Studio La Primitive ARTS ZINE: July 2017

Sincere thanks to Robyn and Eric Werkhoven for inviting me to write an article  for their online ZINE. They have included a short written review of my residency stay at Hazelhurst Regional Art Gallery in April that outlines my current research.

You can read the whole online ART ZINE via their Facebook page, on their website STUDIO LA PRIMITIVE or via the publishing site issuu.  I will include the article below and some of the images for  you to read as requested by many of my friends and colleagues.

In this issue I am in fabulous company with articles written about Matthew Quick, Pamela Griffith and Vince Vozzo, The Strutt Sisters,  Shelagh Lummis as well as a in depth interview with the publishing duo Eric & Robyn Werkhoven about their art making by Maggie Hall.

The magazine is fabulous and I urge you all read this issue or follow them so that you may read future additions. 

WALKING WITH GHOSTS

Australian history is almost always picturesque… It does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies. It is full of surprises, and adventures, and incongruities, and contradictions, and incredibilities; but they are all true, they all happened. Mark Twain[1]

Between the 8th and the 25th of April I was “gifted” a short stay by Hazelhurst Regional Art Gallery as Artist in Residence at the Broadhurst Cottage to research a new body of works investigating a convict and a ships steward from my family history. As with Mark Twain’s quote above Australian history is a series of beautiful lies and truths and my work attempts to map and document these. This new tangent of work has opened many doors and asked multiple questions, as well as helping me to make sense of some of my own history. Concerned with the dead, my artmaking process is increasingly becoming a form of familial portraiture with history as its backdrop.

The Cottage

The Cottage, Hazelhurst Regional Art Gallery.

This residency time was quite dissimilar to many residences I have been to as its aim was purely for research. Thankfully the time granted by the gallery set no expected community events for me to participate in, which was a relief. Additionally due to its length and the extended goals that I set for myself I was thankful to not conduct a formal community event which many residencies require as an extension of a stay.

All art residencies are quite different from each other; and this one in particular was paradoxically a very public place and yet it was a peaceful and private venue.  Within the grounds, in front of the residence there is an excellent café and the regional gallery. The café is opposite the house and open from 8am creating a few comic situations for me to encounter people during my stay.

Nestled within the grounds of Hazlehurst Regional Art Gallery the residency cottage history is very interesting and has a family element that intrigued me during my stay. Ben and Hazel Broadhurst secured the land that became Hazelhurst in 1945. Situated in Gymea. the Gweagal name for the beautiful native lily that populates the area, the land was a natural bushland setting with Dent’s Creek running through it. The Broadhursts’ two-storey cottage, designed with the help of local architect Harry Smith, is now Hazlehurst’s artist-in-residence and digital media studio.[2] The building that was their home now has several purposes, including a well-stocked art library, a venue for artist talks and events as well as the meeting place for The Friends of Hazelhurst Gallery.

Studio Hazelhurst 1

The Artists in Residence studio, upstairs at the cottage.

In the lead up to the eighteen day stay I pre-organised and booked a packed program of site visits within the Sydney metropolitan area. This generous gift of time was granted to me after commencing research into a new tangent of my family history tentatively begun in the Bankstown area in 2016. At the time I realised that I needed and extended stay to intensively study a family of early settlers whose several land grants were within this area and on the river near Rhodes in the early years of the colony.

Salt pan creek walk- reserveSalt pan creek 2

Two views of Salt Pan Creek reserve, photographed by the artist during her site visits in 2017.

The subject for my newest body of work and the residency research was our first fleet family member Frederick Meredith who arrived, at the age of 23 on the Scarborough as a ships steward to Captain John Marshall[3] in January 1788 and his wife Sarah (nee Mason) transported at sixteen years of age on the Bellona in 1793 for fourteen years of servitude after being caught in possession of stolen goods. Very little is still known about her, her life prior to arrival and activities after arriving in the New South Wales before marrying Frederick in 1811.

Frederick’s story has numerous tangents; there are complex twists at every corner within each tale and many as yet unanswered questions. In 1810 he was enlisted as one of the voluntary police militia sent to end the uprising of convicts at the so called Australian “Vinegar Hill” led by William Balmain. Additionally Fredrick was recorded as one of the crew to travel aboard the Sirius on its ill-fated voyage to Norfolk Island where it was sunk. However it seems that this didn’t happen, instead he was employed to tend and plant a garden with other Sirius crew members on what is now Garden Island where his initials are carved into the rock for posterity. He was also busy during his time in Australia fathering 3 children with other convict women Mary Kirk, Mary Allen and Ann Case. All of them connected to his second voyage on the Bellona where he may have met Sarah Mason.

Sarah Mason gave birth to 6 children and they married in 1811. The youngest born Eleanor daughter is my great, great, great grandmother. Her Daughter Ellen Sophia who married John William Swinfield, one of two brothers who travelled out to Australia from Warwickshire during colonisation.

Residency 2 (196)

The Fredrick Meredith Graffiti, his initials and date carved into the rock on Garden Island.

Eleanor’s life is also a singularly fascinating for me as an almost feminist story of defiance.  This side story has gripped my imagination with its clandestine journey through the Hunter Valley into Queensland where she is buried in Ipswich. After her first marriage at 14 to a much older man, she eloped with another in the 19th century. Her story, as a woman’s personal struggle may become the focus of my work in years to come.

The lead up to the residency enabled me to contact many relevant organisations that could assist me with my research. Short field trips were organised within the week including walks and visits with my son to sites of significance. It was exciting for him to visit many venues because he is currently studying the first fleet at school.

Organisations visited during our stay included multiple trips to Liverpool where Fredrick and his sons became police constables. These visits included Liverpool Museum and Library, The pioneer cemetery in Liverpool, Liverpool Weir and Casula Powerhouse Art Centre.

Thorpe Reserve Panorama

Thorpe Reserve, Panania, the junction of Salt Pan Creek and The Georges River.

Walks along Salt Pan Creek and tracts of the Georges River enabled me to get an idea of what the landscape would have looked like when Fredrick and Sarah lived there.

In the Bankstown area I also visited the Library and the family history section where I became curious about finding more information about the location of the Meredith’s land grant “Gunsborough Farm”. I undertook several walks along Salt Pan Creek, through tracts of bush reserve and where the creek is being reclaimed at the mouth of the Georges River near Panania. My son and I undertook a day trip to Garden Island where he assisted me with drawing materials to do a rubbing of Frederick’s graffiti that is carved into the rock alongside his Sirius crew mates on the hill overlooking Sydney Harbour.

Whist I did not make any hand pulled prints during my stay at Hazelhurst I took with me my trusty, 50+ year old Pentax fully manual camera to shoot film and construct images within a layering process of multiple exposure.  And it was through this process, using stories that I had researched I constructed visual narratives. One of the many stories of Fredrick’s life that I wished to re-dress was whilst claiming a land grant for a neighbour. History has recorded that he was speared in his ear narrowly missing his head by Tedbury the son of the indigenous freedom fighter Pemulwuy.  My discomfort with this story has triggered a series of portraits that are layered with images of indigenous figures, most of whom are close friends and I have paired them with significant landscape sites related to my personal history and social history of Sydney. Including the site of Captain Cooks landing in the 18th century at Kamay Botany Bay National Park, Salt Pan Creek at Beauty Point, the Georges River and Thorpe reserve in Panania.

seeking family series II -Alf and cooks landing site

Remembering places series II, Alf and Cooks landing site 1, 2017.

Not expecting any quick and streamlined results during our stay at Hazlehurst or directly after. I did however make several rubbings, commenced some drawings and shot seven rolls of film. I have also come home with a thumb drive filled with photographs, maps, early documents related to the Meredith history and hope to use these images in a series of hand printed works over the next year.

 

Some working drawings including site rubbings and drawings of boats- studio process from the residency stay. Charcoal, pastel and pencil on rice paper and architects tracing paper.

During my residency I became conscious of the presence and role of the Georges River as a means of transport during the 19th century. As a fledgling colonial outpost Liverpool would have relied on the river to transport goods and people. As a result of this I began to draw boats of all shapes and sizes both in an abstract form and figuratively. Where this will all lead me when I start work in my studio I do not know… many Meredith questions remain unsolved.

The work that I do is intrinsically tied up with history and its related memory, its anecdotes and layered complexities. The art historian Joan Gibbons has written that However, memory is never just a straightforward process of recording lest we forget and, even in the best equipped minds, it can be a slippery mechanism.  It can be both elusive and intrusive and we can rarely be completely sure of its fidelity to the events or facts that it recalls.

Within this fragile framework I construct imagery, gather text, layer, research and erase images to make a visual construction of the facts and as stated by Mark Twain himself. ‘Never let the truths get in the way of a good story.”[4]

Seeking family series- Grave and Salt pan creek sky

Remembering place series II: Meredith grave and Georges River I, 2017. Analog photography digitally enhanced. They will be printed onto printmaking papers.

I would like to thank a multitude of individuals that guided me before I left home and at many of the venues visited during my stay including all the staff at Hazlehurst Regional Art Gallery. This includes Carrie Kibbler who I discovered had a spooky connection to the story of the Meredith family as an honorary member after curating an exhibition at the Liverpool Museum in 2003. We didn’t know this until I arrived. The wonderful staff that assisted me during my stay all deserves a mention including Caryn Schwartz, Sophia Egarchos, Vilma Hodgson and Anastajia Atic.

Also would like to thank Vesna Ristevski from Casula Powerhouse Art Gallery who assisted me with finding information on the Liverpool Weir and on the final day gifted me a much coveted copy The Meredith’s catalogue from the exhibition curated by Carrie Kibbler in 2003.

Angela Agostino over several days assisted me at the Liverpool Library and the Liverpool Museum as did Anna Grega, Coordinator of Museum and Heritage Services prior to my visit and during. I would also like to thank Peter Allen from Liverpool Family History Research center who I met and as it turned out is also a Meredith descendent. Also on this list is Bankstown Community History Librarian Kirsten Cox who gave me an enormous insight into the possible location of the Meredith farm and the many evolutions of Salt Pan Creek.

I cannot also forget the time, input, research and support of the Meredith clan, most importantly June Mackie and Verna Lumby as well as Nan Bosler and Joan Jones from the friends of the Fredrick Meredith descendants group.  Also I would like to acknowledge Kim Blunt from Maitland Regional Gallery for supporting my crazy residency idea.

[1] Carrie Kibbler, The Merediths, Casula Powerhouse, 2003, Page 6

[2] History, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, http://www.sutherlandshire.nsw.gov.au/Community/Hazelhurst/About/History, cited 14/6/17

[3] Jack Meredith, John Gibbons and Patricia Meredith, The Merediths, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, 2003, page 9.

[4] goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/807622-never-let-the-truth-get-in-the-way-of-a, Cited 15/6/17

 

 

 

 

 

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About lindaswinfield

Linda Swinfield is a contemporary artist who works across printmaking, photographic traditions and digital media and currently sits at the intersection between figuration and abstraction. Her art practice commenced in the 1980s within the academic traditions of drawing, painting and photography and now incorperates elements of memory, family, symbolic motifs, regeneration and death.
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