Michelle Collocott in conversation with Steven Miller
SM: The whole series is called
MC: Three Ponds. The works in this exhibition are series C, part B. Series A was topographical and aerial. There were about fifteen of those. Series B was about the impact of the drought, the dryness in 2002. There were only eight or nine paintings here and they weren’t large. Then Three Ponds, series C, came at a time when I knew that I had to make changes again. The first fifteen paintings were shown last year, and these are the last fifteen.
SM: Maybe people don’t know about Three Ponds, the place
MC: Central Tablelands; sub-Alpine climate; an area generally called Black Springs; seasonally affected, so that you get the full range from the winter and the snow through to the rolling summer climate, with fields and hay.
SM: And when did you first get property there?
MC: We have to think in terms of my first discovery of it, which was after 1969, coming back from England, knowing that a sense of the dimension of the seasons was going to be important, and looking everywhere from the Northern Tablelands down to the Victorian border.
SM: What comes first, the landscape and then the artwork? How do they feed into each other?
MC: Knowing who one is, in the sense of what makes you tick, and then finding those places or those mechanisms that accentuate your passion, then as an artist you can start to play with it like theatre. It becomes a set, you’ve got the weather and the climate which create the dimensions of theatre, and then you transfer all that back into painting.
SM: And why has landscape been a constant theme in your art?
MC: That’s my childhood. I still come back to the idea of who we are comes from our childhood The paintings don’t set out to be true to place, other than being a mechanism and a structure to work inside of. The structures are related Michelle Collocott in conversation with Steven Miller to place, but the way the paintings evolved and developed just became part of the studio environment.
SM: There is quite a lot of text in them.
MC: They are also multi-layered, in that you’ve got images within images. You’ve got repeats. It’s like looking down a well. I’m interested in the ripple effect and although they are two dimensional and flat, what I like is the idea of layering, like looking into water. You stand on the edge of your dam and you see the water and then maybe you see a fish and then you start to see the reflections behind it, the barns and the trees.They are also in four parts which had to be joined back together. Digital scanning only allowed certain sizes of paper.
SM: A digital scan of what?
MC: Of an original sketch, of a tiny original sketch.
SM: But they don’t all use a digital scan, some of them are direct paintings onto the surface?
MC: They all have the digital scan.
SM: So in a sense you are working from a sketch as the basis for the works.
MC: I suppose, but it is all one sketch. If you look at every one, you will find a part of that original sketch They are simply a vehicle for one person’s journey, using certain technical skills that were passed on to me at East Sydney, when I was at the art school 50 years ago. That’s all it is. Amongst them, hopefully somebody will think “that’s a good painting’. I have no sense of whether they are worthwhile paintings or not.
SM: No, I’m sure you do. MC: No, I don’t. It’s quite subjective.
SM: Subjective, but not totally random. They are created and orchestrated.
MC: Yeah, but you have to work that out. I don’t know that.
SM: But when you are working on one you are making these decisions all the time: where is this going to go. You were talking about the repeats and echoes.
MC: When you are working on them, you don’t sit back thinking of those things. I am inside them…I love this idea of playing around with layering. You are guiding the eye through and over things. Is this on top of that or that on top of this? You get an oscillation between surface levels. Then you have license to do something lyrical, so you stick in some birds. You might go from the cerebral and meaningful to just sticking in some birds or a worm. Every now and then you need something structural, which is divisive, to change the rhythm of the surface. If the red is that strong, you really need something to bounce against it, otherwise the red just swallows the whole surface.
SM: Formal considerations; this proves that you give very serious thought to these things.
MC: That’s my problem.
SM: I don’t see it as a problem.
MC: It’s a problem for me, because I would like to be another sort of painter.
SM: Every painter wants to be another type of painter. You would like your work to be looser.
MC: I suppose. This is a problem with being a painter. You basically want to stretch your parameters all the time, either perception wise or physical wise or application wise.
Steven Miller is Head Librarian Research Library and Archive Art Gallery of NSW
Michelle Collocott: Three Ponds Series c
The spectator wonders what he is seeing and the artwork asks him: who are you?
Barry Jones the ex member of Federal Parliament and quiz whiz once saw a Collocott painting which he had not seen for over ten years. He immediately recognised the painting, remembered the artist and recalled the building, indeed the city, where it had originally hung; declared how excellent the art and artist were; and remarked on the use of colour, collage, layering, mapping and style he had always admired. Jones had not forgotten the painting.
Michelle Collocott is an artist who is not forgotten by those who count particularly fellow artists and true lovers of “real art”. She is an artist’s artist, and her art has remained timeless since her early and successful solo exhibitions at Bonython’s and Gallery A to the current showing at the Wilson Street Gallery.
Her ability and skill have not stood still , and her style, personal nuances and sensitive touch continue to demonstrate her rare ability to make unique art with a voice that resonates of one person and one person alone – Michelle Collocott. She has always worked in layers and employed distinct bright colours mapping her images in geographical like spaces that are pushed around different size canvases.
Collocott’s art is relatively decorative but this is a positive compliment rather than a derogatory statement. For those who understand the visual arts, to be decorative is a quality which is integral to the embodiment of good art. In part, being decorative allows Collocott to harmonise colours, and create shapes which form unifying images. It also ensures that her paintings speak with a generous and beneficent voice and a lyrical tongue to a broad audience.
Collocott has a long and productive presence in the history of the visual arts in Australia. Her work has stood the test of time and those that care and are interested in art look forward to what she next presents. Her artistic progress and migration from exhibition to exhibition and from year to year is often minimal and the viewer has to look with care to observe her growth and blossoming. The changes may be minor but the final canvases demonstrate developments of mood and geographical like mappings from different surrounds which are novel and see light for the first time. Collocott nevertheless always remains true to her methodical method of creating her unique paintings.
Collocott is a storyteller, and geography is part of her subject matter. She sees over the land, imagines what is under the soil and, if a cross cut was made in a particular place, what in theory could be viewed. The horizon is an integral component of her art making and is always a marker from where her paintings arrive and depart. Collocott is not, however, a figurative landscape artist. Abstraction with all its nuances is her chosen tool. She knows how to paint in a sublime metaphorical style and keep the viewer interested. Like a custodian who knows where we come from and to where we are going she helps us define the world, metaphorical or otherwise, which surrounds her and our being.
Her paintings are often inscribed with individual words, or phrases they are also replete with the detritus of a diary keeper and perhaps the collections of a keeper of nonsense. Images and shapes are washed over the canvas and are often repeated usually in different colours and in different modes. Collocott’s art is, however, still neat, sharp and at times almost academic but very elegant, each painting is lovingly formed and treated as part of Collocott’s personal family. Once out of her hands and on the gallery walls the paintings can be embraced and admired by all and they can be understood, enjoyed and grasped, by all art lovers.
Collocott has been painting for many years and will continue to do so well into the future; she knows not what else to do as she is compulsive and passionate. It will be interesting and pleasurable to follow her artistic voyage through her personally and aesthetically made landscapes. This exhibition of Michelle Collocott’s art is an opportunity, after a number of “quiet” years, to once again, as a viewer, make contact with a sincere, productive and well respected contemporary Australian artist.