Rosemary Wilson was born in Albury in 1964 and moved to Sydney as a young adult in search of artistic direction. Accepted at the Darlinghurst TAFE College for a two-year drawing certificate Wilson reluctantly abandoned her studies after a year when an opportunity presented itself to travel to remote East Arnhem Land with the Pilot.
Wilson immersed herself in a culture which was quite foreign and far removed from her previous western urban existence but it was a place of beauty and culture, in which she thrived.
“Living in Arnhem Land in an aboriginal community for two years was a valuable experience and one I will always cherish and be thankful for.”
This opportunity formed the basis of Wilson’s artistic expression, which ultimately gave her significant insight to the symbolism of storytelling through art.
While in the Northern Territory she enrolled at the University of Darwin where she began her BA Visual Arts degree. After four years the Pilot’s occupation took them to Newcastle where she completed her degree at the University of Newcastle.
During her six years as a Novocastrian she had numerous group shows and volunteered at the Community Arts Centre (NCAC). In 2000 Wilson and a dedicated group of individuals set up an artist-run gallery – a non-profit and non-commercial enterprise. From these humble beginnings grew a beautiful high-tech gallery where emerging artists could showcase their work. It is still operational today (Newcastle Art Space).
Another move and this time with a young family they settled in inner Melbourne. Here is where she had her first solo exhibition dedicated to the families she had met in East Arnhem Land. The show was a sell-out and they continue to be her signature works today.
“Harmony” consisted of large oil sketches of indigenous women and children from the community where she had lived and worked. These were extremely powerful portraits of children at play and mothers nurturing their offspring.
Wilson has an unusual style of painting – she literally squeezes the paint from the tube, to the hands, to the paper. After brush-working the detailed parts, she rubs the paint onto her fingers and smears the paint onto the parchment and moulds the facial contours. The idea came from her time in Arnhem Land seeing tribal family members cover white ceremonial clay onto the skin before ceremony.
Using this technique leaves no room for error as, unlike charcoal, it can’t be rubbed out or removed. Though challenging it gives the work a more immediate and fresh approach.
Wilson recently reconnected with Arnhem Land where she was fortunate to meet principal Lara & the Art Teacher Sal of the Gawa Christian School on Elcho Island. Through this relationship she had the opportunity to meet the people of their small community, and as a thank you for allowing her to paint their lives, a percentage of any work sold goes towards the art department.
Another facet of Wilson’s work is landscape and still life. These are very different to her oil sketches, but maintain a strong connection to symbolism.
Still very tactile she uses the palette knife to create rich surfaces where she places objects to create a visual story. The still lifes are constructed using objects and personal trinkets of her sitter. Even though the physical form of the sitter is not in the portrait the viewer’s task is to unravel its secrets and personality. The landscapes are graffiti-covered gums or bamboo with carved quotes, dates and names giving unique insight and story into the individual or theme highlighted.
13 years ago Wilson moved to Central Victoria to a quaint little one-horse town where she has had numerous regional and city shows. Once again a group of fellow artists set up an artist-run gallery which was successful for two years until the premises was sold.
Moving to the country had been a life-long ambition as her love of the Australian bush was always a passion. “I find the gums a more, sensual linear form than bamboo and the longer I live here the more the bush taps me on the shoulder and demands my attention.”
Wilson has achieved art prizes, commissions and extensive shows over the past 13 years covering Darwin, Newcastle, Sydney and Melbourne. Her recent achievement was being selected as a finalist in the 2012 Archibald Prize. This is her third year of entering the Archibald; her first entry was hung in the 2010 Salon des Refusés. She was also a finalist in the 2010 Doug Moran Portrait Prize. and 2013 & 2015 Black Swan Portrait Prize and for the 3rd time 2016.
Throughout Wilson’s transformation, reoccurring elements remain evident in her artwork. This is her use of vibrant colour, her unique textural surfaces, powerful oil sketches and a symbolic visual narration that has become her trademark.