Even at night, the sunflowers adjacent to Stephen Travers’ backyard studio are nothing less than impressive, already standing tall at shoulder height. He’s going to let them flower, and save the seeds to see if they produce more “massive six-footers”. His sunflowers, much like his artworks, demonstrate that planting the seed in the first place is actually the most crucial step of the process. Stephen puts it elegantly;
“I always have so many reasons why now is not the best time… For much of my life this has meant that usually I do 0%. Because in the world in which I live, it is never the ideal time to do anything. Myriad possibilities and responsibilities and conflicts attack from all sides. All the time. But days/weeks/months/years slip by. So unintendedly. As a result I’ve learnt if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth making a start. Any start… Because if my art is really worth doing, doing half as much as I’d have liked, not quite as well as I’d have hoped, will always be better than nothing.”
The angelic wattle dancing in Stephen’s oil paintings is evidence of the method to his madness – his studio is delightfully arranged in organised chaos. A few too many easels are crammed in next to an array of oil paint tubes, the remnants of which have been mixed beautifully on various palettes; previous responses to the challenge of capturing the true character of the Australian environment.
Stephen’s willingness to share his studio, breathtaking artwork, and a refreshing humility through reflection of his personal journey as an artist is rare and insightful. His reflection on his own artistic journey serves as a reminder that it’s never too late, nor too early to pick up your metaphorical paintbrush.
Since you moved to the Blue Mountains in the late 90’s, how has your relationship with nature and the Australian bush inspired your work? What was the catalyst to begin painting that type of scenery in particular?
A tough one. In one sense, it’s every job in the house or the yard (more particularly the vegetable garden) which calls out to me every morning before I get into my studio. At a more profound level, it’s all the internal turmoil which meant I spent 30 years thinking of painting every single day, but never doing it.
I think I already know the answer to this, but for those playing at home what is your favourite Australian native? Give us some insight as to why.
It’s the Gymea Lily. It’s a big, pink, shaggy, unkempt, sculptural Australian flower. (I discovered recently it’s also very heavy). You see them everywhere now on roadside and civic landscaping, but until recently they were uncommon. I taught at Gymea High a long time ago, and would drive past them in the bush. Often mistaken for Waratahs, (which I also enjoy painting), they have a wonderful asymmetry, and their pink/crimson colouring is a great contrast with the drab olive bush. But as a landscaping plant, they are more often seen silhouetted against the blue sky, highlighting their amazing form.
It’s easy to look at your body of work and think “Wow, I wish I had that kind of raw talent”. I happen to know your entire family is blessed with natural artistic ability, but have there been any failures or mistakes that have led you to improve how you paint?
At one stage I tried a more mass production approach – lots of similar subjects at the same time. I learnt that this resulted in bland, soulless paintings which I was embarrassed for anyone to see, and which gave me no satisfaction to paint. I think I have developed a helpful self-criticism. I look at finished works and consider what I would do differently if I were starting again. One advantage of painting a relatively limited range of subjects, is that it is easier to actively utilise any critical thinking in my next painting. When I look at earlier works and compare them with similar subjects I have just finished, I can see the benefit. I have particularly worked at becoming lighter and brighter in my palette this year at some challenge to my natural timidity.
What can we expect to see from you next year? Are there any plans to continue more sketchwork, or host a solo exhibition perhaps?
In fact I am having my first solo exhibition in a gallery this December 5 – 17, at Gallery ONE88 in Katoomba. I also am having an exhibition next Jan 25 – February 18 at Braemar Gallery in Springwood. This gallery is part of the Blue Mountains Council Cultural Centre programme. Please come and have a look!
You can see more of Stephen’s work here:
Claude Monet, best known for his water lilies and impressionism, also painted several works of his forbidden love and later to be first wife: Camille-Léonie Doncieux.
My favourite of these is a life-size portrait of Camille, titled “Woman in the Green Dress”, painted in 1866 wearing what Theophile Thore described as “a magnificent green silk dress, as dazzling as the fabrics painted by Veronese.”
This is Julie, my “Lady in the Green Dress”, who not only shares the beauty of Camille, but also has two children to her artistic husband. It’s hard not to fall in love with her.
Monet’s original painting eventually sold for 800 francs (a lot in that time) and now hangs in the Kunsthalle in Bremen, but I’m sure no one would mind if I swapped them.