Robyn Sweaney | Athena from next door

Robyn Sweaney, Signs of life ,2020, acrylic on linen, 70 x 180 cm.

Robyn Sweaney is a painter from the northern NSW town of Mullumbimby. Her works are gentle and intimate portraits of our classically Australian ‘suburban faces’. Robyn’s new work is exhibiting right now at Arthouse Gallery in Sydney – click here to read their beautiful description of Robyn’s work and view the exhibition Hidden in Plain Sight.

Robyn was the winner of last years Trustees’ Watercolour Prize in the Art Gallery of NSW’s Wynne Prize and you can listen to her Artist Talk with Arthouse Gallery here – the exhibition runs until 20 June.

I’ve seen small works by Robyn in public galleries in recent years, but it was a total delight to discover her Walking the Dog series that appeared in the National Portrait Gallery’s The Popular Pet Show in 2016.

If I’m honest, this exhibition—and it’s associated book The Popular Pet Book—was a huge inspiration for FOUND! and went a long way to dissolving some of my awkward embarrassment about asking artists I’d never met, to be involved. Robyn was the first artist I approached (blush) and I will always be so thankful for her wonderful responses. I think you’re going to love the work she is sending to display in Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery. Don’t miss it! 😀


Robyn, what is your art practice?
I am a painter currently working in acrylic, gouache and graphite on canvas and paper. My practice excavates the complexities of Australian identity and place by responding to the suburban mundane of rural and urban environments. I am drawn to the quirkiness and the mundane in the Australian landscape and am interested in how homes and streetscapes function as aesthetic incarnations of the belief structures influencing human behaviours on emotional, intellectual and spiritual levels. Over the years my practice has also included still life, landscape and portraiture (including pet dogs).

Who is your studio companion?
At the moment I don’t own a pet, (not counting the goldfish in the outdoor pond) though have had many over the years. I do though have a regular visitor from the studio next door. Athena is a 21 month old Bullmastiff (she is 2 in September) with a wonderful gentle temperament. It took me some time to get used to her size but now enjoy her visits. I think she enjoys the view from the roller door which gets good morning sun and my studio is closer to the shared common area and kitchen. 😀

What are you working on in your studio now?
For the past year I have been working on paintings and drawings for my current exhibition Hidden in Plain Sight that opened at Arthouse Gallery in Sydney today. It runs from the 2 – 20 June.

The works in this exhibition investigates time spent in coastal regions in NSW and Victoria over the past year, including doing a month long residency on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. 

How has the current imposed isolation changed what you’re doing? Has something really surprised you during this transition to ‘artist in quarantine’?
My life hasn’t changed that much during the past 3 months as when I am working on a body of work I live a pretty solitary existence anyway. My week usually consists of spending my time between home and the studio, with an occasional trip to the supermarket. As I live in town (Mullumbimby) I can ride my bike pretty much wherever I need to go. I have though missed seeing family and catching up with friends for dinner. 

Any special news about your art practice?
Not much in the way of prizes and grants this year as many have been postponed or cancelled. Pretty much, I have just been very busy making work for the Sydney show. 

(Ed: highly recommend clicking the link just above, the works are so beautiful and look at some of Robyn’s sky colours … she talks about this in the video link above too.)

Athena, visiting studio assistant, on duty and ready for the sun to appear.
Robyn’s studio with images from her current exhibition, Hidden in Plain Sight.

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