Written by Bridget Kennedy
Just back from my Artist Residency!
Over a year ago I received news that the application for my month long residency at Hill End had been successful. This bit of gold on the horizon promised to be a wonderful start to 2015.
The artist in residence program is managed by Bathurst Regional Gallery and provides an opportunity for creative development in the unique environment of Hill End and its surrounds. There are two residences available, Murrays Cottage, where Donald Friend used to live, and Haefligers Cottage, which once belonged to the artist Jean Bellete and her husband Paul Haefliger. I stayed at Haefligers, a small wattle and daub building with a detached studio. The contents of the house comprise mainly of the original furniture and belongings of the Haefligers.
The time spent there was memorable in many ways. What stands out, upon reflection, is solitude, space, silence and uninterrupted time – a rarity in busy Sydney, with two kids and two businesses on the go. The opportunity to spend whole days not talking to anyone, not thinking about anything but my own practice, or whatever I wanted to think about, was an incredible gift. There was no television, very little lighting at night and a heavenly silence.
With a population of only 75, when I first arrived I felt like an interloper, acutely aware I was the new stranger in town. I found myself going for a walk at dawn and dusk and spending much time in the studio exploring ideas that had been simmering in the back of my mind for a while.
My walks provided me with freshly picked berries, figs, apples, pears and tiny sweet plums. During my time there the remaining plums on the trees dried and shrivelled in the summer heat. At the time, this reminded me of how important it is to grab the moment and opportunities when they arise, to embrace them, as they too can shrivel and die unless given the chance for fruition.
It was quiet. The silence enabled me to hear the bees buzzing loudly in the clover when I took my early morning walks. Or maybe it was that my mind also had time to quieten and become more open to sounds that are normally drowned out by both internal and external noise.
The land has a rich and layered history beyond its natural rural evolution and the historical human intervention in the earth fascinated me. As I walked, I was acutely aware of the ground beneath me – how it had been heaved, smashed and churned over. There are pits and potholes of old mines scattered throughout what, in some areas, looks like a moonscape. Hill End is an historic gold mining town and at one time it was a bustling, crazy melee of thousands of people turning over every inch of soil looking for the gold that would change their lives. Some say there is more gold still in Hill End than was removed from it and on weekends the roads become (slightly more) busy with 4WD vehicles filled with optimistic tourists keen to fossick for gold just outside of the historic town. Previously plots of land were marked out, tightly held and disputed, but now those boundaries are left to decay. Fallen fences are a reminder of history and the passage of time. The remaining buildings have a weathered patina with the colourful and subtle palette that only time can bring.
In the last half century, many artists have made Hill End their home and in the quiet of the street, as I walked, there was an awareness of much happening behind closed doors.
The time spent there was simple and grounding. I was able to spend time with myself without the pressures of external schedules or the expectations of other people. It seemed to help me find my natural rhythm and I found I wanted to walk more, make more, eat less. I woke refreshed each morning. I had no urge to relax at the end of the day with a glass of wine, or reward myself with a hit of sugar. It just seemed unnecessary.
Whilst in my practice in Sydney I appreciate input and collaboration, my experience at Hill End led me to consider that there is a need for the space that solitude provides and where thoughts can meander and solidify.
I took to the residency a number of projects that I was already working on (I like to keep my hands busy) but I had no expectations nor pressing need to finish any. I worked on simple pleasures like crocheting a bag and a series of colour studies from recycled materials, using the rich and lush colours in the local environment from which to draw inspiration.
I felt drawn to the many broken rocks that form the landscape, and spent time walking and collecting these as well as materials like bags of kangaroo poo and coloured soils. I started another wax work of multiples and rediscovered a childhood love of clay. The projects were varied and the mental and physical space allowed me to spread out. The residency left me refreshed, full of new ideas that I will meander through with time, along with insights and developments to enhance my existing practice.
In the coming months, the olives and quinces in the garden will be ready for the next lucky artist residents.
Images from that time can be found on Instagram by following @bkandco hashtag #hillendiamusings.