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From the vault: Interview with artist Anne Smerdon

So I had plans of starting a new series here on Art & Soul this weekend on hidden gems at the Queensland Gallery of Art (QAG) but there is no way I am venturing outdoors today. Except to check on the water now starting to seep in under the house into the laundry/storage area. Ugh.

Instead of taking the bus in to QAG and researching for the day, dear readers, I will instead take you back to an interview originally posted on my now-defunct blog Lonely Arts.

Meet the lovely Anne Smerdon, an artist and architectural designer based on the Gold Coast.

ENTERING the white-walled studio of artist Anne Smerdon, the first thing to captivate the senses was the fresh scent of lemongrass, quickly followed by the sight (and sound) of her brightly feathered friend, Vonnegut, an Indian ringneck parakeet named after the American author Kurt Vonnegut.

He is preening himself on Anne’s easel, while she puts aside her crutches (Anne is currently nursing a broken left leg) and balances herself on a stool to talk to me about her latest creative ventures.

The lemongrass fragrance is due in part to Vonnegut (‘Kurt’, to his friends). Anne points to the table behind me, lined with a range of her handmade Galapagos candles. “I’ve always loved candles but I could never be sure if they had harmful toxins Vonnegut could breathe in, so I decided to research how to make them and do it myself,” she tells me.

Each of the resulting Galapagos Candles are created from 100% pure and natural soybean oil, grown in fair and ethical conditions. Pure essential oils scent the candles, which are presented in beautiful glass jars. Anne is one for paying attention to the details, it’s evident in every project she undertakes.

Taking up a four-week residency in the Mermaid Beach studio late last month (its big sister gallery, 19 Karen Contemporary Artspace, is located just around the corner), Anne has transformed it from a potentially bland pop-up gallery into a personal expression of the inspiration behind her works, and her life.

The intimate space features a select number of ‘Illustrated Narrations’, her intricate watercolour and architectural ink works on silk and paper, while a small corner by the front window is set up with her easel and paintings she is working on.

I notice the playing cards and illustrations of horses Anne has on the wall next to her easel, as well as some horse figurines on the table below. “They’re inspiration for my next exhibition,” she says when I ask her about their significance.

She points to a photo of a man in the saddle. Next to his horse stands another, while beneath them a horse lies quietly, legs folded. It’s not your usual horsemanship trick. “I really want to meet that man,” she says. “He’s a horse whisperer who lives on a farm near my grandmother’s, I’d love to see him working one day.”

Anne’s connection with horses and the animal kingdom began as a little tyke, when she would spend most school holidays on her nanna’s property, a 400-acre working Brahman cattle farm, Arabian horse stud and exotic palm and bamboo plantation in Tiaro, Queensland.

Her childhood memories of talking to the animals and sharing their world has been an obvious inspiration in Anne’s works. Ethereal women draped in gilded kimonos and detailed tapestries collide happily with myriad animals, from peacocks and octopus resting comfortably on their hair, to cats draped around shoulders and roosters scratching near their feet.

“I’m really looking forward to beginning the next collection of paintings, it seems like the right time to be doing a show inspired by horses, and I think because I can’t be around them all the time at the moment it’s my way of expressing that need to be connected to them in some way.”

It seems her bond with the equine world transcends to inanimate objects as well; the smallest of the horse figurines in Anne’s studio shares a broken left leg with the artist. “This little collection of horses usually sits on a shelf at home,” she begins to explain.

“I had them when I used to share a house, and the smaller horse represented me, with the other two representing my housemates. Anyway, the day I broke my leg, Luke (Anne’s husband) and I came home and the smallest horse had toppled off the shelf and its left leg was broken!

“It was pretty spooky, I have to admit, just one of those moments where the coincidence is just a bit too weird.”

Our talk turns from the supernatural and weaves gently back to artistic process. I ask Anne about her guided drawing classes, which she has held every Sunday during her residency at the studio. I’m excited to hear of her plans to hold evening life-drawing classes every second week.

“There are currently no life drawing classes on the coast which offer a relaxed atmosphere with music and experienced models, so I’ve been busy researching agencies and I’ve found one where the models are trained and experienced in life-drawing poses. Now I just have to find a space and then the classes will be up and running in the near future.”

I tell her I admire her energy and ‘get it done’ approach to life. “If I see something I love, or am inspired by something, I’m one of those people who have to make it or do it myself – candles, terrariums, drawing classes, the list goes on,” she says.

It’s something I can relate to, although time is often my enemy. I ask her how she fits it all in. “I don’t sleep very much!” she laughs.

See more of Anne’s work here.

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