The fury of nature inspires a young artist for the ARTEXPRESS selection at the Art Gallery of NSW | County Leader of St George and Sutherland


The familiar smell of smoldering smoke seeping through the bush, with undertones of childhood memories attached to a home surrounded by nature, was a cathartic artistic journey for Ella McGaw.

The talented student from Bundeena has been selected in the annual ARTEXPRESS exhibition.

HSC’s ‘best of the best’ major works of art produced by visual arts students from 2021 are on display at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Being chosen for the exhibition is a very competitive achievement, and Ella is the only Sutherland Shire student to make the cut.

ARTEXPRESS is one of the most popular shows of the year. It gives visitors insight into the concerns that resonate with budding young artists.

A total of 43 artworks from across the state were selected from a massive 8,440 submissions.

This year marks the 39and edition of ARTEXPRESS, which encompasses a wide range of approaches and expressive forms, including ceramics, collecting works, documented forms, designed objects, drawing, graphic design, painting, photographic media, printmaking, sculpture, textiles and fibers, and time-based media.

Students addressed the effect of the global COVID-19 pandemic on their lives, exploring ideas of inner self and resilience, emergence and optimism, environment and still life interiors .

Ella, who completed her 12th grade at Cronulla High School, created a drawing called “Lament for the lost.”

“I could hardly believe I walked in,” she said. “Of all the people in my art class, I thought that was an unattainable goal. I didn’t think I could get that far.

Her work explores the losses inflicted by the 2019/2020 bushfires. Influenced by artists William Kentridge, Janet Laurence, Martin Bell and Ildiko Kovacs, she draws from her natural environment.

“I remember being very close to the bush and the smoke, and feeling disconnected. I was trying to find a way to reconnect with what people living in a land of fire are going through,” a- she declared.

“I was originally inspired by the scribbles of an gum tree. My intention was to understand how this devastation of species and communities has become insignificant, superimposed on conflicting human narratives of climate change, inaction , risks, future human and environmental needs.

“I pulped the materials from the fires – charcoal, ash, dirt, research pages, newspaper articles – into paper, recreating every area I had visited – the white of ash, the black of wood. ‘burnt environment.’

The artist’s daughter Leanne Thompson, Ella, said creating the artwork primarily at home, without regular in-person feedback from her art teacher, was difficult at first, but it turned out for the best.

“If I hadn’t had all this time at home, I don’t think it would have all the complexity it has today,” she said. “I own the lockdown that I had the ability to dive into the process.”

This year, Ella is studying Liberal Arts and Sciences, majoring in Visual Arts at the University of Sydney.

“I really want to do something artistic but also have a voice, especially for environmental issues,” she said.

“It resonates with me on a personal and community level.”

Gallery director Michael Brand said the class of 2021 should be extremely proud of what they have achieved in an extremely difficult year.

“Visual arts students in 2021 have had a disrupted HSC, with many students making their artwork from home in lockdown,” Dr Brand said.

“Despite the many hurdles of completing their studies in a pandemic, these students have produced the most exceptional work. The students approached their creative practice with positivity and optimism, looking beyond the immediate impacts of the pandemic and towards a brighter future.

ARTEXPRESS is presented in partnership with the NSW Department of Education, Arts Unit and the NSW Education Standards Authority.

The free exhibition ends on April 25.


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