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.”

Numbulwar Aboriginal Community East Arnhem Land

Numbulwar Aboriginal Community – 1993

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).

Newcastle Art Space Committee 1998

Newcastle Art Space Committee – 1998

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 “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 ceremony and day to day life.

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.  This technique  isn’t limited to indigenous work and she uses the style on most of  her portraits.

Since leaving Arnhem Land Rose focused her attention to landscape and portraiture but a few years back she connected with a community up North, a  small town at the top end, Gawa,   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 the work sold went towards the school or 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.

16 years ago Wilson moved to Central Victoria to a quaint little one-horse town where she has had numerous regional and city shows in Melbourne. Once again a group of fellow artists set up an artist-run gallery which has been successful for over 7 years.

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 sensual linear form and the longer I live here the more the bush taps me on the shoulder and demands my attention, my partner said i wished i give him as much attention as i do the gum trees, as on bush walks i’d photograph them, talk to them and take tree hugging to a different level”  Wilson’s Landscapes are unlike her portraits which a quite life like, they are more visceral and impressionistic yet still maintaining a strong sense of symbolism

Wilson began entering the arena of art prizes in 2010 where she was chosen not only in the Salon Des Refueses  but in the same year the highly acclaimed Doug Moran Portrait Prize, one of Australias richest prizes. “At first i thought it was beginners luck, but when i also became a finalist in the Moran, thought perhaps i’m not too bad afterall” Since then she has been selected for the Archibald in 2010, 3 times selected for the Black Swan Portrait Prize 2013, 2015 & 2016, and a second time in  2018,  The Doug Moran portrait Prize.

Throughout Wilson’s transformation, reoccurring elements remain evident in her artwork. This is her use of vibrant colour, her unique textural surfaces, using knifes, blades and her hand, her powerful oil sketches  and portraits and a symbolic visual narration that has become her trademark.