On Saturday KAB Gallery hosted a special preview event for collectors of Sally West’s art. Sally West’s 2019 SOLO Exhibition, Lizzie Beach, opened the following day with 22 gorgeous new paintings adorning the walls of KAB Gallery. At the preview event Sally West welcomed collectors personally and talked us through the exhibition. Her artist talk gave insight into her love of the beach and plein air painting. It was a story of adventure, growth and personal appreciation for the support from those closest to her. Read the transcript of her full talk below.
The KAB Gallery team also live streamed the full talk on Facebook for all our interstate and overseas clients. You can relive the talk on our Facebook page now.
By Sally West
At KAB Gallery
Thank you everyone for coming to my show and to Kerry and Josh for hosting it, for always supporting my work. We have a great relationship and for that I’m very grateful.
My obsession with the ocean started when I was a child growing up in Central NSW on a sheep and wheat farm. My mother came from a long line of beach people, Northern Beaches people and ensured that we visited the ocean regularly. But it was never enough. Actually I think it was the same for her. I always dreamt of living near the ocean. Wondered why our farm didn’t have a beach. Thought we could fit one in! 10000acres, surely we could spare just a few for a beach! I remember getting hold of surfing magazines when I was young and plastering the walls of my room at one stage.
Anyway, that obsession has always remained and I have lived by the ocean ever since I left school. I don’t see it as optional. It is my lifelong enduring love and home.
As for plein air painting. When I was in my 20s I lived in Bondi by the ocean, in a lounge room sharing with friends. I was exhibiting and trying to live and work in that one room. With friends coming and going. Trying to hold down a job as well. But it was all I could afford. It took it’s toll and in the end I moved to Berry on the South Coast, near the ocean, of course. I rented a little cottage from a fellow artist on 30 acres. It was paradise. To me. I could finally breath and produce work without interruption. I worked in my cottage, a proper studio. I visited the beach every day and took photos to use as reference material. But mostly I worked from my head producing whimsical works relating to the life I lived. Cooped up inside. Strange looking back on that.
Oneday the artist I was renting from who was a regular plein air painter pulled up at my studio in her car, with Edith Piaff blaring from the speakers, and the clink of wine bottles as she screeched to a halt. “Get your gear, we are going plein air painting Girl. Not leaving without you. Hurry up”. So I did as I was told. She was a strong lady, my landlord and someone I didn’t want to argue with.
We painted on a hill overlooking the ocean. I will never forget that day. It was the most liberating and happy painting experience I’d had. It felt right, the painting just happened and it made sense to be outside. Why hadn’t I thought of it before.
However. Upon returning to my studio I decided the painting was awful. Hideous. Threw it in the corner of the room and returned to my studio work.
Weeks later my Grandmother came to visit, who I’m sure was perplexed at why a 20 something year old would move to somewhere in the bush to be on their own to paint. We had a nice time though and as she left she picked up my plein air painting, put it under her arm and said I want this one. No one argued with Grandma.
When I went home for xmas I walked into her home and it was hanging pride of place in her lounge room in a very fancy gold frame. I looked at the painting and thought, yeah it’s okay. But god that was a great day. Must do that again.
When I returned to Berry I took myself plein air painting again and again. I remember thinking it’s so good but geez its such a bloody hassle. The preparation and packing and lugging gear is ridiculously hard, not to mention getting the work home without destroying it. The constant change in weather, wind! So much stress.
How funny that seems now. My obsession with plein air painting has evolved into something that is just part of me now. I have systems for systems. I watch the weather, check it over and over. I have a trolley for lugging gear. I have racks built into the back of my car for transporting wet paintings. It’s not a hassle now. It’s just what I do, a joy really. A privilege to be in the environment doing what I love responding to what I love. As big as my obsession with the ocean – the 2 have married together to create this series that you see here.
I managed to refine my packing, lugging and transport methods in time and later I moved to Pacific Palms, on the mid North Coast to marry and have my 2 beautiful children. The home of Lizzie Beach. My life revolved around my kids, the beach and painting. I painted the beach at the beach when they were in daycare and later at school. If I wasn’t painting it I was walking along it, sitting on it with my family or swimming in the water. We were there for 10 years.
Then 6 years ago we moved back to Sydney and this is when Kerry got in touch and invited me to show at KAB Gallery. We had settled on the Northern Beaches, like many generations before on my mothers side had done. We moved in down the road from my mother, and we continued with our beach lifestyle. It took some time to readjust to the city. Plein air painting was different again with parking issues and onlookers. I started painting at Freshwater Beach, where Mum grew up, and then further afield to Maroubra, Coogee, Bondi, Palm Beach and Manly. I was excited to explore the coastline of Sydney as a plein air painter, something I had not done the last time I’d lived there. The series has evolved. And in recent years I have returned on a regular basis to Pacific Palms to produce work there which is really important to me. It’s where my children call home. It’s full of emotional memories. Special friends. Amazing beaches.
Lizzie Beach is the only patrolled beach in Pacific Palms. It has a club house which I used to do yoga at, the kids did nippers there for a couple of years. It never really gets big waves and is famous in the area for its crystal clear waters, safe swimming for young kids and white sands, truly beautiful.
Producing this body of work introduced a new set of plein air problems as mostly when I return I have the kids with me, their luggage. So the smaller works were done when they were with me. I was able to transport the work in A4 Officeworks drawers behind the suitcases. The larger works were done at Blueys Beach on visits I did on my own when I had room to carry large canvases. Blueys is the beach we actually lived on when the kids were growing up. It is famous for the incredibly good surf, powerful. Not a beach to take lightly and hence my childrens deep respect for the ocean. They grew up here swimming in often powerful conditions. With no patrol you must always know what you’re doing.
Getting back to that first plein air painting that my Grandmother took from my studio. Funny thing. Today, it’s the only painting of mine in my home. Partly due to my need to leave work at my studio because if I look for too long at the work I end up wanting to paint over it. It’s also a reminder of my Grandmother whom I miss. But it’s also a painting that I really like. It was the beginning of something special in my life. It changed the way I worked and these moments are few and far between in your working life as an artist.
Anyway, I really hope you enjoy this exhibition. It is an important show for me. As I said before Lizzie Beach, Blueys Beach, Pacific Palms…. it’s a place that’s special to me and my family. As are the Sydney beaches too. We are now 5th generation on the Northern Beaches. Home is by the ocean.