Blackhead local artist, Jeanette Smith, has long held a passion for the visual arts, previously consulting as an Interior Designer and more recently completing a Diploma in Fine Arts in 2009.
As an artist, Jeanette has found exhibiting to be an integral part of her growth and artistic journey, recently opening Gallery Saltair, located at Diamond Beach.
Karen Farrell speaks to Jeanette about her passion for nurturing local artistic talent, with the regular classes she offers at Gallery Saltair.
How long have you lived in the Manning-Great Lakes and from an artist’s point of view, how does the area inspire you?
I moved here with my family in 2000 as part of our sea change and getting out of the Sydney rat race. From the very beginning, I was enchanted by the Manning-Great Lakes region. Its beautiful lifestyle is a double bonus as an artist living here. Even for artists who aren’t into land and seascapes, the colours and textures alone are an inspiration. Basically, this area makes me feel alive. I have never suffered from painter’s block and instead, suffer creative overload.
You initially opened Gallery Saltair as a way of capturing the tourist market over the 2011 Christmas period and are now entertaining the idea of keeping the gallery open due to its success … how were you hoping to capture the tourist market?
For the past two-and-a-half years, the idea of opening a commercial art gallery grew. I had to find the right place for a short-term lease and considering how busy we get each Christmas, I did think it would be a Christmas holiday gig only. The opening night was a great success, with paintings of my own, students and art friends selling to locals before the Chrissie holidays had even begun.
The local artists and community and their extended families’ support was fantastic and frankly, a little overwhelming. I panicked there wouldn’t be enough art left for holiday visitors to view. I approached local artists to put some work in the gallery, and the word quickly spread. I then had artists knocking on my door. What a nice problem to have! I realised that the tourist market would be a bonus on top of local support.
For artists wishing to potentially exhibit at Gallery Saltair, tell us about the space?
I want this space to be a visual creation and constantly changing, with a steady rotation of work. I am a big believer in complimentary opposites or contrasting one painting to the next, including subject matter and mediums. I love to visit galleries and make a point of doing so wherever I go. My favourites are those with a contemporary edge, and this is what I want Gallery Saltair to have and maintain – to be a commercial gallery and not just another shop.
The gallery is not overly large, with a stark white floor and walls that help the art do all the talking. I have one black wall, again for contrast. With the right work hanging, it can make a painting ‘pop’.
I’m running the gallery as you would expect any commercial gallery to operate. Artists are required to submit their work by email and if it looks like we have a match, they are then subsequently required to complete a contract and inventory.
The feedback from visitors is that the standard and diversity within the gallery is simply stunning. I want to remain true to fine art, as well as supporting local artists and have managed to combine creative works from paintings to essential oil candles, hand fused glass, hand painted jewellery, sculptures, tiles, photography and hand spun wool. Eclectically, it all comes together as a funky, edgy and stimulating palette.
Students travel far and wide to participate in your art workshops. What do these workshops involve, and how often do you run them?
My workshops have been running for three years, with regulars from all over the Manning- Great Lakes region – and some from as far as Barrington and Morpeth! The workshops are definitely not too technically demanding, and I encourage the palette knife style for that reason. It’s important students are guided on an expectation-free journey of discovery, without constant critiquing. Development comes with the discoveries they make. Being hands-on heightens all their senses and makes the process very enjoyable. With a set painting group, the mediums, subject matter and what we are individually working on do change. This is to keep growing and experiencing something different.
I welcome beginners who have always wanted to give painting a go (there are many latent talents ready to be discovered) as well as accomplished artists who are interested in challenging their art practice. Once again, complimentary opposites and the diversity enhance the fun we have as a group. It is very therapeutic.
You’re a strong promoter of fostering new talent and often exhibit newly graduated TAFE students’ work at Gallery Saltair. Why has it been important to you to have a commercial gallery for local artists?
As a TAFE Fine Art graduate, I realised the ‘real’ art world can be pretty daunting. Part of the TAFE’s professional practice encourages students to think commercially by approaching venues to display their art for potential sale, pricing their work and negotiating commissions.
How the graduates manage this transition after TAFE can be critical to their artistic journey. I wanted Gallery Saltair to provide a platform for those students and TAFE, and I’m thrilled that I can be a part of their experience and hopefully offer some practical assistance.
Why has exhibiting played such a strong role in your artistic journey?
I had to think hard for this question, Karen! What does an artist paint a picture for – is it for instant gratification, or to store in the garage, or to admire for themselves? I’ve done all of these … although for me, exhibiting has been a great learning experience. It has also given me an audience and now a following.
As an artist, it is a huge thrill to see people moved so much by your art. It can’t possess them, and they then have to possess it. Acquiring a painting is a gift that keeps on giving. I had one painting paid off over 12 months – not ideal for me, but I loved the fact that they ‘got’ what I‘d created. It was an itch that had to be scratched.
Gallery Saltair has confirmed that unless your art is visible, it can’t be admired or acquired, which is necessary to keep all artists on their journey.
You’ve described your painting style as once having bordered on being abstract to now being of full abstraction influence … explain to us what this means and how your style has evolved over the years?
I do have a passion for painting with a palette knife, where it is near impossible to get a straight line. The left-hand side of the brain will want to auto correct the line you’re painting to what it is actually observing. It’s surrendering to the right of the brain to loosen up and going with what is developing in front of you.
It demands your observation to really see your subject and not just be looking at it. It’s hard to explain, but I love this challenge, and I am embracing the unknown.
It is this challenge that’s leading my journey to full abstraction, and I see this more clearly when reviewing the progression in my style. I am really enjoying this evolution.
Abstract artists you greatly admire?
My admiration for artist Nicholas Harding has been my greatest influence and continues to be – I want to do one of his workshops so much. Also Fred Williams, Yayoi Kusama, John Olsen, Brett Whiteley, Mic Rees and a photographer, Richard Woldendorp.
What’s next for you?
Being an owner/gallery director is demanding and satisfying. I do feel I’m in the right place at the right time. As long as Gallery Saltair expenses are covered, I’m keeping it happening.
This story was published in issue 63 of Manning Great Lakes Focus