Judith Sinnamon is a reluctant subject. However, after many years of my haranguing her, she agreed to finally let me share a little of her story as an artist, mother, and defender of the planet.
By Victoria McGuin
Judith Sinnamon’s art studio is a welcoming space, with louvres for the mountain breeze, and plenty of natural light for her to create works of art. However, this space is a relatively new development; for many years I would visit Judith’s ‘studio’, which was set up in her open-plan kitchen/dining area, amongst the hustle and bustle of family life.
Foliage, branches and blossoms would be suspended from rope and string, ready to be captured on the canvas, and nearby furniture hastily covered in old sheets to stop the paint splatters. It was a welcoming, slightly chaotic scene, from which beautiful paintings would emerge.
Judith was born and raised in Brisbane, although has been a hinterland resident now for over 20 years with her family, where they live on acreage and restore native vegetation to the weed-infested slopes.
“I went to the Queensland College of Arts, where I did my Fine Arts Diploma in the ‘80s,” shares Judith.
“My early works were large, colourful and energetic, using big paintbrushes somewhat evocative of the European Fauvists. I was exploring and discovering the joy of paint, and it was fluid, instant and fast.”
College was followed by a prolonged trip to the UK and Europe, and one of her favourite haunts was the National Gallery in London. “I headed straight for the Van Goghs, where up close I could see the immediacy of his paint strokes and could almost smell the paint,” she recollects.
On returning home Judith felt painting was considered “a little out of fashion at the time” and she enrolled in a teaching degree.
It was not until 13 years later that she began to apply herself to painting again, with a measure of discipline. “When you put that amount of time into something, you eventually evolve.”
Part of a group exhibition at Doggett Street Gallery in Brisbane in 2010, Judith’s work was spotted by Edwina Corlette who had recently opened her own gallery in New Farm, now a very successful contemporary gallery.
Judith has been exhibiting with Edwina Corlette Gallery for 13 years now and her exhibitions are often close to sold out online before opening day, with trees a popular subject with buyers.
“I paint what is around me,” says Judith, “and usually this is nature. I did spend a year in Myanmar in 2015 where I painted the colourful hawker women and crumbling architecture of downtown Yangon. I have since returned to trees, particularly the magnificence of Australian Eucalypts.
“Nature, however, is now not a given, having provided sustenance and rejuvenation to the eyes and souls of many over millennia, it is itself under threat.”
Judith’s main concern is for the younger generation, coming up into a world with huge climate changes occurring. “Hence my work with kids who are being short-changed out of all this. I like to teach them through art to look at nature; that they are part of the ecosystem.
“Five years ago, the students of Montville State School and I created a biodiversity mural at the school, and every year new students add to the mural by choosing a local native ‘critter’ of the Blackall Range.
“This is our fifth year and it’s getting a little crowded! A sad irony given biodiversity is in sharp decline both locally and globally. We’ve also had tree planting and permaculture talks to coincide with this.”
Judith also encourages painting at Montville Market and sets up easels for the kids. “It’s good for children to explore their creativity, and I love what they do – there is a spontaneity, a lack of self-consciousness as they paint.
“Make art not war!” Judith smiles, “People are much happier when they are creative.”
Judith’s passion for future generations and the planet means she is also involved with Student Strike for Climate Change, Australian Parents for Climate Action (AP4CA), and the Climate Action Now movement, leading up to the next federal election.
“It is THE issue of our times. Due to the prolonged drought, record breaking temperatures, catastrophic floods, confused seasonal changes, and bushfires, many of our native species have significantly dropped in numbers.
“I’m a busy person often working late at night and weekends, and I’m also not particularly outgoing, but I have to prioritise making a stand for our kids and our planet.
“This is going to affect all of us, so complacency baffles me. I do, however, believe most of the population are concerned, just perhaps a bit unsure in how best to act. I would suggest the upcoming federal election is a good opportunity!”
Judith’s art is a reminder of the beauty of this vital ecosystem she is passionate for us to preserve, and she believes her upbringing in a gully of rainforest inspired her.
“My childhood home was an old workers cottage in inner-city Brisbane perched on the side of a hill that extended out into a huge Blackbean tree that filled with rainbow lorikeets in December and active possum families, fruit bats and diamond pythons at night.
“My favourite place to be was nestled in the huge arms of the large Camphor Laurel in the front garden, reading comics, doing my homework while eating mixed lollies.
“My paintings are often from a perspective of looking up at trees, just as the first brilliant rays of morning sunlight strike the uppermost branches, then flow, filtering down through the leaves and twisted boughs.
“It’s an exploration of the interplay of light on and through objects – how it defines structure, shape and colour, and the luminosity of shadow. The fluidity of paint….an exploration of colours.”
The presence of the occasional bird or insect within Judith’s paintings is, she explains, a reference to the centrality of trees to life.
“My painting is traditional, but my choice of subject matter, communicating my concern, and my love of nature is in a contemporary context. Nature is in peril – I’m not being alarmist, it is.
“It is my hope that with the upcoming election that the vast majority of adults factor in their children and/or their grandchildren’s future, and the climate and world they will inherit from us.
“And if my art or my actions can help in any way, I will do all I can.”