find the feeling, to elevate and uplift, or to elicit a deep and positive response from the depiction of the relatively mundane. I want more joy, frankly.

I take works home and live with them sometimes in order to see how they work subconsciously. And if they can elevate me obliquely, I want to think that other people can be uplifted too, to find the poetry in a passing glance.

 Together Again, Oil on Canvas

You have three studio spaces expand on how each space stimulates your work?

Before now, where I have three rural locations to paint, I had a studio in a dirty and very masculine windowless warehouse in Botany, in Sydney’s industrial “messy room”. I somewhat miss this sort of grubby enclosed space, because it was something of a Plato’s cave for me, onto which I projected a vision of bucolic loveliness.

Now I live in bucolic loveliness and am surrounded by so much beauty it kind of makes me sick, you know? Far northern NSW is intensely fertile and green, and was where I grew up. The impossible variations of green is everywhere I look, canopied by deep water logged

purple grey clouds, and split with reaching pretty blue skies. It pervade

s my senses. It hurts sometimes. I have two studios up there.

My other studio continues to be on a sheep farm on the flanks of the Liverpool Plains and is deeply inspiring always. The farm is subject entirely to the whim of the weather. Sometimes each step across the grass is a crunching reminder of the cruel moment the landscape is holding up under, and sometimes the creeks gush forth deep clear water and the paddocks thrive green and pretend they’ve never seen suffering.



Beyond the white painted fence surrounds, an array of animals graze, ranging from stud bulls, stud rams, ewes and lambs, and of course wallabies, foxes, wild pigs, galahs and cockatoos.

How do you store your ideas, sketchbooks, photographs, or memory?

Memory plays an important role in my landscapes. I prefer to not look at photographs or preliminary sketches in my paintings, instead allowing an intuitive memory to unfold into the paintwork.

Sketchbooks are very important to me for keeping the hand moving, and keeping the intelligence in the fingers. National Art School reall knows what it’s doing by including a strong drawing vein through every year of the degree. Drawing unfortunately isn’t like riding a bike, and the hand and eye must be kept active. I mostly draw animals in my sketchbooks, and the sketchbooks scatter my life: beside the bed, in the car, in the studios, etc.

Photos are critical for animals and inspirational scenes to spring from or be reminded of.

Your painting technique, discuss how you actually use your hand, large brushes in your work?

I don’t know if I have a painting technique. I once said that I sort of stress the canvas into a state, quite a state, almost traumatise it, until it’s an overly “active” mess of composition. Then, like a macabre god, soothe the scene into one of tranquil harmony.

I use a range of marks, or techniques, but nothing strict. Broad large brushes, oil sticks and scrapers are my tools.

You recently had an exhibition at Michael Reid’s Gallery how did you come by the title – ‘Weather Dependent’?

All of my paintings, at least in my mind, whether or not it’s obvious to viewers, refer to predominant weather systems and current weather events. My psyche and inspiration is tuned to the weather and my landscapes and animals are a response to it.

Australia’s rural animal and agricultural community since settlement has been afflicted by the harsh turns of drought and flood that this county’s weather likes to turn on. I want my works to be good omens, to assist the farmers’ needs, when they can’t shake their fist the sky.  I love rain, and its interaction with the landscape. I was distraught during the 12 year drought that ended (sadly not everywhere) in about 2011, and reborn when great floods drained down from Queensland and all the way to Lake Ayre. I painted a number of flood / sheep paintings during that time.

Now my works are ascending ever more to the skies, and my recent exhibition referred to that.

Discuss the importance of country to your work?

I think country is pretty important to my work, but not critical. I’m looking to impart my subconscious response onto the canvas, feeling my way into an identification to something, which so far has tended to reveal itself in landscape and animal depiction. But is it a specific scene I am painting? No I don’t think so. I’m looking for an emotional response of recognition, letting my work play out in front of me and allowing the land to reveal itself to me.

While not identically pickable landscape scenes, they are very much Australian scenes, and to me have the pull of that spiritual connection.

As an Australian my generations have been here since the early days of the colony, and as descendants or new arrivals who are not indigenous, we are all feeling our way to a closer and deeper relationship to the landscape in which we dwell.

Contact details.

Michael Reid Gallery tel 02 8353 3500

Lucy Vader

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, February, 2016