Sylvia McEwan is an expressionistic Australian painter whose work we have long revelled. As the mother of Tigmi director Danielle McEwan, Sylvia has no doubt nurtured her daughter's appreciation and eye for art and design with artwork that skates between the figurative, landscape, still life and abstract, and is heavily influenced by form. Sylvia's intuitive flair for applying layers of colour and texture in exquisite ways on canvas, all the while making it look effortless and spontaneous, is the result of a long love and dedication to her practice.
How did begin your artistic career, and have there been any highlights?
I was born in Melbourne and it was following a move to Sydney in the 80’s that I began my artistic exploration firstly in sculpture, working in marble and limestone whilst at the same time undertaking an extensive study of life drawing. After moving to Brisbane, I completed a visual arts studies majoring in sculpture, and under the direction of William Robinson and Joe Furlonger, was introduced to painting – and I was hooked.
I’m now based in Sydney and unfortunately my studio isn’t large enough to accommodate practicing sculpture but works really well for painting so the transition has been relatively easy for me.
Since 1996, I have had 18 solo exhibitions throughout USA, Australia and the UK. I guess the highlight of my career would have had to be when my painting ‘Whistlers Mother’ was selected as a finalist in the Sulman Prize 2003.
'Seated Figure' - fired clay, 1983 / Untitled No. 36, 37, 38 & 39, 2018
How do these two mediums lend themselves to different types of expression? Do you prefer either one?
I can’t really separate the two mediums. Each medium, I find, overlaps the other. Sculpture has definitely informed and directed my figurative work on canvas. There is weight in my sculptures that carry through to the figurative paintings. Figures in my paintings, have the weight of my sculpture.
Abstract is the ultimate form of painting, and I’m trying to reduce my work to pure abstraction without any subject matter whatsoever. I never start with an idea that this is what this is – the surface of the painting is the most important to me. How it looks, how it feels, does it need more tension between this colour and that colour.
Work by Sylvia from The Conversation Series 1 / 'Blue Female Figure' - enamel on steel, 2011
What is it that inspires you to pick up a paint brush again and again?
Inspiration comes from working each day. Focusing on the painting process, finding new ways of mark making. Over time there are small breakthroughs that enable me to move forward and occasionally something wonderful happens. That makes it all worthwhile and I can’t wait to capture that moment in the next painting. Sometimes it’s the panic of ‘have I gone too far’ with just one stroke too many. Finding that balance makes me keep trying to obtain it.
Do you have any artistic muses?
My artistic development has been fueled by the love for the New York School of Abstract Expressionists, especially William De Kooning's strong figurative work. Also the work of the San Francisco Bay figurative artists, Richard Diebenkorn in particular and of course the genius of Picasso, Cezanne and Matisse who early in the 20th Century broke all the rules and paved the way for modern art.
How do you think art impacts the way someone feels in their home?
Art creates a very personal space, allowing one to feel surrounded by an environment that is uniquely themselves.
If you were to choose one of your artworks to influence your interiors scheme at home, which one would it be and why?
I would have to say that 'Three Graces Series IV' has all the ingredients that I like to surround myself within my home. A range of subtle colours to add warmth. They are very much the colours of the interior of my home.
Three Graces Series IV by Sylvia McEwan
What objects in your home could you not live without?
My eclectic collection of stunning handmade rugs from Tigmi Trading and the wall space to be able to hang my work among other artworks I have collected over the years.
What does ‘home’ mean to you?
Home has been many places for me over the years. But the constant will always be a feeling of warmth, love and comfort that allows one to feel welcoming and secure.
Some images by Chris Warnes from this Home Beautiful article.
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