Are the mid-winter blues real? Or is it just that, as Australians, we are so used to being bathed in sunshine that we have a climactic hissy fit every time the temperature dips below 20ºC? Increasingly winter depression, or emotional gloominess, has been redefined as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), surely the most apt medical acronym ever.
I don’t know whether I’ve had an attack of SAD, or I’m just languishing in a funk (as opposed to languishing in a state of funkiness which I surely wish I was), but by late last week I needed to take action. If beauty is balm for the soul – which it is – then art seemed a beautiful solution; so off I went on a West End art hunt.
The lovely cstudios Art Gallery was the perfect place to start. Perched on the edge of Cottage Creek, opposite Bank Corner, it’s in one of my favourite parts of the West End. Located in the former Bellevue Hotel this pub turned gallery has been cleverly transformed by its owner, director and the gallery’s curator Jo Chisholm-Ray. The building itself wraps around the corner of Bellevue and Hunter Streets, its large street level windows making the gallery’s art visible to passing pedestrians.
Jo is passionate about contemporary and fine art and on the day I visit the gallery is, again, filled with gorgeous and diverse work: photo media, fibre art, sculpture, ceramics, works on paper and paintings in crayon, oil and water colour. A classic still life of tomatoes, by Kay Sparkes, is so richly realistic I want to reach into the canvas and grab one. Propped up against the wall is a splashy painting of Merewether Pool by Helen Walker, it’s azure and white and washed with summer light.
Two bold panels catch my eye; a striking view of Customs House Plaza which is part of an ongoing project, called the Newcastle Series, by Geoffrey Breen.
The gallery is selling a delightful and locally produced children’s book, Whale Tail and Skin Deep, written and illustrated by Rhonda Partridge. Coming soon is a group show, ‘Connections’, which will see an astounding 18 artists showing together for the first time, with work ranging from painting and prints to sculpture. This diverse group is known collectively as the Greenway Artists because their practice emerged out of the Greenway Gallery in Morpeth.
On the day I’m there artist Leslie Duffin calls in, she’s dropping off nature inspired canvases for exhibition and sale. They feature images of stone slabs and twisting green vines which she describes as ‘environmental snippets’. We chat about her work and she explains how her focus has changed from the urban to the organic.
My plan was to walk west down Hunter Street, then cut up Wood Street to another of my favourite spots, the Newcastle Art Space. But the bold artwork on the front of the Cambridge Hotel caught me by surprise and I stopped.
I followed the murals around the corner into the pub’s gravelly car park.
Here they streaked the chipped brick walls with colour and trippy designs, turning this gritty place into an unlikely open air gallery.
I headed on to Newcastle Community Arts Centre which operates out of the old St. Aloysius Secondary School on Parry Street. It’s a site buzzy with activity and it seems perfect that a former school still remains a place of learning. The Centre supports artists to create and exhibit new work by providing ‘accessible, supportive, collaborative and unique spaces’. It is also home to the Newcastle Art Space, a vibrant artist-run gallery, which provides a professional exhibition place for local artists.
It’s here that I meet Damien Slevin who has just installed his new exhibition of paintings ‘Windows’. He’s an international traveller who is fascinated by the way windows create a natural frame to our world. We all look out of windows, as viewers, and peer into windows, as voyeurs (albeit nice ones!).
It doesn’t get much better than to come into an exhibition, find the artist there and have the opportunity to ask them about their work. It’s the second time in one day and I feel blessed.
He’s generous with his time explaining the location of the window vistas: local haunts in Islington, Hamilton and then the more far flung – Sydney to San Francisco, Montreal and Tokyo. I’m also – and unexpectedly – taken with Damien’s leather bound travel notebook the pages of which are filled with exquisite pen, ink and watercolour sketches. It’s an art object in itself.
As the Newcastle Community Arts Centre is an old school, its classrooms have been transformed into artists’ studios and the asphalt playground is now a paint-splattered creative space filled with pot plants and folded easels. At the edge of the playground I find a little hidey hole and amazingly it is the studio of Leslie Duffin.
Here she’s not being the successful Caves Beach gallery owner (that she is), or delivering completed paintings to cstudios Art Gallery, but just a working artist.
The whole day has had an easy synchronicity. From a professional gallery, to street art to the spaces where artists create new work, it’s been a perfect creative circle. And best of all? My heart is now joyful.
cstudios Art Gallery, 738 Hunter St, Newcastle West. Phone: 4023 8927. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Find them on Facebook and Instagram. http://www.cstudiosartgallery.com.au ‘Connections’ exhibition 8-30 August.
Newcastle Community Arts Centre, 246 Parry St, Newcastle West. Phone: 4961 1696. Email: email@example.com Find them on Facebook and Instagram. http://www.ncac.org.au ‘Windows’ exhibition 30 July-16 August. Damien Slevin’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org Also on exhibition is ‘Traces’ by Ellie Hannon 30 July-16 August.
Leslie Duffin’s gallery is Finite, 55 Caves Beach Road, Caves Beach. Email: email@example.com
Another West End gallery is Eden Art, formerly Four Point Gallery, 681b Hunter Street, Newcastle West. Phone: 0422 856 228. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. It was closed on the day I visited. They have an exhibition ‘Eight Doors’ by Penny Thwaite 31 July-16 August. Penny will engage with the gallery space by constructing a site specific installation that changes daily.
Have you chosen the West End as your home or as the perfect place to run your business? Do you have a West End tale which deserves a wider audience? What inspires or infuriates you about the West End? If you have a story to tell I would love to talk to you! Here’s how to find me: email@example.com; 0413 250 155.