The exceptionally talented artist Belynda Henry is the daughter of two artists. And needless to say, her creativity was nurtured from a young age. In fact, when she was four-years-old, she created her first figurative sculpture. She recalls fond childhood memories such as visiting regional galleries and being taken to night art classes. It was when she was in year 12 at school that she decided art was what she wanted to pursue in life. She hasn’t looked back...
Growing up in rural Australia has had a profound impact on her work today – and it’s one of the reasons she’s one Australia’s leading celebrated landscape painters (not to mention a multiple Wynne and Archibald prize finalist). “One of my favourite family homes was in Tamworth. The five years I spent there obviously had a profound effect on how I was to come to appreciate the landscape,” she recalls. There was also the time when she took her first plane trip to Tasmania with her grandmother. “I remember the wonderful feeling of looking back down from the sky to the land. The Australian landscape is the one I have formed an obsession for.” It’s no wonder she now lives in a tranquil bush retreat on the NSW central coast with her husband and two girls, just north of Sydney.
How does motherhood fit into the life of an artist? “Looking back, being the best mother I could possibly be, was by far my main priority. I never denied them anything they wished for and more. They came to accept though that their mummy was an artist who needed to devote a certain amount of time also to her work. It is part of life now and my two girls are very independent and also introverts happy and content to retreat into their own creative worlds,” she says.
Here, we discover more about the creative world of this incredible artist.
Belynda has just announced her first solo exhibition ‘THE SPACE BETWEEN’, with @olsengruingallery in New York. To request a catalogue please email email@example.com. To see her available works, click here. Go to belyndahenry.com
Tell us a little bit about your childhood. What are your most vivid memories from that time?
From as young as I can remember, I was always encouraged and my creative side was natured. My first artwork that I can find in a photo, aged four was actually a figurative sculpture. When your parents are both artists you can either accept encouragement or not. Strangely my sister and brother did not choose that option.
Your father is a sculptor. Was art always a big part of your life?
Fond childhood memories include visiting regional galleries, painting en plein air with a box of watercolours, being taken to a long list night art classes. I really connected though in high school with the encouragement of the best art teachers. It wasn’t until year 12 that I remember thinking, the art world was my favourite world. I went directly on to study at Sydney College of the arts and never looked back. I feel looking back now that I was so lucky to recognise my passion at such an early age.
Your work is so steeped in nature - have you always had such an affinity for the Australian landscape?
We always lived in a rural setting, one of my favourite family homes was in Tamworth. The five years I spent there obviously had a profound effect on how I was to come to appreciate the landscape. It was also a time when I took my first plane trip to Tasmania with my grandmother. I remember the wonderful feeling of looking back down from the sky to the land. This was also to later influence my more abstracted works based on aerial views. I have been fortunate enough to travel to many countries. The Australian landscape is the one I have formed an obsession for. Maybe if I spent time in another country I would form a relationship with that countryside as well. Easily done. Landscape is landscape.
In the year 2000 you became a mother for the first time, and you were also selected as a finalist in the AGNSW's Wynne Prize. Was it hard to juggle such a huge life shift at the same time that your career was building momentum?
Yes, of course, it was. Chloe was such a wonderful baby though and I developed a routine for her, well us that was, get up early and expose her many creative activities and big walks and small adventures. She was always ready for her sleep at 11. Amazingly she started sleeping three to four hours in the middle of the day until she started kindy. I must of really exhausted her. So I would paint while she slept and then again later for another late-night block when she was asleep again.
What was early motherhood like for you? Did it influence your work or affect your creative drive?
Things were just falling in to place when I had Chloe at the age of 27, I knew it was a very special time for me with my beautiful little family but also creatively. I did hold back and kept quiet for the first year gathering some momentum in the studio and allowing time to contemplate what it was I need to do. Chloe was always in the studio. Such a creative mini person. I have many photos of her sitting under the easel in her own little world enjoying getting messy. Because I was so happy that energy certainly did flow through to my work. Within a year I was showing in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Happy days. The same thing happened with our second daughter Milla eight years later. Another perfect little studio baby. Lucky me.
You’ve said you like to spend 8-10 hours a day in the studio and you’re very prolific. How did you find the all-consumingness of motherhood, especially when your girls were younger?
It wasn’t always that many hours. I built up to that. But certainly, it has been that way for the last eight years. Yes looking back, being the best mother I could possibly be, was by far my main priority. I never denied them anything they wished for and more. They came to accept though that their mummy was an artist who needed to devote a certain amount of time also to her work. It is part of life now and my two girls are very independent and also introverts happy and content to retreat into their own creative worlds. They have both grown up immersed in nature and are country girls at heart. I am proud that they have this, a feeling of content to just be, not disrupted my the business of the outside world. Both girls thought it was a dream come true this year with school and uni closing. Not once did they say we are bored, can we please go out. Not once.
What's been the most challenging part of motherhood for you?
The deep primal feelings that most mothers have. We all know them. At times I’m sure I seem overprotective and too opinionated. I hope my daughters look back and know the advice I have given and the directions I have steered them towards were all part of the big picture. I am also very aware that we think we have all the time in the world, but looking back we really don’t. The most challenging part is actually not the girls but in fact, it is me thinking oh gosh I hope I am doing the right thing. I just try to follow my heart. It’s about wanting to make sure your daughters’ lives are as wonderful as they possibly can be.
And the most delightful?
The memories, the giggles and laughs, the snuggles and cuddles, the photos. So valuable.
What does a day in your life look like?
We live on 20 acres in a beautiful lush valley, so it’s all about the country life really. A slower pace. Getting Milla to school. I paint six days a week, I am very disciplined. Devoting as many days as I can to creating in my studio. I love living in the landscape. Everywhere I look is captivating in my mind. Over the last twenty years, I have developed a way of looking, seeing and processing. I feel like most of the time now I am very much on automatic paint mode. It has become a routine. A wonderful passionate act of creativity I completely engage in.
I paint from 930 am to3.30 pm. Then back to the studio from 8.30 to 10.30 pm most nights, obviously, that depends on my family. Secretly I think they like to get rid of me from the house. The studio is a 20 second bicycle ride or 1 minute walk. It is a separate building and the most perfect escape for an artists imagination.
I am very much into healthy eating and exercise. I love to go out and run or walk before sunset. Then back to prepare dinner and spend more time with the family and our two crazy dogs.
What's your parenting philosophy?
Gosh, I would have to ask my daughters that. I am fair and understanding. I actually like to put it on to the girls to always be making the correct decisions. If they can’t then I step in. Life lessons are important. I encourage them to make mistakes in order to recognise the rights and the wrongs. I have taught them both to cook nutritious meals and the importance of being healthy. I encourage any passions they both have. I am always here to listen. They do say I tell them too much how glorious and loved they are every single day. Ha, but I will never stop telling them my feelings. One day they will understand I am sure.
Are your daughters artistic?
Absolutely. They are both shy and protective of their drawings, paintings and photographs. Trying not to be biased, they are much more talented than I was at that age.
What's inspiring your work at the moment?
Documentaries on artists, I am very much in research mode for the next level. It’s time and I feel it coming.