“The Otways are my muse. I feel this place as a living entity. It’s not full of people, but full of characters. Sometimes I walk out into the forest and meet a comical tree, a cheeky bird or even a bush that is quite serious. There is so much life, from ants and funny, foamy fungi on the ground, to many species of birds, and even a koala or two up on the highest branch”
Salvina Conti has been living in The Otways, near Barwon Downs, for over twelve years since making the move from Melbourne. In that time, Sal has established herself as a much respected and loved teacher and mentor to art students in Colac, Gellibrand and Forrest.
Salvina Conti is also an accomplished artist in her own right and I spent a lovely couple of hours in her studio home discussing her inspirations and her work.
What Inspires You as an Artist?
I draw my inspiration from the environment, the places I find myself in. I think about the relationship between things. I have painted images inspired by the area around the Stony Rises. There are so many patterns and sounds that interact particularly with the self. I listen to the wind through the trees and the flapping of wings. Then there are all the things left over, skulls and oddly shaped pieces of wood. I try to capture a ‘sense of place’ by depicting my movement through and around the Rises. I am interested in the way certain things capture our attention, the interchanging of near and far, the feelings and impressions a place leaves in our memories. The images and thoughts in our minds that can be likened to a bird in flight; seeing the overview and suddenly swooping in to focus on something. I want to create a sense of immersion in the environment, a linking and flowing of forms that are at times distinct and at others ambiguous, metaphoric and resonant. I am trying to describe the entity that is a place and our interaction with it. The Stony Rises feels kind of disconnected from the rest of the world as if it is a separate, secret pocket and this feels magical to me. I am also attracted by the undulating landscape and the contrast between the lush and rocky.
Since I have been busy teaching the past few years, I have only been able to work sporadically on my own art. Teaching art has been an enriching experience, stimulating and pushing me to experiment with new ideas and mediums. But it has also robbed me of time.
How do you like to make your art?
Ideas inspire me. I like to be surprised. Otherwise I feel as if I am just completing something that has been pre-thought. Of course I do some planning but then different possibilities appear to me. It is as if the artwork talks back to me.
More recently I have enjoyed exploring contemporary art more than the past. It is playful and is full of new ideas and this is what piques my curiosity. Contemporary art is not always great, or even good, but it can be surprising. Artwork from the past can be great, but it is familiar.
That is one of the reasons I like to paint en plein air. I need fuel for the work, to get to the source otherwise it can become too clichéd. I need to find new shapes and patterns and not to rely on old information.
I enjoy working in oils as they allow me to push it around and it is flexible. But I also like acrylics and watercolours.
Who Inspires You as an Artist?
Many Australian painters are favourites including John Woolsley, John Olsen, and Fred Williams. But Paul Klee and Georgia O’Keefe also inspire me. I love the simplicity of her desert landscapes and how focused they are. I often feel my images are too cluttered and busy and I aspire to be simpler. Because I feel surrounded by many layers in the Australian landscape, there are so many details that accumulate and build up on one another. I also admire Godwin Bradbeer, Fiona Hall, Katy Stone and Annette Messager. Lately I have been experimenting with digital programs as a way of manipulating and reworking images of my artwork or photographs. I find it is a great tool to develop ideas that could end up as new paintings. This way of reimagining the images always contains lots of surprises.
What’s Next For You?
I’m attracted to the 3 dimensional in art. I have been promoting sculptural options in some of my art classes and am now considering it in my own work. I do love teaching. With all the classes I have been astounded not only with the variety of responses to the creative tasks, but also the quality of student’s work. They are very inspiring. I really hope that the art community in Forrest continues to grow and that there are other art happenings apart from the Certificate 1V and Diploma in Visual Arts courses on a Friday. And that one day we will have a real studio and gallery in town.
Salvina Conti currently teaches Certificate 1V and Diploma in Visual Arts for South West TAFE at Forrest Hall every Friday during school terms. There are places still available in 2014. Please contact Salvina on 52366064 for more information.