Artist Zoe Grey lives and breathes Marrawah. It is in her words, her thoughts, and is her constant inspiration. The wildness of this remote and most westerly point in takayna (The Tarkine) inspired her first solo show ‘Thanks to a Place I Know’, an online exhibition which close to sold out during COVID-19.
“Marrawah is all of my art practice”, says Zoe. “Whether I’m here or away, I’m painting Marrawah, using memory to think back on it and returning to its familiar forms.”
Growing up in Marrawah life revolved around the ocean. Zoe grew up surfing, swimming, snorkelling and diving for abalone on taypalaka (Green Point). Zoe’s Dad build the family home just 20 metres from the ocean on the rocky shores. Her grandmother was born in Marrawah and so was her father.
“I grew up with an awareness of the landscape”, says Zoe Grey. “Marrawah faces straight west, so it means the weather is intense – a lot of notoriously strong winds and really big swells. It’s pretty wild and remote.”
Zoe attended a tiny primary school with just 30 children as peers. She believes there’s a level of intimacy and connection which comes from living in a small remote community.
“I think there’s differences in being more isolated and cut off from the rest of the state. There’s comradery that comes from that in the community”, says Zoe.
It wasn’t till later in high school, attending Hellyer College in Burnie that Zoe started getting interested in art. For her final art project in Year 12 she created a series of nine portraits, which integrated parts of the landscape with flora, fauna and figures. “I was looking at the human/nature relationship. Looking back, I can see that was beginning phases of my work, and it flowed on to where it is now.”
In 2014 Zoe moved to Hobart to study fine arts at the University of Tasmania, and in 2018 graduated with First Class Honours. But it is still Marrawah that calls her back. Her first solo exhibition “Thanks to a Place I Know’, at Despard Gallery in Hobart explored her ties to Marrawah in subject and tone – the memories, the landscape and her evolving relationship.
The thick layering of paint, the craggy windswept trees, the emboldened rocks and the wild ocean ever present speaks of someone who knows this place, whose mind is always there, whose heart never leaves.
“Marrawah is all of my art practice”, says Zoe. “Whether I’m here or away, I’m painting Marrawah, using memory to think back on it and returning to its familiar forms. The visual element of painting helps me feel connected to it.”
“It’s important to acknowledge that there is that connection to place that predates me – Marrawah and particularly Preminghana, a mountain in Marrawah which is a significant site to Tasmanian Aboriginal people. It’s important to acknowledge that in my work. It is critical that I recognise the place I am connected to, the place driving my painting practice, is and always will be, Aboriginal land.”
It should be no surprise that the first major exhibition of Zoe Grey’s was practically sold out, with 21 artworks sold, and only 4 remaining. Quite a coup for an emerging artist with an online exhibition during COVID-19.
“I’m feeling really grateful to have success and joy in my career at a time when so many people are having a really hard time, I feel so lucky”, says Zoe.
Now painting out of artist collective Good Grief Studios in Hobart, Zoe cites Tasmanian painters Caroline Rannersberger, Steven Lees, Tim Burns and Sam Field as key influences on her work. She also admires the work of Lisa Garland and Anne Morrison, two artists living in the North West.
There’s 14 artists in resident at Good Grief Studios. Zoe enjoys creating in this artist-run space, honing her craft alongside other painters and artists working in other mediums. Next, Zoe hopes to do a residency in a different part of Australia, or overseas, keen to explore and immerse herself in other places and landscapes.
“The act of painting is important to my work, and exploring a connection to place. Whether I’m here or away I’ll keep observing what it means to be painting Marrawah, and what it means to me. Those meanings might change, but I’ll try to remain open to those shifts as well.”
To find out more about Zoe Grey visit her website at https://www.zoe-grey.com
This feature is part of Big hART’s online #SupportArtists campaign. Follow the weekly artist feature on Big hART’s Instagram page here.
Article by Bettina Richter.