Thursday, October 10, 2019


“To send light unto the darkness of men’s hearts. Such is the role of the artist” - Robert Schumann


Art was once the handmaiden of religion, culture and philosophy. It offered the viewer an enlarged vision and spiritual stimulation. The role of art in almost every pre-industrial culture was to depict the sacred and was valued as a developing force within man. The function of art was to free the spirit of the beholder and to invigorate and enlarge his or her vision.
Ever since I was young, I’ve held an interest in the spiritual life of man - rather than the mundane world of things. As a child I would often contemplate the idea of existence, the source of all life and of imagined worlds beyond ours. I was fascinated with philosophy, wisdom and spiritual traditions across the globe and intrigued by the symbolism within the artwork that assisted in communicating these teachings. It was fascinating to observe how artistic imagery spread across the globe as it’s associated religion and philosophy was shared. I also loved to learn that in many cultural traditions, that the artist was considered a highly spiritual member of society and would often work closely with the priests, shamans, lamas or holy-men in order to visually translate spiritual concepts to the wider community.

Creating in Kindergarten

As a 7 year old, I also dreamed of becoming an artist. In early primary school when asked to dress up as ‘what you would like to be when you grew up’, I found an art smock, beret and some brushes and a wooden palette that belonged to my dad’s dad who was indeed an artist.
It’s fascinating how ones dreams and values are so clear at such a young age. I’ve also always perceived my artistic expression as a means to uplift inspire the viewer. Over the decades I’ve been drawn to number of cultures who’s philosophies and art forms, can offer us, here in the West, wisdom of how we can perhaps relate to our planet and each other in a more balanced way.

‘Self Portrait’ by an individual in an Art Therapy session.

Art Therapy

Around 20 years ago I enrolled in my first ‘Art Therapy’ course with the dream to combine my two big callings, ‘art’ and ‘helping others’. 
 ….. And now, having spent over 15 years of practicing as an Art Therapist, I have sat with many more than 20,000 (crazy when you add it up) individuals, encouraging them to make meaning of their life experience through the medium of visual art. As one could imagine, working with individuals in settings such as drug and alcohol detoxes, rehabs, homeless shelters and stress & depression clinics, the stories lived and the pain that has been suffered are ‘big’, to say the least. 
To share sessions discussing the meaning of life, the blessings that suffering offers and gently reconnecting with inner wisdom, strength and courage is a great gift.

In the safety of a therapeutic setting, it has been an incredible honour to hold the hand of another individual and to encourage them to lean towards their suffering, rather than to move away from it. To turn to face the shadow, rather than to numb, run from or distract from the experience of pain and discomfort.
While my own solitary artistic practice has been a constant source of rejuvenation after holding the space for some of these cathartic experiences in others, I have consciously kept my art and art therapy quite separate. 
Before now I’ve also held the position that I don’t want my paintings to be about me. No offense to others who find their artistic practice a great source of personal therapy, but I’ve felt it somewhat self-absorbed, and shallow to center an exhibition of work on egoic self concern. Don’t get me wrong, I use art therapy frequently as a means of processing my own experience and I have volumes of artwork that captures some of the ‘not so pretty’ expressions from those inner wounds that need balancing. To me though, these have always been personal. 
It wasn’t until last year that the bridge between my art and art therapy practice became solidified.

Studio Session

Art and Art Therapy

On a personal level, this had been perhaps the hardest year of my life. Just as two of my closest friends lost their battle with cancer, my intimate relationship also dissolved. Now I had to experience intense suffering. My whole world of ‘what I had come to know’ crumbled. Waves of tumult, grief, intense loss, fear and sadness left me open, raw and vulnerable. Now it was my turn. Just as I had encouraged others to ‘lean into’ their unpleasant feelings, I knew that I must now ‘practice what I preach’.
I decided to make it my spiritual practice to sit with all of the feelings that every part of me wanted to run from. From somewhere deep inside, I knew that this period of such enormous pain must be one of those ‘big life lessons’ that in time would possibly transform me and catapult me into a new experience. That same inner voice knew that this was a priceless opportunity and I made the commitment to make each decision and take each action from a place of honour. To consciously choose the ‘high road’.

“Beyond the Veil of Darkness”. This work responds to the inherent beauty below the emotional realm of human experience. Rather than moving away from uncomfortable or painful emotions, this work suggests a leaning into the tumult and storm. Having pierced the veil of initial resistance, the wisdom, beauty, depth and clarity that life offers in every moment can be experienced more fully.

New Work

This new series of paintings reflects this new commitment to hold a space to process the emotional fallout from such a huge life experience. 
As I am beginning to slowly unveil this new body of paintings to the world, I notice that viewers really appreciate my openness and vulnerability in exploring those ‘uncomfortable moments’ that we all experience. This body of work responds to the transformation that occurs when we are courageous enough to move toward and dive into the stormy seas, rather than our natural response, to move away from and to avoid, numb or escape.
There has been so much research conducted on emotional pain. Researcher Dr Joan Rosenberg (who has a fabulously inspiring Ted talk on this very topic!) has found that the unpleasant feeling that is experienced in the body as a result of an emotion only lasts between 60-90 seconds and that if we learned how to ‘ride this wave’ of the uncomfortable, the wave then recedes and the individual is left with a sense of more self worth, pride and strength. Sadly, suppressing these emotions brings the opposite. 
 “Consistently distracting or avoiding what is unpleasant and uncomfortable is, unfortunately, the start of the slow trek to increased anxiety, bodily pain, vulnerability and disempowerment’ - Dr Joan Rosenberg.
 It’s my hope that individuals may embracing the opportunity to reflect on their own emotional world more deeply while contemplating the paintings in this new series. I’d love to invite the viewer on an imaginary journey to ride the waves and penetrate the layers of emotion and thought in their own inner world (allowing the harshness to soften, the clouds to dissipate and the drama to dissolve). Finally coming to rest in the space and silence, once again connected to the still background presence that never left. 

“Fall into Grace” - To fall from grace is to lose favour or a position of power. Not surprisingly the term ‘the fall of man’ stems from Christianity, and with it threatens that if mankind disobeys religious dogma, he will fall from honour and respect. Even though the grip that Christianity once held on society is dissolving, it’s interesting to notice the subtle beliefs that are still conditioning our experience of life in this modern day. We’re taught to strive towards success, status, fame, wealth, prestige and power - and in the modern culture, to lose our status in society is to ‘fall from grace’. Yet, isn’t this another of life’s great paradoxes - to ‘fall’ from the surface illusion of power or ego is to actually drop into the deeper presence and ‘grace’ beneath all mental constructs... to surrender to life, to connect with the whole, to fall INTO grace

“Imagine you are a lake… the surface of the lake changes according to weather, wind, rain etc. But the depth of the lake remains always undisturbed.” - Eckhart Tolle
I am inspired to relay this quote frequently when working with individuals in a therapeutic context, however this simple visualization is so helpful in my own personal practice of remaining connected to my depth and stillness beneath any turbulent life situation.

“Letting Go” - This painting represents a falling, a descent, a 'letting go'. A natural journey downwards, flowing like the current in a river, over the rocks and pebbles, following the simplest route back to its source. This work is also a metaphor for human experience. To quiet the mind, soften mental identification with the external world and release from the fear and need to control one's 'life'. To let go and to trust the direction of the natural current of life. To turn the gaze inward to connect with the infinite source of stillness within.

“Many paths lead from the foot of the mountain, but at the peak we all gaze at the single bright moon”
IKKYU (1394 ~ 1481)
Within each of the paintings in this new series, an area of spacious light lures the viewer on a mystical journey ‘beyond’. A pilgrimage from the material realm of form - of things, emotions and thoughts, to the formless. The primordial yearning to connect with the luminous, peaceful presence that is our essence.

Studio Session

Thursday, June 6, 2019


People are often asking me to describe the inspiration behind my work and while my paintings have taken a leap into a new direction, the Japanese influence is still apparent. There are other components that inspire each piece but I'd love to share with you some of the historical movements in traditional Asian paintings that somehow found their way into my own artistic practise.

One Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains, Wang Ximeng of the late Northern Song dynasty (960–1127).

History of Shanshiu / Sansuiga

One such movement is Shanshui (China) or Sansuiga (Japan). The term Sansuiga applied to traditional Chinese, Korean, and Japanese painting which depict an idealised landscape primarily using the forms of mountains, rivers, clouds and mist. In Chinese, Shan means mountain and Shui means water. 

Originating in China, Shanshui draws much of its influence from Buddhist art that traveled across Asia on the ancient Silk Road and began to develop in the 5th century.

In Japan, landscapes served first as settings in Buddhist paintings as influenced by the blue-and-green landscapes of the Tang dynasty. from the 14th century, primarily by Zen priests.

By the late 18th century, new influences from Western realism transformed much of Japanese landscape painting from a conceptual or idealised image of nature to naturalistic views of real locations.

Guo Xi - Early Spring, 1072

Elements in Shanshui paintings

Mountains have long been seen as sacred places in China and were viewed as the homes of the immortals and thus, close to the heavens. Mountains are the "heart" of a Chinese landscape painting. They are the centre point of a vast landscape, either rising upward toward the heavens or depicted as steep green monoliths covered with craggy rocks and ridges. These surreal landscapes are a product of the artist's imagination. Behind these scenes is a very deep, philosophical meaning. The landscape surrounding the mountain entices the viewer to partake in its beauty and contemplate the meaning of the mountain - or sometimes, the vast emptiness surrounding it.

 In Confucianism philosophy, mountains are an image of calm stillness, while water represents movement and change, hence the complementary concepts of Being and Becoming.

The inclusion of fog surrounding the mountain is the "spiritual void" we must fill by contemplating the painting. The mist clouding the landscape also symbolises psychological uncertainty. As it obscures the view, it represents a lack of clarity, insight, or knowledge.

Reading in a Bamboo Grove, Tenshō Shūbun (1446)

When Shanshui artists work on a painting, they do not try to present an image of what they have seen in nature, but what they have thought about nature. It is not important whether the painted colors and shapes look exactly like the real object; the intent is to capture, on paper, an awareness of inner reality and wholeness, as though the painting flows directly from the artist’s mind, through the brush, onto the paper. The skilled artists used their works to address and portray the transformations and subtleties of the universe. The conceptual landscapes of Shanshui were said to provide not only a mirror of the natural world but a means of expressing human thought and abstract or philosophical principles. According to Chinese author, jurist and ambassador, Ch'eng Hsi: “Shanshui painting is a kind of painting which goes against the common definition of what a painting is. Shanshui painting refutes color, light and shadow and personal brush work. Shanshui painting is not an open window for the viewer's eye, it is an object for the viewer's mind. Shanshui painting is more like a vehicle of philosophy.”

Pine Trees Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539 – 1610)


Shanshui paintings involve a complicated and rigorous set of requirements for balance, composition, and form. Each painting contains three basic elements, “paths,” a “threshold,” and the “heart” or focal point. Paths—Pathways should never be straight. They should meander like a stream. This helps deepen the landscape by adding layers. The path can be the river, or a path along it, or the tracing of the sun through the sky over the shoulder of the mountain. The Threshold—The path should lead to a threshold. The threshold is there to embrace you and provide a special welcome. The threshold can be the mountain, or its shadow upon the grounds, or its cut into the sky. The Heart—The heart is the focal point of the painting and all elements should lead to it. The heart defines the meaning of the painting. Shanshui paintings have no fixed perspective, as Western landscape paintings do. The principles of Shanshui can be extended to gardening and landscape design. Shan represents “yang” or strong, tall, and vertical elements, while shui is “yin,” soft, horizontal, and lying on the earth. Vertical and horizontal elements must be maintained in balance. The application of Shanshui to gardening implies having a deep respect for natural forces, and allowing nature to shape the garden, rather than trying to dominate nature.

Ming Dynasty Painting

Blue and Green Paintings

Another strong influence on my new body of paintings is the blue, green, aqua and gold palette from the Buddhist paintings from the Tang Dynasty (7th - 10th century China).
Qinglu Shanshui (China) and Seiryoku Sansui (Japan) literally translates as blue-and-green landscape.
These paintings were heavily coloured with mineral pigments, especially blue azurite and green malachite with use of gold highlights. During the Heian period in Japan, the colored Seiryoku Sansui formed the basis of what came to be called yamato-e

Shanshui Poetry

Shanshui poetry or Shanshui shi refers to the movement in poetry, influenced by the shanshui (landscape) painting style, which became known as Shanshui poetry, or "Landscape poetry". Sometimes, the poems were designed to be viewed with a particular work of art, others were intended to be "textual art" that invoked an image inside a reader's mind. It is one of the more important Classical Chinese poetry genres. Developing in the third and fourth centuries in China, Shanshui poetry contributed to the process of forming a unique aesthetic outlook.

And finally, here is a collection of Shanshui poems by Wang Wei who lived in the Tang Dynasty, 8th century (701–761) and is sometimes referred to as the “Poet Buddha”.

Deer Park
No one seen. In empty mountains,
hints of drifting voice, no more.
Entering these deep woods, late sun-
light ablaze on green moss, rising.

Magnolia Park
Autumn mountains gathering last light,
one bird follows another in flight away.
Shifting kingfisher-greens flash radiant
scatters. Evening mists: nowhere they are.

Vagary Lake
Flute-song carries beyond furthest shores.
In dusk light, I bid you a sage’s farewell.
Across this lake, in the turn of a head,
mountain greens furl into white clouds.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Art Studio Construction

An artist’s studio is a sacred space that houses the sacred process of creation.
When I completed my artist’s residency at Dunmoochin the question I has asked 
so many times before had circled back into my world once again. 
“Where am I going to created now?”

For over 20 years, since leaving art school, I found myself painting in all 
manner of spaces. From back sheds in share-houses, shared garages with other 
artists, cottages in the bush, and unused rental shed at the rear of a 
healing centre and to when in desperate need, setting up an easel in 
my own bedroom.

In every dwelling, I surrounded myself with the perfect recipe of materials, 
inspirational books, images and music to invite creativity into the space. 
To feel safe, aligned and in tune enough to allow the invisible to manifest 
through the artistic process.

circular carport studio

Before Dunmoochin I had painted in circular mud brick carport that was the 
first building completed while my parents built their new home. This beautiful 
space was large enough to house five cars, had a domed roof and lots of 
skylights to allow natural light into the space. I recall feeling incredibly 
‘held’ in this circular, womb-like space. To be completely surrounded by a 
circular cave of earth appeared to enable me to delve more deeply into my 
own inner world and to then emerge with new creative inspiration to express. 
Creating in this studio felt still, centred, magical and powerful.

In 2012 dad had finished building the stunning new mudbrick home that was 
to later feature in newspapers, magazines and on national TV. Dad was ready 
for a new project…. and work towards my new studio began.

I’d like to extend an enormous thank you to both of my parents, Helen and 
Wayne who supported this construction, particularly dad who utalised his 
architectural and project management skills – in addition to 
‘hands-on hard-yakka’. Thank you also to Mark Phillips and his apprentice 
Ryder for their incredibly skilled work building the studio. Thanks to 
Chris and his daughter Gypsy for the roofing and Stewie and his son for 
the electrical work. Thanks too to Marcus, Shane and other friends who 
chipped in to make this dream a reality 

One Sunday evening at Henry Hursts pizza shop, the concept was born. 
Roughly scrawled on a serviette, the initial concept which pictured three circles and was reworked into two. One larger circle was the proposed working and exhibiting space and the smaller was to accomodate a storage area with a sink for clean-up and a small room allocated for a composting toilet. The ‘smaller’ circle was indeed smaller in diameter but was designed to be ‘double-storey’ with half of the circle covered over with a mezzanine which was proposed to store paintings. These two circles were drawn to be connected by a ‘link’. That serviette which was crumpled and wine stained became the precious blueprint that birthed this unique art studio from a dream into reality.

The next step was to visit the actual site and decide on an optimum location where all existing trees could be spared.  We walked around the site until we came to a clearing which was reasonably level before sloping away into the gully below.  A few white pegs were then replaced by a spray marker painting the two circles on the ground.  

Having successfully used a simplified form of fast track construction known as ‘ferro concrete’ or ‘ferrocement’ on two smaller, circular out buildings on the property (a potting shed and a wood shed) I was confident that this was the most effective method to use.

Dad invited local builder Mark Phillips to visit the site and asked for his involvement on this project.
As per the ferrocement building method, walls were to comprise of large cylinders of reinforcing steel which would be tied together and covered on each side by sheets of expanded stainless steel mesh. Once all of the windows and doors had been positioned within the two cylinders, the mesh walls would then be rendered, both inside and out with two coats of cement.

After a local contractor levelled the site with his bulldozer, we commenced without a budget and ordered the 20 x 20cm Cypress Pine posts. Cypress pine is termite resistant and the bases of the perimeter posts were also coated in a bituminous solution to repel insect attack.

Posts were located at the ends of intersecting timber roof trusses so that they would bear the roof load rather than any structural load be imposed on the 3.5cm thick walls.  

As there is no electricity available in the vicinity of the studio, a 250 metre extension lead was installed and linked with the main house. The initial power switch to the building site was attached to a gumtree. (pictured below)

A huge advantage of this form of construction is that no concrete foundations are required.  The reinforced concrete walls form a strong, circular ‘drum’ similar to a reinforced concrete tank.  Without the render the ‘drum’ appeared like a cage.  

In preparing the base for the walls we found a consistent shale  and also areas of dense reef rock which had to be removed by jack hammer. Some of these large boulders were later used as steps in the link between the two levels.

We decided to use recycled timber glazed doors and windows which were fortunately located through Ebay in Panton Hill! The installation of the doors and the windows was the next step in the construction process. They were secured to the Cypress poles. 

The next step was to erect the large ‘cages’ of reinforced steel and then to cover the cage in a layer of expanded mesh. 

At this point we hired a mini mixer to fill a reinforced concrete slab to both buildings. I placed paint brushes and other meaningful items into the footings as a ritual to laying the energetic foundation of the studio space.  A team of helpers pitched in with trowelling the concrete slab.  Later the slabs were coated with a water and dust proofing paint.

Dad decided to introduce a highly efficient thin ‘Kingspan Insulbreak’ foil wall for insulation just inside the internal expanded mesh which would later be rendered.  Once the internal wall insulation was placed, another layer of expanded mesh covered it and was pinned into place with handmade clips that hooked through to the eternal mesh. 

Finally Mark Phillips applied two coats of render to both the inside and outside. This cement was mixed using a blend of naturally coloured sands.

Mark Philips and Ryder Lockwood framed up the rooves over the two ferrocement ‘drums’.  A local master roofer, Chris Powell and his daughter Gypsy constructed the distinctive colourbond, octagonal shaped, steel rooves.

To line the roof I introduced a highly efficient ‘King Aircell’ insulation with reflective foil  over the roof battens.  In the major area clear skylights were introduced with grey tint skylights in the roof over the smaller storage building.

Two important items Nerina was able to source on Ebay were (i) - A pull down timber attic ladder to gain access to the storage mezzanine and (ii) – An LP gas (space?) heater to (?) the main painting/exhibiting area.

A system of spot display lights has been installed along the intersecting roof trusses with warm white fluorescent lighting on top of the lower chord of the trusses.
To set the correct colour rendition the interior walls have been coated with neutral Grimes & Sons ‘colorcoat’ paint.

All seem to agree that this building blends so well with the surrounding bushland.

Using ferro concrete construction was the principle key to the success of this studio in that it could proceed without foundations over just a few weeks – rather than typically taking several months.  The extensive experience of Mark Phillips in this form of construction, and his being also skilled in timber framing allowed the project to flow naturally together with an excellent roof which was constructed in 2 days by Chris Powell and his daughter Gypsy.

The use of recycled glazed windows and doors, an attic ladder and LP Gas heater all assisted in containing costs.

The expertise of Stuart Adcock in devising lighting systems of spot lights and warm fluorescent uplighting on one meagre 8 amp lighting circuit was quite remarkable.