Artist Interview - Wendy Stokes
In an interview from 2012*, Wendy talks about what inspires her on a daily basis, and how she arrived at becoming an artist:
What influenced you to develop an interest in art?
There wasn’t really a time when I decided that I would go and pick it off a shelf labelled a career or hobby. It is a part of me from as far back as I can remember and fortunately due to the freedom of my upbringing, I had many hours outside on the farm, in the garden or roaming my front yard, our coastline. Much of this time was immersed in my own imagination: collecting, drawing, making things, just being in an outdoor environment. Sometimes I have considered if it, ‘art’, was something separate like a backpack that you could remove, life would be easier and far less complicated. It is my way of seeing the world, thinking about it and finding a place within it.
How has your talent steered your artistic career?
To be blatantly honest, talent doesn’t necessarily steer an art career! Any serious artist I know, or even the famous ones embedded in the archives of history, would agree that that is left to trends and opportunity! After completing the HSC, I went onto 4 years of formal art studies in Newcastle, took the ritual art pilgrimage to the UK and Europe on graduation and followed that several years later with postgraduate study at Sydney College of the Arts. From the beginning, I had strong support from my parents; Jim Matsinos, my art teacher at school; Dorothy Hope, the founder of Thrumster Village; and the printmaker, Joan Smith. I mention them because in the 1970s, artists in regional areas, particularly Port Macquarie, were very isolated, and these people understood my language and aspirations. At art school I ended up majoring in Printmaking and Drawing and managed to develop a strong profile as a printmaker very early in my art practice, exhibiting and awarded prizes on a national and international level. It was through my printmaking that I received the residence opportunity in New York.
Which medium/media do you like to work with now, and what is it about them that attracts you?
The painting has become a key focus of my practice since the late 1990s. The reason for the shift was as much about creative development – expecting more from a medium – as it was about eliminating the exposure were possible to solvents and oil-based products. I was looking for more freedom in scale and as I was already using the printmaking medium as a painter would paint, the progression was natural. I adopted water based choices for all my processes, both paint and print. Apart from the ease of cleanup, many artists will identify that we still need to function to some degree in the real world. Time to work often becomes fragmented, so the speed of drying time became a crucial element for my work. Using water-based processes also aligned with my aesthetic towards the landscape … the connections between water and atmosphere, staining, soaking, sliding, immersion and the porosity of the canvas, the porosity of the sand and earth … I’ve read passages about your work, which describes it as ‘abstract impressionism’.
Would you say this is a fair description – and if not, why?
I am often wary of categorisation when it comes to describing art. Art in contemporary terms crosses many boundaries between mediums as well as professional disciplines. These days, we do not need to go far to see the hybrid practice between artist and engineer or scientist. Coming to the ‘abstract impressionism’: both are words which come with a huge amount of misinterpreted and popularised baggage. While it may be beneficial to have an understanding of when or why particular styles developed historically, we all need to be aware that much history, particularly involving women artists, marginalised cultures and geographically isolated artists, has yet to be written or rewritten into history. The abstract is a term with many meanings and tends to be seen as a removal of a concrete source, and Impressionism is unfortunately tied to the popular historical style of the Impressionists, which is still firmly set in the observational ground. This can be misleading. Viewers are likely to feel compelled to try and locate references in my paintings to give themselves clues to determine the meaning, rather than allow the viewing experience to be a mutual engagement between the painting and them. My paintings are not about squinting your eyes to try and make out an impression of a thing. Hopefully, they are about synthesis and experience.
As an artist, what inspires you to create?
Energy. It is connected to experience and immersion in place, but not from the visited experience, where you are a tourist or explorer travelling to a place, picking a view and packaging it. Memories obviously play a role for everybody, not only artists, because we all bring to any experience our previous experiences. What truly moves me to create are the lives of others, sacrifice, commitment, that drive of the artist to leave a mark, an image that has the capacity to move or resonate within the viewer. If even a momentary thing, it has the capacity to be an experience shared. Much of your work is done on a large scale.
What’s the largest piece you’ve completed to date?
The scale thing is relative. For a domestic setting, it could be considered large, but they can be quite dwarfed in museum settings. The largest work is still in progress but will end up being around 7 meters. The scale is part of the concept of immersion which informs my work; not only is it quite a performative act making the work, but I aim for the viewer to be able to be drawn into the works with little peripheral distraction. Not all my work is large scale.
*extract from an interview by Jo Atkins for issue 77 of Port Macquarie Focus