Words by Steven Winstanley
Images by Tara Moore

Rose Wilson is a warm, generous and incredibly talented artist who allowed CW into her beautiful historic home and studio. She talks here about her humble beginnings, her ascent within the art world and her little gallery in Trentham.

Were you a creative child?

Yes, I remember as a child the kids in my class would pay me in Sunny Boys [flavoured ice blocks] and lollies in return for me doing illustrations and flamboyant headings for their school projects. And I think my mother still has a tiger I painted by numbers at a very young age. She throws nothing out!

What words of advice would you give a young Rose Wilson?

I was a weedy, shy, awkward kid and lacked confidence, like most kids, and I was not alone. Every day at school you seemed to dodge a bullet. It was tough, which I think added to my self-esteem issues as a youngster. If I could whisper in the ear of a young Rose Wilson, I would be constantly telling her to feel the fear and do it anyway. Never bork at any challenge, as I think that fear stopped me from doing a lot way back then. Life has a habit of balancing out and once out of the school of hard knocks, I left that awkward kid behind and embraced life, work, love, travel, adventure and thrills; and experienced a full life and rare opportunities. Although fear would rear its ugly head at times, I had to push myself to challenge the unknown.

I think my only regret was I didn’t start my artistic vocation till later in life, but fate perhaps played a part in this, and my life made a sharp turn in my late twenties.

After high school, you didn’t study art but business administration. What inspired you to change directions and study drawing?

That’s correct. I came from a middle-class family: my father worked hard and my mother looked after five children. We lived very modestly, and there were no airs and graces. I remember always feeling hungry, looking daggy and unkempt, yet it was still a good upbringing and growing up in the neighbourhood was fun.

All of us kids knew ‘our lot in life’ and that was to finish school as best we could and then get a job, and that’s exactly what we did. Any fantasies about becoming an artist were never entertained, and this idealist notion was suppressed for many years. The catalyst that changed everything was when I twenty-eight, I decided to travel for the first time to Italy. Not for the wonders of this cultured land of art, architecture, and history. Nope. It was for soccer, to see the world cup.

It happened when I first stepped foot into St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome: just the sheer size and beauty stopped me in my tracks! I was totally overwhelmed and in awe of this wonder with its opulent interior and breathtaking architecture. No matter where I turned, towering above me were gigantic and magnificent Renaissance paintings. They were breath-taking! So from that day forward, whatever lay dormant was unleashed! The more I looked, the more I wanted, and I couldn’t get enough. The artistic side of me was tapped and I drank as much as I could, where ever I went. For 2 months I soaked up everything like a sponge and visited as many museums, galleries and art attractions I could find, not just in Italy but in Scotland as well.

When I finally returned to Sydney, the first thing I did was enroll at the International Art School and I was fortunately accepted.

Years later I returned to St Peter’s, and once again the flood gates of emotion opened up. It was difficult to compose myself, after all, this is where it all began.

You headed out to east Arnhem land and taught within an Aboriginal community? Can you talk a little about this experience?

Living in a remote Aboriginal community gave me a good grounding for storytelling and symbolism, which is evident in my work. I loved to just sit and listen to the stories and watch the local artists paint or carve away while they talked about their dreaming.

While living there I would sketch a lot. I dropped out of arts school to follow love and adventure up north, so keeping up my skills was paramount, and my new found love of art was still raw and fresh. Often while out hunting or fishing, I’d take my sketch pad. We’d sit in a circle chatting and the women would say, “Whatchu gunna do with those drawings Rose?” I’d laugh and say “I am gunna paint big bullah ones, and there gunna be in a big bullah gallery and I am gunna be famous!” We’d all laugh. Funnily enough, most of it came true. I am still waiting for the “famous” bit though. (laughs)

Living up north was an amazing adventure and one I will definitely cherish and hold dear to my heart. To have been fortunate enough to live in a remote area with the good people of Numbulwar. Even though they were cautious and shy, they soon embraced us and generously shared a small part of their culture and life with us. It was truly unforgettable.

Want to read more? Head over to this link and visit the good folk at Calder Western.