Anna Fitzpatrick - We Are Inspired

There are people that cross your path in life that instantly make you feel at ease. Their warmth and generosity, willingness to share and connect with others means that you instantly fall in love with them. Anna Fitzpatrick is one of these individuals. Not only an incredible artist whose work inspires us and many others, but also a mother, partner, sister, daughter, friend and much more. We had the pleasure of connecting in her studio surrounded by her beautiful artworks talking as if we had known each other for many years. It was so beautiful to discover her journey that ultimately led to the artist she is today. We hope you enjoy reading through her background, creative process, and ways in which she finds balance in today’s world. 

Can you tell us about your background and how it shaped your current passions?

I grew up in Eltham, a beautiful spot on the Yarra River characterized by tall gums, native gardens and bush blocks. Eltham was full of creatives. Our neighbours were architects, artists, musicians and intellectuals all passionate about pursuing these vocations. The surrounding landscape was intensely beautiful and formative. It is no accident that these artistic communities sprang up there. When we were living there, John Reid died and he gifted his home to the state, and Heide Museum of Modern Art opened its doors. Mum used to take my sisters and I on trips to Heide to see the exciting works of the Australian Art School. In general, our days were spent outdoors, fossicking the native garden (my parents were avid gardeners) taking walks, catching tadpoles in the pond and soaking up the environment.

At sixteen I got a scholarship to study overseas at the National Cathedral School in Washington DC, an elite private school full of offspring of politicians and diplomats. The school had a wonderful art department who took us on regular excursions to see the international exhibitions coming through the National art galleries. My brain expanded.  The Smithsonian and The Phillips Collection were favourites with astounding collections - whole rooms of Rothkos, Matisses, Picassos, Pollocks -all of these artworks which I had long poured over in art books were revealed to me in vivid colour and monolithic scale.

I came back to Australia knowing I wanted to be an artist. The Art Department at Geelong College were hugely supportive of me and helped me to put on my first exhibition at Geelong College to give me some experience.

What feels like a current theme for 2021? Is there anything specific that you’re working towards?

At the moment, I’m working towards a solo show at Handmark Gallery in Hobart. Growing up we went hiking as a family trip each year and this continued into adulthood, walking some of the great trails in Australia and New Zealand. When you’re hiking everything is reduced to the essentials. You’re carrying all of your provisions in a pack on your back, you’re scrambling up a mountain you’re huffing and puffing away thinking, ‘Just keep going. Don’t stop.’ You realize you have lungs that breathe and a heart that beats. You feel wonder and pain and you are aware of your senses. What a glorious gift! Then you reach the summit, slither your leaden pack off your back, drag yourself onto a rock and look out at the infinite view and the world opens up in-front of you. Tasmania was the destination that drew us back time and time again, a place where the terrain is endlessly diverse, and the world is awash with colours and vibrating with the humming frequencies of insects and animals. Even the names of the places we went were poetic ‘The Walls of Jerusalem’ ‘Cradle Mountain’ ‘The Bay of Fires’. After decades of traversing the Tasmanian landscape I have come to the conclusion that it’s time to paint it.

What inspires you most? What do you draw from when creating your pieces?

Music, poetry, and the natural landscape are all great triggers for me. I have no real understanding of the great mysteries of the universe, but I believe nature is the ultimate creator. And all I need do  to feel inspired is to put down the phone and walk out the door and be in the landscape with open eyes and an open mind.

Seeing the work of other artists has the same effect for me. I vividly remember seeing a retrospective of Brett Whiteley as a teenager and walking into the room with his huge painting ‘American Dream’  expanding over the wall, which gave me the intense urge to paint.

When do you feel most like yourself? When do you feel off-centre and what helps you to feel balanced again?

Being cooped up inside for hours without natural light or fresh air bends me right out of shape. A blustering walk around the bluff in the wind always breathes new life into me. Swimming in the sea. Running. A cup of tea also seems to be a cure-all for solving all of life’s great problems.

Can you elaborate on a formative experience you had in nature that shifted something in your life?

I remember getting caught in a storm on one of my first ever walks to Mount Feathertop. I must have been around six or seven at the time. The radar indicated clear skies and temperate weather when we set out and I can remember lying in an alpine meadow lunching in the sun moments before the clouds converged over us and rain started slamming into the earth with shocking force. We were drenched within seconds. The theatre of it all generated a visceral fear in me which I’d not experienced before. And as the knowledge dawned on the adults in our group that we were hours from two points of refuge the mood changed instantly to one of serious practicality. All of us kids were shepherded along the track in a group while a few of the men ran ahead to the emergency hut with all the packs and then ran back to help us.  I remember standing stock still on the track unable to move and telling mum, ‘I can’t feel my hands anymore.’ Many of us were suffering from exposure by the time we made it to safety. And the small emergency hut was filled with 20 people shoulder to shoulder across the floor. I remember it as a scary experience which gave me a new respect for the raw potency of the natural elements and drummed home the insignificance of humans in such a landscape.

 Can you tell us about a habit that serves you well?

I routinely spend 15 minutes before I go to bed at night mulling over my current works and formulating ideas about how to resolve them. I’m a believer that my brain does some of its best work when I’m asleep! The cogs keep turning, ideas percolate and permeate. The subconscious is a wonderful thing. Often if I’m thinking about a problem before falling asleep I’ll wake up and magically know what to do in the morning.

What is a recent conversation with a friend that stuck with you?

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago about a retrospective of Hilma af Klint, which is coming to the Gallery of New South Wales, and it’s got me determined to get there and see it. I first heard about her work when I was visiting my sister in NYC and this very exhibition had just finished at the Guggenheim. Hilma af Klint is a Swedish artist and spiritualist who produced a huge number of exquisite abstract works around the turn of the 20th Century but hid them all away in secret and insisted that they were only to be revealed post-mortem, believing that viewers of her time were not ready for what she had created. And these paintings are monolithic in size and ground-breaking in substance. Enormous canvases with radiant colour combinations psychedelic shapes, imbued with symbolism and spiritualism. She created all these artworks in an era of limited creative freedom for women and her works pre-date the first abstract works by Kandinsky, who is considered the father of Abstraction. This is huge for the art world and entirely recontextualizes modern art history.

We highly recommend following Anna Fitzpatrick on Instagram if you are not already.

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