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Camden realism and storytelling

A local school of art tells a story

Camden realism is a style of art that has appeared in the Macarthur region in recent decades and tells the story of the local area. It was recently on display at the Campbelltown Arts Centre, where the gallery mounted an exhibition displaying the works of Nola Tegel, Patricia Johnson and others.

Artist Marion Boddy-Evans describes a school of art as

a group of artists who follow the same style, share the same teachers, or have the same aims. They are typically linked to a single location.

Local artists Nola Tegel and Patricia Johnson follow a representational style of work pioneered in the local area from the 1970s by artist Alan Baker. Tegel and Johnson were some of Baker’s students who, joined by others, and have created an impressive and vital body of local artwork.

The followers of Camden realism conduct a form of storytelling through their representational style of artwork that documents the ever-changing landscape of the Macarthur region and its cultural heritage.

Campbelltown Arts Centre

Camden realism is regularly exhibited at the Campbelltown Arts Centre and the annual Camden Art Prize.

In 2020 Tegel was commissioned by the Campbelltown Arts Centre to

develop a series of paintings that capture glimpses of Campbelltown’s history amongst an ever-changing landscape.

Then & Now Catalogue

The Campbelltown Arts Centre mounted these works in an exhibition called ‘Then and Now‘, which ran from March to May 2021.

The Campbelltown Arts Centre was established in 2005 and boasts that it is a regional creative hub.  The gallery encourages local artists to take risks using various techniques from new to traditional, including Baker’s representational style of realism.

The Tegel commission

The brief for the Tegel commission stated that she

‘develop a series of paintings that capture glimpses of Campbelltown’s history amongst an ever-changing landscape’.

Storytelling is the essence of Tegel’s artwork, and the exhibition catalogue states her body of artwork has documented

‘the built environment and landscape of the Campbelltown CBD ahead of imminent growth and continuous change’.

Storytelling is an essential element of the creative process, and artist Courtney Jordon argues that:

Storytelling often comes naturally to artists. Sometimes the story starts on a single canvas or sheet of paper and doesn’t end until a gallery full of paintings, a suite of drawings, a set of illustrations, a series of comic strips or an entire graphic novel.
Certain subject matters compel an artist to revisit them again and again, building on a concept or pushing it in different directions. The narrative can be a visible part of the artwork in the form of a written story. But oftentimes, it acts as an invisible framework that guides an artist through the creative process.

Tegel is a storyteller and she has created a narrative that fulfilled the commission brief with empathy and vision. This was based on her understanding of the area’s sense of place and community identity as a growing community on Sydney’s urban fringe. The exhibition catalogue states that

Tegel’s accomplished documentation of Campbelltown captures the artists’ attachment to familiar outlooks and awe of the growing community.

‘Then and Now’, Exhibition catalogue

The catalogue cover of the Nola Tegel Exhibition Then & Now at the Campbelltown Arts Centre in 2021 (I Willis)

The essence of Tegel’s artwork is storytelling as she gives a visual palette to the aspirations and expectations of the local community of local’s and new arrivals by capturing the meaning and essence of place on the canvas.  

Sydney’s urban fringe is a zone of transition where hope and loss,  and dreams and memories are shaped and re-shaped by a shifting sea of urbanisation.  Tegel has produced a body of work that tells the story of  subtle nuances across the landscape that are only understood by those who have experienced them.  She reminds us all that the border between the rural and the urban fringe is a constantly shifting feast.

Campbelltown is a landscape of change as it has been since the area was proclaimed by Governor Macquarie in 1820. Initially, as a settler society dispossessing the Dharawal of their country, and in the 20th century, urban dwellers dispossessing Europeans of their bucolic countryside.

Tegel has witnessed these challenges through her interpretation of the area’s cultural landscapes in an evocative fashion, and in the process, captured Campbelltown’s sense of place.

Visitors at the Exhibition Then & Now for Macarthur artist Nola Tegel at the Campbelltown Arts Centre in 2021 (I Willis)

The notes in the exhibition catalogue argue that Tegel has drawn here artistic influences from various sources. Amongst these have been working with artist Barbara Romalis and being a foundational member of artist Alan Baker’s art classes at Camden.

Camden realism and Alan Baker

Baker created what might be called the Camden Realist School of art. He was a follower of the Realist tradition and shunned sentimentalism, modernist abstract and avant-garde styles.

Baker’s influence on Tegel is evident in the ‘Then and Now’ exhibition collection, where it is represented by her ability to capture Campbelltown’s sense of place without sentimentalism or abstraction.

In the 1970s Baker encouraged a realist style amongst students at his Camden Public School art classes, which included Nola Tegel,  Patricia Johnston, Olive McAleer, Rizwana Ahmad, and Shirley Rorke.

Baker encouraged a Plein Air painting style,  a tradition that

 goes back to the French Impressionists in the mid-19th century by introducing paints in tubes. Before this, artists made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigments powder with linseed oils. 

In Australia the school of Heidelberg School of artists regularly painted landscapes en plein air, and sought to depict daily life from the 1890s.

Tegel displayed her deft skills as a practitioner of this style in her 2019 Maitland Regional Art Gallery exhibition called ‘In the Light of the Day’. Her artworks were described as coming

 from a long standing tradition of painting en plein air, artwork created ‘in the moment’, painted and worked on in situ.  

mrag.org.au/whats-on/nola-tegel-in-the-light-of-the-day/(opens in a new tab)

In 2018 Tegel documented the historic colonial Victorian homestead Maryland at Bringelly     when she was privately commissioned ‘to create 60 paintings.’ These paintings have told the story of one of the Cowpastures most important colonial mansions and farms built between 1820 and 1850. (Then & Now Catalogue)

Patricia Johnston

Another member of the Camden Realist school is Camden-based artist Patricia Johnston.

Johnston is the ‘2021 Focus Artist’ at the Campbelltown Arts Centre for the ‘Friends Annual and Focus Exhibition’.

Another prodigy of Alan Baker and a fan of the plein air tradition Johnston says that Baker

Revealed the challenge of capturing changing light conditions in open-air painting. The immediacy of this technique and the ability to analyse complex visual scenes established a groundwork that has greatly influenced my painting. The environment became by studio.

Friends Annual & Focus Exhibition Catalogue 2021

A collage of paintings by artist Patricia Johnson on display at the Campbelltown Arts Centre as the ‘2021 Focus Artist’ in the ‘Friends Annual and Focus Exhibition’. (I Willis)

Realism on display

Camden realism’s outstanding body of work is a collection of Alan Baker’s paintings, sketches, and other works at the Alan Baker Art Gallery Macaria in John Street Camden. The gallery presents the Alan Baker Collection, which is

a colourful portrayal of an artist’s life in 21st Century Australia.

Alan Baker Art Gallery Flyer

The flyer for the ‘Face to Face’ Exhibition at the Alan Baker Art Gallery Macaria Camden with artist Alan Baker’s self-portrait on the cover. The exhibition is running during 2021. (Alan Baker Art Gallery)

Camden realism is encouraged every year in the Camden Art Prize, which was established in 1975. The acquisitive art prize has a host of categories attracting a mix of artist styles, including traditional representational works.

Smaller exhibitions of Camden realism add to body of work. In 2019 local artists Patricia Johnson, Nola Tegel, Bob Gurney, and Roger Percy mounted an exhibition at Camden Library called ‘Living Waters of Macarthur’. The body of artworks told a variety of stories of the local area in a visual form and captured the essence of place for viewers of local landscapes.

Art as storytelling

The body of work that has grown around Camden realism illustrates the ability of art to tell a story about place. The art style encourages a sense of emotional attachment to a locality by telling stories about the landscapes that surround the community.

Camden realism offers a visual interpretation of storytelling of Macarthur landscapes and the communities within it. This body of work documents the changes that have taken place across the local area from pre-European times to the present, illustrating that all these landscapes are transitional.

Perhaps leaving the last word to artist Courtney Jordon, who says:

Even if they are not aware of it, visual artists often develop some sort of narrative in their work..

Camden realism is a school of art that documents the local area in a different form of storytelling.

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Gardens: a special place

The many faceted aspects of gardens

Gardens are practical, places of beauty, peaceful, have a pleasing aesthetic and are popular with people. Gardens across the Macarthur region certainly fulfil these elements.

Author Robert Harrison maintains that

The gardens that have graced this mortal Eden of ours are the best evidence of humanity’s reason for being on Earth. History without gardens would be a wasteland.

Humans have long turned to gardens—both real and imaginary—for sanctuary from the frenzy and tumult that surrounds them.

Harrison maintains that people wander through many types of gardens:

Real, mythical, historical, literary.

Camden Park House 2018 Flynns LForbes
The display of spring wisteria in the gardens at Camden Park House. The gardens are open in spring every year and are a magnificent display of vibrant colours. The gardens are part of the September Open Weekend at the property which provides one of the important intact colonial Victorian gardens in Australia. This image was taken by Lyn Forbes on the 2018 Open Weekend. (L Forbes, 2018)

 

Many say that gardens and connectedness to nature contribute to wellness

 

Wellness and wellbeing

Wellness is an area of growing public interest and is one the most popular sections of bookshops. A simple Google search of wellness reveals over 700 million search results.

The Wellness Institute says that wellness is:

a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential.

Why is wellness important?

The University of California Davis Student Health and Counselling Services states that wellness is important because:

it is important for everyone to achieve optimal wellness in order to subdue stress, reduce the risk of illness and ensure positive interactions.

The UCD states that there are eight areas to wellness: emotional; environmental; financial; intellectual; occupational; physical; social; spiritual.

Gardening and horticultural therapy or ecotherapy contributes to wellness through physical, psychological and social wellbeing.

 

Studies have shown that being connected to nature is linked to well-being. Gardening is a connection with nature. Some see it as a form of biophilia.

Biophilia

The hypothesis of biophilia says that people are connected to nature. The degree that nature is part of a person’s identity is ‘nature connectedness’.

The term biophilia was introduced by Edward O Wilson in his 1984 book Biophilia where he defined it as ‘”the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”.[3]

These ideas are not new and in ancient Greek mythology Gaia is the ancestral mother of all life and the personification of the Earth: the primal Mother Earth goddess.

In 1979 James Lovelock, in Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth; his Gaia hypothesis which sees the Earth as a self-supporting organism.

Gardening has many of these elements and a direct connection to the earth.

 

A selection of gardens in the Macarthur region

Camden community garden

One active gardener maintains that this garden provides

therapy time, social interaction with other like-minded people and the satisfaction of growing your own produce. It is very peaceful down there and there is something about digging in the earth. It is fulfilling and a sense of joy seeing something grow from seed. There’s nothing like being able to pick and eat your own produce. The wide variety of colours of the flowers and vegetables in the garden builds mindfulness.

Camden Community Gardens[1]

 

Macarthur Park and garden

TripAdvisor

This is a park with varied places to wander through and enjoy, roses in abundance, opportunities for parties, weddings or friends, and 2 palm trees at one of the gates planted by Elizabeth Macarthur to add to the history!! Very pleasurable. (Val S, Camden)

 

A two minute stroll from the gorgeous township of Camden and you’ll find this little hidden gem. Beautifully maintained gardens in a tranquil setting make this spot just perfect for a short retreat from the rest of the world. no bustle, no shops no noise (except the occasional church bells), just peace and tranquility. (PThommo101, Camden)

 

I just loved the park with its wonderful rose garden and beautiful arbor. I was there to do a photo shoot and this park never fails to impress with its beautiful shadows and views (CamdenNSW)

Camden Mac Park
Camden’s Macarthur Park endowed to the residents of Camden by Sibella Macarthur Onslow in the early 20th century (I Willis, 2016)

 

The Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan

The Australian Plant Bank

TripAdvisor

A beautiful, restful place to take a Sunday stroll. Any time of the year there is always something on offer, but spring time is especially lovely. (Sue H, Sydney) 

It was wonderful to spend time here at the beginning of spring, (Matt H, Penang, Malaysia)

What a beautiful place for a picnic….the grounds are extensive and have an impressive display of Australian native plants….wattles, grevillea ,bottlebrush and eucalypts, to name but a few. (Lynpatch29, Sydney)

 I was very impressed it is beautiful (Camden NSW)

A tranquil space for a walk among native plants.  Your head is back in a good space. (Susie994, Canberra)

mt_annan_botanic_garden2
The Australian Botanic Gardens at Mount Annan showing a bed of paper daisies 2016 (ABG)

 

Sculpture Garden Western Sydney University Campbelltown

Maybe it is the walking around the picturesque landscape provided by the WSU grounds staff and gardeners. Maybe it is the landscape gardening and native vegetation set off by the water features. Maybe it is the quiet and solitude in the middle of a busy Campbelltown.

Whatever it is in the sculpture garden, whether provided by the permanent WSU sculpture collection or the exhibition works, the site has a positive serenity that is hard to escape. It certainly attracts the staff and students.

The exhibition makes up part of the programme linked to the WSU Art Collection.  Take yourself on a virtual tour of the WSU Art Collection.

Campbelltown WSU Sculptures 2018
The sculpture garden in the grounds of Western Sydney University Campbelltown are one of the best kept secrets of the Macarthur region. It is great to see the display of public art and there a host of display pieces to hold the interest of any art nerd. (IWillis)

 

Camden Park House & Garden

 

Japanese Garden at Campbelltown Arts Centre

The Japanese Gardens are a special gift from Koshigaya, Campbelltown’s Sister City in Japan, and are located in the grounds of the Campbelltown Arts Centre.

The Campbelltown Japanese Gardens celebrate the sister city relationship between Campbelltown and Koshigaya. The gardens were presented to Campbelltown by the citizens of Koshigaya on 10 April, 1988.

The Gardens symbolise the beliefs and religion of both Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan, and Zen Buddhism.

The Campbelltown Japanese Gardens feature a traditional waterfall, koi pond, timber bridge, stonework pathways, lush plantings and a 16th Century designed teahouse, hand crafted by Japanese craftsmen.

The aim of the garden is to obtain quiet solitude. The design represents elegant simplicity, lending itself to contemplation and heightened awareness. (Campbelltown Arts Centre)

Campbelltown Arts Centre Japanese Garden3 2018 CAC
The Japanese Garden at the Campbelltown Arts Centre. The garden illustrates the ‘peaceful surrounds and tranquility of the traditional Japanese plants, designs and craftsmanship’. (CAC)

 

Picton Botanical Gardens

Picton Botanic Garden 2017 Pinterest
The Picton Botanical Gardens 2017.  The gardens were established in 1986 and covers 4.1 ha and has 90% native Australian plantings. (Pinterest)

Tripadvisor

The gardens are beautiful. (TamJel, North Sydney)

Well presented, peaceful park just what the doctor ordered.. (Gasmi, Sydney)

Purely by chance, I saw a signpost for the Picton Botanical Gardens. I drove down Regreme Road and discovered a beautiful, peaceful space adjacent to the oval. (Jennifer C, Belconnen, ACT)

 

Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living

Mac Centres for Sust Living 2017 Mount Annan
The Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living garden ‘The Centre  is a not-for-profit, community-driven organisation supported by local Macarthur Councils and the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust. MCSL is primarily an educational facility and model for sustainable technology’ (2017 MCSL)

 

Camden RSL Memorial Rose Garden

Camden RSL Memorial Rose Gdn 2017 CRSL
The Camden RSL Memorial Rose Garden is the site of the annual Anzac Day Dawn Service in Camden. It attracts thousands of people each year and is a site of memory and commemoration. The extensive rose garden has a memorial obelisk located in front of a columbarium.  (CRSL, 2017)

 

Rotary Cowpasture Reserve Garden

Camden Cowpasture Reserve Spring Flowers 2018
The Camden Rotary Cowpasture Reserve garden in spring 2018. The reserve wall was opened and dedicated on 19 February 1995 by Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair Governor NSW. The monument celebrates the Rotary Centenary and the service that Camden Rotary has provided to the community since 1947. (2018 I Willis)

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Sheer Fantasy Experience

Campbelltown Arts Centre continues its growing reputation for innovative, exciting and challenging art.

Campbelltown Art Centre Launch SheerFantasy 2018Apr Door&Curtain
Sheer Fantasy Experience is an innovating and challenging art exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre 2018 (I Willis)

 

The Campbelltown Arts Centre hosted the opening of a whimsical exhibition curated by artist David Capra in April 2018.

Campbelltown Art Centre Launch SheerFantasy 2018Apr Curator
Curator David Capra at the launch of his exhibition Sheer Fantasy at the Campbelltown Arts Centre April 2018 (I Willis)

 

Within the exhibition fantasies abound in a world of the imagination where the world is re-interpreted by indulgence.

Campbelltown Art Centre Launch SheerFantasy 2018Apr Wall
Launch of the Sheer Fantasy Exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre April 2018 (I Willis)

 

The exhibition notes state there are:

A number of newly commissioned works in which artists have contemplated private and internal landscapes that have long influenced their practices…bold architectural additions… provide an immersive experience of constructed escapisms that are stongly familiar…

Campbelltown Art Centre Launch SheerFantasy 2018Apr Truck
Launch of the Sheer Fantasy Exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre April 2018 (I Willis)

 

Influences include Hollywood Westerns movie sets and the Golden Age of Cinema. Combined with performance art by Renny Kodgers in a truck where there are ‘slow conversations’.

Campbelltown Art Centre Launch SheerFantasy 2018Apr Crowd
The crowd at the launch of Sheer Fantasy Exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre April 2018 (I Willis)

 

An interesting and challenging display.

Campbelltown Art Centre Launch SheerFantasy 2018Apr UFO
Launch of the Sheer Fantasy Exhibition at the Campbelltown Arts Centre April 2018 (I Willis)

 

The Sheer Fantasy Exhibition runs from 14 April to 3 June at the Campbelltown Arts Centre.

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2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award

2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award

The CHN blogger was out and about at Campbelltown Arts Centre recently on a Friday night at the opening of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award.

A packed Campbelltown Arts Centre was filled with keen supporters of the award. They walked around and viewed the art works that had survived the culling process and made it onto the walls and displays.

Campbelltown Arts Centre Fisher Ghost Art Award 2017
There was quite a crowd the Campbelltown Arts Centre for the opening night of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award on Friday 4 November.

55 Years of History

2017 is the 55th year of the prize and the finalists had some pretty stiff competition.

There were a diverse range of works. The categories include Open, Contemporary, Traditional, Sculpture, Photography, Primary Students, Secondary Students, Surrealism, Macarthur award for a local artist, Aboriginal, Mentorship Macability award for a work by an artist with a disability.

The Award has a total prize pool of $38000 supported by a range of local sponsors.

Campbelltown Arts Centre is well regarded art institution in the Sydney area under the leadership of director Michael Dagostino.

Camden artist survives cull at the Award

One entrant at this year’s award was Camden artist Sandra Dodds. She survived the cull with her sculpture work Eclipse.

Camden artist Sandra Dodds with her entry Eclipse in the sculpture category of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award on the opening night of Friday 4 November. (I Willis)

Bringelly artist Brian Stratton had his work Shoalhaven Tapestry hung in the Traditional category.

Campbelltown Arts CentreFishers GhostArt BrianStratton Shoalhaven Tapestry 2017
Brian Stratton and his watercolour ‘Shoalhaven Tapestry’ hung at the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award at Campbelltown Arts Centre (L Stratton)

Brian said about his painting:

‘One of my watercolour paintings of Crookhaven Heads on the south coast of NSW.  Over the past three decades I would have painted more than 200 paintings of the north face of this headland.  To me this work has more of a feeling of a tapestry, as opposed to a watercolour; hence its title.’

Award proceedings

The proceedings on the opening night got under way just after 6.00pm with the official announcements around 7.30pm. The announcement of the winners was introduced by a welcome to country by a local Dharawal elder.

The 2017 judges were curator Tess Allas, artist Dr Daniel Mudie Cunningham and artist Ben Quilty.

The full list of prize winners in all categories can be found here.

Campbelltown 2017 FishGhstArt Awd Signage

The Fisher’s Ghost Festival

The art award is part of the Fisher’s Ghost Festival which is held in November each year and started in 1956. The festival is named after the local 19th century legend of Fisher’s ghost.

The festival website states that celebrations are held over 10 days (4-12 November). The major features of the festival are a street parade,  a fun run, a street fair, craft exhibition, foodie festival in Mawson Park, open days and a giant carnival with fireworks.

In 2017 the carnival was held on Bradbury Oval and was in full swing as the art award winners were announced at the art centre.

The street parade moves along Queen Street and has a variety of community, sporting and business groups with floats and novelties.

Each year the festival has a theme and in the past they have included  The Ghost with the Most, The Spirit of Campbelltown, the International Year of the Volunteers, the Centenary of Federation, the National Year of Reading and most recently, the 30th anniversary of the Campbelltown-Koshigaya Sister City relationship.

The Miss Festival Quest, which ran up until the early 90s, was adapted to form The Miss Princess Quest, which has now been running for more than two decades.

Campbelltown Art Centre forecourt on the opening night of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award (I Willis)

The story of the ghost of Fred Fisher

The festival is based around the story of the ghost of Fred Fisher.

The story of Fred Fisher is one full of mystery, murder and mayhem. It really shows the dark gothic influences in Australian history around the former convict turned farmer who was murdered in Campbelltown. The Dictionary of Sydney website tells this story and the grizzly demise of Fred.

The ghost story of Fred Fisher is part of Australian gothic literature and the country’s colonial past.   These stories make a statement about the white Australian psyche and the monster within. The landscape is portrayed as a monster in the genry of  Australian gothic now and in the past when the early colonials viewed the bush as evil and threatening.

The National Library of Australia outlines the story of Fred Fisher and the songs, stories and legends that flow from it. They claim that it is the most forgotten ghost story in Australia..

The Fred Fisher ghost story is an apt ghost story to tell around the time of Halloween. Some even go looking for the Fred ghost today.

There are many who swear that there is a presence around the area of Fishers Ghost Creek in Campbelltown. Is this just a lot of rot or is there something to the story?

The story receives the official sanction of Campbelltown Council and its public library where it is told in all its detail.

The Campbelltown History Buff has many interesting stories about Fred and his ghost. One of the best is about the ghost post from the road bridge and the curse that is linked to it. Or maybe not.

The dark stories of colonial times about Aborigines and convicts fit neatly into  the Australian gothic genre, as does Fred Fisher, a former convict.

2017 Fishers Ghost Festival runs from 4 November to 12 November.

The festival website tells the story from the colonial days of Campbelltown and the festival is fitting to remember the ghostly and ghastly past.

The festival celebrates and embraces the Australian gothic.