Ore What

Ore What – a Portrait of the People of Hill End

A good painting arouses three senses for me: First I get a physical feeling, then if the painting is good, I hear a sound and then a smell.

Gypsy Rose 2009 75 x 91 private collection

Rosemary Valadon first visited Hill End in 2003 as an artist in residence at Haefliger’s Cottage on Dennison Street. Her father was in the final stages of Bowel Cancer at the time and the Hill End community were very supportive and warm during her stay – she felt as though she had been adopted. Every true artist bestows a part of their soul into every work they make. So, in a sense, every good painting is autobiographical in that it inevitably becomes a portrait of the artist, as much as it is a portrait of the subject. The better the painting, the more the artist reveals about themself. Every artist runs the gauntlet with every painting they make and many are consumed by fear, uncertainty and anxiety because, as soon as a painting is hung – particularly in a public exhibition – everyone becomes an art critic whether they are qualified or not. The final fear is dispelled once someone votes with their feet and puts their money where their mouth is and buys the work. It must be very strange, and at the same time very rewarding, to see the children you have created leave home with confidence. Rosemary, I suspect, is no different in this respect from many other painters and sculptors who make a full-time living from their art. For many there exists not only the inescapable yearning to create their art-work, but also a need to create an environment in which they can work and live. Hill End provided not only the space and environment that Rosemary required, but also a network of support through friends and peers and as she herself writes, ‘The opportunity to be part of a community that is unique’. Rosemary grew up thirty Kms outside Melbourne in the town of Eltham, and was heavily influenced by the Heidelberg School of painters and their feudal community at Montsalvat. Founded in 1935 by Justus Jôrgensen, Montsalvat continues to flourish as an artist colony today, administered by the descendants of the Sonia Matcham and Helen Skipper – with whom Justus had two sons. During the late sixties, Rosemary studied drawing and painting under the guidance of Max Meldrum studios – which in 1917 had once included a student named Justus Jôrgensen.
The training was more like an apprenticeship – in much the same way that the old masters passed on their techniques to their students.
We spent our time there absorbing everything around us. We learnt to mix pigments and paints and we made and prepared everything like stretching canvasses - something I still do today. It was a very sound way to learn the basics.” Lizzy Marshall once wrote of Rosemary’s paintings from her exhibition Divine Burlesque that: ‘they cause us to confront ourselves and they entice us to remember. This is not a new technique utilised by artists; however, it is the nature of her invitation that is so alarmingly seductive.’ Much of the Divine Burlesque series was inspired and sourced from the landscapes around Hill End, and the people who live here. On many occasions I have asked people appearing in this volume what it is about Hill End that is so seductive and anchors people here or entices them to return. Many times I have received unsatisfactory answers. I asked Rosemary this same question. She hesitated for a moment before replying that she would need to think about it. Some time later she handed me a nine hundred-word essay as her answer.

Rosemary in her studio, photograph by Peter Adams 2009©

Gently edited, I reproduce some of it here.

The appeal to me as a painter is really the place itself. This wild dramatic romantic landscape perched on top of a mountain, prey to endless electrical storms, driving rain, searing heat and glorious sunsets. The end of the road. The sense of space. The warp of time seamless/endless. As I write this, I see myself standing on top of Kissing Point, looking down into the valley full of swirling white-fringed cloud, as though I am floating on top of the world. Such visual awe.

Hill End is a working town, a living town, and as such has the same intrigues, gossip, divisions, as any small country town. This can be both entertaining, and disturbing. People are very self-reliant. We are an hour’s drive from a major town, medical emergencies are handled by helicopter, the single shop is often closed down and we have had no policeman here for a year.

The Open Door 2004 137 x 152cm Bathurst Regional Art Gallery collection

I can think of no other town where you share life with so many different people. Farmers and shearers from outlying properties, people who have lived in the town many years and, in some cases, all their lives. Those who know all about the bush, about the old mining methods, who can fix anything old or new, and have stories to tell of times past. New additions to the town –retirees from very different walks of life, miners and geologists working with their new methods of mining. And a mix of tourists and artists-in-residence and artists at different stages in their careers. Conversations at the pub may range from sheep farming to astrology, comments on politics, science, religion, sport, food, vegetable gardens – when to plant and what; and the BIG QUESTION what Hill End needs now: which is more families and more children (the dilemma of many small towns). And of course, always talk of the weather.
In 2005 Rosemary purchased the last remaining freehold property in Hill End, a small three-room cottage called ‘The Pink House’. Buried under a canopy of blackberry bushes, it hadn’t been lived in for many years and it took several years more to make the house and garden habitable and build her spacious and airy studio. She established a rose garden and vegetable garden ‘a necessity in this isolated place’ and planted fruit trees and poplars along the fence and in 2006 Rosemary moved to Hill End permanently.
In many ways my arrival here and the death of my father in 2003 seem to be inexorably intertwined. I planted a special rose– the ‘Grand Siecle’ – in his honour and placed his ashes under it. There are times I have to be away from Hill End - for family and art related things - and I find this harder and harder as the years go on. The studio with its bush veranda, french doors and old windows has become such a calm creative space, resulting in work I am happy with. “When I am away I ache to be back in my garden full of roses, iris’, buddleias, columbines, salvias, geraniums, may bushes, plum trees, apples, cherries and superb maples and silver birches – the perfect therapy. I wake in the mornings to the sound of birds – crimson and eastern rosellas, magpies, king parrots, galahs, honey-eaters, wattle birds, finches, silvereyes; and to the sight of rabbits (including black ones) running all over my land, duck families under the apricot tree and swimming in the dam, and the odd kangaroo eating from the edge of the vegetables garden. Snakes can be a problem in summer, wild deer can be a problem with fruit trees, and feral cats are a problem at any time. Living in Hill End occupies all the senses, takes a lot of energy and discretion, is always a challenge, but it’s enormously rewarding.

 Peter Adams, 2009

 Autumn Evening under the Apricot Tree oil on canvas 106 x 153cm