Chelsea Gustafsson - Society & Environment
Barwon Heads is a coastal township near Geelong, one which has always been a surprising focal point for random Australian nostalgia. Home to a decent flake, Cadel Evans, and not to mention Diver Dan’s shed (Sea Change reference anyone?) the town also boasts a more creative asset amidst the nostalgia.
Chelsea Gustafsson is an immensely versatile and detail orient artist within the area. Growing up in local Victoria before the move to Barwon Heads, Chelsea draws upon motif’s circulating around Society & Environment. Words by Bree Stewart for Melbourne Arts Club. Images courtesy of artist.
Chelsea, your artwork explores the notion of society and environment. Walk me through how you approach your art on the daily.
A sense of an idea, bubbles up as a vague, conscious thought when my head has a bit of breathing space - usually like when I'm walking the dog or lying in bed trying to nod off to sleep. No kids, no screens or other distractions - a bit of daydreaming time. In amongst all the nonsense thoughts some just stick or niggle away and kind of organically develop into an image I want to get down and explore. And since a lot of the things that are often on loop in my head are of concern for how this planet works, or doesn’t, they often seem to influence a theme to my work.
Is art an outlet for your mental health?
Absolutely! I'm a pain in the butt and a bit on edge if I'm not making something. It's my zen zone. It's almost the only time I'm not attempting to multi-task my way through the day - which for me, means doing several things ineffectively at once.
Oil painting by Chelsea Gustafsson
Microscapes was an incredibly impressive collection exhibiting a series of oil paintings on linen, what was the concept behind this assemblage of work?
That one seems like yonks ago now! I had a 2 year old and an 8 month old and thought I'd throw an exhibition into the mix, as you do. One thing having kids did was restrict my physical creative space, so I just scaled down the size of my work. This complimented the microscape idea, where I painted these tiny, formalised environments that had a sense of unease: a cracked terrarium, a goat head-butting a concrete vase with a thorny sprig of flowers. People love to conquer and formalise spaces, but the world is bigger than us. Whether it's cockatoos tearing up gardens, or bacteria mutating into super bugs… Cause and effect.
Thorny Paradise, microscapes exhibition, by Chelsea Gustafsson
Being a native of Barwon Heads (Bellarine Peninsula), how does the environment down the coast affect the art?
I've been here for 12 years but still feel kind of new to the area, possibly something to do with having a tendency to live and work in my little bubble. I grew up in rural Vic so the open spaces are home to me. My old buddy, Sport (our dog) and I go for walks a couple of times a day. I love having a wander and daydream without the daily distractions, it gives my head a bit of space to let whatever thoughts need to bubble come to the surface.
You’re a parent, any interest from the little ones in becoming an Artist like Mum?
Yup. My daughter often tries to knock out a drawing before breaky! We have boxes and tape and artworks coming out of our ears. And just like her Mama she's a bit of a "collector". Both kids love a bit of art'n'craft and it's pretty entertaining what little gems they come up with!
What’s it like putting on a show, particularly your exhibition at Boom Gallery in Geelong?
It starts with a concept or narrative of sorts, but the most painful part of putting together a show is actually writing up the artist statement. And it’s a race to get all the works done by the deadline (minus time for drying, varnishing and framing). I try to work to a schedule and meet goals on the calendar (often the goals are a little unrealistic). Boom Gallery are fabulous though, so supportive and tolerant!
Awkward Observer, oil on circular board, by Chelsea Gustafsson.
Are there any other artists/musicians in culture who inspire you?
Rothko’s and Twombly’s giant, airy, breathy paintings, I can just get lost in. An assortment of realist painters, but Van Minnen has a lovely, cheeky, “eeew” element to his work. And Roberto Ferri paints with a magic wand.
What words of wisdom have you got for aspiring artists?
All that self-doubt doesn't go away, but it can be used to better yourself and your craft. It's just a matter of balancing the critic in your head with a few pats on the back from yourself. Keep at it consistently. It’s so easy to get out of practice, it’s like losing your hand-eye fitness. Not all steps to creating something are fun, some of it is tedious or just really tricky. Push through, finishing is always the reward and makes you want to get started on the next piece.
Bree Stewart: Instagram & twitter: @breezuslives