Walcha Artist Angus Nivison is a highly celebrated painter who likes to express emotion through his paint brush. He has won many awards, including the prestigious Wynne Prize for his painting called ‘Remembering Rain’.
> When did you first realize you had creative talents?
I have always been painting; the act of painting seems to have been one of my first memories, though at those tender years you tend not to think about creative talent – you just have fun!
The first realisation that I might have talent came from my Primary school teacher at Walcha Central, saying something nice about me (normally the opposite was the case). But the first time I had real proof of my talent came with winning first prize in the Rural Bank Art Prize. It was a five pound savings account with the Rural Bank; when you are seven or eight, this leaves a lasting impression.
> Describe your style of painting.
First and foremost I am a landscape painter, but it is there that similarities with most landscape painters stop. I am not a painter of scenes or views; in fact, I tend to be a painter of the internal landscape, a painter of emotion and the human condition. I lean towards the abstract rather than the literal, although my work always has its roots in landscape, because it’s where I’ve always lived.
I use mostly acrylic and charcoal on a large scale; hence my work tends to be monumental while at the same time having a fragility about it. So though my surfaces sometimes have an industrial look to them, they are in fact quite delicate. Perhaps that is why a lot of my work is full of ambiguities. I also draw a lot. This takes the form of small thoughts jotted down in haste to huge works that have been worked on for a long period of time. Again, the medium is charcoal and acrylic mostly, with some use of Conte crayon and pastel.
> Where do you hold your exhibits?
Utopia Art Sydney is a commercial gallery situated in the art complex at 2 Danks Street, Waterloo in Sydney. It’s the only commercial gallery I show with, so the relationship is quite close; I count the people who work there as my friends and trust their judgements. The gallery started off showing Aboriginal artists from the Utopia region in Central Australia and over the years has acquired some non Aboriginal artists, of which I am one. I feel privileged to showing among such talent.
> Have you won any art prizes?
I won the Wynne prize for landscape in 2002 (it is on at the same time as the Archibald at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, but is in fact the elder of the two prizes) with the painting ‘Remembering Rain’. It was the year, due to renovations, that AGNSW was restricted for space, and the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman had a lot less room to hang works. I decided to enter my largest painting to date – a huge 6.4 metre long by 2 metre high work, and I won. The AGNSW had a lot of complaints about all the room I took up, and as a result the Wynne, Archibald and Sulman now have a size restriction. I think this, perhaps, was my five minutes of fame!
> What’s your greatest achievement?
Maybe being responsible for the rule change for the Archy and Wynne! No, really I think it is maintaining a painting career over my lifetime, while along with Caroline raising two children to adulthood. As far as my career as a painter goes, it is far harder to pin it down to one thing. It is probably a combination of many things, from winning my first art prize, my first art sale, having my first show in a commercial gallery, my first good art review, having the AGNSW acquire drawings and a painting or realising that you can’t please everybody, so you might as well please yourself … and being brave enough to do just that.
> Your most memorable exhibitions?
The most memorable exhibition of my work in a commercial gallery will always be my next one. But of my work in a public gallery, it would be a tie between John McDonald’s ‘Federation’ at the National Gallery of Australia, and a small informal one that Barry Pearce, the head curator of Australian Art at the AGNSW put on.
It was just Fred Williams and myself and consisted of one painting each and some drawings relating to the paintings. It had no opening, no title, just one room in the AGNSW – probably the exact opposite of ‘Federation’.
The best exhibition by another artist would have to be the Rothko Room at the Tate Modern in London.
> Where do you draw your inspiration?
I gain inspiration from wherever I am. I happen mostly to be in the N E tablelands, so my work tends to have a feel of the area.
> Given your fame, why do you choose to live in Walcha?
The word fame is debatable, but brings to mind a line from a Nick Drake song, “Fame is like a fruit tree, so very unsound; it can never flourish unless its roots are in the ground”. So really I choose to live in Walcha because it would be impossible to have the setup and career without the huge support of family and friends. Also, I need the space and isolation to be able to pursue my craft, and really it’s where I am from, my country, if you like.
> Have your children inherited your talent?
Yes, from both Caroline and myself. Alice is studying architecture at Sydney University. Charlie is already producing and selling his own design T-shirts while studying graphic design at Canberra University.
> Your plans for the future?
To produce truly great work.
> Thank you Angus.