Dr Gillian Turner – Artist

When I walk into an exhibition, I fully expect to be there for a few minutes, have a glance and move on. When I walked in to Dr Turners exhibition I was captivated for much longer than usual. Perhaps because of the way it was presented, the connection I felt between my own work and hers, or the way the exhibition captured something special about her residency in Ireland.

Come to think of it it was probably all those things. It didn’t take long to track her down (Thanks to her business cards on a podium at the exhibition) and invite her to be interviewed.


Your exhibition is the result of an artist in residency you undertook in Ireland. How did that come about?
The Residencies happened by sheer chance! I met an Irish artist working in the local art supply shop and we got chatting. She mentioned the Burren College of Art and suggested I check the website. The college is affiliated to the Royal College of Art, London and Johns Hopkins University, USA.
I was delighted by what I saw and decided to apply online. The first response within 24 hours was favourable and I was asked to send a detailed proposal and CD of recent images. About 6 weeks later I received notification in the mail that I’d been offered a Residency for May/June 2009.

I had already completed two residencies in Australia at the Arthur Boyd Studios, Bundanon, NSW in 2001 and 2004, and I knew just how valuable the experience could be. This opportunity to take up a residency overseas was amazing. The residency at Burren College of Art this year was an absolute joy.


Is the work produced for that different to your usual works?
The work produced in Ireland is, in many ways, radically different from work I have done previously, but I can see connections with the body of work I did during the 2004 residency at Bundanon.
My approach to creating works is always to be open to what the landscape demands. For this reason, my ‘style’ or ‘usual work’ is more difficult to explain. The constant in my work is a response to landscape and ways in which the land offers itself as part of my image making.


Can you give us a brief history of your art career.
I have always had an interest in drawing and painting from a very young age, and most of my teenage works were about landscape, flowers, trees and the sea. I completed a Diploma of Fine Art before deciding to teach art at secondary level.

In 1986, I returned to study at Deakin University majoring in Visual Art and Literature. Post Graduate study moved me towards Literature and research into the realisation of landscape in written texts. In 1996, I graduated with a PhD., but I was never far from the visual arts because one part of my thesis discussed the connections between the visual and performing arts in our understanding of space and the realisation of landscape.

This research informs much of my current art practice and my interest in the use of text in my works.

My first major solo exhibition was held at the Geelong Gallery in 2006 as part of the Shell Regional Arts Program.
The current exhibition at Deakin is part of the Alumni exhibition program, and is the largest I have done. I have been offered two exhibitions in Ireland in 2011.


The works in the exhibition look very influenced by the environment, water and rocks especially, what can you tell us.
For me, the landscape is fundamental to every aspect of my work. I try to intervene as little as possible in such processes as rain works – where ink is applied to a surface and exposed to the elements for periods of time. Movement generated by wind creates the land’s marks, and my role is to decide the extent of that process.

Some works in the exhibition were created by the movement of a single wave over the paper surface. Other images emerged from the flow of ink on various surfaces in containers on the sea. The undulations of the swell and swaying clumps of seaweed create extraordinary imagery. My role is to select the location and the timing.

Exposing paper and ink to the weather for extended periods of time can create fascinating textures and ‘found’ marks such as snail attack or sea lice! The rain works are created by the action of drops on an inked surface place horizontally or vertically.

The ephemera of shadows is also part of my image making. Photographing a drawing in the location where it was created but adding shadows of grasses or other plants, generates a fleeting possibility for the land to offer its own marks to the final image.


In studying art, was there any one style of art which interested you?
There are two major influences in my work: Japanese brush drawing and the landscape works of Australian artist John Wolseley.

The simple yet immensely complex use of brush marks in Japanese calligraphy, and the sparse beauty of art forms such as the raked stone gardens, are powerful forces for me. I have been to Japan twice and connected with the place.

John Wolseley’s approach to landscape is as a journey that encompasses all aspects of the space through which he moves. My interest in rain works was inspired by one of his works in which is noted beside a mark on one of the sheets that comprise his large scale works, that it started to rain.

Performance arts are also an important influence for me: contemporary dance, improvisation and sound sculpture, the work of Philip Glass and pop singer Mika.


Interests you have other than art you believe are of value to mention.
Both writing and music are important to me and are part of my art practice.  In 2011,  I shall be taking up a residency at Cill Railaig in Co. Kerry. The focus of that residency will be writing as well as visual art.
Music has been part of my life since childhood and I am drawing on that now as another dimension in my response to landscapes. An experimental musical composition drawing is part of the showcase in the exhibition; it draws on fragments of overheard conversations and the structure of the traditional framed view.


Have you been on the Bellarine Peninsula long, and has it had an influence on your work?
I have been living on the Bellarine since 2003 and in Clifton Springs since 2007. Before that, I spent a number of years in the Geelong region and then Sydney for two years… I walk to The Dell beach each day and find it a source of quiet, a place to think and be near sea.  The Bellarine is a great place for photography, and there is a vibrant arts community. My involvement in Life Drawing at Springdale, Drysdale, is a very important aspect of my drawing practice.


In the exhibition you used a lot of ink, (which is stunning by the way…) is that your usual medium? if not why the choice?
I have always used inks as part of my practice, but in the exhibition works the technique is something new. It emerged from experimental drawing in Ireland last year. Applying, moving and layering the ink is a challenge. The entire process is extremely physical and takes longer than the results suggest! Most of the drawings have three to four layers or reworking of the ink surface.  The visual connection with the geological layering of the rocks in the Burren made it an exciting new process.


How important is art for you?
Vital! I have always been involved with art either as an educator or practising artist.
I still teach from time to time but have given up regular work to focus on my studio. Being involved with the arts is life giving and spiritually uplifting.

Was the residency a turning point in your career thus far or have there been others?
The residencies in Ireland have without doubt been a turning point in my career! Prior to my time in Ireland, the first residency at Bundanon was a hugely influential experience; it was the first time I had the opportunity to work in an intensive studio environment with other artists.  The connections made with artists and galleries in Ireland have opened up so many possibilities.

Do you keep a visual diary of some kind?
I draw everyday, which I guess is a visual diary. During each of my residencies I have kept a journal  (the two Ireland ones are in the exhibition showcase). When I am researching a particular project, I keep a journal that documents ideas and processes, comments and reflections on the works.

Do you have a personal philosophy which underpins your work?

My personal philosophy centres on the spiritual dimension of the environment. The presence of the past in the landscape is fragile but extremely powerful.

What can you say about your work, which might not be evident to the viewer?
The direct action of the environment can be seen in my work. The assumption that all marks in drawings are made by me, is best avoided!

Is motivation to work an issue for you and how do you overcome it?
Motivation is not really an issue for me now I’m no longer involved in full time teaching.  I love drawing and being in my studio. I am also highly motivated by working with other artists, so the Ireland residencies and the local drawing group are important to me.

Tell us about your studio environment?

My studio is a large upstairs room in my home; it is my first studio space and was the feature that sold the property. There is good light, a view across Corio Bay to the You Yangs and enough space for me to work.
Being within easy walking distance of a beach is important for me, and I have a growing collection of found rope fragments ready to inspire a series of drawings and an installation.
The walls are covered in drawings, notes and other items relating to whatever I’m working on. Right now it’s all about Ireland with photos of cattle, artist friends and a detailed map of the Burren region in County Clare.

Which is more important to you, the subject of your work, or the way it is executed?
The most important aspect of my work is the concept being explored, and for me that always comes back to realisation of landscape. Therefore, the techniques and materials employed are fundamental to exploring that concept.

Want to see more Artist Interviews the day they are posted? Subscribe and we automatically send you the latest post via email, it’s easy… click here to subscribe.

Compiled and edited by Steve Gray © 2009+

Follow me on twitter! http://twitter.com/stevegray58

Check out our other Art Site http://artstuff.net.au Loaded with creativity boosters, professional development strategies, investing/collecting art and activities for Artists and Students…