Capturing the Coast

Words by Richard Morecroft, Images courtesy of the artists.

Richard Morecroft shares the painted views of six artists with South Coast connections.

Artists often see things differently to the rest of us. That’s part of what makes them artists of course. And they’re not always locked in their studios gripping a paintbrush. Give them a stretch of South Coast and before you know it, they’re surfing or fishing or rock-climbing or even flying through the air on a kite.

 Michelle Cawthorn

Michelle has a life-long association with the South Coast. Her grandfather had a fibro fishing shack on Chinaman’s Island (near Lake Conjola) from the 1950s. “My art work is often about memory – and I remember childhood fishing trips with my father” says Michelle. “I still fish for whiting in Lake Conjola every summer – it’s meditative and addictive!”

An art lecturer at the Universities of Wollongong and NSW, Michelle’s works are often large, intricately executed ink and watercolour pieces. She has won the prestigious Hazelhurst Art on Paper Award twice and been a finalist in other national prizes, including the Sulman.

The southern connection continued with a recent artist residency at Bundanon, which Michelle said was “a wonderful time of thinking and creative opportunity”.

Euan Macleod

Euan is one of Australia’s most respected artists, an Archibald Prize winner and the recipient of more awards than you can mention. He’s painted all around the world, from Galapagos to Antarctica – but he keeps coming back to Jervis Bay. “I’ve always loved the landscape here,” says Euan, “but these days it’s great to come down and visit Bridget and Rob and get to the beach together.” (Bridget, Euan’s daughter, works at the Shoalhaven Regional Gallery).

“While the rest of the family’s relaxing, I like to do a bit of drawing and particularly figures in the landscape, so it’s perfect having a range of subjects to try to respond to quickly. And it’s great to be able to go back to the same locations at Hyams Beach or Murrays and see them in different lights.”

Meagan Jacobs

Meagan moved to the South Coast from Sydney’s northern beaches 30 years ago. Now her time is divided between her studio in Mollymook and working for Warlukurlangu Artists in Yuendumu – one of the longest-running Aboriginal-owned art centres in Central Australia. “I paint imagined landscapes based on very real places,” Meagan says, “the desert, the bush the coast – and I like to record change in the landscape – rising tides, storms, fire, flood.”

Meagan’s studio paintings may be sanded off or scratched back. “They’re like an archeological dig!” she says. “But when I’m painting plein air, I’m sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the landscape and want to paint everything around me.”

Tim Allen

Tim won one of Australia’s major landscape awards, the Paddington Art Prize, in 2017. He often paints rugged mountains and is renowned for trudging intrepidly into wild areas with all his art materials in a backpack. He also has a long history with the South Coast – although not always as a painter.

“I was a very keen rock climber and I have often been out there on the cliffs at Point Perpendicular. It’s one of the most airy and exposed locations – just magnificent! I’ve also been down to Jervis Bay several times conducting art workshops,” Tim says. “The Moona Moona Creek area near Vincentia has great combinations of sand, water, and beautiful trees.”

Alison Mackay

“I don’t think of myself as a landscape painter,” says Alison, yet she has been a finalist in the NSW Parliament Plein Air Painting Prize four times now, with Jervis Bay and St Georges Basin the subjects of several of those finalist paintings. “I love the forms and shadows of bayside trees, particularly near the Basin, where we live.”

She also spends time IN the water and as a committed kite-boarder, she’s racing across the bay or flying through the air whenever the wind’s in the right direction. “It gives me a great escape from the stillness and rigours of the studio,” she says.

Peter Sharp

If the surf’s up, that’s where Peter Sharp would like to be. “Green Island, just off Cunjurong Point, is one of my favourite breaks,” he says. Peter is a senior lecturer at the University of NSW School of Art and Design but has been coming to the beaches down south for 35 years. Most of Peter’s paintings and sculptures explore structures from the natural environment, with subjects ranging from eucalypts to whales. He’s also been a finalist in the Dobell, Sulman, and Wynne Prizes.

“It’s great to go back to the basics of a plein air painting at the beach – just quickly before the surf calls again!”