why our emerging artists keep leaving their mark

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The next generation of Australian artists are rising in the art world at a time of greater diversity and formal innovation in art, but also in an age of social media, a global pandemic and change climatic. So what defines this new cohort of artists? And what do they think of the future? Five finalists for the $30,000 Geelong Contemporary Art Prize talk about ambition, identity, financial pressures and why they continue to create.

Dane Lovett, 38

Dane Lovett, 14 Days of Pollen, 2021, oil and synthetic <a class=polymer paint on canvas.” src=”https://static.ffx.io/images/$width_335/t_resize_width/q_86%2Cf_auto/203d959b4aed11977cceba826970eea46e96d469″ height=”335″ width=”335″ srcset=”https://static.ffx.io/images/$width_335/t_resize_width/q_86%2Cf_auto/203d959b4aed11977cceba826970eea46e96d469, https://static.ffx.io/images/$width_670/t_resize_width/q_62%2Cf_auto/203d959b4aed11977cceba826970eea46e96d469 2x”/>

Dane Lovett, 14 Days of Pollen, 2021, oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas.Credit:Courtesy of the artist, STATION, Melbourne, and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney © the artist

How would you describe the nature of contemporary art?
Huge question! From my perspective, it’s a conversation between materials, ideas and feelings — it can be something as simple as how particular brushstrokes or color can affect an image. There is exciting work that explores identity and new technologies, but the contemporary art that interests me mainly centers around painting and its rich history.

What challenges do young artists face?
It’s always finding a place to make art and a place to show it. Finding an affordable studio has pushed artists to the fringes of the suburbs – but that challenge has led to exciting things happening in Melbourne with galleries popping up in sheds and backyards.

Where do you see yourself as an artist in 20 years?
I have romantic ideas of a studio in the country somewhere. I would also like to see what I am doing in 20 years. I can’t imagine it, but I like it.

Do you feel the weight of art history when developing your own style?
It’s a fine balance between looking at everything that’s come before, learning from it, and simultaneously trying to break free from this long history. I’ve always found that certain tricks like drawing the same picture over and over again or listening to repetitive music help me free myself a bit and get into the right zone for painting.

What do you think will define this period of contemporary Australian art?
Time will tell us. There are many factors like the pandemic, war, bleached coral reefs and expensive rents that will undoubtedly have an effect. The art I have enjoyed over the past few years has offered a contemplative view of things – anything that acts as a handmade portal to another world or offers a different perspective on the things around us.

Sam Martin, 37 years old

Sam Martin, red sequence, how to pink 2018-2020, cotton thread and synthetic polymer paint on canvas on wooden board.Credit:Courtesy of the artist and STATION, Melbourne and Sydney © the artist

Why do you paint?
Painting or making pictures has always been a natural form of communication for me. I love spending long periods in the studio and really enjoy painting as a teaching tool. When I make an image, I can reach thoughts that I cannot otherwise articulate. For better or for worse, I became more and more engaged and addicted to it as my primary means of clarifying and documenting my ideas.

How would you describe the nature of contemporary art?
I would say it’s a platform that has become extremely diverse. If one chooses to participate, it is a very inclusive space providing voice and representation for everyone in our community.

What challenges do young artists face?
It’s a very saturated industry where every year hundreds of students graduate, looking for a foot in the door. Juggling multiple jobs and “hats” to pay for materials and studio rent can be extremely tricky. Finding a place to showcase your ideas and find the next lasting and meaningful opportunity is another challenge. And among all of this, staying true to your own ideas.

Where do you see yourself as an artist in 20 years?
In an ideal world, I hope to be able to continue to exhibit on a regular basis – hopefully to a wider audience, with the aim of showing both internationally and in museums. Personally, I need to be in the studio every day, whatever capacity I can handle.

Do you feel the weight of art history when developing your own style?
I like nothing more than to look at and rub shoulders with paintings. I devour the history and theories surrounding the medium, but find it inspiring rather than a hindrance. I try not to be too fanatic of any particular painter or paintings, but rather keep my influences diverse and not painting specific. That way, if I ever get stuck inside a board, I can look outside to get unstuck.

Georgia Spain, 29

Georgia Spain, Pointing the finger, 2022, synthetic polymer paint on canvas.

Georgia Spain, Pointing the finger, 2022, synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Credit:Courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne © the artist

Why do you paint?
Some days I wonder! I have a real love/hate relationship with painting — but I can’t imagine not doing it, it’s a lifeline and a rock for me. When I paint, I feel connected to the world, to history, and to people – and the experience of other artists’ work holds that same power.

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How would you describe the nature of contemporary art?
Changing, changing, necessary, complex, truthful, momentous, life-changing.

What challenges do young artists face?
I think being part of the internet and social media generation can be a real challenge. It seems almost impossible to avoid seeing what other people are doing and earning all the time. There can be a dangerous focus on productivity, production and marketing rather than genuine creative exploration.

Where do you see yourself as an artist in 20 years?
I hope that in 20 years I will still feel as enthusiastic about doing things as I do now. I feel so inspired when I watch my heroes, like Rose Wylie and David Hockney, who have practiced all their lives and still get up every day and work. The ambitious side of me sees me preparing a show at MoMA with several studios in different cities around the world! Ha!

Do you think about the future of painting?
Yes and no. Painting has been declared ‘dead’ so many times, but I think people will continue to paint as long as we exist. I know that I will continue to paint as long as I am here on earth. It is a primitive and magical thing.

Renée Cosgrave, 36 years old

Renee Cosgrave, Toi Rārangi, 2022, oil on canvas.

Renee Cosgrave, Toi Rārangi, 2022, oil on canvas. Credit:Courtesy of the artist © the artist

How would you describe the nature of contemporary art?
I think contemporary art must respond to today’s times and contexts. Contemporary art is positioned in a colonial context, and I think artists have to respond, whether they are First Nations people, people of color or settlers. By not responding, you are also saying something.

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What challenges do young artists face?
The young artists found themselves in a different world. It can seem uncertain with wars, pandemics and financial insecurity. The challenge is to find community, friendship and care within our sector. Some galleries and institutions provide this environment for artists.

Where do you see yourself as an artist in 20 years?
I hope I’m still learning and still taking risks. I often feel uncertain or uncertain and I think that’s a good thing: it means you and your work are growing and changing.

You recently learned raranga (Maori weaving). How has this influenced your work?
Learning raranga taught me a lot about myself, I realized that I was not listening to my kaiako (teacher) instructions. I had to listen and go slow. Learning raranga made me realize that elements of Maori art were always evident in my practice, it took me a while to see that. It made me feel more connected to my tipuna (ancestors). It is powerful and important to follow the same movements, actions and practices that your ancestors followed.

Your finalist work is dedicated to your late mentor, artist John Nixon. How vital are mentors for emerging artists?
Mentors are so important to artists. I felt very lucky that John believed in me as an artist and took a deep interest in my work. I was lucky enough to be his artist assistant after finishing art school – we became friends, shared interests and learned from each other. I felt it was important to listen to his advice and I am grateful that I did.

Clara Adolfs, 37 years old

Clara Adolphs, Girl, pool, 2022, oil on linen.

Clara Adolphs, Girl, pool, 2022, oil on linen.Credit:Courtesy of the artist, Chalk Horse, Sydney, and Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide © the artist

How would you describe the nature of contemporary art?
In a certain sense, contemporary art is what you decide it to be. It is broad and indefinite in nature. But in another sense, it is determined by gatekeepers and taste makers. I think it falls somewhere in between.

What challenges do young artists face?
Financial challenges should be at the top when you are starting out. Find the balance between generating income and focusing on growing your work. It may take a bit of perseverance.

Where do you see yourself as an artist in 20 years?
I really do not know. I hope in my studio.

Clara Adolphs in the studio:

Clara Adolphs in the studio: “In a certain sense, contemporary art is what you decide it to be.”Credit:Louise Kennerley

What are the barriers and benefits to living and working in the region (Southern Highlands of NSW), as a young artist?

Not being close to galleries and events. Less chance of meeting other artists and being part of group studios, of having peers who can help you in your development and finding your feet in the art world. The art world can seem more intimidating from afar. But the benefits are absolute focus on your work and distraction-free work. There are times when I really shut myself off from the rest of the world and just work. I find this extremely beneficial for my work, although isolating. An added benefit is usually having a less expensive lifestyle so you can support yourself in lean times.

Do you feel the weight of art history when developing your own style?
I think you sometimes have to feel the weight of art history in your practice. But there are times when I just focus on my own practice, free from any influence. Both are important for development.

The Geelong Contemporary Art Prize 2022 is at the Geelong Gallery, from June 25 to September 11. The winner will be announced on July 15.

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