Navigating the artists’ archipelago

A gallery of artists wait to meet you at Carinus Art School in Beaufort Street. Photo: Roddy Fox.
Bathurst artist and designer Tori Stowe, one of the exhibitors at Carinus Art School, reflects on the company she keeps.

I am obsessed with islands. I think of life and work as a journey of searching and exploration in which you sometimes rest. On islands. Perhaps it is within the quiet reef of falling in love, the bay of a large commission or contract, finding yourself in a warm cosy circle of friends, a year of good rains when you live on a farm. For a while you can stop and rest. Life is good. Then, sooner or later something changes and you’re shoved off on your travels again. Stocked and refuelled. If you are lucky you find an archipelago, like the National Arts Festival.

Always mid-winter, the Festival offers artists a financial boost in what is traditionally a quiet time. So there’s the money island. A couple of days before the festival the artists come together at the Carinus Art Centre to put up our exhibitions. We’ve all spent quiet months working hard. By nature it is solitary work, against a wall, hands in the mud, back to the world, thoughts and colours flying. Alone. It is a relief to meet up with so many of one’s own kind. All with similar, hopes, dreams and aspirations. While the work goes up we share all this with tools, laughter, and coffee. We create a temporary village island. Little houses of our art clustered within the existing buildings. Once the exhibitions are up, we celebrate with a party that is open to the whole community — it’s a popular tradition now. Afterwards the artists gather, pool the remaining liquor and crackers. What happens then is stuff of legend. Urban legend in my case. I swear! Fun island.

The same and different artists exhibit here year after year. As there should be with art, there is a sense of both continuity and growth. We learn so much from each other as the years go by. By active discussion and quiet observation. Shared contacts and ideas. Pure inspiration from each other’s work and lives. Charmaine and Martin Haines, well established ceramicists, have been my lighthouse. We have exhibited here together for seven years and from their example I learned how to approach art and exhibitions in a business like manner. It is all very well to express your heart and soul but you have to make it pay. To play. They were the first to buy my work here. We support each other.
A clever photo manipulation by digital artist and photographer Roddy Fox. His exhibition, Symmetry, is also on at the National Arts Festival this year.
A clever photo manipulation by digital artist and photographer Roddy Fox. His exhibition, Symmetry, is also on at the National Arts Festival this year.
And then there was Loni Drager. A quiet, unassuming and insanely talented artist, who taught me so much about how to live. Perhaps because she was dying she knew the true value of everything. She looked me earnestly in the eye and told me how much I had. And how short life is. How beautiful. She embodied the statement that to be an artist is to be yourself for a living. She lives on in her beautiful, simple sculptures. Graphic artist Cindy Britz always celebrates her birthday during the Festival, so there’s cake and celebration, and dinner at the Long Table if we’re lucky.
Richard Pullen lives about half a kilometre down the road from us in Bathurst, but we only ever see him at Festival, because he exhibits next door to us at Carinus. Then we squeeze in a whole year of shared experiences, ideas and opportunities, laughter and life plans. We enjoy each others’ company very much, but once a year is just perfect, because the rest of the time we’re working. Alone. Artists are weird like that.
Like Neil Jonker, who embodies for the rest of us what people expect artists to be. In the absinthe absent tradition of Van Gogh and Toulouse he is too loose, wild and unexpected, impulsive and impetuous. So wild in fact that this is the first year in five that he has exhibited inside the building!
Have you ever watched a swarm of ants cross a body of water? They send the scouts out across the meniscus. The dreamer and the acrobat. These ants swim, touching legs and feelers together until they connect to make a platform. Once this ant island is made, the other ants can navigate across. So it is with artists. We are the feelers of society, bringing people together in thought and emotion so we can all navigate though life. Better.
Carinus exhibiting artists include:
Painting: Chanelle Staude, Neil Jonker and Peter Midlane
Drawing: Tori Stowe and Jonathan Griffiths
Painting and drawing: Nicky Roselli
Photography: Roddy Fox and Monique Rorke
Pottery and ceramic art: Richard Pullen
Woodcuts: Lucas Bambo
Plus: NMMU art students covering all media
The Carinus Celebrated Artists exhibition is open everyday from 9am-5pm at the Johan Carinus Art School on Beaufort Street.
By Tori Stowe