Open for a great, final weekend

Only rarely are events able to capture the spirit of a place. Arts Open, entering its final weekend for 2024, is one such example.

With over 120 participating artists and 80 venues, Arts Open allows the public to journey behind-the-scenes, into the studios and creative lives of the artists who call this place home.

In opening Arts Open last weekend, Member for Bendigo West and Speaker of the Victorian Parliament, The Honourable Maree Edwards MP, spoke of the unique nature of the event and its invitation to explore.

“Arts Open is such a special event, one that celebrates this creative region we’re all so proud of. In addition to being able to meet our famed artists in-person and see their work up-close, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to welcome so many arts-loving visitors,” Ms Edwards said.

Scottish landscape painter Robert Maclaurin explained that when he and his fellow volunteers established the event 14 years ago, they did so informed by a philosophy of openness.

“One of the unique aspects of Arts Open is visitors are able to see how we create,” he explained.

From her studio at The Mill in Castlemaine, Artist Denise Martin – with Michael Wolfe, Zoe Amor and Rob Jennings, one of this year’s coordinators – points to Arts Open’s emphasis on in-person experiences, for both visitor and artist alike.

“Curiosity,” she said. “People are curious about what it is you do as an artist. When I think of Arts Open, I think of visitors being welcomed across a threshold, into the artist’s space.”

To read more about Arts Open, purchase your copy of this week’s Castlemaine Mail and head to the Living section.

Arts Open takes place on Jaara Country. We acknowledge the Dja Dja Wurrung as the First Peoples and pay our deep respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.


Liz Sullivan’s exhibition Wild Parterre launches at Cascade Art

In late 2023 Liz Sullivan was interviewed by Cascade Art Gallery director, Kareen Anchen about her work, its inspiration and her latest exhibition, ‘Wild Parterre’.

“I have the freedom of using what is around me and the energy of my surroundings and memories to think ‘well, I am painting my interpretation and am aware of but not answerable to the past and to reality.’ It is the voice inside my head where reflections, the playing of light on form and shadow and the flat painting surface is not constricted by the one viewpoint. Lines can overlap, colour and rhythms can compete and harmonise and the mind can be an adventure.”

Liz Sullivan is unashamedly driven to work with the substance of paint to create bold, large-scale artworks charged with optical visual energy. Sullivan is no stranger to the paintings of Cy Twombly, Turner and closer to home, Fred Williams. Sullivan’s paintings are about mark-making and finding and creating beauty in the unexpected. She makes no attempt to disguise the methods of production involved in her paintings and clearly celebrates painting as her preferred medium of expression.

In Sullivan’s own words,

“I have never stopped painting even during challenging times in my life. These days I have greater peace of mind and I can confidently take more risks in my work.”

Sullivan is a powerhouse of energy getting up at 5am to start painting in the studio by 6am. Coupled with this great joy and enthusiastic passion for painting, is a sense of urgent intensity that brings the paintings forward fast and furiously. This is clear by the sheer volume of paintings executed between 2022 and 2024.

Sullivan is thoughtful and intentional in her direct approach to painting but still allows, “paint to take over from imagery.”

As a young child Sullivan would stare closely at pictures in a book of her mother’s about the Australian Heidelberg School. This interest informed her deep understanding and appreciation of the mechanics of paintwork, layering, gesture and glazing. The magic of mark-making even extends into her three-dimensional sculptural work which she sees as “an extension of the gesture.”

Moving from the Bayside suburbs of Melbourne and rediscovering her paternal roots in Victoria’s Central Goldfields has been a deeply satisfying inward and spiritual experience. She talks of a strong sense of personal direction at this point in her life and has a deep grounding in her daily practice. Sullivan researched and wrote about her father’s time on the Victorian Goldfields and she talks of a literal earth-bound paternal connection with place. This feeling supports her in consolidating thinking and painting.

“I am questioning the categorising of ‘flower’ to paint the weeds on our roadside, the grasses lying with their individual kind of beauty.”

Instead of stopping to smell the roses, Sullivan stops to see the weeds.

Always looking for the unexpected beauty in the mundane. Her paintings, like Light Around the Corner, 2023 and Clearing, 2023, are suggestive of deeper meditations at work. It is her truth in visual form. She is interested in water changing, the interplay of lines and shadow and lively passages of light and dark.

In her own words “I am not trying to be intellectual.”

Sullivan’s painting is an attempt to stay connected with an intuitive self, a self that quite simply loves to paint out ideas, observations, memories and express feelings.

Sullivan has every intention of discovering joy in what she sees in nature and in her immediate ever-changing environment. Be it the tussling of overgrown grasses or commonplace weeds  – Mullum Mullum, Gorse, Blackberry, Patterson’s Curse or, local creeks and rivers bursting their dusty, dry riverbanks after a massive dump of unexpected rain. The climactic conditions are a subject. The regeneration of whatever survives from the dried cracks of nature, or the fecund road verge creates lime green habitat for who knows what living creatures – is also subject. It’s not about pretty, but about observation.

Pale Light in the Distance, 2024 and Lily Pads for Luck, 2024, are all paintings hovering on the cusp of pictorial recognition and abstraction. They are joyous landscape paintings with powerful formal art elements, held together with substantial drawing in the structural paintwork.

Shining Through, 2024, are further testimony to Sullivan’s command of an expressive painterly language. Morning Meditations, 2023 and Green Escape, 2024 continue this painterly language into a Japonoise experience of calligraphic mark-making. A confetti of delicate flicks and flickering marks, light, sketchy and rhythmic. No surprise, Sullivan dances to music while painting – it’s a physical action.

It is Sullivan’s intention to uplift the viewer by elevating the mundane to a higher level.

“My father was troubled by my use of the Nescafe jar to hold the flowers in my still lives. It wasn’t beautiful. To me it was beautiful. The abstract shapes of letters, colours and patterns on the label and the shape and screw top of the jar held as much attraction as any vessel. The vitality of paint bounces of each shape as reactions to each other allowing a freedom from representation of the object.”

In Light within the Dark, 2023 and Story 1, 2024 we are viewing from the vantage point of an ant. Earth and water elements are the dominant forces. An obscured high horizon line and scratchy grasses cloud the vista – we read these paintings as if we were lying down on the ground and looking up and glimpsing through. One senses a primal connection with the earth and this affinity with strong nature, is revisited in Sullivan’s current paintings.

Sullivan is primarily an oil painter and works on solid gesso-primed boards. The approach is quite deliberate and fast, blocking in with acrylic and then building up with oil paint. There is a vigorous sketchy drawn quality to her mark-making. Sometimes the rhythm of the lines explodes as an all-over repeat dynamic pattern. Of her methodology, the artist says, “she will sit on the ground for hours to get into the rhythm of building up layers and layers, often working from all four sides of the picture plane.” This method of working allows a certain freedom to get into an unconscious meditative rhythm until she is ready to formalise and resolve the image. Unlike classic studio easel painters, Sullivan does not step back to see the work, preferring to stay face-to-face and up close until much later in the process of making a painting.

Sullivan employs photographs as a reference to aid composition, insisting that the camera helps her to get a better depth of field.

Not a slave to nature, the artist makes immersive painterly works, drawing on memory and a deep bank of feelings, leading to compelling, poetic and intimate depictions of nature.

Michael Wolfe with Robert Maclaurin at the launch. Photo by Jeff Gardner.
Arts Open Team

Arts Open draws near

Arts Open, Australia’s biggest open studios event, is about to take place again as artists across central Victoria prepare to open their studios, allowing visitors to experience the work and artistic vision our region is famed for.

Beginning on Labour Day long weekend, the 9th, 10th and 11th of March and continuing into the following weekend, the 16th and 17th, this year’s event will feature more than 120 artists, 80 galleries, exhibitions and workshops.

With Mount Alexander Shire boasting the highest number of artists per capita in Australia, Arts Open enables visitors to mix with the region’s vibrant and eclectic range of people, while also exploring historical, culinary and social opportunities across historic towns including Castlemaine, Newstead, Maldon, Chewton and Taradale.

Artist Zoe Amor, one of the event coordinators, said there was already a buzz across the region, as artists prepare their studios to welcome those seeking a unique art experience.

“Thousands of people visit across the two weekends and have amazing interactions with the artists and their work. This includes talking about the process of making art as well as seeing, often for the first time, the inspiring studios and spaces the artists inhabit.” Zoe explained.

Over the past 14 years Arts Open, driven by a ‘meet the makers’ philosophy, has created a unique network between artists, art lovers, collectors, gallery owners, local businesses and the wider community. As Zoe’s fellow artist and Arts Open cofounder Michael Wolfe put it: “At its heart, this event is about creating a rare opportunity for a behind-the-scenes experience of the artist in their natural habitat. We’re also conscious of the wider benefits Arts Open brings to our region’s social, cultural and economic landscape,” he said.

The Castlemaine Market Building will be the place for visitors to begin their Arts Open journey and map out their regional tour. The Open Studios Group Exhibition taking place there will include painting, printmaking, ceramics, photography, drawing and sculpture. Zoe and her fellow Market Building curator, Denise Martin, hope visitors will take the opportunity to explore the remarkable diversity of local practice.

“People so look forward to the unique exchange of ideas, imagination, processes and techniques and the opportunity to build on the relationships made. This is also a chance for us, as artists, to improve the way we make and present our work,” Zoe explained.

“As well as being an extraordinary event where people can connect directly with artists and their work, the interactions and transactions that occur across venues and throughout the wider community are so important for independent makers and local businesses. We’re looking forward to welcoming everyone,” she said.

Arts Open is an independent, artist run event with the generous support of Mount Alexander Shire Council, Shedshaker Brewing, Regional Arts Victoria, Castlemaine Fringe Festival, Cantwell Property, We Push Buttons, Web Design and Digital Marketing, and many volunteers. For more information, including booking events and workshops visit

Arts Open 2024 takes place on Jaara Country. We acknowledge the Dja Dja Wurrung as the first peoples and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

To speak with Zoe Amor e. mob. 0408 310 640


Michael Wolfe: Conversation on Chaos,order & the Rhythm of Landscapes

Interview first appeared in Art Lovers Australia

Michael talks about his desert landscapes, his attraction to chaos and order and his art in the contemporary world.

What is it about landscapes that appeal to you, and how do you construct your paintings?

I am a wide-open kind of painter. That’s the thing that I really find most satisfaction in; the enduring themes in my work are wide-open spaces. I choose to paint quite intimate paintings, which are still broad in scale. My art is very much about those desert tones, the sort of reduced, stripped-back landscapes where the mark-making is quite bold and graphic and calligraphic. It is that sort of reductive language that I find most appealing.