They are the matriarchs of the local art community. With the collective knowledge to fill many art books, Bev Leggett Simmons, Wendy McGain, Anthea Moffatt, and Pam Cowgill talk to Kyogle Culture about their art and the gifts of experience.
The Roxy Gallery in Kyogle has brought together many talented people over the years, and the exhibition ‘Birds of a Feather... Then and Now’ will do the same. Three friends, Anthea Moffatt (87), Pam Cowgill (85) and Wendy McGain (80) will this September show work from across their artistic career, which totals at more than 170 years art-making between them.
These three matriarchs, along with fellow Kyogle artist Bev Leggett Simmons (whose solo exhibition ‘Border Lines’ will show following ‘Birds of a Feather’) have different styles, mediums and subject matter, but all have the same approach to living life as an artist.
“Work hard, work a lot and take opportunities,” Anthea advises. “It is a process and it takes a long time to find your voice within your paintings.” Anthea’s works are on display internationally, as well as in private collections in Australia and at some of our prominent universities.
Her art (largely oils on canvas) is colourful, youthful and often symbolic. Paintings in this exhibition feature angels, trees-of-life and birds - all symbols of hope, freedom and joy for Anthea. However, she isn’t afraid of throwing her light on gloomier waters. “I have been very interested in painting boats, which represent refugees to me. I feel strongly that we have behaved appallingly to people seeking a better life and I have felt very affected by that.”
Pam Cowgill also uses this exhibition to share emotions on some challenging subject matter, including asylum seekers, and natural and environmental disasters. “Some of it is a bit dark,” Pam explains. “I suppose my work is not very commercial, but it has become important to me to paint my feelings and some of those terrors have spurred me into action.” Pam is self taught, and over her 60 plus years of creating has learnt a few things about her practice. “The hardest thing for me is trying to plan an artwork,” she laughs. “It is actually a disaster if I do a drawing and try to turn it into a plan. It immediately becomes stilted and loses it’s energy... So now I just do it, and that has worked for me.”
Wendy McGain works mostly in acrylic, but also plays creatively with pastel, watercolour, and mixed media. This exhibition will be unique for her as she has several family members also contribution to the show, including her grandchildren and niece. Her advice to young artist is to experiment. “Go through all the different avenues of your art, “she suggests. “There are so many interesting things you can do with art now (far more than what we had available to us), so experiment and play.”
Bev Leggett Simmons will hold her own exhibition from October 9 till November 10, which explores the interplay between two different locations or opposing ideas.
“I have always liked that intersection where a horizon ends and the sky starts, or the edge of water meeting the land, “ she explains. “That crack in between is what I really like to go finding. I also think about the artificial, and cultural borderlines that we create and how we interact with those lines.”
Bev believes that it is a great time for female artists, with more acceptance and opportunities than ever before. Like all of these art matriarchs, her advice to others is to “follow your own muse.”
“Work at your own art rather than being influenced by other people,” she recommends. “Really resist trying to do what others are doing and instead find what makes you distinctive. If you are going to be serious about your art you have to follow your heart and take opportunities as they come. I think it gets easier with age, you know yourself better.”