Fish Carvings from Catherine Truman

One of our major releases for this year is the latest SALA monograph, Catherine Truman.

With a lush, evocative text from Melinda Rackham, this book delves into the fascinating world of Truman’s art.

One of her earliest series, the Fish Carvings, has echoes throughout her career.


Catherine Truman by Melinda Rackham


Truman’s first solo exhibition, Fish Carvings (1987), held at the Contemporary Jewellery Gallery in Sydney, intuitively articulates a feminist discourse of difference in conceptions of ageing and beauty. Carved in two woods – youthful pink fleshy Australian silky oak and wide-grained greying mangrove, embedded with steel and lead – her Fish sit with the body, present in their own right, rather than being absorbed into the portable gallery of the wearer’s body.

Acting as a counterpoint to the carvings, a grid of handcoloured black and white images of women (and some men) of all ages wear the pieces. As Truman is fond of mentioning, given the right nutrients fish do not appear to get older, rather they will continue growing to fill the space that contains them. Instead of deteriorating with lived experience, her ageing subjects radiate the beauty and individuality of a rich interior life. The National Gallery of Australia quickly acquired a neckpiece from this series.

Fish Carvings from Catherine Truman by Melinda Rackham

Image by Catherine Truman

Catherine Truman’s SALA Opening Address

One of the biggest pleasures of the SALA festival is hearing the keynote address from the featured artist.

Last year it was Giles Bettison on the importance of art. This year, Catherine Truman spoke to a packed house about the joys of ‘tadpoling’, and how important a sense of adventure and a strong work ethic are as an artist – or, indeed, a scientist.

Catherine’s very kindly shared her speech with us here. We agree with her – viva SALA! And, may we add, viva Catherine Truman!


Tadpoling at the Bench

Firstly, I to would like to acknowledge that we meet on Kaurna land and pay respect to their spiritual relationship with this country past, present and future.

Thanks everyone for being here tonight, especially my dear friends, family and colleagues who’ve travelled from far away places to share in the celebrations.

It is such an honour to address you tonight as the featured SALA artist for 2016 but this wonderful achievement has only been possible through the support, love and inspiration from a lot of other people and so firstly a few personal thank yous.

And then I’d like to tell you a little story – a story about tadpoling. In fact I’ve titled my address to you tonight Tadpoling at the Bench.


Catherine Truman addresses the crowds at SALA opening night

Catherine Truman addresses the crowds at SALA opening night


Thanks to the SALA committee and to Penny and Kate for their incredible commitment to this ever-growing phenomenon that is SALA and a nod to Paul Greenaway, the instigator, for his vision. To Arts South Australia and Wakefield Press for their support of the SALA publication especially Michael Bollen, Margot Lloyd and Clinton Ellicott. To Melinda Rackham for her intelligent, insightful, writing and to both Melinda and André Lawrence, our mentee on the project, for their commitment to getting it thoroughly right. And to Rachel Harris, our designer, for the magic she wove to bring together Melinda’s fine words and the many, many luscious images by Grant Hancock into such a magnificent book. We are all really proud of it. I hope you all enjoy it.

I never dreamed that having a book written about you would be quite so intense, quite so wonderful. We had to proof it a few weeks ago, and I must admit I felt very emotional holding the pages in my hands for the first time. I became so absorbed, I forgot I was meant to be proofing and by the end I was so excited I really wanted to rush back to the studio and make some more work. So that’s a good sign eh?

A special thanks to my Gray Street family, Jess Dare and the gang for keeping me afloat through thick and thin and to my lifelong partner Sue Lorraine for her patience, sage advice and rock solid love.

And to the people at the coalface of Arts South Australia and the Australia Council, for your professional support and for believing in my practice.

The Art Gallery of South Australia has held such an important place in my growth as an artist. I do feel that it is embedded in my DNA. It is deeply satisfying to present such a large body of work in this gallery. It’s a great honour. Thanks Nick Mitzevich and Lisa Slade for their chutzpah and commitment to showing live and kicking practising South Australian Artists and Rebecca Evans the curator of European and Australian decorative arts. My exhibition was her first major project in her new position at the Art Gallery of South Australia and she hit the ground running with grace and elegance and it has been a pleasure to work with her. Thanks to all of the install and registry staff too, especially Jess and the crew who had to document well over 300 objects for the show!

So you can see I haven’t sustained my long career without the support of many others and I thank them from my heart.

Now to my tadpoling story and I promise it’s short and sweet.

I want to tell you about an image that’s in the book being launched tonight.

When I was seven my dad took a picture of me tadpoling in National Park. In this picture – a 35 mm Kodak slide, the kind with the cardboard mount – I seem completely unaware of either the camera or my dad for that matter. There I am standing in the creek, brown Bermuda shorts, scrawny little legs covered in mud with a blue plastic strainer in my hand, bent over, absolutely focussed on the water, poised, ready to pounce on some poor unsuspecting taddy. Mum’s shade-house was forever croaking as I was growing up. Every time I look at that photo I relive those moments of complete bliss, of absorption, and curiosity, the thrill of discovery and the deep pleasure of pursuit. And I’m really pleased that forty-three years later this picture appears in the beginning pages of the book because it still resonates on many levels.

When I create work I touch base with tadpoling. Hunting and gathering is integral with my daily practice of making art. It’s full of challenging and difficult and delicious experiences of absolute absorption, deep focus and pursuit. Connecting with the wider world – observing, listening, learning, staying open, interacting, engaging and exchanging – is critical to being an artist. It provides context and meaning. I actively seek out contact with others, mostly scientists because they like to go tadpoling too, and I like to think the world is a better place because of the creative exchanges we have. I’ve been artist in residence in the School of Medicine and the biomedical laboratories of Flinders University for several years now and learnt firsthand that there are rich parallels between art and science. Full-time practise in either field is mostly a day-to-day slog and some days, there is nothing tangible to show for it. But we both agree, it’s the slog that’s compelling and fruitful and wonderful. Now I can better understand and embrace the chaos and rhythms embedded in my day-to-day creative processes. This time next year the JamFactory will be presenting a solo exhibition of my art/science project works.

The wonderful South Australian painter Deidre But-Husaim put up a post on Facebook recently, a quote by Chuck Close. He said:

The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.

I couldn’t have said it any better. And I learnt that through tadpoling at the bench and working with scientists.

This is wise advice, but it seems that the nitty gritty part of creative practise is not always understood by the consumers of art or the powers that be – those powers that have just been narrowly re-elected for example. Enough said. It is usually romanticised and separated from real life. So it is vital we put voice to the day-to-day creative processes of full-time practice and take advantage of SALA to give us that important voice

In rounding this up, when I think about my dad sneaking up on me to take that photo of me blissfully tadpoling in that muddy creek in National park, I feel incredibly moved that he recognised the substance of the moment and that he cared enough to record it for posterity.

I hope you all get to do a little tadpoling yourselves this SALA.

Please visit my show upstairs and Melinda and I are now going to be happily signing books in the foyer, please come up and say hello!

Thank you and viva SALA!


Book cover

Catherine Truman: Touching distance

Giles Bettison on the state of the arts

This year, Giles Bettison was the SA Living Artists Festival’s featured artist and the subject of our beautiful monograph.

Giles made a speech that brought the house down on opening night, and he’s kindly allowed us to share a bit of it with you here …

Good evening everyone. Tonight I would like to acknowledge the Kaurna people, whose land our ancestors occupied and on whose land we are standing now.

It is an amazing honour to be the featured artist for the 2015 SALA monograph. I never imagined that there would be a book about my work: it’s amazing and a bit overwhelming. Part of the price I have to pay for that honour is that I get to give this address tonight.

I never thought anyone would let me loose on a crowd like this. […]

Being recognised in South Australia and Adelaide like this is a very humbling experience. I hope that Margot Osborne and my contribution to this great series of documents will be both a useful addition to our South Australian cultural history as well as to artists and crafters alike all over the world. The opportunity to chronicle my work in the monograph is of inestimable value to me and I hope to the rest of the art and glass appreciating public.

I want to share with you ways that I think about the glass things I make and how I think about art. The things that keep me going and what I see as important things about art and what it does.

One of the things that I think art is for is to engage people. Art is a tool to help us to see ourselves and our world. More than ever, in these busy times people look without seeing, which is sad and dangerous. There is so much to see and know around us; we need to recognise it for our health and the health of others, our souls if you like.

Art helps us to know our world and engage with it. It gives us a different perspective than our own. It is people making representations of things and telling stories, something we have done for millennia. It shows we are seeing and thinking, that we are engaged.

We notice art because it is a different point of view than our own, it can take us outside ourselves and be a point of contact with others. We can see the difference between what we see and the perception of other people. It is also a perception of time. When you really see art you become part of a discussion about different ways of seeing things. When we are engaged and connected like this we are better able to care and to take care. With art the conversation begins and the dialogue goes on – if you let it …

In our high-tech and hyper-connected world people are more disconnected and disengaged than ever. Increasingly people are overloaded by the speed and intensity of the barrage of information being slung at us, most of it arbitrary and irrelevant at best. The so-called social media is actually anti-social media. People are interacting with screens more and more and interacting with actual people and things and their environment less and less. I have been to parks, restaurants and art galleries where most of the people there are on their devices, not interacting with each other. It’s tragic. It’s like they’re blind.

The more disconnected and disengaged we are, the easier it becomes to make decisions that don’t take the care of other people into consideration. We become isolated. It becomes easier to make decisions that are informed by fear and misunderstanding that do not have broad positive outcomes. I’ve experienced how destructive people working this way can be. I think we have all seen it and are aware of it.

It seems to me that there is a trend for people to isolate themselves from other people and from their environment. We need to engage and to commit to each other and to turn this trend around.

There are a whole bunch of things that happen when you are engaged by art. When you listen to a piece of music that moves you, you get tingles down your spine and your hair stands up. Your brain and body are being activated and it is usually a very good experience. I experience this when I attend great music concerts. At the beginning of the show we are just people trying to get to our seats or to a good position close to the band, but at the end of the show when we have all shared this expanding musical experience together and as we are all leaving, I feel a kind of connection to everyone. I imagine that my fellow concert goer feels this also. We have all shared the same experience and had similar uplifting feelings and everything feels right. We’re connected.

I have similar experiences with visual art. It can happen in nature, in crowds, in many ways in many different situations, but art specifically is the gift of people trying to elicit this connection and engagement a discussion with other people – one of our survival tools I believe.

When we are moved by art it is exercising our engagement muscle. The more we have these experiences and recognise them the better we are able to attain and maintain this condition. When we are in this state we are empathetic, we are more likely to make smart and caring choices. Art is good for the environment.

One of the important things about art and artists, this art gallery and all other galleries, is that they are places where discussions and engagement can happen. There is all the potential to engage and to be present and to give back. We need to engage and we need to make careful and compassionate choices.

SALA was and is visionary. It gives a huge cross section of artists across South Australia a valuable opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the broader public, a very important thing. I hope there are all kinds of discussions started and carried on as a result. We are all here to celebrate this kind of positive dialogue.

So, on that note please look and please think, please care and please speak.
Enjoy this event and as many other SALA events as you can.

This part of tonight’s entertainment is over. Thank you.


To read more about Giles and purchase his monograph, head over here.

Delicious food and gorgeous art writers

The SALA Festival is almost upon us, and we’re celebrating art writers over at Wakefield!

At the top of the particularly excellent list is the SALA Writing Art Literary Dinner, and you’re all invited, just by the way —

SALA Writing Art Literary Dinner invite

Good food, good company, interesting conversation – can you go wrong?

Oh, and about that food – let me show you a peek of the menu so you know what I’m talking about:

SALA Writing Art Literary Dinner menu