JOANNE MAKAS: AN EMBODIED EXPERIENCE

The ambience of Joanne Makas’ studio is starkly different depending on what she’s working on. “When I am painting, I like listening to music; but when I am drawing, I work in silence and focus on my breath,” the Sydney artist explains.

Joanne, who has a background in fashion, attended art classes at Waverley Woollahra Art School when her children were young, but it quickly turned into much more than a hobby. She became captivated by the paintings of Australian landscape artist Elisabeth Cummings, whom she did a couple of outdoor workshops with, and who ultimately pushed her to go to art school, enrolling at the National Art School, Sydney in 2010 at the age of 40.

“I am interested in how colour has the ability to create bodily sensations, activate feelings or trigger memories,” Joanne says. “Essentially, it is the relationship between the body, time and colour that I am exploring.” She does this through the mediums of painting, drawing and installation.

The artist’s paintings are monochrome; built up through many layers of oil pigment. “Through the ritual of colour mixing I am able to connect to my inner self,” she explains. This process led Joanne to create more conceptual installation works. “I became excited [with] how colour creates its own spatial and temporal dimension when released from the plane,” she says of her installations. “I like to use everyday materials, and paper, creating a virtual reality that traverses between painting, drawing and sculpture.”

This year, Joanne has been expanding on work that emerged from an art residency in September 2018 at New England Regional Art Museum in Armidale, NSW. The work, which includes an installation titled The Forest That Sighs, is inspired by her drive from Sydney to Armidale, along Thunderbolts Way, where she noticed the absence of green in the countryside. “The land was dry. Black Gully Reserve, which is behind the museum, was a daily reminder of the environmental crisis in our country and globally,” she says.

Beginning with a humble painting class, Joanne has explored the full range of her creative potential, and her works are only getting bigger, bolder and more confident.

Feature image: Joanne Makas, The Forest That Sighs. Tissue paper, acrylic and mylar, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist. Photo: Document photography.

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JAMES KING: A NOT SO FORGOTTEN LIFE

For Sydney-born artist James King, 2003 was a watershed year. He won the Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize, organised by the South Australian Museum. “It was the year that changed everything, and I started to believe that painting was my true calling,” he tells.

James’ figurative oil paintings and works on paper, re-contextualise found photographs from the 20th  century. “For many years I’ve been building up an archive of vernacular photography with an emphasis on mid 20th-century images,” he explains. “Some images speak louder than others and they’re the ones I do a small study in watercolour, gouache or ink. If it has legs, I’ll work it up into a painting.”

His latest work focuses on people in isolation, or tightly packed groupings, reflecting the radical shifts in society – particularly in 2020. Assembly depicts blank faces staring up from within a crowded space – a nod to social distancing. The Truthtellers, appears as a school class photo yet cynicism is rampant. The group of young female students hold posters with slogans that address current global issues including “Stop global warming”, “Denial is not policy”, and “Refugees welcome”.

James’ work has often been described as quirky but has lately taken on more dark and humorous connotations. His subjects range from bleak architectural and cloud-filled landscapes, to portraits of people and objects painted on old timber panels, large canvases and hardcover books, whose titles often provoke the direction of the work. While he uses oil on canvas or board, he has recently taken to watercolour, gouache and ink for his preliminary studies. “There’s a level of alchemy and mystery they offer that are so fundamentally different from oils.”

While the undercurrent of unease uniting James’ work may appear to be a product of contemporary life, it is often the found objects and photographs from mid 20th century that inform his subjects. “They have an immediacy and veracity that I have difficulty finding in today’s media,” he says. Taking us back through time, James’ playful reconfiguration of perspective and context brings the past flooding into the present.

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LEONIE NGAHUIA MANSBRIDGE: A NEW FRAME OF MIND

Born in Aotearoa New Zealand, Dr Leonie Ngahuia Mansbridge is of Ngāti Maniapoto descent, a tribe based in the Waikato-Waitomo region of New Zealand’s North Island. Leonie wed and moved to Fremantle, Western Australia in the 1970s – where she has lived ever since. “I have always been creative, out of necessity,” she says. “I made all my clothes using one pattern and changing it up with material – adding things like black felt stars on a white mini dress. I didn’t take up art seriously till my late 30s.” Leonie attended Claremont School of Art, followed by a Creative Doctorate at Curtin University in 2018.

Leonie’s recent works seek to explore her identity, using the landscape to connect to her Māori heritage. “When I immerse myself into a landscape that I am familiar with, this sense of belonging feeds into my paintings,” she says.

“I haven’t been back to Aotearoa, New Zealand for a while, so I rely on my collection of photos to activate my memory of place. Māori see the land as a living entity. This relationship and connection ultimately shapes who we are and our existence. Māori have a saying, ‘We are the land, and the land is us.’”

The artist says her exaggerated colours are used to take notice of the land. She uses dots, spots and crosses as pervasive iconography. The cross represents her belonging, and her gold gilt frames “reframe the land,” she says. “I am developing a visual language to engage with the landscape…what my marks hold are intangible in the physical sense, but they allude to a clear and definite system of oblique storytelling.”

The visual artist works with synthetic polymer, anything from house to artist quality paint. “I don’t follow the hierarchy of the Western canon of painting, I live and work on the margins, where everything exciting happens,” she explains. Some works can be done within a week, but most take two to three weeks to complete. “After years as an artist, I work intuitively – tacit knowledge comes into play,” Leonie says. “My studio is organised chaos. Once I’m painting, time just disappears, I come into my own.”

Leonie has exhibited consistently for more than twenty years in Australia and New Zealand. She has received a number of awards, including finalist in the Joondalup community Invitation Art Awards. This year Leonie has been invited to exhibit in the Bangladesh Biennale.

Featured image: Leonie Ngahuia Mansbridge, A Particular Understanding In The Margins. Synthetic polymer, pencil, board in found frame, 130 x 80cm. Courtesy: the artist.

TOBY RAINE: BEYOND ENTERTAINMENT

“There are a few defining moments I can recall that shaped me in terms of realising I was an artist,” Toby Raine tells me.  “One was a scene in Tim Burton’s Batman in which the Joker’s goons are vandalizing paintings in a museum; he prevents them from destroying a gruesome looking Francis Bacon. Bacon would come to be a significant influence for me. 

“The other moment was watching The Exorcist for the first time at the age of nine. I believe this was the first masterpiece I experienced, and it was not even a painting.” Toby says he was obviously too young; shocked but also fascinated by it. And it still serves as a source of inspiration for the Auckland-based artist.  

The artist’s themes tend to focus on entertainment or subgenres, “even superficial things like Ozzy Osbourne doing cocaine or holding a teddy bear,” he says. His work is not derived from any internal convictions, rather he responds to things that visually interest or motivate him, or things that have a sense of nostalgia. 

“I choose my subjects for my entertainment, not for their psychology. I have enough personal anxieties which I do not wish to bring to the meaning behind the work; the work is intended as more of a distraction,” Toby explains. 

The artist works from a studio in the basement of his house. Here he has a number of objects and tools that are typically thickly soiled with a muddy grey paint residue, as is the floor. 

He primarily works from photos, sometimes several at once, then deconstructs them on canvas through gestural applications with large amounts of oil paint. He uses a variety of tools for applying paint including large palette knives, rubber spatulas and different sized brushes. Rags and paper towels are also used for cleaning brushes, spills and things that have not worked on the canvas. 

“I like to have at least thirty canvases ready to go when I embark on any new body of work, these will typically be three different sizes,” he says.

Toby is currently working on a series of portraits of his stepdaughter Irene, as well as some nudes and a smattering of subjects he will always revisit like The ExorcistKings of Leon and Mel Gibson. He is considering addressing some more religious themes as well. “My primary motivation comes from a compulsion to make something better or more surprising than I have previously,” he says. 

His work has featured in several exhibitions and art fairs including Gow Langsford Gallery and Scott Lawrie Gallery in Auckland, Page Galleries, Wellington and James Makin Gallery, Melbourne. He will show with James Makin Gallery for Sydney Contemporary later this year.

Featured image: artist Toby Raine in his studio. Photo: Lyle Adams. Courtesy: the artist.TOBY RAINE: BEYOND ENTERTAINMENT

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Handbag and Leather Goods Designer Katya Komarova Opens a Cosy Adelaide Studio

Russian-born handbag designer Katya Komarova didn’t plan for a career in design. She graduated from Moscow State University of Culture and Arts with a degree in acting before becoming a model. But after a chance encounter with a local artisan on a trip to Thailand in 2010 – who taught her how to make a leather bracelet – she decided on a career change.

Komarova followed her passion, studying handbag design at Accademia Riaci in Florence. By the time she moved to Australia in 2013, her handbag label ByMosquito was already well-established.

“When I moved to Australia, I realised that the business model – and the bags that I was making back in Russia – wouldn’t perform as well [here],” she says. So she launched a new, eponymous label in 2014 specialising in minimalist leather goods.

“What it was back then [compared to] what it is now is a completely different story,” Komarova says. “I’m very proud of what it was, but we were producing in China, now we’re producing in Australia. We’re using refined Italian vegetable-tanned leather.”

During lockdown, Komarova and her husband decided to move back to their home in the Adelaide Hills after a stint in Sydney, which meant saying goodbye to her studio in Surry Hills. “Since moving here, the business has been actually doing pretty well considering the crisis and everything,” she says. “I started growing my team and I couldn’t work from home [anymore], and I started looking for space to work together.”

And so, in early October, Komarova opened her studio in Adelaide’s heritage Epworth Building. One corner of the cosy space is dedicated to assembling bags, the rest is made up of display shelves and mirrors. The walls have a fresh lick of white paint, in perfect contrast to the dark, hardwood floorboards. In keeping with the label’s use of natural materials, the furniture is made of rattan and leather, and the room is adorned with dried plants and flowers.

A solid-wood work bench is one of Komarova’s most treasured items in the space. “My husband found it on Gumtree a few years ago. We were living in Sydney and we took our car – which wasn’t a big car – so we had to put it into pieces,” she explains. “The guy especially made it for me, because he knew I was going to bang quite heavily with a hammer on the bench. And from Sydney we brought it here to Adelaide. And then I moved back to Sydney. It’s been moved a lot. It cost me like $80 – I spent much more moving it around,” she says, laughing.

Leather comes from an Adelaide supplier, who sources it from Italy. “We produce on demand. So, business-wise, it makes it more sustainable and healthier for us just to buy as we go from local [suppliers],” she says. The supplier laser-cuts the leather, which is then assembled by her team in the studio. A Japanese press that Komarova recently purchased sits atop the sturdy wooden bench. It works by piercing studs into the leather – a means of constructing the bags without stitching.

Many Katya Komarova bags are takes on classic styles – the bucket bag and shoulder bag are each available in black, brown and tan. Sizes range from the tiny mini mono to the oversized shoulder bag. Straps and handles (in materials such as leather, fur, chunky chains and woven handles) can be purchased separately to create new looks.

Katya Komarova bags have been snapped in street-style shots at international fashion weeks and have appeared in global fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. “It’s amazing how from a teeny-tiny brand it has become such … I can’t call it a sensation, it’s not a sensation yet, but it’s getting there,” Komarova says.

Katya Komarova
304/33 Pirie Street, Adelaide
Hours
Tue to Thu 10am–4pm
or by appointment (email info@katyakomarova.com)

katyakomarova.com

Written for Broadsheet

Artist Profile: Leila Jeffreys

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Photographic artist Leila Jeffreys wants to get people to reconnect with nature. “I want them to feel a sense of its value and to know that it sustains us,” she says. “It’s a reminder that we are not the only species on this planet and that these other societies have just as much of a right to exist and thrive as humans. It’s our responsibility to share, not to dominate.”

Leila works specially with birds to give them a voice and presence in the human world. Through still photography and video photography, the artist has been capturing stunning, vibrant portraiture since 2008.

Given the nature of her work, no two days are the same. Leila doesn’t work from one studio – she has a roving space that adapts to her subject matter. Her equipment can flat pack and fit on aeroplanes, it is light yet has all the elements of a photography studio: good natural light, a backroll of paper, a perch and the ability to set up lights. “Also, always remember the catering,” Leila adds.

The artist spends a lot of time getting to know her subject matter before she starts snapping. “I observe and get a sense of its little being so I can get a feel for its character. Once I get a good sense of the bird I’ll set up,” she explains.

A lot of the work depends on the communication that is taking place between Leila and the bird. “If it’s a shy bird, you whisper and gain their trust. If it’s a bird like a cockatoo that is social and loud, then that energy is reflected in the shoot process,” Leila says. “The birds dictate what the atmosphere is like.”

Most recently, Leila has been working towards completing the works for her forthcoming exhibition High Society at Olsen Gallery, Sydney. It’s an evolution of her practice and while it includes portraiture, she is focusing not just on the individual but the flock. “I chose to work with budgerigars, which was the bird that I first photographed and exhibited almost 10 years ago,” she says.

Working with hundreds of birds, she created a purpose-built aviary with trees without leaves and photographed the birds in the trees to create the impression of foliage. “It began when I noticed how a flock of native Australian budgerigars looks like leaves on a tree. Looking closer I saw individuals, couples, and families – a secret High Society,” she explains. The exhibition also includes an incredible piece of video art she has made using the world’s most advanced slow-motion camera – the Phantom Flex4k.

Find Jeffreys’ work at Olsen Gallery in Sydney, Olsen Gruin in New York, and Purdy Hicks Gallery in London. High Society is the artist’s first solo exhibition in Sydney in five years and runs from 16 October until 10 November 2019. It then travels to New York where it is on show between 13 November and 6 January 2021.

Artist Profile: Katie Ravich

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Artist Katie Ravich spent much of her childhood exploring the beach and bushland close to home. “I loved to [make] miniature worlds with mosses, leaf litter and sticks and house cicada shells and Christmas beetles beneath these creations,” she says. “I think this is where my fascination with studying the miniature landscape beneath me began.”

Katie specialises in oil paintings of micro-landscapes; each work uncovers nature’s rich language of texture, colour and form. The artist’s inspiration comes from photos of textures taken on her travels; like an ancient rock face in Pompeii, a flourish of flowers in a Scottish walled-garden or corals washed up on a remote Tasmanian beach.

While Katie’s Bachelor of Design from the University of Technology Sydney has given her a solid foundation in drawing and design, her painting is predominantly self-taught. “What I mostly take from that training is a deep understanding of balance and harmony in both form and colour,” she explains. “I want the viewer to experience the beauty and alchemy of landscapes.”

Much of the artist’s work is done on a commission basis. “I like to take [clients] through a process to find out what their story is and what kinds of landscapes they think represents them,” Katie says. A recent commission, Barry’s Story, became a 16-panel piece showing the places where the client is most at peace and the happiest: in his garden and swimming at the beach. Through Katie’s Give Art Create Heart program, she also gives clients the choice to pass on generosity through their purchase. “I give a percentage of the sale of the work to an individual, charity or group that means something to them,” she says.

The New Minimalist Label From Melbourne Inspired by Performance and People-Watching

Written for Broadsheet

Husband and wife team Nikita Miller and Omar Asadi are behind the new minimalist Melbourne womenswear label Nikita Miller, which launched in August.

The “part one” collection is made-to-order and features simple, structured staples that look and feel almost Japanese.

Standout pieces include the oversized long-sleeve Luan shirtdress (which resembles a trench coat and can be worn different ways) with an exaggerated, razor-sharp collar. The high-waisted Kimbo pants are utilitarian and come with a wide cuff and piped detailing. Wear the Bonte long-sleeve wrap top tied up or as a lightweight jacket.

Designer Miller’s family moved to Auckland from Cape Town, South Africa, in the late ’90s. It was around this time her husband Asadi’s family also immigrated to New Zealand from Baghdad, Iraq. The duo met in 2009 and moved to Melbourne five years ago.

“I saw her working at a Ralph Lauren store in Auckland,” Asadi says. “I had $150 in my bank account to last me for a week. I was still a uni student – broke as a joke. And I bought a $120 shirt just so I could have a chat. When the opportunity came I totally bombed.

Miller (who graduated from Auckland University of Technology with a bachelor of fashion design) and creative director Asadi (who started his career in advertising and moved onto digital design) came together to design pieces in 2017, taking inspiration from the performing arts. “Music and dance have been a big part of our cultures,” says Asadi.

They began thinking about dancers’ silhouettes – how garments move and perform on the body. And, specifically, how each garment absorbs and carries light. It’s this that they’ve tried to incorporate into an everyday wardrobe.

“We’re [also] inspired by people-watching and how [people] carry themselves in public,” says Asadi. “Observing how their garments fit them or don’t fit them – the movement and shape. It’s a little weird but you’d be amazed at how much you learn from just observing.”

Miller uses cottons, silks, wool and linen blends, and most of the fabric is dead-stock from Melbourne and Auckland. She’s stuck to a simple, accessible colour palette: sand, a crisp white, spearmint, caramel and “black stripe”.

“We’ve chosen these fabrics because they’re trans-seasonal. So wherever you are in the world you [can] pick up our Nou Nou coat,” says Asadi.

The couple plans to roll out seasonal collections that focus on longevity and quality. Nikita Miller pieces are produced in small quantities to allow for local manufacturing and to ensure quality control across fabrics and finishes.

So far Miller and Asadi have done everything on their own, from sourcing fabric and local producers to branding, photography and managing the label’s digital presence.

“Separating business from personal [matters] is an art in itself,” says Miller. “We’re still figuring it out. However, our greatest achievement so far is that we’ve managed to pretty much do it all by ourselves.”

nikitamiller.com

ARTIST PROFILE: DAVE CALKINS

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CALIFORNIA-BORN, Perth-based artist Dave Calkins grew up in his abstract painter uncle’s studio. It’s where his passion for painting and the use of bold colours was born, and where he first discovered his creative side. “I have explored several areas of self-expression to arrive back at my first primal love – painting,” says Dave.

The self-taught artist paints vibrant and stimulating artwork in bold impasto colours using a free-flowing style. “Acrylics on large canvas allow me to paint aggressively,” he says. “I paint in the moment and being quick-drying, they allow me to continue on with the subject in a shorter course of time while my ideas are fresh, active and alive.” Subjects range from summertime and flowers to beach fun and underwater seascapes. Each painting is a textured reflection of Calkin’s mind. “I constantly have creative thoughts in my head,” he says.

Step inside Dave’s studio and you’ll hear vintage rock or blues playing in the background. It’s rare that he’ll be working when you arrive though, as his most inspiring time is into the night and early morning hours. “I find solace at these times when I know the rest of the world is sleeping,” he explains. “Deliberate strokes of paint straight from the tube to a canvas provides a fundamental fulfilment.” 

While Dave paints to release the freedoms of his own inner child, he hopes to stir those same joyous emotions in the viewer. “If I produce a smile from the observer then I feel that the final verdict is a success,” Dave says.

ARTIST PROFILE: PETER DAY

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“QUIRKY, WEIRD AND WHIMSICAL” is how multifaceted artist Peter Day describes his work. The Sydney-born painter and sculptor says he has been practicing as an artist since he was just four years old. “I still have some of my first drawings – some I have turned into paintings,” he remembers.

Peter’s paintings are an explosion of colour, taking inspiration from landscapes like the beach or the desert. His depictions usually comprise small to large blobs of colour (or “prismatic, crystalline pointillism” as he describes it), using any material that will make a mark, but only if it is appropriate to the cause.

“Spit, blood, fire, grease, a sander or angle grinder … but mostly I use ink, acrylic, oil paints and mineral silicate paint, which will last 100 years outside in any weather conditions,” Peter explains.

As for Peter’s sculptures, he works with objects that have history and meaning – from his grandfather’s chair to a rabbit trap and sticks. “I’m very influenced by the history of useable human-made objects and the alternative meanings that can be ascribed to them,” he says. Each sculpture is usually cast in bronze.

With 40 years’ experience and many achievements –including more than 30 solo shows, inclusions in public and private collections at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Bank, and a number of Australia Council grants and art awards – Peter refuses to be content with his technique. “I would like to paint as well as a skilled vintner who makes good wine or a wheel wright who constructs a wagon wheel – what craft, what magic,” he says.