Zoe Grey

In her inaugural solo exhibition, emerging Tasmanian artist Zoe Grey presents a new series of paintings tracing her intimate connection to the remote coastal town of Marrawah. The rocky coastlines, dense forests and wild weather are captured through Grey’s expressive brushstrokes, transcending temporal and geographical distances from within her Hobart studio. Artist Profile chatted to Grey ahead of her exhibition about the inextricable links between place, identity and belonging

The title of the show is ‘Thanks To A Place I Know’ – what are you giving thanks for?!
This body of work wouldn’t exist without a place that is very special to me: Marrawah. So much of my identity and self has been shaped by my experiences of that place. Through the character of landscape, these paintings re-present those experiences. Without that place, there would be no paintings. It has given me so much, it has made me who I am, and made my painting practice what it is.

Why is Marrawah such an important place for you personally?
There are several reasons why Marrawah holds such importance for me. Firstly, it’s where I grew up; it is my home, and my family history is intertwined there. My great grandparents, grandparents, Mum and Dad, and my brother and I, have all lived in Marrawah. My family home was built by my Dad from old shed and rammed earth, it’s sheltered on a rocky point and a stone’s throw from the ocean. I grew up surfing and exploring the coast, diving, fishing, walking and wandering in the bush. Engaging with the landscape is such a big part of everyday life there. Now living and working in Hobart, I return as much as I can, not able to stay away for too long. My Mum and Dad still live in our family home and my brother lives in our grandma’s old house on the property. One day I’ll live back there permanently, too.

Geographically, it’s an interesting locale too?
Yes, Marrawah is in a unique position geographically. It’s Tasmania’s most western settlement, located on the far north-west coast, isolated and exposed. The wind is notoriously strong and the swells are huge, straight out of the Southern Ocean. The weather is wild; it shapes the raw, rugged landscape and the people that inhabit it.  The summers can be sweet, while the winters are long, lonely and beautiful.

Marrawah also has great importance culturally. Preminghana/Mt Cameron, (a distinctly shaped mountain at the heart of Marrawah) is a significant site for Tasmanian Aboriginal people, and just north of the mountain lie ancient Aboriginal rock carvings. Marrawah is an important place for me, but as a non-Indigenous person it’s vital that I acknowledge a connection that pre-dates me. I deeply respect and appreciate the past and ongoing relationship Tasmanian Aboriginal people have with that place.

What is it about the Tasmanian natural landscape that resonates with you and your practice?
The environment here has so much to offer – it’s diverse and accessible. We can go from the beach, to the bush, to the mountains within an hour. Having lived in Tasmania my whole life, the landscape feels so familiar to me. It’s what I know and it is what feels right. It’s also a pleasure to paint, with so much contrast in texture, and a lot of movement and energy in the ever-changing weather. There’s definitely a unique light in Tasmania. The long lingering twilights we get over summer are pretty special.

Walk me through your painting process – do you work intuitively, or do you have specific images in mind?
If there’s a particular composition I have in mind, or a specific collection of elements I want to represent, I’ll work from a rough plan but otherwise my process is quite fluid. I respond to drawings or visual notes made out in the landscape, and draw on memories of the weather, plants or rocks. I often return to familiar forms again and again. A lot for the process involves responding to the marks and colour relations that are revealed when layering and working loosely with paint. I work like this until the painting feels true and authentic to place, while also looking complete and interesting as an image. It’s a fine line, and one will often outweigh the other, but that imperfection drives a need to try again and keep making. 

What inspires you?
Contemporary painting. Tasmanian landscape painters. The artists I work beside at Good Grief Studios. Being immersed outside in the landscape. Home, place, weather, plants, rocks, the ocean. Surfing, walking, looking. Colour.

In the face of a global pandemic – which has impacted your show – what do you think is the role of art?!
I think art helps us in many ways in a time of crisis. It can provide a sense of connection and engagement. We’re all having to think in new ways to overcome challenges in work and business and general life. This time is breading creativity. It’s exciting to see artists and galleries finding new ways to share work when we can’t be there physically. Providing people with ways to engage with art in this scary time is important. We need to carve out space for moments of the joy, intrigue and distraction, for both artists and audiences. I hope positive ideas and creative projects can arise from this awful time.

How do you hope audiences will respond to these works?
I hope people can get a sense of the place that is so dear to me. I hope they can get a feel for the unique elements of a distinct landscape. Maybe this work will encourage consideration for the importance of connection to place, and the significance of our natural environment. But really, if people can enjoy the paintings and are able to spend time considering them, then that’s pretty great.

Zoe Grey: Thanks to a Place I Know
1 – 26 April 2020
Despard Gallery, Hobart
Viewings by appointment

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