Gwendolin Lewis ARTS ZINE November 2023


Gwendolin Lewis ARTS ZINE
Port of Call, Newcastle Harbour, W70 x H50 cm., Oil on Canvas by Gwendolin Lewis

Artist Gwendolin Lewis lives and works in Newcastle, NSW. Lewis’s techniques and subject matter can be quite diverse which reflects her early training in commercial design. “I find the love of trees and natural shapes a place to begin a painting.” Living in Newcastle, NSW Maritime themes have also been a major subject.

Lewis’s work ranges from soft impressionistic pastels to larger
works of spontaneous mark-making and as Lewis has lived near the sea for the past 40 years both of these environments have had a strong influence on her painting subjects.

Gwendolin Lewis is a well known exhibiting artist in the art world around Australia and internationally. Lewis has many prestigious Art Awards including the Newcastle Art Prize.

Lewis also enjoys teaching art classes and holding workshops in Newcastle, the Hunter Region and Central Coast.

Windbreak, Cassilis, W32 x H47 cm., Soft Pastels on prepared paper
Windbreak, Cassilis, W32 x H47 cm., Soft Pastels on prepared paper

“Walking amongst nature and experiencing the environment is what inspires me. Drawing and painting are an expression of what I see, it is energising and exciting”. – Gwendolin Lewis.

The Kitchen Bench Soft Pastel on Paper
The Kitchen Bench Soft Pastel on Paper W50 x H47 cm

Sitting on the stone steps of a 12th Century Monastery which was to be my artists residency for five weeks in Chianti Tuscany gave realisation that yes, all these years of hard work have paid off and this is a culmination of my love of art and my skills, it is what I am.

As a child living in an isolated Victorian landscape, I developed a keen interest in drawing. I could be found sitting drawing by the roadside sketching the distant mountains with a piece of paper on my mother’s breadboard at age eight. The formation of that mountain range was drawn with different colours many times over.

This interest was nurtured by my family’s background in architecture and design, so studying art was a natural progression from those early years.

The life of a teenager in the late sixties attending Swinburne College of Art was more than exciting and following my completion of a diploma in commercial design, I worked professionally in the field for over a decade. Despite my success in design, my passion for the arts never wavered, prompting me to pursue a Painting Diploma at Tafe College. A Fine Art Degree at Newcastle University followed much later. My dedication to painting and drawing remains a vital aspect of my identity.

Combining knowledge from my design years and my Fine Art degree produce work that can be illustrative and also impressionist with a love of mark making. I prefer intimate scenes rather than vast landscapes, looking for interesting light passages shapes, and tonal contrast. My work encompasses and explores my immediate environment and draws on my acutely honed skills of observation.

I paint in oils but mostly leave this medium to my larger Maritime subjects which have bright colours textures and stronger bold contours. Innovation and experimentation are high on my list of priorities when I am painting and the process of discovery and change keeps my enthusiasm high. I have found that although I am not a mixed media artist, complimentary combinations of materials allow my work depth and energy. Soft Pastels play a large part in all my painting.

I am drawn to subjects that captivate my interest and nourish my spirit. Walking in the open landscape, in my garden, or along beaches watching the wild surf. In my eyes, all could be captured in paint or drawn in pastel.

Hydra Alleys, 30 x 20cm. Pen and Gouache on paper
Hydra Alleys, 30 x 20cm. Pen and Gouache on paper. Gwendolin Lewis
Gwendolin Lewis pastel box
Pastel Box and below Sketch book from Italy residency.
Sketch book from Italy residency

The huge ships coming into port with their tugboats make wonderful subjects as they create moving architectural shapes and coloured images. There is an excitement and romance about these ships coming from faraway places and remembering my grandparents sailing away on the P&O liners in the 1960s. I photograph many of these subjects but there are only some that are committed to canvas or paper.

Mark making and gestural drawing as much as actual painting is what I love to do, that’s why Soft Pastel features in my work as it is primarily a drawing medium. Soft pastels bridge the gap between painting and drawing and I find the loose texture and brilliant colour qualities exciting. They are versatile and can be used on pre-sanded papers with underpainting and layering colours not unlike Oils. The different mark making qualities range from broad to fine linear strokes which gives them endless possibilities.

Drawing is an essential part of my work and memories of sitting by the roadside drawing, bring back to me the fundamental aspect of my creative process, involving planning, construction and execution.

Starting out with thumbnail sketches using felt pens or charcoal is a useful way to clarify ideas, and sometimes those sketches become the main focus of the work. Whether a spontaneous sketch takes minutes or hours to create, it can hold just as much value as a painting.

My philosophy is to always keep an open mind and continuously learn something new.
I consider time and place to be important factors in my work, much like a diary recording the different times of day, light effects, and transitional moods.

Influences stem from journeys, and embracing history seen in faraway places as well as the immediate more familiar environment. My studies at university looked at the impressionist painters of Australia and Europe. I am continually referencing these artists of the 1800 and 1900 s and absorbing the colours and mark making in their work. I have a passion for travel and have been fortunate enough to pursue my love of painting during my journeys throughout the UK and Europe. Cornwall’s rugged coastline dry stone walls and hedgerows kept my imagination alive for the three months that I lived there in a tiny fishing village.

In 2019, The Greek Island of Hydra was the next port of call. I travelled to Athens and spent three weeks exploring and living like a local on this once famous bohemian island. Italy was next and also where I had applied to participate in a five-week residency program at La Macina de San Cresci, a refurbished 11th Century stone Monastery. I painted every day among the olive groves and stone villages of the Tuscan region. I find that sketches, charcoal, and small colour studies in pastels and oils completed during trips are valuable and inspire experimental work.

Cornwall Fishing Village by Gwendolin Lewis
Cornwall Fishing Village, Acrylic on paper, 27 x 37 cm

My interest in Maritime subjects led me to be part of a small group sailing onboard the Tall Ship The Lady Nelson out of Hobart in November 2022. During those six days, the camaraderie and the experience of Tasmania’s changing weather patterns was exhilarating and there were only a few chances between wind and hailstorms to actually sketch up on deck.

I regard teaching as one of my major influences on a weekly basis. I began teaching painting and drawing out of necessity to make a living as an artist some twenty five years ago. I have continued to teach as it now gives me joy, also stretching my limits of creativity to continually find new subjects and new ways of presenting the pastel medium to my students.

I have exhibited regularly in Newcastle but not always solo so these two recent exhibitions as a solo artist have been exciting and brought new challenges.

In June 2021 a successful Maritime exhibition in Newcastle was with esteemed Marine artist Robert Carter. The exhibition “Port of Call” showed the contrast of Robert’s traditional Sailing Ships and my contemporary interpretations of the vibrant coal port of Newcastle.

July 2023 in Sydney and my solo exhibition in Soft Pastels Corner Gallery, Stanmore showed work completed after spending time on a sheep and cattle property out of Cassilis, the weather is always in flux when on the land and influences creep up on you suddenly. Appearing in my current work are different moods light passages and colours that appear during seasons in that landscape.

September October 2023 and I had an exhibition of Maritime paintings which fitted well on the walls of the historic Customs House Hotel Newcastle. The Paintings have an Industrial and Newcastle Port theme with local Seascapes adding movement and light. My membership with The Australian Society of Maritime Artists goes back fifteen years.

As an exhibiting artist one has to have a certain amount of resilience and grit, there are let downs and the expenses can be high but I have learnt to take the highs with the lows and keep going forward. I paint and draw and find new challenges because I enjoy the process.

I hope the viewers will see the subjects that I introduce to them through my eyes, and experience new feelings and excitement toward the subjects.

My aspiration is to continuously engage in artistic pursuits that bring me personal satisfaction. I currently enjoy transferring my art knowledge and practice in my weekly art classes with ten or more adults. This reflects more than twenty five years of casual teaching in regional galleries and private classes in NSW.

Page is based on the content of ARTS ZINE November 2023 by Robyn Werkhoven of Studio La Primitive

Paintings by Gwendolin Lewis

Classes and Workshops

All Rights Reserved on article and photographs

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