Kathryn Cowen: upcoming artist-in-residence

Kathryn Cowen with her work A Field Guide To Reality, 2015-19, acrylic, aerosol and oil on canvas

Kathryn Cowen is a Sydney based multidisciplinary artist working across the fields of painting, sculpture and installation. Drawing on a diverse range of influences from cosmology and literature, to neuroscience and psychology; Kathryn reflects on our experience, understanding and perceptions of reality from a physical and psychological perspective. A ‘hyper real’ colour palette is a central feature of her work, used to prompt a shift in perception and creates portals to a place that is ‘Other'. 

Kathryn studied painting at the National Art School, Sydney, where she was a finalist in the John Olsen Prize for Drawing and winner of the Chroma Paints Award, graduating with a Bachelor Fine Arts (Hons) in 2007. Since this time she has exhibited regularly in solo and group exhibitions across a variety of commercial, artist run and institutional galleries. Kathryn has been a finalist in the Hazelhurst Art on Paper Award (2019), the Fisher’s Ghost Art Award (2019, 2015), the Calleen Art Prize (2018), the Waverley Art Prize (2015), and the Portia Geach Memorial Award (2006). She has participated in the NAS Artist-in-Residence Program at Hill End, NSW and the Movers and Shapers Collective Residency at Turondale, NSW. Her work is held in collections throughout Australia, the Netherlands and the USA.

Kathryn Cowen, Field Guide Specimens (studio installation), 2019, seed pods, twigs, date palm inflorescence branches, shells, rocks, expanding foam, paint, laboratory glassware, plastic figurines

During my residency at Gunyah I plan to work on components of an installation using found natural objects and small sculptures, housed in scientific glassware. This new work will present specimens from a post apocalyptic world where the scale and relationship between fauna and fauna has been inverted, minuscule life forms rule and the light we live by has changed. The work is intended to question our ecological future and invite the viewer to imagine alternate realities and future biological forms. The COVID-19 pandemic has diminished our perceived human power. Desperately peering into microscopes looking for an answer, how will we adapt and grow in our relationship to nature in this new world order?

While at Gunyah I will continue fossicking and refine this work in progress for presentation as part of the Movers and Shapers Women and the Land' sculpture exhibition to be held at Hazelhurst Arts Centre in 2021.

You can see more of Kathryn's work on her website kathryncowen.com and instagram instagram.com/kathryn.cowen

Residency Report: Vanessa Berry

On my first night at Gunyah there was a bright full moon. Beneath it, reflected in the bay, was the moon's silver path, which shimmered with the movement of the water. I looked out over this scene, wondering how being here would shape my thinking, and what kind of reflections I would go on to make during my residency. Places shape thoughts and actions, and residencies draws attention to this exchange: the relationship between the atmosphere of the place and the artist's own mental weather.

The next morning I set up a desk by the window where I'd been looking at the moonlight and unpacked my bags of materials. I'd come with two projects to work on, one a manuscript that's reaching completion, and another that's so new it is mostly a set of scribbled notes, and vague thoughts I need to do hard work to chase after. Both of these stages, end and beginning, require courage and confidence, although they require different levels of attention. The manuscript I examine carefully to consider how its pieces work together, as I engage in the careful work of editing it into a whole. For the new work I set meticulousness aside. The important thing was to open up my thoughts, take a notebook down to the water's edge, let my ideas shift and collide. In this way I divided up my days, between the 'desk work' of the manuscript, and the 'jetty work' of the new project.

On residency an artist is lifted out of their routine, their familiar places and habits and constraints, and has space to consider their practice. Most days I found myself sitting by the jetty, beside an empty black flowerpot over the mouth of which a small white spider had spun a web. Each day it was at the centre of a newly-spun web, the pattern slightly different from the day before. Writing, rewriting: the spider was my companion in contemplation.

As the water lapped at the rocks I thought about my intentions, of what I do and how I might continue or modify it. The practice of writing is an exchange between self and world, and made up of activities that bring them together. At its most broad this is everything the writer does, their continued experience and all the interactions that come with daily life, observing and feeling, balancing moment with momentum.

As well as writing and thinking, I went out walking, gathering a sense of place on this Worimi country of North Arm Cove and balancing out the quiet, concentrated energy of writing. On the suburban streets I was particularly drawn to the houses and their architecture. North Arm Cove is a secluded place, and the houses were built as retreats, and to be open to the natural environment they are surrounded by. As I walked, I collected my favourites.

One of the things that I find particularly rewarding about walking is that each walk forms a story, with particular moods and details, so I thought that I'd include a walk story to end this report, as a way of describing my time at Gunyah as it unfolded.


Walk Story, Gunyah, 11th August 2020 

At the desk by the window I look up, over the bay. In the days I've been here I've seen it smooth as a mirror, with the silver track of the full moon reflected in its night surface. I've seen it high and lapping the rocks at the shoreline, seen its ripples extending out as if it's a shivering skin. On the day the storm front came through it was turbulent with low, rapid waves, which raced in towards the inner cove as if in a great hurry to arrive. Today the bay is calm and grey, tinged a slight gold as the afternoon settles. While there's still light I decide to go out walking.

As I turn the corner, out into the road that follows the water's edge, a kookaburra looks down from a high branch, turning its attention from the ground, to me, then back to the grass, studiously hoping for insects. I like their solitary, concentrated attention to observing, and today feel something of an accord with this approach, for the way that I have been working: concentrating on reading my manuscript, looking out for the details that have a life and energy to them.

I pass holiday houses with names like "Stray Leaves" and "Nightjar's Rest" and "Whispering Tides", with their wide windows and balconies, good positions for watching the water. I follow the road down to where it crumbles to an end beside a small beach. Like the other days I've walked this way, two dogs run up to greet me. The first time the younger one had rushed up barking, and I'd veered away, but then the older dog had come up and sat by my side, looking up with an imploring expression, and I knew they had accepted me. Today they bound around me, the young one carrying a fish in her mouth as if it's a great prize, until I reach the end of their territory and they stand as if at an invisible barrier, watching me walk away.

At the top of the hill is an A-Frame house, perched at the back of a wide front lawn on which a flock of corellas are grazing. More fly in, making nervous bleats, then turn down to tear at the grass. Behind the house is the edge of the bushland that extends across the headland. I walk until I reach a path that leads into the bush, a dirt road still muddy from the previous day's rain. At the corner is a wooden post with two blank wooden road signs pointing towards the forest.

A century ago, there were plans for this forest. Reading the history of the area on the Gunyah blog I'd found out that in the early 20th century this area was destined to be cleared for the building of a city. In 1918 the plans drawn up by Walter Burley Griffin for Port Stephens City were approved, and lots offered for sale. But the plan dwindled when the 1930s Depression hit, and all that was ever built of the city are the roads, which carve out trails through the bushland, marked by blank signs.

Walking on the paths I imagine Burley Griffin's plan overlaid upon the land, the ghosts of parks and civic buildings. It is hard to imagine the place other than how it is now, with the tall bloodwoods and stringybarks, and purple pea flowers and sprigs of native orchids in the undergrowth. Imagining the map of what it could have been I thought how the land was carved up, with the colonial mindset of land as space to be renamed and repurposed, as it has been across the continent. I walk here on Worimi country, holding onto the understanding that a city is only something temporary or provisional.

Thinking this, letting thoughts trail out with the rhythm of my steps, I follow the bushland paths until I'm back on the sealed stretch of road that follows the shoreline. The kookaburra has moved on from its perch and the sun is lower in the sky. I turn back to Gunyah, to the desk and my notebooks, with the walk's new thoughts to record and observe, hoping within them there is a quiver of something that I might take up and take further.

My time at Gunyah was precious and rewarding, a chance to write, think and dream, and connect with the abundant creative energies of the house, land and environment. Thank you to Kath and Gunyah for your support and generosity in having me on the residency. It is a privilege to have had Gunyah influence my work and thinking, and to now carry the work and insights from my time here with me.

Vanessa Berry

August 2020


Vanessa Berry: upcoming artist-in-residence

Vanessa Berry is a writer and artist who works with memory, history and archives. She is the author of three books, most recently Mirror Sydney, a collection of essays and hand-drawn maps that investigate the city’s marginal places and undercurrents. Within the Mirror Sydney project Vanessa has used multiple formats - blog, book, hand-drawn maps, zines, guided walks - and she usually works in this way, drawing on variety of textual, visual and performative forms, around a central idea or theme.

Vanessa Berry with her book, Mirror Sydney (photo courtesy of Better Read Than Dead), published by Giramondo Publishing in 2017, 300 pages
Vanessa's work has been widely recognised: Mirror Sydney won the Mascara Avant Garde Literary Award, her visual artwork has been exhibited at major galleries such as the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and National Gallery of Australia, the hand-drawn maps she produced for Mirror Sydney were purchased by the State Library of NSW for their collection, and Vanessa's work has been commissioned by institutions such as the Powerhouse Museum and Museum of Sydney. 

Vanessa Berry, St Peters map (detail), 2017, A3 risoprint

At the heart of her creative work is an interest in the storied nature of everyday life, and a desire to investigate expressions of memory within the physical environment and material culture.

Time and Memory, Powerhouse Museum (includes essay Time Machines by Vanessa Berry).

"During my residency at Gunyah I'm going to continue working on my two current collections of essays. The first is about physical and symbolic relationships with animals, and the second is about chance, coincidence and objects. In both projects - considering human-animal relationships, and also the relationships we have with mundane and everyday objects - I consider the connections we build, sustain, and inherit, between ourselves and the world, and how encounters with animals, and with objects, can shape our lives and identities."

You can find more of Vanessa's work at mirrorsydney.wordpress.com

2020 Gunyah artists-in-residence program

Thank you to everyone who applied for the 2020 Gunyah residencies!

Congratulations to the artists who have been selected for the 2020 Gunyah artists-in-residence program:

New for 2020: Gunyah artists-in-residence program has just launched an Instagram account @gunyahartists ... follow to see what our artists get up to on their residencies!  

Gunyah waterfront, photo Kath Fries

Residency report: Anne Numont

My experience of Gunyah turned out to be one of drawn mindfulness and self reclaim. Unexpected as I had brought a project to do further work on, set up studio, conducted experiments coating sheets with wax and had the intention of making paper. 

Anne Numont in her Gunyah studio

The reminder that life is fleeting and precious instigated a change in creative direction at Gunyah. As a timely concern, there were bushfires burning north and south during my residency. A ‘catastrophic’ rated fire danger warning was issued for North Arm Cove and despite the blue skies and clear sea, I saw the smog in the north, sunrise and sunsets looked ablaze and the smell of smoke was prominent especially at night. These observations made me want to stay at the house for the entire duration of my residency with no desire to day-trip away. Considering the fires, the NSW drought and the precious rainwater supply, I was hyper-conscious of my consumption. I concluded that the paper making originally planned may be insensitive as it can be a water-intensive process. Simultaneously, I returned to mindful habits I held dear (but momentarily forsook in city life) such as yoga, sunshine, smoothies and a spiritual practice. I mention these things to provide context as to what influenced the direction of my work at Gunyah. I contemplated how special the experience was/is because it can only happen once as an official artist-in-residence. The bushfires also heightened an appreciative attitude towards life.

My inner voice distinctly said on the first Thursday night: “Draw.” It felt like the most appropriate creative response as it was mindful, minimal and mobile (in case I had to evacuate). The anxious-calm paradox at Gunyah was that I felt safe despite the property’s obvious susceptibility to the elements and I thought this complexity was an interesting filter for any new work. I did not want to replicate or draw figuratively. I wanted to draw the sensations of being at Gunyah from what I heard, felt, saw, smelt and touched; responding to phenomena such as the sound of the rhythmic waves against the rocks, the sparkling reflections of the sun in the water, the canopy of trees swaying in the cold wind after dusk, the saltiness of the sea, smoke that laced my sinuses but kept me grateful and alert in the serenity, the fridge humming, birds chirping, crickets singing, Carly Simon on cassette, smooth floorboards, the cradling comfiness of the lounge cushions as I sprawled across them and drank tea …

The next day, I jumped off the jetty then started to draw ... differently. Risky. Perhaps it was from leaping into the void and surrendering to the ambience. Glancing up occasionally, I admired the beautiful scenery but concentrated more on sound and touch to guide my mark-making; a form of abstract, automatic drawing using a humble 4H graphite pencil on a small sheet of Arches watercolour paper. On-location. En plein air. No eraser.

After my first drawn response to Gunyah, I felt a surge of belonging. As mentioned in my proposal, I wanted to explore concepts of home, rest and shelter - ideas that I literally lived out at this residency. Thus, I applied this mindful drawing method to other locations I gravitated to or frequented. These spaces included the bedroom I slept in, the front driveway (where I met a neighbour who kindly offered his yacht as a bushfire emergency plan), the backyard, balcony, jetty, art studio, kitchen, living room and the downstairs bathroom. I treated each drawing session as a meditation and documentation of place, taking photos of what I saw, where I sat, noting the direction I was facing, the temperature, the time and duration of each drawing session and took audio recordings on my phone (although some randomly switched off). At times I noted what I dressed in as this made a difference to my physiological experience.

Anne Numont, drawing locations around Gunyah

A visual language of Gunyah emerged. Unforeseen but a lovely surprise! I feel crushingly vulnerable sharing this work because I haven’t drawn this way before. I'm happy because I believe I responded in the most mindful and honest way I could with the supplies I brought and having considered what was happening in the greater region.
Anne Numont, Gunyah 02 (Balcony), 2019. Graphite on Arches paper

Anne Numont, Gunyah 04 (In Bed), 2019. Graphite on Arches paper
Anne Numont, Gunyah 07 (Living Room with Carly Simon on Cassette), 2019.
Graphite on Arches paper
Anne Numont, Gunyah 10 (Kitchen), 2019. Graphite on Arches paper

Minutes before I left on my final day, I took this photo of all 14 drawings. It was uncanny how I only had 14 sheets of paper of this kind and size left to draw on and they fit perfectly together on the coffee table. Fate.

Anne Numont, Gunyah 01 - 14, 2019. Graphite on Arches paper

As for paper making, I collected fallen vegetation from the backyard, beside the jetty and the front driveway with the intention of embossing into wet pulp, back in Sydney. Having responded to the atmosphere of Gunyah by abstract drawing, paper making with artefacts directly from the site provide a complementary form of documentation that is more literal but also intimate.

My time at Gunyah was amazing, productive and a privilege. In a serendipitous way, I did what I set out to do by organically creating a mindful methodology. I drew in a spontaneous way that expanded my art practice while getting to know a new place. Personally, I began to heal or recalibrate with loads of self-care and joyful activities that undoubtedly contributed to how this experimental drawing project came about. I left with beautiful memories of my stay: leaping off the jetty, greeting the sunrise, howling at the full moon and dolphin-spotting. At high tide, I swam under the jetty, free-dove and shook hands with the gorgeous yellow seaweed underwater, waved to fishermen on speedboats and neighbours on dinghies. A whole house to myself - I’ve never had that much domestic space in my life. So lucky!

Thank you to Kath Fries and the organisers of Gunyah for this marvellous opportunity.

Anne Numont, view from Gunyah jetty

Anne Numont
Gunyah artist-in-residence report
November 2019 

Anne Numont: upcoming artist-in-residence

Anne Numont with her work, Identity Ecology v1.1. – 4.0, 2019 at Manly Art Gallery. Photo by Peter Morgan 

Born in The Philippines and raised in Australia, Anne Numont is a Sydney-based artist. In 2003, she completed an Honours degree in Design at UNSW, and has since also traded as a designer in the television industry. Place, perception and memory are central to Anne's art practice. Experimenting with method and scale in the field of contemporary drawing, she makes landscapes and informal geographies. With a syncretist approach, references include migration, Australiana, her Filipino heritage, cubism, typography, weather systems, astrology, wellness, science and sustainability. She is fascinated by the potential of light, landscape and mapping to project aspects of space, self and society.

Anne Numont, A Personal Geography, 2017, handmade paper, fire, acrylic, graphite, gesso, cotton,
rice paste, PVA, foamcore, vegetation and natural dyes

While working, Anne relishes the handmade and elemental. The mercurial quality of nature helps her to reconcile inherent polarities of life such as permanence / temporality, home / dislocation, forgetting / remembering. Tailored processes spawn different outcomes from drawing to handmade paper, collage, mixed media and installation. Underpinning her work is a state of liminality and the possibilities this space can manifest. Anne's work has been selected for exhibitions at AGNSW, Manly Art Gallery & Museum and Mosman Art Gallery. She has been a finalist in national art prizes including The Dobell Prize for Drawing, the Hutchins Art Prize, Yen Art Awards and Cliftons Art Prize Asia-Pacific. Her work has been acquired by North Sydney Council and private collections in Australia and overseas. 

Anne Numont, Generations, 2018, Handmade paper and pulp, fire, pigment, pastel binder (gum tragacanth),
 pastel, PVA, sampaguita scent, local vegetation 
During my residency at Gunyah I plan to continue with experiments for a body of work including handmade paper, drawing and installation about memory and personal deep mapping. With respect to the meaning of ‘Gunyah’ I would like to explore concepts of home, rest and shelter in my work.
Anne Numont, Parked 1, 2016, graphite, gesso, acrylic, handmade paper, vegetable dye and
vegetation (sourced from Primrose Park) and PVA 
on Arches paper

You can see more of Anne's work on her website https://annenumont.com 

Residency report: Melissa Jean Harvey and Charmian Watts

The October 2019 Gunyah residency became a collaborative project between Melissa Jean Harvey a contemporary artist and Charmian Watts a designer/maker.

Charmian Watts and Melissa Jean Harvey at Gunyah

Every morning we would take a walk into the surrounding forest collecting pieces and objects, and taking photos while discussing our ideas. Here are some of the gems we collected.

Mel started playing with placing her medium recycled pulped cotton fabric within the surrounding environment.

Charm got to making tools for printing ink onto fabric and looking at the found branches in regards to transforming/making objects. 

We made a body of work that we call our 'Queer Forest Creatures’. Here are a few images of the many creations we collaborated on. They are just the beginning and will continue to develop.

Melissa Jean Harvey and Charmian Watts
Gunyah artist-in-residence report
October 2019