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The uplift of water and light

After a series of personal losses, Balmain artist Naomi Downie found that painting water and nature was soothing. “By the end, I started to lift off, like the water had done its job,” she said. “The water had washed me clean.” Many works in her first solo show at the Orchard Gallery in Waterloo in September reflect the shifting shades of water and light around Balmain West and the Hawkesbury River. Here’s what she said at the launch …

Ever since I was a child I was drawing and painting. In my later teens I attended Ron Hartree’s Art Studio in Newcastle where I did life drawing, still life and acrylic painting. It was in a warehouse filled with couches and easels. Tutors came alongside to encourage your projects –and they were active painters themselves. Attending their exhibitions expanded my worldview of art as being more than a private enjoyment but a chance to share and communicate my ideas with people. They showed me, in a grassroots way, what was possible.

We always had art books around and my parents regularly took me to major exhibitions. I was especially taken with 19th-century Impressionists, the Melbourne Heidelberg artists, the Fauves’ post-impressionist work, van Gogh, Marc Chagall, Joy Hester, Sidney Nolan and Hugh Ramsay … their work pulsed with life and vibrancy.

One night in my 20s, after a poetry reading on the beach, a fellow took us to his solo show – opening up the gallery after midnight for a private viewing. The night was magical. It allowed me to see that someone my age had made the leap of faith to fill a room with his creations. A seed was planted: “One day I want to have a solo show.”

To be honest it’s been a real struggle over the years to make this come true; finding time between jobs and relationships; and self-belief played a factor.

Over the 20 years since that night I have been in many group exhibitions in Synergy Gallery in Melbourne, Gibson Street Gallery in Newcastle, and Harrington Street Gallery in Sydney.

A year or so ago, my art classes weren’t enough. I developed a greater hunger to paint for longer and more often. I discovered Annandale Creative Arts Centre and joined their collective, which meant I had use of their art studio, resources like artists retreats, and also a team of creatives who encourage each other’s growth.

At the studio the paintings seemed just to flow. The quiet space gave me freedom to go deep into creation in privacy and safety. After my losses, the studio became a sanctuary. I chose to focus on beauty and nature and places that brought me peace. That began the Hawkesbury River paintings series from my Dangar Island meditation retreats.

I found being in nature good for my wellbeing and drawing the riverscapes allowed me to observe more clearly and be more present to the changes of light and movement. Paintings in the studio from these sketches gave me such grace and deep contentment.

Moving to beautiful Balmain, I continued my water series, painting the river and boats at different times of the day and night. This helped me to get to know the area and feel at home in my new environment.

My teacher Marita Brahe talks about art being a way of expressing our thoughts, feelings and beliefs, and how we can reveal the hidden dimensions of our spirit and emotions into the works – so they are not just pictures but investments of our soul’s passion. My artworks in this exhibition are my attempts to do just that.

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Naomi Downie dedicated her show to her teachers Janet Barrie Choice, Marita Brahe, Ron Hartree, Amy Huang and Charles Jordan.

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