Like many children I showed early ability in drawing. At high school art very quickly became my favourite subject and I excelled all the way through to Leaving Certificate. (At the Intermediate Certificate I heard unofficially that my exam painting topped the state.) My first art teacher was upset and even angry with me for not wanting to be an art teacher. We used limited material: ‘school’ paint, soapstone for some carved sculpture – I still have my modest Madonna – and small wooden frames for silk screen printing. The varnish I used for the blocking out was nail varnish.
Primary school teaching and further study intervened, along with marriage, four children and more teaching, together with singing, always singing, at first lots of amateur work and competitions and then - oh joy! – professional singing with the South Australia State Opera schools team, my own a cappella act I devised leading to a resident singer position at the Old Sydney Parkroyal Hotel, and concerts with Douglas Simper in Adelaide and Sydney. Other jobs included fundraising for Sydney City Mission which became Mission Australia where I once organized an art exhibition. This all made it impossible to focus on my own art expression which requires unbroken time. So I promised myself that some day in the future I would paint!
After moving to the UK I was able to enroll in a community college in Doncaster in a fine art course which reprised what I had learnt at school and gave me the impetus to start again. It was in the lovely surroundings of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, and with some time available, that I asked my friend Sue Blake, a retired art teacher, to help me get started in oils, the medium that I itched to use. We met over many weeks in both our homes, but most often in Lilac Cottage with surrounding hills and garden to inspire us, and I could see that I was beginning to develop my own styles.
Because it is not always possible or pleasant to spend time sitting in fields in all weathers I have used as inspiration many photos I have taken, often several of the same subject, as well as scores of photos I have collected on various subjects. No painting is ever quite what I have seen because I don’t want it to be merely representational. It must be my interpretation. And sometimes it ends up being vastly different from my original plans.
My earliest and most dramatic visual influences were the mountains, mists, streams and delicate foliage of China where I spent my first ten years. Some of you will know that my surname is my Chinese given name Zhulan which means Pearl Orchid.
The following huge influence through my growing up years was the Australian ‘bush’, part scrubby, part verdant and semi-tropical, the oceans, colour and sunshine, and always the background of towns and cities with their ubiquitous suburbs. To my early adulthood was added the outback spaces with wide blue skies when I lived on aboriginal reserves. And more recently there was a feeling of ‘coming home’ to the softer woods, streams, fields and hills of Somerset in England.
COLOUR is the magic for me, especially as I can express it through the tactile textures of oils. I am unafraid of colour, harmonizing and contrasting, bold and subtle. Colour is what excites me, as in what I call ‘singing blue’.
My own wish is to develop a semi-abstract style. I’ve tried abstract but it always ends up looking like something that others want to recognize. I decided that since I am able to draw I might as well accept that my work will be somewhat representational although, I hope, not photographic.
So far I seem to have developed two styles that I call ‘smooth’, using brush, and ‘rough’, using palette knife. I favour the ‘rough’ and want to develop this much more because I love the textures that thick paint creates. It’s actually a lot of fun and probably takes me back into childhood.
Most of all I want to EXPRESS BEAUTY. There are many clever and celebrated artists whose work speaks to me of ugliness. I want to find the beauty in as many subjects as possible. This will take at least 30 years! Hopefully my paintings are not judged to be ‘pretty’. ‘Spring View from Lilac Cottage’ is probably my most romantic work (the blossoms and sheep were all actually there!) but I employed a deliberate style.
Last December my oldest brother Ridley Smith, a prominent Sydney architect, died from cancer and his biography has just been released. When I heard of the title ‘Unafraid of Beauty’ I wept because it expressed everything we have shared about art, nature, music and the joy of life, everything that emanates from our creator. So I asked for permission to use this title for my first exhibition, a tribute to my adored brother.
Friends have encouraged and assisted me in my new venture and I am grateful to all of them, but especially to Douglas who has always encouraged me unstintingly, understanding better than anyone else the creative process.
Because I have experienced many adventures with their traumas and joys, transcendence in music and happiness in my life I want to express it in my work. You may decide that my style of expression is not for you and that’s OK. I will keep on exploring, learning and experimenting. I have just begun.
Back to the Homepage