An Interview with Wendy Stavrianos

As the paddocks turn golden around Castlemaine, it is timely to focus attention to the work The 'Night Harvest' Ritual by Wendy Stavrianos, which is currently on view as part of Reflections in the Higgins Gallery.

Based in Central Victoria, Wendy Stavrianos is one of Australia’s highly regarded artists with a longstanding career, and her work is well represented in the Castlemaine Art Museum collection. In the following interview, we hear her distinctive voice as she talks about how the landscape in which she lives permeates her work.

Wendy Stavrianos, The 'Night Harvest' Ritual, 2004, oil on canvas, 106.5 x 168.0 cm. Gift of the Artist, 2008. Collection: Castlemaine Art Museum. Image: Ian Hill.

Art at Work: An Interview with Wendy Stavrianos

How long have you worked in the region? What excites you about being here?
I have lived in this area and “gathered” in the surrounding countryside since 1985. This simple act of bending towards earth is for me keeping wonder active, being connected to what has meaning. It has been a creative period living on the slopes of Mt Gaspard watching the seasons of extremes and the beauty of golden summer grasses slanted with shadows on sienna gold undulating hills.

At Summer’s end the relentless sun, transforms the landscape revealing the underlying geometrical structures, the skeleton of the land, exposed and transformed into another form.

This is the country of stone and bone, where tracks of glinting quartz glow in moonlight. These are just some of the reasons I am excited about living here.

Describe where you work. What can you see out of your window?
My studio is in an old shearing shed with windows that give light, but obscure the view. The surface on the window is translucent which allows me to remain focused and not distracted by the outside beauty. Against that defused light, I have hung the dynamic shapes and linear patterns of many years of 'gathered material' collected in my paddocks which have become very much a part of the structures of my works and ideas over time. I am surrounded by sculptural forms that became my ‘gatherers’ in a very large installation I made in the early 90s, Gatherers in a Timeless Land. These intercessors are made out of some elements of these gatherings from the paddocks.

My studio is for me a sacred space where I draw in or connect the threads of meaning for my journey.

Wendy Stavrianos, Night After Rain, 1987, crayon and oil stick, 53 x 74.5 cm. Purchased with the Assistance of the Victorian Regional Galleries Art Foundation Trust Fund, 1990. Collection: Castlemaine Art Museum. Image: Ian Hill.

Tell us a little about your current work.
I am currently continuing with my explorations of themes from my last exhibitions, namely, Through the window of an Inner Room, 2019 and Gathered Memories, 2021, both shown at Nicholas Thompson Gallery, Melbourne. These works connected the threads of time, landscape and memory through metaphysical spaces observed and imagined sites of meaning. I join many fragments of landscape, like a joining of beads on a string which stretches across many terrains I have walked on and responded very strongly to. My aim in the work is not to illustrate, but to evoke and keep mystery in the process. Whatever form I use, the underlying desire is to have in mind the ongoing urgency of the precarious time we live in on this planet.

Do you start with an idea, or does your work develop more intuitively, out of the process of working with materials or forms?
At different stages of my life, I have allowed either ‘the idea’ or intuition or a combination of these methods to drive the body of work that I have done. Listening to the painting is a big part of that. Learning to see and hear the voice in the paintings and what it has to say has been an important element in the work. It is said that in the end the painting must win.

Melissa Shannon, Wendy Stavrianos Portrait, 1992, black and white silver gelatin photograph, 28.2 x 36.3 cm. Gift of Wendy Stavrianos, 1994. Collection: Castlemaine Art Museum.

What object is on your bench?
My bench is a working space that holds works on paper in various stages of completion and art materials ready for use.

Is your practice solitary or do you work with others? 
I have always been a solitary worker.

Can readers view your work in any way at the moment? 
My art dealer, Nicholas Thompson Gallery has recorded my exhibitions on his gallery website. Also, you can access work from my 2016 exhibition at Langford 120 called Silent Rooms and Portals to Uncertain Shores and there is an interview about this show by Janet McKenzie for Studio International which is reproduced on the Nicholas Thompson Gallery website. Most recently there was an article in Artist Profile magazine, Issue 54, 2021.

What music do you listen to?
I vary what I listen to according to the mood I am in. From Bach to Nick Cave. What does not change is the obsessive way I play things I love, repeatedly until I am saturated completely. This can go on for days and even months.

Wendy Stavrianos

Wendy Stavrianos has held regular solo exhibitions since 1967 in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. She was awarded a Diploma of Fine Art, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (1961) and an M.A. Fine Art, Monash University (1997). Institutional exhibitions of Stavrianos' work include 'Mantles of Darkness' (1994, touring regional galleries including Ararat, Castlemaine, Geelong, McClelland and the Nolan Gallery ACT), 'A metaphysical edge' at Bendigo Art Gallery (2005), 'Night's Edge' at the Art Gallery of Ballarat (2008) and ‘Fragments of Memories’ at LaTrobe University Museum of Art (2011). Touring retrospectives to regional galleries in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales have been staged by the Sydney University of Technology (1999) and The Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University (1997). A monograph of Stavrianos' work was published in 1996.

She has been a finalist in the Art Gallery of New South Wales' Sulman Prize (2001, 2002, 2007, 2009) and is a recipient of the Swan Hill Drawing Prize (2000), the Dominique Segan Drawing Prize, Castlemaine, Victoria (1992) and the MPAC Drawing Acquisitions Award (1977). Stavrianos' work is held in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia; the National Gallery of Victoria; the Art Gallery of Western Australia; Parliament House, Australia; the Museum of Arts and Sciences, Darwin; Heide Museum of Modern Art; the Australian Catholic University, regional galleries, tertiary collections, and corporate and private collections in Australia and overseas.

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we offer you people good spirit.
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