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Artist Profile|Matilda Julian

When you visit Matilda Julian’s website she is described simply as ‘Fine Artist from Central Western NSW’. More specifically, Matilda is a fine artist from the tiny town (population 454 at the 2011 census) of Geurie located on the main highway between Wellington and Dubbo.

She is also proprietor of the café, Bliss and Friends, and saviour of Banjo, the rescue dog who is her constant companion.

Earlier this month Matilda held her first exhibition at Mild Manners Gallery in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills. The exhibition opened at 6pm, and in the cosy space (47 m2) it was shoulder to shoulder to view Geurie Town – 35 works including landscapes, portraits, still life and works on paper.

It wasn’t the first time her work had appeared in Sydney. As a finalist of the 2015 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship, Matilda’s work, Wild Brassica was exhibited at the Brett Whiteley studio, but it was her first solo exhibition in the city.

By 6.15pm the number of red ‘sold’ stickers almost matched the number of artworks: a creditable effort considering potential buyers only saw the catalogue on the morning of the exhibition – and they had to be in attendance (or have a proxy) to purchase a work. By the close of the exhibition 10 days later only four works hadn’t sold.

Matilda spoke to Robyne Young about her decision not to sell works prior to the exhibition.

MJ: I made the choice to not sell works before the opening of the exhibition so that those attended would have the first opportunity to purchase. This way of selling is now uncommon because as consumers we think we can purchase anything at any time if we have the money.

I don’t feel comfortable selling my paintings from an image and price list only. They are so different in real life. I believe that art should be appreciated (whether or not with a view to purchase) in person where possible. And in my view that was what was special for me at the opening – seeing that art and especially painting can draw so many people to a place.

RY: You’ve studied law, but it seems you’re destined for a different path. But was your taking up of an artist’s life surprising to you?

MJ: I was a lawyer off and on for about five years. I am surprised when I think about it – that I’m a painter now. It’s something I always wanted to do but I never thought it could really happen for anyone. I will always paint now. I may have breaks and not earn much at times and might be unfavourable for long periods but I have a drive to push myself to always be challenged and improve.

RY: Matilda, you have no formal training, but are there artists who influence your work? Also can you articulate what their influence is?

MJ: I am most fond of the Impressionists approach to painting. Like taking something from real life and your own world, retaining its bones so that it still resembles the subject but adding yourself to it. I admire the combination of skill and style foremost. I therefore love Margaret Preston, and am currently reading about and looking at Horace Trenery.

I am taking a break from exhibiting for a little while to make sure that I don’t lose sight of my values as a person and to strengthen my skills as a painter.

RY: The exhibition in Sydney included portraits, landscapes, still life and works on paper. Do you approach these works differently?

I choose these subjects at the moment because they are subjects I can do from life and I am a representational painter. My technique is very similar for all subjects but still varies with each painting. I’m still learning and testing myself. Portraits are generally more considered for the entire painting session because I’m much more earnest about them looking like the person I’m painting.

RY: You’ve opened a café in Geurie, Bliss and Friends – such a comforting name … can you tell me about the business and the impact it has had on the town?

MJ: Opening the coffee shop had a huge impact on me and some impact on others … and also on the town. In the last year I definitely feel like there’s more hope generally going around – it’s very tough to make it as a small regional town but I am seeing that Geurie is thinking it’s only going to grow and not shrink at the moment. For me it has turned the town into my friendship and family circle and made me feel like anyone can contribute, and that contribution can come in so many different shapes.

RY: Matilda, you live in the Orana Arts Regional Arts Board. How has Orana Arts supported and/or promoted you and your work?

MJ: My friend works for Orana Arts and this made me feel more confident tapping into their opportunities and asking questions all the time. But as a whole I’ve been supported for two years as a painter and trying different things before anyone outside of the area had even heard of me. They still follow and support my work and I am so grateful. It’s nice knowing they know me not just as a painter but as a person too.

RY: I understand that you were discovered on Instagram by communications consultant Amber Creswell. What was your response to being approached by Amber?

MJ: I was ready to say yes to anything and I wanted to be more widely peer reviewed. I did not have any connections outside of my local area so I was ready to be picked up and run with. Amber was perfect for that.

RY: Coming back to Geurie Town, the exhibition was very well received and there was a definite buzz among the crowd – and even a few celebrities. Did this response surprise you?

MJ It did. This whole year has been astounding. In a short time through different publications and other people promoting my work I’ve had an incredible response. I have not had a collectors’ response – more of a response from the people.

I have been painting away in a tiny town and not thinking I’m getting anywhere but what I paint and the way I paint seems to resonate with a lot of people … it might be a nostalgia for the natural, simple and homely.

About the opening – I have had a lot of decisions to make this year about how to go forward and I find this so difficult. I am torn between wanting to be among the greatest painters of my era and wanting to make sure that I make choices that reflect my own values. My values are not in accordance with selling only to people who can afford art. Or painting only what is most pleasing to people at the time.

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Matilda has produced a range of Weed Calendars for 2016. Details about the calendars, Matilda and her artwork at matildajulian.com.au

Matilda has been a semi-finalist in the Doug Moran Portrait Prize (2015); finalist 2013 Portia Geach Prize (2013); NSW Plein Aire Prize (2013); Caleen Art Award (2014) and Norvill Art Prize for Landscapes (2012 and 2014). Her work has been featured in The Planthunter (March 2015) ; Daily Imprint (June 2015) and Country Style magazine (July 2015).