Nature is part of City Club’s Shared Work Space in more ways than one. Along with the trees, plants and natural light coming through the floor-to-ceiling windows, the artwork on the walls reflects the outside world as well.
Stephen Giblett’s Jellyfish Rock, which is on the left when you enter the Shared Work Space, is a dream-like scene reminiscent of a landscape.
In 2016, a UK study found people working in spaces with art and plants were 15 per cent more productive than those in an austere environment, so it makes sense to take a break and view the artwork in the Club’s Shared Work Space.
RACV Visual Arts Curator Ellen Wignell says Giblett is an accomplished painter with exceptional technical skill, who has exhibited extensively internationally and across Australia.
“His artworks appear almost backlit or glowing and create a sense of place without any recognisable brushstrokes,” she says. “His beautiful renditions comment on the degradation of the landscape caused by climate change. However, they offer a feeling of hope that we will save our pristine environments.”
Ellen says his work is a wonderful addition to the RACV Art Collection, helping to make the Shared Work Space a haven in the concrete jungle of Melbourne CBD.
Did you know the RACV Art Collection features more than 1000 contemporary works? You can see many of them at our Club or resort locations or online. In this Highlights Online Q&A, artist Stephen Giblett reveals the inspiration for his kaleidoscopic landscapes.
Your art has been described as an optimistic reimagining of the climate crisis. What response do you hope to elicit from the viewer?
My last solo exhibition at James Makin Gallery in late 2019 was titled Echoland. It featured a series of soft blurred paintings that slipped between the experience, memory and digital archive of being in the landscape. The reimagined works reveal a fading presence of human beings in the landscape, as if an ultimatum had been presented to the viewer. The world will survive, however, it is our choice to continue or not with it. I see this as an optimistic proposition in that we still have time for the right decisions now to echo into the future. The concept was specific to this body of work exclusively.
Do you draw inspiration from real landscapes or is your work completely imaginary?
Most of my landscape work is painted using plein-air studies as a reference. I attempt to simulate the original experience through memory, and certain triggers within the original study bend the work into abstraction as I attempt to interpret them. I suppose I am making painting of paintings, but the filter of my own knowing is unavoidable. Every technique from every painting ends up coming to the surface.
At first glance, your artwork in the RACV Art Collection, Jellyfish Rock, looks like a digitised image or airbrushed, but your process is far more elaborate and intriguing. What materials do you use and what’s your process?
Between 2012 and 2016, I mainly painted using digital photographs and smart phone screen shots as references, so the digital appearance is residual from this period. I still use numerous thin layers of oil paint on linen (painted by brush, not airbrush) to build depth of colour and glow.
How did lockdown affect your creative practice? Were you able to keep working in your studio at the Nicholas Building in Swanston St?
My son was born just as the first cases of COVID-19 began to appear in Australia and I had made the decision to leave the Nicholas Building prior to lockdown 1.0. I was able to continue painting from home as well as help with raising a baby. As for the numerous lockdowns now, being a surfer, I have drawn so much inspiration from being in the sea and surrounding land. I’ve found it very difficult both physically and emotionally to lose this connection. Many of the paintings that I’ve made throughout lockdown are not related to landscape.
Many artists are told to get a “day job”, but you come from an artistic family. Did that make it easier to pursue a career as an artist from a young age?
My father always insisted that I “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” and work to support my creativity. However, he always encouraged my sister Michelle and me to paint, draw or take photographs. He had an old Pentax that I used to borrow. My Christmas present as a 16-year-old was a second-hand photographic enlarger and a couple of developing trays. I was able to develop film and process black-and-white photos in a makeshift darkroom. Around this time, we eventually found and raided his old box of oil paints and I have never looked back. I have been painting for 25 years now.
You studied art at Monash University and graduated in 2002. How did formal training help you develop as an artist?
Before Monash, I completed a Diploma of Visual Arts at Box Hill TAFE in 2000. I learnt many technical aspects of printmaking, sculpture, photography, drawing and painting. I also met artist Mary Tonkin as a teacher there and I was able to continue learning from her at Monash University. She was a fantastic teacher of colour temperature and I still draw on her theories today.
Your artwork has evolved and shifted conceptually over the years, how many different “phases” have you been through?
As my painting has always been process based, I’ve worked on innumerable studies and sketches using many different approaches. The body of work, or exhibition that follows is usually when I sign off on a concept, but the evolution is never-ending. Perhaps I would consider each solo exhibition the ending of a phase and I’ve had seven solo exhibitions since 2012.
Artists are often required to work like small business professionals. You’re represented by an art gallery; does that help you focus on your art and not worry about social media and art market trends?
Being represented by James Makin Gallery, I have been able to focus entirely on making the work that I want to make without worrying about having to promote or sell it. Artists are often told to promote their own work as much as possible, but we have decided to stay quiet until the work is ready and focus on the next solo exhibition in 2022.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a series of paintings that limit the layering of paint, revealing more of the process or under-painting. I have returned to landscape once again, but this time I’m working from my imagination.
View the RACV Art Collection online.
Find out how to access the Shared Work Space as part of your Club Membership here.