Old-school art from the heart

Photo by Billy Nye

Photo by Billy Nye

Gillian Haig is old-school. From her sheep-farming origins in East Gippsland, where she spent hours as a child sketching and lying in the long grass watching the clouds move and morph above her, painting and making has been part of her DNA ever since she can remember. Growing up in what she calls “ideal circumstances” with her four siblings and parents who understood the importance of physical and mental space, Gill knew she wanted to give her two children, Georgina and Julian, the same free-ranging experience. She and her then husband Russell moved to Red Hill in 1990 and the memories made were special. 

Gill explains: “I went to the ‘kindergarten of the air’ as a child, which was kinder on the radio. Mum would set up the paints on the veranda, then draw a truck or something else and we painted it in. When Russell and I moved to Red Hill, I painted every day. The kids went off to Red Hill Consolidated and I went to my studio or headed out along the dirt tracks looking for inspiration. I used to drive to Flinders and sit in the car behind the wheel just drawing and painting if the weather was too bad. Watercolours are pretty portable, you see. Then I’d go home and finish off the work in my studio. We’d head off to Shoreham Beach with other families with Eskys after school and meet other local families. The kids would play in the water until nightfall and we’d put the car headlights on the water to call the kids in.”

Gill spent her early years as a painter in a vast studio in West Melbourne as a contemporary of the Roar Studios painters while completing her RMIT Fine Art degree. She used to lay everything out on a huge sheet of plastic on the floor and ‘build’ abstract landscapes layer by layer. She continues: “I experimented and played with building works on the floor without a formal canvas, using and layering other materials that resulted in abstract landscapes. This work was influenced at the time by artists such as Rosalie Gascoigne and Elizabeth Gower, who were bringing a new and very female quality to the Australian landscape.” This was the work that won her a five-month travelling scholarship to Europe in her fourth year at RMIT. “Winning the scholarship was exciting as I’d never been anywhere before,” Gill continues. “I saw all the great European masters like Matisse and Van Gogh, who I was greatly influenced by. My response to intuitive painting was due to the power of the great American mid-century artists such as Willem de Kooning.”

With art show awards under her paint-spattered smock, including best painting in the Flinders Art Show, and multiple group shows in Melbourne, including the Canterbury Art Exhibition, plus a 14-year stint in business with her Red Hill Cool Stores and Gallery, where her love of Mornington Peninsula wine and produce merged with art, this artist paints because she must. That’s just the way she views the world. Through the lens of a visual voyeur. Most recently you’ll find her subtly mesmerising and delicate still life vegetable watercolours, which look like they’ve just been pulled from the earth, being created. She concludes: “I’ve grown up with the landscape. When the kids were at home there were so many beautiful things that popped up out of the earth, and still life became very interesting to me. I really enjoyed illustrating the first Seasonal Produce Diary in 1995 for Allan Campion and Michele Curtis. I find the land and what comes out of it fascinating and beautiful.”

And so is her technique-laden art, grown from the heart.

LIZ ROGERS

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