Betsy Forster & Philomena Carroll
Betsy Forster and Philomena Carroll first met at a studio in Elphinstone almost three years ago. Since then they have met on a weekly basis to make art together, both in the studio and ‘en plein air’. The women consider their chance meeting to be quite fortuitous, considering that Betsy was originally from the south of the USA and migrated to Australia to raise her family. The serendipitous nature of their meeting has produced a strong bond of friendship and a cooperative art practice. Many hours of art discussions have been a major factor in each artist developing and refining their concepts for continuing art production.
Betsy and Philomena have quite similar parallel art practices in some ways. Both are primarily oil-painters and printmakers and also produce drawings and mixed media and other works on paper. Both also have a great love of textiles and ceramics and an appreciation of a wide range of media.
At the heart of both women’s practices is a deep reverence for the landscape and the environments in which they live and work on Dja Dja Wurrung country. They are ever mindful of the long-lasting effects of white colonisation on the First Australians and the landscape itself. There is much gratitude for the bountiful life that they are able to live here on country.
Here is what Betsy says about her work….
When observing the landscape in the surrounding Goldfields area in which I live it usually unfolds like a visual kaleidoscope of colours and patterns. The changing rich musicality of the landscape’s light, objects, and forms can present many difficulties when transferring the visual image into a painted picture.
The challenges are many when working en Plein Air, and my usual method is observing and looking closely at the surrounding landscape to find the elements that I can include in the process of artistic transformation. To be in tune with the landscape is a crucial condition of the development of a piece of work. But this is a complex procedure. The main challenge is to find the patterns of form, shape, light, and colour which can be transferred into the picture I visualise.
Essentially, my work forms a distilled version of these patterns. For example, I was drawn in the painting ‘Night has a Thousand Eyes’ to the light peeping through the trees at dusk. An essential feature of this painting captures the light I was able to construct using these shapes, which I was then able to manoeuvre in a way to convey a feeling of creative spirit coming from within me. Observation is a key element in the development of these patterns.
To make a landscape painting involves, therefore, simplifying the many patterns before the eye. In focusing on two poplar trees in the work ‘Dance in the Sun’ I induced a visual perspective of a simple but complex shape. By pulling back on the surrounding details, I was able to fulfill my vision for this painting.
In understanding how I work I hope the viewer is able to join me in taking the landscape I paint to a new and different level of appreciation. – Betsy.
My current practice, over the last couple of years, has by necessity focussed on the landscape close to home in the central goldfields. I have had the time and space to revisit much of the work of Eugene Von Guerard and read about his experiences on the goldfields. The local Dja Dja Wurrung people used to refer to the area as the ‘Smoking Grounds’ – the name was passed down to them from the fading moments of volcanic activity about ten thousand years ago. I can no longer view the environment as a static thing that will remain unchanged when I see the remnants and damage of the gold rush all around me. Yet, as an artist, I see great beauty in the land and the subtle and dramatic changes that it cycles through with every season. As a painter and colourist, it is remarkable to watch the transformation from the deep greens of winter through to vibrant yellow canola fields of spring and then the slow drying off to the gloriously subtle summer and autumn tones of oaty loveliness.
Most of my current work follows two different concepts – ‘natural’ environments and those where human intervention is visible, such as gardens and constructions. I find it all a rich field to plumb for visual expression of formal qualities and a space for contemplation for myself and the viewer. – Philomena.