Suzie West painter and writer

Suzie West

On the first day, I huffed and puffed up the Lighthouse Arts road. ‘Don’t look up.’ I said to myself. ‘Just keep walking, one foot in front of the other. You can do it, just keep going.‘ I dragged my little red art-cart behind me like I had been dragging my life.

I made the application for an Artist Residency on Whibayganba Headland because after losing everything I owned in the bushfires including losing myself and my creativity. I felt lost. I was drifting through life and not enjoying it. I hoped the residency might help me return to my happy state of mind where creativity always walked by my side. Before the fires, I was a professional artist and my paintings were in demand. I also wrote plays, poetry, fiction and non-fiction. I had not produced quality work since before the fires. Every time I put my brush on a canvas or a finger on a keyboard, nothing was achieved. I was dispassionate. I hated everything I wrote or painted. I was tired all the time and just wanted to perpetually sleep. My creative persona had vanished.

Catching my breath at the top of the hill and my heart had stopped thumping, I stood and looked around. I was in another world. Huge, heavy clouds rich in tones of mauve and deep purple hung low in the sky. I felt like they were asking me to jump up and grab them, pull them down like a blanket and wrap myself inside their softness.

I wanted to push them into my soul and cleanse myself – push the bad out and let the good come in.

A young man cracked a joke. We laughed. Other creatives smiled, studio spaces filled and a peaceful silence crept in. Creative energies stirred. It felt good. I felt like I belonged. My anxiety calmed.

I couldn’t sit inside at the desk, although the view was spectacular, I needed to be outside, smell the air and feel the wind on my skin, so I sat outside. A magpie sat down next to me. He wasn’t scared, not like me. He cocked his head this way and that way, keeping his bright yellow-ochre eyes on my face. We bonded.

The wind scuttled around us on its journey to rattle glass panes in its dance of utter abandonment and freedom. It smelt and tasted of the sea, rich and salty, like a salty olive that leaves its tang behind for your taste buds to explore. As we sat there, gusts of wind ran past us and climbed the white-washed walls of the lighthouse, creeping and encircling the buildings like an unseen ghost making its presence felt.

I was exhilarated and my senses felt alive for the first time in years.

I sat down and started to paint and have not stopped since. It has been five weeks of excitement. Art is dripping off my brush. The very first painting I completed at the residency was a work of expressionism. I painted the clouds. I have always been an impressionistic artist, but on that first day on Whibayganba my senses were heightened and I let go.

While at the residency I worked on the preliminary sketches for a portrait of a soldier in Afghanistan which I felt merited submission into the Doug Moran Portrait Art Prize. The painting seemed to fall from my brush with little effort. The sitter is delighted with the result.

I now paint every day and I feel a renewed energy in my work.

As a result of the residency, I am working closely with the young man who I laughed with on the first day. We have joined together to create a series of podcasts. This will be an ongoing project, all thanks to the art residency.