June Tupicoff

There’s an intuitive sensibility in the way June Tupicoff has approached her art-making, echoed in the organic way in which she became an artist and has negotiated her practice. Making paintings is a need that continues to consume her. In Issue 43, 2018, Louise Martin-Chew spoke to Tupicoff about her inspiring journey as an artist working in the still-masculine genre of landscape painting.

What is intriguing about your work is its range, from muted abstracts to detailed landscapes.
I am searching for a closer reality, a sensation that is denser than abstract. I grew up in Gippsland, Victoria, looking at the Strzelecki or Baw Baw Ranges with their deep fogs, snows and frosts. That atmosphere instigated a sense of oneness, if I can put it that way, in my memory. I started painting in an abstract way, which I very much like. More recently I started on a different, more intricate, tack. It might have to do with a sense of place. I always told myself that I would like to marry the abstraction and the intricacy.

How did you learn to paint?
I had lessons with Len French in Melbourne, which I remember as very formal, quite set up little still lives and portraiture. He was workmanlike and polite. I was only sixteen or seventeen. At the same time I went to classes with Neil Douglas, who was a painter and sculptor living an idyllic life out past Melbourne in the hills.

How did you end up in Queensland?
I met Gary, who didn’t want to stay in Melbourne. I think I came up here regretfully. I did my own work and didn’t know about commercial galleries, only the Queensland Art Gallery. I went to the Flying Art School for a while and then they asked me to teach for them. Then I was asked to teach at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). All this time I was doing my own work. At the same time I had discovered Ray Hughes Gallery. He was extremely generous and let you poke around in the storeroom by yourself.

Did you ask Ray Hughes to show your work?
No, the head of QUT, Joe Airo-Farulla, suggested to Ray that he should see my work. I had a studio at the John Mills building in Mary Street. Ray came around and looked at my paintings and asked, ‘What are you going to do with them?’. I told him that I just put them under the bed. I had his last show in Brisbane.

Where did you work?
After a series of studios – I rushed from them to teach, then I rushed home to pick up children, all the while trying to work – I decided to come home. At first I worked in the lounge room, and then I moved down the block and eventually I built the current studio here.

We hear about the disadvantages of being a female artist – are there advantages as well?
Amongst the disadvantages were that you had to make an extreme effort to be in the loop, and having enough time to do so was the issue. The advantages are that you get insight into life being a woman and a mother. It enriches the way you see things, and it’s the same with art. It’s the beauty in life that you are trying to get to, that core. It’s this quality that’s intrinsic to life and art.

The current work emerged from travel to Fraser Island and the rainforests in North Queensland. What is your process when you are away?
I worked in the forest and did drawings, and went backwards and forward many times. I always come back to the studio and then work. The work is about the experience of being somewhere. First of all I have to have an experience that may touch me, move me, before I am interested. Often I find the remembering greater than the actual experience. The challenge is to refine the painting to get to an essence of something that is like the emotional experience I actually had. I don’t recreate the experience, the place, but the sensation of it.

While they are clearly landscapes, they have abstract qualities as well.
They move in and out of reality and abstraction. It is always about that. They include passages where they are abstractions and then they become reality, then just sensation. They are the emotional experience of landscape.

How do you define success in a painting?
I have had times that I felt so connected and excited by what was happening on the canvas that I could hardly wait to get back to see it. At other times I could hardly face it and fix it. Success is in the times when I knew something had happened, a sense of complete oneness. It is a really lovely thing when that can happen. You want to keep looking at it just to make sure that you are right.

What is the key?
I always draw in the landscape – that is very important. Making marks when it is right there! Every mark you make while you are there on that spot is more insightful than anything else you can have other than the remembrance of sensation, but often the drawings will bring that back.

How do you approach the physical act of painting?
I work in a different way to most. I mix my paint in pots with a medium and with wax and it takes quite a lot of time. The wax melts, so it is no longer in tiny little globules, and can give a certain resonance to the paint that otherwise wouldn’t be there. I work in layers of paint. The wax builds up very thinly. The paint is very thin, luminous and transparent.

Where will your new work take you?
Stradbroke Island, looking at the revegetation in the wallum area after the end of the sand-mining. Wallum grows on peat, usually just in over the dunes. There is very little left in South-East Queensland. These areas behind the dunes are so often developed – that is where people want to live – but wallum can’t exist in small areas. It is an unrecognised area of landscape.

You mentioned light from your childhood was an influence. Does light remain a powerful force?
Light has always been something that I am mesmerised by; it is a life force that we all want or need. Most of my work also has a sense of movement. My very early abstract paintings were of the wind.

Are you able to identify what has given you longevity as an artist?
I think it is about really wanting to do what you do, needing to do what you do, and about doing it. It is not about doing something else, not about looking after your career. I could not do more than one thing – which was work. I remember that somebody from Perspecta wanted to meet me. I said, ‘No, I have to go and put the children to bed.’ I had to make a decision about what it had to encompass, which was my family and my children and Gary.

Outside that, there wasn’t a lot of room for other things. Every day you make a new discovery about how you relate to the world, the joy within the world and beauty of experience. What is the mystery of beauty? If you can unravel a bit of that mystery before you die, then that is pretty good. 

This interview was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 43, 2018

EXHIBITION
June Tupicoff: Stradbroke Island
30 April – 19 May 2019
Australian Galleries, Melbourne

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