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

Gunyah artist in residence – North Arm Cove NSW

Have you seen Miranda, oil on primed paper, 2013

Gunyah Residency 13-27 September

For two weeks in September I was lucky to undertake a self directed artist’s residency. The Gunyah house is beautiful and set amongst the bush on a slope that leads to the waters of North Arm Cove, a gentle sheltered cove where a boat could seek refuge from a storm. During my two week residency the weather was all over the place, a sunny warm morning followed by a thunder storm at lunchtime and a calm mild afternoon. Typical Spring with four seasons experienced in one day. Towards the end of September the weather was windy and warm and a high danger for bushfires.

Apart from enjoying the exquisite natural surroundings of Gunyah, I was able to develop and play with some ideas central to the Australian bushland environment and the dense and twisted Gums of North Arm was the perfect place to do this. My focus at Gunyah was to explore the anxiety of the Australian bush through ‘lost children’ narratives. I found myself working with one image of two little girls, painting it several times. When working with images of children, one can often be overtaken by sentimentality. I tried to avoid this by not painting in facial features or by blurring the portrait with a broad gestural sweep.

In the studio and out in the field I favoured painting on primed paper as my support. For one work, I painted two portraits of the same child’s face, one showing facial detail while the other face is blurred and diminished like a fading memory. I wanted to take these dual portraits out of the studio and into the bush, simply to see how they would appear juxtaposed next to the landscape that enticed so many children away from their families and homes to their own detriment and peril. By pinning the paintings to the trees I found I could evoke something that alluded to a memorial or memory, of loss, erasure, missing person’s posters or bush telegraph, something along these lines. I found I could create a multi layered experience with a two dimensional and traditional object, such as, a painting. I took black and white photographs to document this work.

The location of Gunyah and the spring light and colour, one could not help but do a few little landscapes en plein air! I was lucky to have my family and a couple of friends visit me and enjoy together the beautiful property. I enjoyed very much driving into Tea Gardens on occasion and eating and drinking coffee at the Boatshed.  I also enjoyed exploring Mungo Brush, seeing an abundance of flannel flowers and swimming in the aqua waters of Jimmy’s Beach on the hottest day.

A sincere thankyou to Kath Fries and the Gunyah property group that make this wonderful residency available to artists. I found the two weeks very productive and positive for my practice.

Peta Dzubiel, 2013

Kath Fries: Gunyah artist-in-residence co-ordinator

Upcoming exhibition: ‘Across Time and Place’ 8-20 July at Depot II Gallery Danks St Waterloo, Sydney. Opening night Wednesday 10th of July 6-8pm.

Across Time and Place

This solo exhibition stems from a Bundanon Trust Artists’ residency during the entire month of November last year. The paintings focus on the property, its vastness, beauty and skies that seek to envelop one in its weather. In addition to the landscapes, figurative paintings that feature artefacts and the memory and absence of people assist the development of potential narratives. Internal and external figure/field relationships are a means by which I can express the psychological and metaphysical aspects of ‘Landscape’.

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.

My paintings work with elements of pictorial ambiguity and mystery to explore these themes, perhaps evoking a bygone era, but remaining contemporary through the use of a variety of materials, processes and the deployment of discontinuous space.

                                                                                                            Peta Dzubiel, 2013


In the Studio

In this House, oil on canvas on board 20 x 25.5cm

In the studio I have been painting small and large Bundanon landscapes and exploring figurative ideas derived from historical photographs and stories from the Shoalhaven region.

From a visit to historical Meroogal House Nowra, I became intrigued by a photograph of Margaret Ross Macgregor as a young girl. In the photograph, she is wearing mariner shell necklaces, which were made by Aboriginal women and the particular necklaces Margaret is wearing in the photograph have been identified as Tasmanian. These necklaces were regarded as jewellery for children and so it is likely that they were given to Margaret Macgregor as a gift. She married a Presbyterian minister with whom she had a daughter. She later divorced her minister husband and raised her daughter at Meroogal House with her sisters. To do this during her time would have caused conversation in the town as divorce was rather taboo, especially from a man of the cloth. Apparently Margaret Macgregor’s reputation held up.




Week one at Bundanon

Reflecting on my time in Bundanon after the first week, I can honestly say it has been food for the soul. The property is historically and artistically rich and I have spent much of my time exploring it. The property is overwhelmingly beautiful and there is a real sense of imagination that is present within the landscape, flora and fauna. I have been observing and making studies, predominantly featuring the landscape, by taking many photographs and short films, drawing and making oil sketches en plein air. All of my oil paintings have the lovely edition of bugs that did a kamikaze directly into the wet oil paint. Proof that the paintings were made in situ!

Much of my time here so far has been consumed with forming a connection to place and researching the history of the area, in and around Nowra and the site of Bundanon.  This country was originally the land of the Wodi Wodi people who speak the Dharawal language and in 1805 Government surveyors made first contact. Transport to the area at this time was by punt up and down the Shoalhaven River and by horse and cart. The property has Scottish roots as it was bought and farmed by the McKenzie’s in 1839 straight off the boat from Scotland. They retained the property for four generations and built the sandstone homestead in 1866 that Arthur and Yvonne Boyd lived in.

Other places I have visited in Nowra include the Regional Gallery and the very quirky and outrageously painted all original Merroogal House; the interiors of which are sure to enter my work. The camera in this instance has become my sketchbook, snapping away at objects and artefact.

This week I will work up some of the oil sketches and drawings into bigger canvases in the studio.