Interview with Peta Dzubiel by Rachel Carroll curator of Reflection/Refraction


Interview with Peta Dzubiel:

When did you start painting & which teacher/s influenced your practice?

I started my BFA at the College of Fine Arts when I was 19 in 2003. I always loved and felt drawn to landscape painting, so I was very happy to have Ian Grant as a painting lecturer. I was also very lucky to have the late Alan Oldfield during my first year and he had a great rapport with students. He introduced us to the technical aspects of painting, mediums, colour mixing and different supports on which we could work on. I used to paint a lot on primed cardboard as it was economical and gave a nice effect. I also had Andrew Christofides, Idris Murphy, Peter Sharpe and Nicole Ellis and they made us examine our work conceptually. Sally Clarke and David Eastwood ran dynamic workshops which I really enjoyed. During my Honours year I had Chelsea Lehmann as a supervisor and her influence, support and friendship has remained strong. Chelsea has been a mentor to me and much of my knowledge of painting and confidence as an artist stems from her teaching.

What do you want to achieve with paint that you haven’t already been able to achieve?

I want to paint larger figurative work and keep exploring new colour palettes. I want to be more expressive but detailed too. It’s a conundrum!

What can paint do that other art-forms are unable to?

I think there are many reasons painting is still on the radar as a valid art form. Painting can render an emotional response unlike any other medium whether it be by representational or non-representational means. Colour, texture and tone are several key elements that come into this. Painting can also deal with brutal subject matter with relative sensitivity. For example, Picasso’s Guernica is an epic painting that looks at the horrors of humanity during the Spanish civil war in a way in which we can digest and learn from without being completely repelled. But at the end of the day I think artists who are drawn to paint do so because of its materiality and versatility as a medium. There is a level of instant gratification that appeals to me. With oil painting, mistakes can be fixed, paintings can be re-worked and there is a lot of mentally challenging hand/ eye processing that happens. Never a dull moment unless you paint a dull painting!

What is your favourite work of art?

This is a really hard question for me to answer as I admire so many artworks, both contemporary and traditional. I became quite teary-eyed when I saw a drawing by German artist Kathe Kollwitz in Cologne titled, Woman with Dead Child. I remember thinking that this drawing is so beautiful yet there is such sadness. How she captured her subject moved me. She was such an incredible artist who communicated completely the plight of the lower classes through her expressive and delicate draughtsmanship. I have always looked to the impressionists and post impressionists for answers to my painting questions. I love Degas, Streeton, Roberts, Gaugain, Manet, Monet, Whistler, Sorolla… the list goes on. I love them all! Australian painting also speaks volumes to me. Arthur Boyd had so many comments about humanity with the Australian landscape as the backdrop. This recontextualised his concerns completely and gave them new meaning. Genius!

What are your creative influences?

My creative influences are my artist friends. They constantly inspire and encourage. I love seeing what they’re doing and how they manage to stay creative in this fast paced and demanding world.

What other forms of creative expression do you enjoy that feeds your creativity?

Listening to music is very important for my creativity in the studio.  Walking and immersing myself within the natural environment where I can daydream and wander with my thoughts and plan new paintings. Photography is also a wonderful tool that feeds into my practice.

Do you think about work you have previously made? Does it leave your head once you have completed it or does it continue to develop into new work?

No it doesn’t leave my head. It continues to inform my work and can direct a new series of work. Often when I paint towards an exhibition I have many ideas that do not come to fruition because of time limits. So the ideas and paintings flow on until I get the urge to take a new direction.

What artist has influenced you the most?

Different artists have influenced me at different times. I have surely been influenced by Australian impressionism and contemporary Australian artists but I can’t name just one!

How do you start a painting? Do you draw foundations and build from there, or do you just start with paint? Do you make preliminary drawings?

I often sketch out my ideas for paintings in sketchbooks to nut-out any compositional issues before painting. I generally find if the sketch looks OK and is working than the painting should work. It has more potential for success anyway.

Are the figures determined by the landscape or vice versa? Do you see the image first in your head or build it on the painting surface as you work?

Both. I like to have a direction of what I am doing but also play with the painted surface and try techniques that will enhance the conceptual meaning of the work.

You currently work figure separate to your landscape, would you consider combining the two?

The figures are always in the landscape but to make bigger work that deals with the figure in the landscape, yes, I aim to do that. But to do it well and with meaning takes time and experimentation.

Do you use photographs as source material or as reference?

I work from references like film stills or historical photographs. I also take my own figurative photographs. Photographs are great for painters but I don’t rely on them soley because I don’t wish to make static paintings. I want the paint and painting to make the picture and tell the story. Otherwise what is the point of painting?

Do you make stand-alone drawings? (i.e. not just as studies for paintings?)

Yes I do. But often these drawings or elements of these drawings find their way into paintings. I think this is a natural process if you have paint on the brain

What role does memory play in your work?

Memory plays a very important role in my work. Conceptually, my paintings are remembering who has been in this landscape before now. My current painting practice explores the tradition of landscape with a focus on the temporal; the idea that places remember their past whilst always being at the mercy of human intervention and other forces of change.

Do you work En Plein Air? If so which is easier – working in the studio or en plein air? Is the latter more immediate, or does it require follow-up work in the studio?

Yes I love to paint in situ and then I develop these paintings on a bigger scale in the studio. Working outdoors within the landscape informs your studio paintings. Working outside has its problems, for example, insects and bugs can fly into your wet painting! I think to paint outdoors you have to accept you will get grubby and make a mess and at times it will be uncomfortable with the hot sun or cold. But if you make a good painting it was worth it.

Tell me more about the underlying meaning in your work, especially the references to a narrative and history.

My paintings work with elements of pictorial ambiguity and mystery to explore the landscape and figure/field relationships as a means by which I can express the psychological and metaphysical aspects of ‘Landscape’.

My current work makes direct reference to narratives that focus on the notion of being ‘lost’ either to a place or by misadventure.  Peter Weir’s adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Audrey’s song, Little Molly, have been the basis for many of the paintings and influenced the direction my current series. Both references have a psychological connection to landscape and conjure imagery of people ‘lost’, whether in a physical or emotional sense, in a place of beauty within the Australian Landscape. Theoretically the Australian Gothic mode is a notion which resonates with the ideas underpinning my work, in particular the writing of Gerry Turcotte and his paper, ‘Australian Gothic’, 1998 which has isolated and described several ideas which influence my practice.

From its inception the Gothic has dealt with fears and themes which are endemic in the colonial experience: isolation, entrapment, fear of pursuit and fear of the unknown. And for each, the possibility of transformation, of surviving the dislocation, acts as a driving hope. 

–          Gerry Turcotte, ‘Australian Gothic’, 1998

Peta Dzubiel 2016

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