Thursday, July 1, 2010

At Home... with Artist Lizzie Buckmaster Dove

Artist Lizzie Buckmaster Dove is described in her most recent catalogue essay in the words of American writer and curator Lucy Lippard as ‘a nomad with a serially monogamous passion for place’. It is this juxtaposition between a desire to be home and a desire to be away that has fuelled her creative life.

‘I have always been a nomad – it was inflicted upon me as a child and then it must have gotten into my bones as I have continually chosen movement.’

Growing up in country Victoria and NSW, Lizzie has also lived in Sydney, London and Spain. ‘There is something in me that compels me to move. My husband and I describe ourselves as compulsive travellers. We will, at the drop of a hat be off. We have an enormous appetite for new experiences of people and place.’

After finishing art school, Lizzie worked in creative fields for a decade but not as an artist. In 2005, the couple was living in Spain with one son and another on the way. It was during this year that a couple of major life events occurred: a month before becoming a mother for the second time, her father died.

‘This really brought to the fore my own mortality and it gave me the opportunity to examine my creative life. I realized that although I defined myself as an artist I had never said it out loud and didn’t feel as though I had the right to because to the outside world there was no evidence of it. I was kidding myself.’

Soon after, planning to return to Australia to live, Lizzie’s husband Mike put voice to her thoughts, ‘he said to me that when we returned to Australia I shouldn’t get a job, I should make art. I was dumbfounded and overwhelmed and tearfully replied “… you really understand me”. He has continued to be an enormous support and champion of my practice.’

Living in three countries has had profound impact on Lizzie’s art: it defines it. Being away from her homeland gave her the opportunity to see the Australian identity, as a culture and as an individual, in a different light.

Cacophony: Rip Rack Roar Rumble

‘When we returned to Australia it was as if I had never taken notice of my natural surroundings before – the flora and fauna appeared so harsh and aggressive. I had empathy for how hard it must have been for the early colonialists to settle here as well as how inappropriate it was for them to impose their culture upon this wild dry continent.’

The Shape of Things

Following her return, she created her first show based on this premise. Exhibited with NG Art Gallery in Sydney, it was named Into the Woods; an inversion of out of the woods and it was all about coming home. ‘I literally felt as though I was diving into a knowing of this land, and through that a knowing of myself. It was my first solo show since having enacted a professional practice so it was also the action of going deep into the unconscious of my own creativity. (And I was not afraid!).’

Cacophony: Toot Tweet Twitter Trill

Since that first show Lizzie has gone on to create many others, all focussing on work that explores identity, connection and place with direct reference to Britain, Spain and Australia; those countries which have shaped her and her family. ‘I think I have always desired to belong to a ‘place’. I think it is a very human desire.’

Lizzie’s early years were spent on a cherry orchard farm in Gruyere, at the foothills of the Dandenongs in Victoria. With grandparents living on one side and her aunt and uncle on the other, Lizzie wonders whether being surrounded by family fuelled this ‘passion for place’.

Being a ‘country girl at heart’ and after a long stint in London, Lizzie and her husband felt ready to live out of a city on their return to Australia. Lizzie had always loved the Illawarra escarpment in NSW and after a drive through it one weekend, her husband was equally impressed. They now live in this area, surrounded by nature. ‘We have the escarpment, bush and sea at our feet. It is very grounding to be locating our family in this setting. After many years of travelling, we are putting down roots. From this grounded place, I feel as though we can continue to explore other places but that we have a real sense of place to return to, a place in which we belong.’

Lizzie’s latest body of work focuses on this connection to place. An interactive project, Tide Project, Things to be Forgotten, is about identity, connection and place. It sprung as an idea after a trip to Mexico in 2008, ‘While in a supermarket I stumbled upon a stand of paint swatch cards coloured a most extraordinary range, which seemed to encapsulate the Mexican identity. I became intrigued by the concept that the range of colours available in paint could represent the identity of a culture.’

Towards the end of 2009, Lizzie travelled back to Britain, where her first son was born and Spain, the birthplace of her second, looking for swatch cards. ‘In Britain I found Farrow & Ball where the colours are demure and subtly graded, in Spain, Arts & Claus that are bold and strong and in Australia, (where her third child will soon be born) Taubmans where the colours encompass an entire spectrum from pastel to bold.’ All coincidentally colours which seemed to define each country’s identity.

For one lunar month, beginning with the new moon on January 15 and ending on February 13 2010, Lizzie’s friends Anna in London and Chris in Barcelona emailed daily a photograph of a piece of ‘flotsam or jetsam along a daily route’. From these images Lizzie cut a silhouette through each of the three sets of swatch cards. ‘The backbone to the project was about connection and place. Perhaps the biggest connection experienced by all of us was a connection to place. The project insisted we interact with the place we were in. For Anna and Chris this was the city, for me, it was predominantly the beach and nature.’

Tide Project, Things to be Forgotten, Australia ii

Tide Project, Things to be Forgotten, Britain ii

Tide Project, Things to be Forgotten, Spain ii

While a connection to many places fuels Lizzie’s work, she also says, ‘I have always loved being at ‘home’ and long to be settled and in a routine. As an artist, ‘home’ is the solid base from which I can create. It is by having the support of a loving family that I am able to and have the confidence to make art.’

Speaking as a wife and mother, ‘home is a place of refuge. It is a place from where my children garner their values and morals and from where I hope they have the confidence to be truly themselves.’ When asked which area of her house most says ‘home’ to Lizzie, she answers that it would have to be her sons’ bedrooms, ‘If they are not happy, I can’t be happy.’

But it’s belonging to a ‘place’ that is more complicated for Lizzie, ‘I think you can create a ‘home’ anywhere. ‘Home’ is something that is transportable as long as you have the right ingredients. I found I could be away for a while but eventually I grew tired of always longing and thinking back to Australia. I felt divided. Our existence in the UK and Spain could sometimes feel as though it didn’t penetrate the surface; that our lives were on hold. It could only be remedied by returning here.’

Given the need to be away from her homeland to create it is no surprise that Lizzie is quick to add ‘This isn’t to say we will not leave again! Though I suspect we would never give up our base here. We would make it very easy to step back into.’

*Photo of Lizzie taken by Miho Watanabe for NG Art Gallery; all other photos © Lizzie Buckmaster Dove

For more information about Lizzie's art, visit

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