A finalist of the Archibald Prize, Sydney-based artist Belynda Henry has been painting landscapes for over 20 years, surpassing the conventional definition of being a creative. Read on to learn why Belynda takes pride in communicating with other artists on social media, and which artists throughout history have inspired her the most.
Growing up, did you always want to be an artist? How did you come to paint for a living?
Growing up I was always fueled with creative encouragement. From a young age I built shapes with clay, and was always painting, drawing or playing. However, high school was when I stared thinking about a career as an artist. My art teachers became my favourites, you could usually find me in the art room during lunch times.
Art school seemed like a natural progression. I knew being an artist was my calling, so I pursued that path. I originally studied sculpture, but spent a lot of time in the paint and drawing classes and studios. I soon discovered I better belonged with the painters. After art school I was on my own but I learnt in life that a work ethic and professional attitude will take you far. I never gave up, not for a second.
Never have I doubted that what I do makes me happy, or regretted pursuing the career and lifestyle of an artist.
Your work centres (mostly) around landscapes. Explain why this subject matter has a pull for you. What are you hoping to convey in your work?
Landscape has always been an obsession of mine. Figurative and still life interest me also, but it’s the landscape that calls my name. Looking back, my younger years were spent in Tamworth on acres out of town that had long distance views from the elevated land the house sat on. I’m sure this had an influence on my way of seeing and how the landscape and nature have become my inspiration and muse for the last 20 years.
What other artists/creatives/designers inspire you?
The list is never stagnant. As a collector of art/ artist’s books I am constantly and continuously revisiting this valuable source. Early inspirations include Olsen, Nolan, Becket, Picasso, Matisse, Rothko, early Australian impressionists and tonalists. Visiting galleries and exhibitions are fundamental. Contemporary artists, and designers such as Dinosaur designs, but too many to name are a constant source. I follow a large group of artists from around the globe, so I do enjoy a quick scroll through to see what’s happening now and in the past.
Did you study painting formally? How did you get started in the art industry and get your first exhibition?
Yes, I studied at Sydney College of the Arts (Sydney University) 1990- 93 I have a Bachelor of Visual Arts (degree). My first show was the year after I graduated. It took me three years before I approached a gallery in the city. In the year 2000 I was selected as a finalist in the Wynne prize, my first time at the age of 27. From this point I never stopped painting and have continued without hesitation last.
What advice would you give other aspiring artists looking to replicate your career trajectory?
Never assume you know everything as an artist. Listen, read, watch, and never stop investigating. Search for meaning. Never give up, if it is not working, reinvent yourself. There are many wonderful artists out there, but unless you really put yourself out there, into a position to be found, your chances of being noticed in your early career days are very low. A painting can be a private and personal reflection of the artist. To promote you might feel awkward in the beginning. I adopted the attitude that people are just people. The first time I called an editor of a large art magazine I was nervous, then I convinced myself no matter how high you place some kind of idolized person, once you talk to them you realize that little leap you just took was not so scary after all. If you never ask, you will never know.
Most importantly, always be true to your self. It’s fine to be inspired by other creatives, but a true artist will develop a style of their very own. Be honest always about what it is you do. The art world is a small one and building your reputation and your own artistic brand with true sense of honesty and consistency is key. You do need to find a way to be noticed, yet without becoming ubiquitous. It took me over twenty years of solo and groups shows to build a solid reputation as an Australian artist. I look forward to the next twenty to see what I can achieve.
You are vocal about supporting other female artists in the Australian art scene. Why is this?
Absolutely. I am that person. This makes me happy. I am happy to share my experience and lessons learned in the art world with younger or less experienced artists, and yes they are usually all female artists that come to me for guidance, which is a lovely feeling. It is so important to support your female peers. I think once you reach a point where you are confident in your self as an artist, you realize even more that being an artist is not a competition (it is if you enter into an art competition sure) Nothing inspires me more than watching talented, creatives following their own journey with determination. I think more than ever women are realizing just how important this is.
Having painted alone for most of my career, I found it hard to form relationships with new artists for a long time. (in the early days) It was a distance problem. How could I work if I was out socializing, making new friends? I clearly chose paint. I had a very small circle of artist friends.
Instagram really changed this for me. All of a sudden I could communicate with other artists and glimpse into their world if I wanted to without any intrusion. Instagram has allowed me to build many meaningful relationships with artists, which have developed out of the phone screen and into the real world.
I have formed some lovely relationships with female artists I met at the Art Gallery of NSW, having being a finalist in the Wynne prize four times and Archibald once. These girls and I are very supportive of each other’s practice. We don’t need to communicate every day or week but it’s comforting to know we are there for each other.
What is the biggest misconception about being an artist?
It is not glamorous! You often work in solitude in paint splattered outfits and old sneakers, comfortable and essential.
What do you wish you’d known before you started down this professional path? Any tough learning curves?
Not really, it has panned out organically and I believe things really do happen for a reason and for a reason. Forcing the future is not the right way, let it happen. Just like a painting, where is the fun of going straight toward s a final image, its no about that, its about the journey you will take to get there. Disappointment or jealousy are not in my vocabulary, only setting sights and working towards an achievement like painting for over nine months for a new show.
You will be a part of that gallery when you have earned the position. Set our sights on where you want to end up and work toward that point. My upcoming show with Australian Galleries in Paddington is the longest amount of time I have allowed my self to paint a show. I have learnt that this point I can allow myself the luxury of time, to have the time to experiment and challenge your way of painting is important. But not always possible as a younger artist.
How do you balance motherhood with your art practice? Any tips for new mums wanted to retain their creativity?
My two gorgeous daughters, Chloe 17 and Milla 9 are self-sufficient now. They are both creative, independent girls and although I try to spend a lot of quality time with them, they also respect that being an artist is my job. As soon as they get home from school its family time, but once they are happy and in bed I am always back out in the studio until late. I feel very comfortable to be working form home for this very reason. Family comes first.
I was lucky when they were babies they were great daytime sleepers. Having this painting desire in my 20’s gave me a double purpose. Most of the other young mothers would stay out socializing most days, I would get the girls up early wear them out with creative play and always be home well in time for the big lunch time sleep. Looking back I got a lot of work done. The second they fell asleep I used that precious time to do nothing but paint. No housework allowed. Also, this was before I had Instagram, so I was never on my phone. Even better.
What role does social media, specifically Instagram play in your work? How do you use it?
I use it as a visual diary. A simple record of what happens day to day in my studio. If someone enquires about my work through my website I can direct them to look at my account, useful for so many reasons. I find it is a great way to build interest towards an upcoming exhibition. I forward a lot of contacts onto my two galleries, which I know they appreciate.
What is inspiring you at the moment? What are you looking forward to?
Having recently moved onto a new property, I found an old dam at the back of the next door neighbours land. The dam is the most beautiful collection of all things nature. Colours, plants, birds, wildlife, every spare moment I pack up my materials and walk through the horse paddock into this little secret oasis of pure inspiration. So far only works on paper, but as soon as I can I will be dragging a canvas or two that way. My husband has just built me a wonderful new studio, which I am about to move in to, to settling in and getting to work on my next show with Flinders Lane Gallery in Melbourne, February 2019.
Artists who inspire me are Elisabeth Cummings, and Beatrix Potter. I am also looking forward to seeing my latest body of work hanging up at Australian Galleries, Roylston Street. Paddington. The show LANDSCAPE LINES runs until the 1st July.
You can follow Belynda and view her artistry via Instagram at @belynda_henry