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Once Was the River Page - Two Sides to a River


Pictured: Hanna Kay (standing at back) guides the nine artists in the ‘Once Was the River Page’ project. Image credit: Mandy Archibald

In a town like Murrurundi you usually have to have lived there for 35 years to be considered a local but Israeli born artist, Hanna Kay, believes her willingness to be an active participant in the community, and in particular highlighting the importance of the Page River has led to an earlier claim to the title.

Hanna and her husband found their five acres of country near Murrurundi in 2000 and established their home and longed-for studio. Her work is favoured by a number of regional galleries as well as the Janet Clayton Gallery in Sydney. Hanna has also had exhibitions in Israel, Europe and the US. A major exhibition, Undertow, commissioned by the Maitland Regional Art Gallery and inspired by the old Jewish cemetery in Maitland, toured Regional Art Galleries and Museums in Victoria, NSW and Queensland from 2009 to 2012.

‘I feel like I have been adopted by this community and have formed such a great relationship with the regional galleries in the area including Muswellbrook and Maitland,’ she says.

She returned from China this week where she has been on an artist’s residency, and already there is interest in her developing an exhibition of work from this trip. Nothing is confirmed as yet, but a new exhibition of her work is scheduled for Muswellbrook Gallery in 2015. Her exhibition Trajectory closed at the gallery earlier this month.

Hanna studied art in her hometown of Tel Aviv and later, Vienna Austria. Once in Australia, she received a BA in Semiotics and Philosophy at the University of Sydney. She has practised as an artist in Tel-Aviv and New York.

She doesn’t usually run workshops, but was attracted to this Country Arts Support Project (CASP) that set out to create visual representations of a rehabilitated river to help raise community awareness and consolidate community aspirations for the local environment.

Successful CASP recipient, Murrurundi District Arts Council organised the workshops and soon identified local artists to be involved.

Nine artists participated and were each challenged to present two sides of the life of the river on two 60cm x 60cm canvases: its health and vitality to be represented in colour and its denigration in black and white.

This wasn’t Hanna’s first involvement with a project with the Pages River at its heart: she was heavily involved in the award winning Turning the Pages project which brought art, science and the local community together to celebrate the significance of the river within the Upper Hunter Region.

She was a natural choice for the Once There Was a River Page project.

‘For this project in the first workshop we walked along the river taking photographs, developing ideas and sketching and in the second workshop the artists were guided in developing and executing their chosen ideas onto the canvas,’ Hanna says.

‘Between September when we held the workshops and the exhibition opening this week the artists have worked on their pieces, so it will be very interesting to see how they have been developed,’ she says.

One of the participating artists, Murrurundi’s Jean Davies says in her artist’s statement for her two works, The Pages Decline and Pages Refreshed Murrurundi artist, the Pages River is ‘…the lifeblood of the beautiful valley and essential to the village of Murrurrundi and the farmers along its length.

‘The village relies on its water which is pumped directly from a natural waterhole to maintain supply. In 2014 an algae affected dam water rendering it totally unusable. The hole in the river was enlarged and the rubble removed was dumped along the edges a concern for inevitable future flooding.’

Meanwhile, Muswellbrook’s Naomi Norris, says as a recent arrival to the Upper Hunter she found herself fairly challenged to produce two paintings that would suit the concept of ‘Use and Abuse of the Pages’.

‘During my research I found out a bit about past and current activities, the Indigenous peoples, the horse and farming industries, the extraction of shale and proposals to mine coal and how the townsfolk have managed to stall and hopefully put an end to the proposals,’ Naomi says.

‘In Misty Morning I attempted to tie these ideas together while Silent Witness was painted with the idea that the trees and rocks have been witness to a long history of use and abuse of the Pages.’

Work by Glenda Stace, Robyn Marheine, Fran Wachtel, Roberta Wiseman, Margaret Lonergan and Charlotte Drake-Brockman is also included in the exhibition.

Peter Carlin, owner of Haydon Hall Art Gallery where the works will be exhibited, says he is very happy to be involved in bringing the work to the public.

Haydon Hall Art Gallery was established in late 2007 to promote and showcase ceramics, paintings, glass and other art works from regional and national artists with special exhibitions held on an ongoing basis throughout the year.

Once Was the River Page opens today and continues to 14 December 2014. Hanna will officially open the exhibition on Saturday, 29 November at 3pm.