Elizabeth Tinker is an artist who has lived on the Mid North Coast for 27 years. She is currently a full-time art teacher at North Coast TAFE. Her achievements include receiving an Award of Excellence for Outstanding Achievements in Fine Arts, plus winning numerous prizes in local exhibitions.
Elizabeth recently returned from a trip to New York, where she found the allure and beautiful aesthetic of shop window displays to inspire new artworks …
What brought you to the Manning-Great Lakes 27 years ago?
When I was 22, I travelled around Australia for one year and returned to Sydney, resuming my old job at Macquarie University, where I worked with talented painters, printmakers and photographers. The city was good fun, but I was in search of more adventure – and headed north. The Great Lakes region was really appealing, as it felt like the south west of Western Australia … only with the lakes and forests and ocean geographically closer. I started working as a graphic artist at Forster Tuncurry Printing Service and purchased my first home. Three children came next, and so I stayed!
Tell us about the philosophy behind your art …
For many years, my work has explored the natural light and reflected patterns found within the lakes, oceans and waterways of the Mid North Coast. Maritime markers and the life beneath the surface of the water have been of great interest to me. This beauty has contrasted with the harmful effects created by commercialisation and over fishing, which contributes to the depletion of our food supplies. I am also fascinated by different modes of visualisation, and in my work I hope to capture a mood, a recollection and a sensation, as this does more than illustrate reality.
Apart from painting, you also recently started creating wire sculptures, some of which depict the human form … tell us about the process of creating the sculptures?
I have explored and experimented with ideas and different materials to communicate my concepts. I enjoy sculpture, and in particular working with wire, as I can mentally connect the varying thicknesses of wire to that of a charcoal drawing, where heavy and light lines are drawn to communicate form.
I consider play and experimentation necessary for ideas to be developed and fully investigated. Wire is a medium I have used for some time, and I am interested in how different materials and approaches can push and manipulate the creative idea.
You’ve said that on your recent trip to New York that you found yourself “gazing into shop windows, which were slickly organised to please consumer senses and spending …” How did the allure or aesthetic of the shop windows help to inspire recent paintings?
New York is a fascinating and exciting city, where even the shop windows, consumer driven and sprawling, showcase and display clothes, fruit, vegetables and bundled flowers, which tempt and please our senses. They are aesthetically displayed, and with the seduction of colour, texture, form, sounds and smell, they hold one’s gaze as they stretch out onto the pavement. Each window was beautifully composed and balanced, giving me an immediate experience as well as an imaginary one, as I think in terms of paint.
Your painting Morning Delivery on 63rd Street shows the beauty of prettily bundled flowers … tell us about the process of this painting and if it was a real life depiction while in New York (or painted in hindsight from a photograph)?
Two paintings were produced back in the studio after the trip. The importance of the subject matter was the wrapped flower heads outside a florist shop. As I walked past, I was so taken by the shapes, that I knew it would become a painting one day. First, I completed a soft pastel drawing to become acquainted with the shapes, which gave me a better understanding of the forms. I then problem solve and analyse the compositional aspects within the drawing. Next, I sketch onto the canvas and respond in a more personal way, as I am now close to the subject, making choices about the way I want the painting to look and communicate. I always create a palette of carefully mixed colours and use either acrylic or oil paints. Then the execution of the work begins – an exciting and yet terrifying process. With Morning Delivery on 63rd Street, I chose to paint in a realist style, but the second version explored a surrealist approach, as it was important to me to experiment with expressing the idea with different modes of visualisation.
How does the notion of commercialisation play out in your art?
The Fishermen Series, which I painted in 2006, led me to research and explore the fishing culture and leisure activity on the East Coast of Australia. Comparisons were made from the 1970s until then. Early in this period, fish were abundant and caught readily, and the prize catch photographed in the spirit of competition. Today, this contrasts with the declining numbers of fish caught and available. The issues central to this are over fishing, commercialisation, pollution and of the need for education and marine parks. We live in an age where everything can become an object of desire; the beauty of this environment encourages boating, fishing and consumption, which is fair to say is modern hunting and gathering.
Are there any artists who particularly inspire you?
Early on in my high school years, Egyptian Art influenced me, with their fragments of symbols, which took on power and beauty. The design of each symbol and their arrangement on the tomb walls had a fascinating appeal. Later, I worked with an Egyptologist, Naguib Kanawati, while at Macquarie University, creating line drawings from actual tracings made directly off the tomb walls at El Hawawish (Old Kingdom), and this made for very exciting work. Focusing on burial customs and art history has added another layer of meaning to this ancient socio and political culture. Presently, I am inspired by Godfrey Miller, the German Expressionist painters and by the modern approach taken by Clarice Beckett during the 1920s. Beckett’s atmospheric effects painted in her landscape are sublimely beautiful.
As a teacher who is also a productive artist, what do you have to say about the saying: “Those who can, do; and those who can’t, teach”?
My arts practice is very separate to my teaching, but I find teaching valuable, as I reinforce with students the notion of good practice and of staying focused on the visual arts process. While I am teaching, I am still thinking about creating works; teaching heightens the experiences to be gained in the creative industries, as one speaks the language of art on a daily basis. Working as a full-time TAFE teacher also means I am connected to a wide base of creative professionals and industry specialists. We never stop learning, and being able to engage in professional conversations about works of art or the rigour of one’s art practice … this is stimulating and informative.
In fact, because I do teach, there is a real desire and yearning to stay committed and be organised, so that priority time is given to be productive in the studio.
Favourite quote or words to live by …
Take time to smell the roses – feel your senses cross over and be present.
Where can people look forward to seeing your work next on display?
The Gallery Corridor at Great Lakes TAFE Art & Design School will be holding a staff exhibition in August. This will be a great opportunity for the general public to come in to view the diversity of works and enjoy the campus atmosphere.
Interview by Karen Farrell.
This story was published in issue 64 of Manning-Great Lakes Focus