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“Naturally” Art

An eclectic feast of original artworks – all inspired by our environment – and from four highly acclaimed and award-winning artists, awaits the public at Mary Cairncross Reserve this August.

by Judy Fredriksen

Naturally art exhibition will showcase diverse pieces depicting environmental awareness through the art of woodcarver/sculptor - Gary Field; rainforest artist – Leisa Gunton; environmental artist – Jono Bateman, and multidisciplinary artist – Cholena Drew Hughes.

Multi-award winning woodcarver Gary Field has spent 50 years developing his unique style of woodcarving. Many readers will know him from the Maleny Wood Expo where he has won the highly sought-after Wootha Prize and Design Excellence Award, while dozens of his delicate pieces now adorn collections all over the world.

Salvaging and recycling gnarled timber from places like ethical timber salvage operators, ancient river beds, hang-dog fences or dilapidated buildings, Gary gently moulds the pieces until unseen forms emerge, with the result being an exquisite carving inspired by his respect and love of nature.

In preserving our environment, Gary says, “I try to show (that) every single bit of the tree can be used, so I’m using roots, I’m using the main trunks of the trees, and I’m using all parts of the trees and waste products. I’m actually trying to show what can be made from what’s normally discarded”.

It was at the Maleny Wood Expo where Gary met Leisa, who also regularly exhibits at the event. Instantly, Gary became captivated by her work and the two became firm friends.

Inspired by the forest, even as a young girl, Leisa appreciates trees, their forms, and incorporates pieces of the forest into her artwork, evoking a natural rustic character. She feels a soulful connection to her home environment of Booloumba Creek, a pristine rainforest environment with which she has been interacting for the past 30 years.

“It’s quite a special place – it’s a 325-million-year-old valley – it’s one of the oldest parts of the Sunshine Coast,” Leisa says.

“I do ceramic art, as well as drawing and painting, and the ceramic parts of it contain pieces of the forest, like leaves or a bit of gravel or ash and slips of natural clays. I like to hone in on things; rather than a huge scene, it will be a tree – looking up into the canopy – or it will be like the junction of the ferns.”

Her earthy pieces charmingly capture the energy and essence of the valley.

Leisa has taken out many awards for her sculptures and ceramics, notably the best work overall at Kenilworth Art Prize in 2012 and in the same year, was a finalist in Sunshine Coast Art Prize.

In her earlier years, while developing her creative talents at TAFE, Leisa attended the same classes as Cholena Drew Hughes, now a successful First Nations multidisciplinary artist here on the Sunshine Coast. In 2022, Cholena was a finalist in the prestigious Sunshine Coast Art Prize.

Born on Turrbal country and now living on Jinibara country, Cholena loves to spend time in the natural environment and connect with the spirit of Country.

“My work shares the feelings of that experience. If people are inspired to pay more attention to Country and connect with it themselves, they will feel more inspired to walk gently and preserve and cherish what we have.”

Cholena uses a large variety of materials and processes, cultivating her inspiration by wandering in the bush, listening, breathing in the air, allowing her senses to observe all the intimate details with a feeling of incalculable significance and importance with the connection to her environment.

Many of Cholena’s works now hang in galleries overseas.

As the connector between the four artists, Leisa also knew botanical artist – Jono Bateman – whom she met during the BioBlitz at Mary Cairncross in 2018. The BioBlitz was a unique exercise that saw scientists and artists come together to explore the forest canopy.

Jono’s art is a natural extension of his work as a bush regenerator, with his personal mantra being: The natural world needs a voice. Let her stories reach you through my art.

“The artwork that I’ve been doing for the past 20 years is the way of articulating what I see and feel doing my work, and starting to observe those processes that occur in the natural environment, and the patterns they form, and the processes that inform us a little bit about ourselves.

“It’s those processes that I bring to the page, canvas, paper, inks, multitude of mediums and just turn those into a bit of a visual message of what we can learn from the natural world.”

Jono’s keen observations have seen him win the 2015 art prize at the Sunshine Coast Conservation Forum, as well as being placed first for watercolours and second in the abstract section of the Sunshine Coast Show Society in 2016.

These four kindred souls show strong solidarity through their collaboration, all advocating for the same theme.

“People need to look after what we’ve got in the environment more. By showcasing it through our art, hopefully people will see it in a different light. Maybe they will experience a walk through Mary Cairncross quite differently after they’ve seen what we’ve seen … because what we’ve seen inspires us to create what we create,” says Gary.

Naturally will run at Mary Cairncross Reserve, 148 Mountain View Road, Maleny, 6–20 August. Entry is free.


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