5 questions with Wendy McDonald
Grappling with the drought is the devastatingly beautiful theme of Quietly, an exhibition of landscape paintings by this farmer and artist.
Wendy McDonald lives and works on the banks of the Thule Lagoon, adjacent to the Perricoota Forest on the Murray River floodplain. Hundreds of kilometres from the coast, on the border of NSW and VIC, it’s one of the areas that has been worst affected by the ongoing drought.
As a farmer and artist, Wendy is intrinsically connected to the land – both working it and capturing its unique beauty. The land is constantly changing too; according to the seasons and the mercy of the heavens. During this recent very dry period, there has been a process of acceptance, which Wendy has felt on a very personal level and explored in her paintings.
Ahead of her opening, we caught up with Wendy to get an insight into her creative process.
1. What was your path to becoming the artist you are today?
Even though I chose to study Education and Psychology at University, the need to create art has been a constant in my life. When I graduated and was working as a teacher in rural areas I relished the opportunity to teach creative arts whenever it arose. From classrooms, to community arts workshops for remote adults and children, I was so fortunate to be able to incorporate visual art into my rural life. Organisations such as our regional arts body and our regional art gallery, supported me and encouraged me to develop my personal practice, for which I am extremely grateful. The transformation of a farm cottage into a designated studio space 10 years ago allowed me to focus on my painting in a more considered way, leading to where I am today.
2. How does your art relate to your other profession of farming?
These two aspects of my life are so entwined, it would be impossible to separate them. To be a farmer requires the ability to be adaptive and resilient, solve problems outside of the square and to derive a deep satisfaction from the cycle of input, growth and creation. Artists and farmers are often driven to work from an innate passion, rather than for financial gain. These attributes are so fundamental to being an artist that a flow from my farming work to my art practice is very natural for me. In this context, I receive wonderful understanding and support from my community.
In a physical sense, working and living in a beautiful but challenging environment creates an immersion of experience that is quite unique. The landscape and elements envelope you, physically and emotionally, day and night. This accounts for the strong narrative element in my work; each work, either landscape or still life, tells the story of who I am and how I experience this unique place.
3. What part of your art practice brings you the most joy?
Goodness, my answer to that has to be twofold. Fundamentally, I experience peace and wellbeing when I am simply in the studio painting. The act of creating in a quiet, special place is connected to a joy I am sure is experienced by most artists and which becomes one of their main drivers. Equally, I find the act of teaching and sharing my studio space with children or adults extremely joyous and rewarding. To be able to assist someone to develop creative skills and ways of seeing is a wonderful thing for me. I feel that it is so important for individuals, especially children, to feel empowered and have a voice.
4. What influences your work?
I love Jane Tangney’s comment in her 5 questions interview that “provincialism is a choice”. And so it is for me. I am drawn to and influenced by art, which conveys an emotional connection to place. In this context the work of painters Elisabeth Cummings and Jo Bertini resonates strongly with me as powerful, genuine responses to an experience of landscape. I am respectfully in awe of the work of our Indigenous artists, which has so much to teach us about landscape. Aboriginal art conveys such an ancient connection to place that as outsiders we can barely begin to comprehend. Inhabiting the landscape that I paint has led me to be very interested in thinkers and writers about place and ecology. Presently, the writing of Bruce Pascoe and Eric Rolls engages me to think about how we live on this continent, how it was and how it might be.
5. What is the theme for your show at Koskela?
My Koskela show is titled Quietly and comes out of the experience of bending with nature and living with acceptance. Australia is an arid continent, the forces of nature are powerful and our particular landscape here is ephemeral … swinging between flood and dry as part of a natural cycle. The current exceptionally dry period is challenging physically and emotionally, the landscape is suspended, but still stunningly beautiful. The paintings in Quietly are a personal record of moments born out of this place and time.