I have a deep affinity for the land, it’s a place for immersion, to experience and be absorbed.
My work taps into the emotional gravity of a place, its memory, its pulse, its rawness and power. For me the paintings communicate a deep felt relationship with the earth, embodying a spirit of place and its atmosphere.
The images are a direct emotional response to the bush, beaches and mangroves that surround my home. My paintings explore unique ways of capturing the diversity of the natural terrain. I am interested in local flora, protected plant species, seaweeds and noxious plants. I often start my paintings with the small delicate details found in the bush and then depart to a place of frantic energy.
The course of painting is a primal impulse to mark. It is a physical and emotional experience. I paint in an expressive and gestural way capturing the force and energy of a place. I create a visceral experience through the use of mark making and the application of paint. My paintings are process driven and it is only through the act of painting over, scraping back and drawing into, that my work is resolved.
‘The sense of place…does indeed emerge from the senses. The land, and even the spirit of the place, can be experienced kinetically…as well as visually….a place can be felt as an extension of the body, especially the walking body, passing through and becoming part of the landscape’. Lucy Lippard
Leah Thiessen: Broadwater
Flinders Lane Gallery
Words: Emma O’Neill
It is through the rhapsodic brushwork and peculiar scrawls of her practice that Leah Thiessen makes sense of the inherent chaos and beauty of the natural world. The dappled light and complex composition of each piece in Broadwater reads like a visual score of her immediate surroundings. One can almost hear the rustle of trees, the splash of waves, the cicadas descending into a shimmering hum as the setting sun sends a golden light through her studio. It is that place in Terranora Broadwater in Northern NSW, from which the exhibition takes its name. It is that place where the artist’s practice begins and ends.
Frenetic, lyrical and raw – each work in Broadwater is a dance of colour and line. What strikes the viewer is Thiessen’s ability to translate the lush, untidy and strange Australian wilderness with a colour and pace that is all her own. The ability has come from years being at it’s edge: in that time, “the landscape has become part of my psyche,” she tells me. While the titles of each work provide a visual cue of their origin, the lines diverge in unexpected turns to emulate the pulse of the landscape. Even the rhythm of the artist’s practice follows the ebb and flow of the tide or the cycles of the sun.
Guided by instinct, the artist’s palette can change several times during the course of making a single painting. “There are times I have seen my work move from very dark brooding colours to a whitewash of paint,” she explains. “I’m not attached to the image; I’m more interested in the process of abstraction. I lose myself in the work and try to find my way back.” Some canvases start off bare, while others are revisited. The bigger the canvas, the greater chance of surrendering to this creative process.
Thiessen isn’t beholden to a single medium. Moving between oil paint, spray paint, enamel, pencils, oil sticks and ink across large canvases, the artist builds thick layers that juxtapose the fine base of raw linen or canvas. The resolute magnetism of each piece is testament to the artist’s acute awareness of this layering, as well as the accretion of time and discipline required to produce works that combine a melange of colour yet culminate in sustained surfaces and compositional balance. Words fall short to describe this approach, it is purely intuitive.
And while the artist loves things as they are (for reprieve, she turns to botanical drawing), abstraction serves as an essential mode of discovery of both her immediate exterior and interior psychological terrain. She professes that painting is her most difficult reckoning, the place where she works hardest on equilibrium (both its creation and rupture). This deep work results in surfaces that vibrate in a way that is at once feverish and soothing. Over a single piece, Thiessen finds new contexts and her brushstrokes continue in ungoverned pathways. Ultimately, there is always a place where the eyes can rest amidst the dance.
Over many a cup of tea on Leah’s verandah overlooking some of Northern NSW’s most beautiful bush and river inlets, I became aware of her deep connection with earth. This is a woman who treads lightly.
Never one to wave the flag or stand on a soap box, Leah simply lives her principles. She embraces nature and protects the land she loves. It was no surprise to me when her art became part of the whole.
From this quiet nurturing soul come these powerful depictions of her beloved land and the life it supports. Painting canvases three times her own size, Leah pours her inner being into every piece.
Leah once told me that when she has finished a painting she is empty…there is nothing left of her. She retreats from her studio to re-energise and re-group, unable to even converse. Every ounce of her mind, soul and physical body have been poured into the work.
I know this statement to be the truth. Standing in front of one of these huge works of art you can feel the life in it. Her works vibrate with passion, angst, love and beauty. The mangroves crackle and pop, sun warms your skin, you taste salt on your lips and feel the energy of the life within the paint.
While her works are masterful, technical and display great skill, they are so much more than paint on canvas. Speaking to your heart and sharing the secrets only mother nature knows, these works are alive.