An Australian Artist Ahead of Her Time
Rosalie was born in New Zealand in 1917 but spent the majority of her life in Australia. She came from a family that had been well off but had fallen on hard times. Her parents separated when she was still quite young and even though her father returned to the family during her teens, her mother who was a teacher, it seems was the big influence in her early life, making sure that she and her sister got a university education. At this time it was unusual for girls to be highly educated so even though it was not the course of Rosalie’s choice, it was an advantage that many other girls at this point in Australia’s history did not have.
Rosalie’s mother had high standards even without the high income and that was reflected in what she expected of her daughters. This was however still within the social confines of the times, where young women were expected to marry, have children, run the home and a career as an artist was not considered seriously by many, but rather looked at as a “nice hobby”.
Rosalie talked about how she very much wanted to be liked but wasn’t the typical housewife. Her home near the observatory and near Canberra were not pristine, she didn’t really fit in with her husband’s associates and their spouses. She took on dry flower arranging, created and managed a big garden and took long walks to forage for bits and pieces to create unique pieces which were sometimes displayed in her home and which were often not understood by visitors. She also did the only formal training she ever had, which was with the Sogetsu School of Ikebana where such things as form, and shape were introduced. She said she was often lonely and felt she was not an artist until she was over fifty years of age and had received some confirmation of her skills. Finally she was introduced to Phillip Mollison and later to Michael Taylor and after her works had been seen and appreciated, things got underway.
In Australia, in contrast to New Zealand, Rosalie at least felt a little less confined by the expectations of society than she would have had in her homeland of New Zealand. In Canberra Michael Taylor helped introduce her to people who would get her art career seriously underway. She was asked later in life if success had ruined her, she replied that she didn’t think so, she knew that there is always someone or something better out there, so that feeling of being at your peak was not a consideration. She always had another hill to climb and she could always keep improving.
In her art Rosalie found a sense of control that she may not have had during a lot of her life, she matured into an artist who worried only about whether she was happy with her work and the opinions of others didn’t matter. Out of the randomness of nature she was able to create a new vision of the Australian landscape, totally unique to herself and not controlled or contrived by any body else.
- Life Cycle of Artists:
1.1 Consider what each stage contributes to our artistic output
When we are younger we have the energy to put into anything we do
We have to consider the pulls of peer pressure and the influence of family over younger people who may not have control over their time or life choices yet
Family and work pressures can interfere or worse, stop a creative career especially once married with commitments, so it is not uncommon for some artists to start or restart a career later in life
With maturity can come more patience, an ability to take the time to analyse better and not care about what others may think
1.2 Appropriate activities for artists at different stages of their career/life
A lot of younger artists are drawn in by social issues and want to say something about what they think is important
Research and learning I think should be done in all stages of a career
Establishing a style or method that you are known for can be done at any stage
Networking with other artists and outlets for your art can be done at any stage in your life if you have the desire
- Identify the different stages of Rosalie’s life/career
Rosalie was first a daughter, a student then a wife and mother. I think she always had the artist within her, it was just not given the room to blossom. It is to her credit that she took any opportunity to do what she could to keep that skill and talent alive until later in life when she was able to begin doing more about it.
In her mid life and later life after spending the time to look, learn (even if it was by herself) and experiment and then network she was given the opening to take her art to the next level and exhibit to become better known.
- Identify differences between Rosalie’s use of found materials and that of Rauschenberg
I think that Rosalie brings out more of the uniqueness of the Australian landscape. Her found objects seem to be less random and fit into her more structured designs
Both did not have formal training but I think that Rosalie’s experiments and small amount of training with the Sogetsu School of Ikebana and her experiments with dried floral arranging gave her a grounding for her work that makes it more appealing.
Rosalie looked for content that would help her bring out the beauty of the Australian landscape and it’s openness. She talks about “emotion reflected in tranquillity” which I did not see in Robert Rauschenberg’s work.
Robert Rauschenberg looked to be a more commercially oriented artist in contrast to Rosalie’s personal journey and pleasure from her work.
- How did Rosalie’s work reflect national/regional identity?
Rosalie was interested in reflecting the openness of her adopted country.
Rosalie used very typically Australian colours that we expect to see in the countryside or bushland. She also used very iconic Australian materials such as corrugated iron and even old road signs.
- How did Rosalie’s work reflect gender issues?
Rosalie’s art gave her the freedom she didn’t have in much of her day to day life. She grew up in a time when the expectations of women in society were nothing like today. Options were limited. She was ahead of her time in wanting to have her own career in art and not be just “the wife” of someone.
Rosalie started out working on a kitchen table and dining room table which may not have been acceptable for a male artist.
Rosalie squeezed in her planning and productivity amongst the duties of wife and mother and seems to have had to compromise a lot.
Rosalie didn’t have the support from her husband until late in her career so she would have been very lonely and feeling isolated not only physically/geographically but also mentally and emotionally I think that came out in her designs.
- How did Rosalie’s work inform your own artistic practice? IE: How did you respond to it?
I admire this women very much. She is from the same generation as my mother who I thought was brave to tell me to do whatever I wanted with my life and that I didn’t have to be a wife and mother to be successful but I could do whatever I wanted (this was during the early 1970s). She has confirmed in me the determination to follow through with my plans and dreams. She went back to her first love of art a little younger than me but I have the advantage of a totally supportive husband helping my training and business plans.
Rosalie showed that there is an abundance of art around us if we open our eyes to look. We can take a walk and find inspiration anywhere. She also proved that it just takes one good connection or start on a “network” to get your art seen and some hard work and help can get you to the top if you have it in you to try.
I also liked that she finally felt that other people’s opinions of her didn’t count. It was how she felt about her work and herself that mattered. I have discovered that more in the last few years after joining art guilds and starting my own networks and friendships with fellow artists and finally going back to training. I’m not weird, not an outsider – I was just in the wrong groups and taking notice of all the wrong people. It’s amazing how your life becomes clearer when you know you are doing exactly the right thing at the right time and you on the right path for you.
For more information about Rosalie go to the following link where another interview she gave has been transcribed. There is a lot more information about her life in this and readers may find it of interest.