Home as Inspiration and Textural Ventures in Painting

We caught up with leading expressionist and still life painter Sally West to discuss her success as an artist and the role of home in her recent painting series, Lizzie Beach.

The paintings boasts a unique elegance, with striking textual surfaces created through thick palette knife-applied brush strokes, resulting in idyllic, pastel illustrations of Sydney’s picturesque shores. Sally takes much of her inspiration from nature and stresses the importance of having an emotional connection to her subjects.

THE PLUS: Your work is known for its unique textural surface and pastel colours. How did you reach the style that fits you best?

Sally West: I have been experimenting with oil paints since I was 13. In the mid 90s I lived in the bush on my own and had no easy access to supplies, so when I ran out of brushes, I made do with a palette knife. Without realising it, I began to load more and more paint on because it is easier to do so with a knife, and my work became textured.

TP: What is your process like and how does this differ between portraits and landscape paintings?

SW: I used to work from photographs but I now prefer to paint portraits with the sitter in front of me. I can capture the moment and personality more easily.

When painting landscapes I like to be there in person. I set up on location and create a direct and spontaneous response to the environment, which is actually very similar to portraiture.

TP: Your series Lizzie Beach beautifully captures the Australian coast’s atmosphere. Is having a personal connection to your subject of importance?

SW: Absolutely. I only paint where I want to be. I have a deep connection to the land on which I grew up, and the ocean more generally. So it’s where I am drawn to work.

The beach, water and the outdoors more generally are prominent themes in your work. What significance does nature hold for you? I grew up on a farm so I was always in the outdoors, working with my family, mustering sheep and riding horses and motorbikes. Working inside for too long makes me feel quite confined, I prefer being in the open air. It’s just where I’m meant to be I think.

TP: If you had the choice, what would be your perfect day? Would it involve painting?

SW: Of course! My perfect day would be a hearty breakfast, drive to the studio, pack my car, grab a coffee, find a great location, set up, paint, return to the studio. Unload my work, return home, enjoy a good meal, some wine and my beautiful children.

TP: Within the current crisis many people have found themselves with more time on their hands than before, and have turned to new hobbies such as painting. Do you have any tips and suggestions for those looking to try their hand but struggling with where to begin?

SW: My mother was one of these people. She asked me to teach her but I didn’t know how. All I did was give her a set of water colours, some pencils, and suggested where and how she set up. She hasn’t looked back since. She almost paints as much as me now! Her work is lovely. I just keep encouraging her.

TP: What do you want to paint this summer?

SW: I am obsessed with the beach as you may be aware. I am planning to paint more of it. I’m also looking for new perspectives and new locations to work from.