Sometimes in life, you meet someone who you just get. Someone who is on your wavelength – a real kindred spirit.
I first met Georgina Hooper last year, about a week before her Itadakimasu exhibition at White Canvas Gallery in Brisbane. I was interviewing Georgina for the community newspaper I was working at and had the absolute pleasure of seeing where the magic happens in her West End studio.
It’s one of those spaces that just feels good. I think part of the energy comes from Georgina’s practice of ringing a bell that hangs in the entrance of her studio. Each time she walks in, she gently rings the bell – it’s a gesture with roots in Buddhist and Japanese traditions and it is instantly calming. You really feel as though the studio is a secluded little world that Georgina has made for herself.
For Itadakimasu, Georgina created 90 porcelain ceramic pieces and paintings (oh, the patience and craftsmanship) that reflected the idea of mindfulness. Many of the pieces were made during her artist residency in Nakoyama, Japan, where she had fallen into the gentle rhythms of village life.
Nakoyama and its community of artisans taught Georgina not only the art of porcelain ceramics, but also the art of slowing down and appreciating the beauty in ordinary, practical objects.
Mindfulness, she says, was more than just a philosophy in the remote mountain-side village. It was a way of life – and one she became quickly accustomed to.
“This is my experience of being in a unique community, other parts of Japan may be different, but even in the way they move, everything is done with such care,” she says.
“When they’re putting their teacup down on the saucer it’s done without a lot of noise. I looked at the idea of not needing new things all the time because they would look after the old things.
“I felt like a big bumbling giant when I got there, you know kind of loud and getting excited and moving and clattering. Being in that space I thought ‘oh it’s so nice to move more softly throughout your day’.”
Being surrounded by nature was also a constant source of inspiration for the Brisbane artist, who describes Nakoyama as as the “epitome of a retreat back to nature”.
“Because it was such a small village, there weren’t a lot of people there and you could go for a walk around town and barely see anyone,” she remembers.
“Nature was everywhere. The town backed onto a forest on the side of a mountain, so you were a hop, skip and a jump away from this old growth forest, and the stream that ran off the mountain was directed through the village, so when you were walking you could hear the burbling stream.
“Living in a city you don’t get that sense of being surrounded by nature and that sense of quiet. I’m such a believer in the idea of vibrational energy and when you’re surrounded by nature it’s a completely different wave.”
For her current exhibition at Paddington’s Percolator Gallery, Georgina has moved away from the sublime old-growth forests of Japan and created a series focussed a little closer to home.
Microcosm is an exploration into Queensland’s underwater frontier, the Great Barrier Reef. Fish and marine creatures are painted on watercolour paper, which is overlaid with brightly hued coral on rice paper. It’s a simple but very effective technique that captures the life and fluidity of the reef and its myriad communities.
“The more I researched the reef for this process, the more I was just absolutely blown away by it -this complete eclectic collection of life all living together, and the fact they have these highways they move through,” she says.
“To me it’s almost like another planet, it’s just extraordinary. I heard somewhere, and it really struck a chord with me, this idea of the ocean being the last great unchartered territory of our earth.
“We’ve gotten around all the land masses but the ocean is just such a mysterious place.”
Capturing the feeling of being under water was also an important aspect for the works in Microcosm, says Georgina, who likens the experience of scuba diving to meditation.
“In my experience when you’re first diving with the tank and you’re going underwater, it’s such a foreign feeling and you’re really having to consciously calm yourself and not panic, and really calm the breath and the body,” she says.
“I think it’s just such a beautiful… it’s almost like an extension of meditation and yogic breathing, and of painting as well.
“It’s all calming the body and relaxing and I think it’s such a beautiful feeling and sensation when you get into the flow with it. When I’m painting I’m thinking about those things as well so hopefully when it all comes together we get a sense of this awe-inspiring beautiful life-filled images that are connecting people with that sensation of being under the water.”
Despite the Australian subject matter, each work is a subtle reflection of Georgina’s time in the east, where she studied pottery and Chinese landscape painting.
It is a beautiful and unexpected depiction of our vulnerable marine landscape, one that carries a universal message: we need to appreciate and protect the reef before it’s too late.
“I think this is the tip of the iceberg. I really see the Great Barrier Reef as a subject something I’m going to continue to work with,” she says.
“(In my ceramics and artwork) it’s always been the ocean and the sea and fish for me, but now it’s kind of connecting with something we have on our back doorstep.
“I’m profoundly excited that the Great Barrier Reef is in my state but also horrified by these changes that are happening with environmental policies of the government. As an artist I feel compelled to want to do something about it.”
This deep connection to the natural world started from a young age for Georgina, who grew up in the Queensland regional city of Rockhampton – located on the Tropic of Capricorn. It gave her a certain freedom to explore and discover the world around her, something she doesn’t take for granted.
“I was brought up by my mother who is so connected to nature,” she says. “She’d walk me to school and tell me the names of the plants and we’d practice that as we’d go, and I’d help her out with the gardening.
“I don’t know whether that’s something children get an experience of these days, but it’s so important… the smell of the earth is something that takes me back to my childhood.”
Georgina will head back to Japan later this year to work once again with master ceramicists Seigo Yoshimura and Mrs Murakami, and says she hopes to create a porcelain series using the intense colours and patterns found in the coral of the Great Barrier Reef.
“I think as an artist it’s really important to paint what you love and paint what you’re passionate about,” she says.
“Art is a reflection of who you are if it’s authentic, and painting makes me happy. I think maybe in my angsty years as an adolescent trying to figure out who I was, it was always more autobiographical work.
“But that’s the beauty of getting older, you kind of start to know who you are and then you focus on all the beautiful things that make you happy.”