On the second floor of the Convent building, with the door to his studio ajar, Melbourne artist Rick Matear can be seen painting a coastal landscape, a still life focusing on the season, or finding a muse in his partner and her installations. Finding inspiration in nature, Rick has carved out a home for his art practise at the Abbotsford Convent, with his studio just being a window away from its Heritage Gardens. As well as working on his pieces that are regularly exhibited at Collins Street Gallery Melbourne and various spaces in Sorrento, Rick teaches painting every Tuesday in his studio. We speak to Rick about his inspiration to create and to teach.
For the last few years you have been painting coastal areas, and now you’re painting still life. Why the change?
For the past 30 years I have painted areas in and around Sorrento and Portsea. Then last year I was invited as an artist in residence to Antibes in the south of France. This led to a group show at the Alliance Française de Melbourne and an overseas exhibition. In 2014 I had an exhibition of still life paintings of flowering fennel and onion plants along with plates of quince fruit. These were popular so this year I decided to concentrate on spring and summer flowering herbs and fruit grown in our garden. My favourite two paintings to date are of an old Roquefort tin from France filled with oranges and a beautiful old cream oval marble bowl my partner Nina picked up on her travels in India displaying overripe pineapples.
How do you stay motivated to paint the things you love the most?
When my partner Nina is not working, she relaxes by arranging vignettes around the house. I’m always delighted and intrigued when I arrive home to find another of her creations – foliage picked from the sides of a country road or large branches of salt bush from the coast – dramatic displays of oranges next to an overflowing vase of dark leafed loquat branches, as well as many objects she has collected while traveling. I’m inspired by what she has created and to her amusement I then photograph or sketch these compositions to paint.
Lately I have been having trouble keeping up painting her many arrangements. So many plants flower in spring and summer. I now have many photos to keep me going through the dark days of winter.
Do you feel the need to connect with reconnect with nature to keep feeling inspired by it?
As mentioned above, many of the plants in these arrangements are from our garden or locally sourced and in season. Occasionally I take the arrangements into my studio to photograph. I occasionally get a raised eyebrow from someone questioning whether I’ve picked these from the Convent garden.
Have you always worked in studio or do you also work en plein air?
I sometimes work outside. Though it is difficult if you are working on a large painting.
How important is the feel of the studio and its space when you’re working? You usually have your door open. You’re obviously comfortable with a bit of traffic.
The feel of a studio is important – such as the amount of light and especially being able to open a window for fresh air and to see trees and nature. I do occasionally close my door when I need to concentrate, however it can be isolating painting on your own so having my door open encourages people to come in and to find out what I’m up to. Occasionally another fellow artist will call in. It’s great to be able to see what we are working on. I’ve been inspired by architect, Frank O Gehry’s open workspace. People working there help one another by sharing ideas. I think that’s similar to the Abbotsford Convent.
I love being part of the open Convent community. My hours are structured in that I start each day at the studio at 9am and finish around 5.30pm. Most days at lunch time a group of fellow artist friends catch up. We often sit on the lawn under the large liquid amber tree having diverse conversations or Friday’s after work we could meet at Cam’s for a drink where we get to relax
Why did you start teaching painting?
I like to demystify painting with students. When painting, people can be overawed thinking it is too difficult. I try to make the difficult easy and the easy difficult.
What’s your approach to teaching? Do you lead by example or try and assess the student on their natural ability and go from there?
I empower the student by working out how they best work. For me drawing is the foundation of painting. There are different ways to draw, for example, measuring, seeing shapes in what you are painting, or seeing important lines that help. Drawing is like a puzzle. Each person has a different approach to drawing. To start each painting could require a different method of drawing.
Do most of your students have a common interest in landscape, seascape and still life, or are the images they create more varied?
My students’ interests vary greatly; landscapes, seascapes, still life and more. I endeavour to teach them about colour, the variety of brushes to use, ways to use a brush, along with different possible paint affects you create with acrylic or oil paint.
You usually teach in six-week brackets. What’s the benefit of weekly classes for this length of time, and what are your students usually trying to get out of the class?
A six-week term allows a student to finish one or more paintings over this period. Many students return for another set of lessons, either to continue on a painting or to apply what they’ve learnt to a new idea or composition. During my career I’ve been fortunate to have many good teachers who have inspired and helped shaped the way I paint – valuable advice that I use in my paintings every day. I draw on this advice to guide and support my students in their painting journey.
What do you find more rewarding, creating your own images, or seeing one of your students gain new talents and skills through your tutelage?
Seeing an image emerge is rewarding, whomever paints it.
Do you have any plans for new or existing works in 2017?
I’m organising a show for the recent still life body of work. It will be showing later this year.