Despite the enormous challenges we’ve faced this year – and continue to face throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, artist Andy Pye remains ever the optimist, and for good reason.
Andy lives in Wangaratta in North East Victoria; immersing himself in the bush with no distractions is an integral part of his practice. Here on the journal – in conversation with artist Sarah Kelk – Andy reminds us that there are countless moments of joy to be found in the magical Autumn afternoons we’re currently experiencing, the effects of plentiful rain, and the ever-inspiring Australian landscape.
And while we’re not all fortunate enough to have the Australian bush on our doorstep, at the very least we can surround ourselves with it through art and channel our hopes for a more positive future.
You recently completed a masters degree in teaching and pedagogy (congratulations). Are your recent studies adding new layers of meaning to your work?
This year I’m in my 20th year of painting; I think the work is maturing. I’ve been studying concurrently with painting for a long time. It would be hard to rule out its affect on my art. I think postgraduate study is a luxury really, so I’m lucky to be able to do it. It has certainly informed my civic and social self, particularly my study of Indigenous broad histories and cultures.
There is a link between knowledge gained through postgraduate education and the making of art, but it’s not a direct one. They are two different ways to live. One is quiet, considered, and uses technology, and one is without need for technology; erratic, messy and disorganised.
With the recent devastating bushfires and now Covid-19, can you feel your work, or focus changing at all?
Honestly? No. Neither the work nor the focus has changed. I am telling a story that transcends crisis or time. That’s not to say I haven’t noticed the world in crisis, or our communities suffering in Australia in so many ways. Quite the contrary; it’s all we seem to notice these days. However, what can be said for the magical afternoons of Autumn this year? The fact that the trees are drinking water in abundance and their nectar is feeding more bees than ever? There are countless, countless more sacred elements of the Australian Bush that are teeming with joy. That’s the story I am telling. I don’t have a choice to tell any other story, I can’t control the paintings. They will always pay homage to mid-century modern expressionism.
I am wanting to let people come to know themselves through my art, as Sherrard (1990) put it, to ‘help liberate the viewer by providing something both earthly and celestial’.
We love your general life optimism Andy. With such a busy household (four kids), how are you finding life in isolation during Covid-19?
Haha, thanks. Optimism is a thing isn’t it? It’s not to be confused with naivety or ‘happiness’. It can be a choice for some and not others. As I’ve mentioned, I have no choice when it comes to the art. That doesn’t mean I don’t get down sometimes as a person. Kids are great, but they’re hard! Bloody hard work.
It’s actually going OK at home. We have a pretty lovely old 1880s home; it’s worn and we’re not too precious about it. There’s fun and a few tears mixed. Plenty of wear and tear.
Do you have any hopes for our post Corona Virus world?
I don’t think I’d be the only one to hope that at the very least, renewable energy is made front and centre in the economic recovery plans of nations. I hope that Australians, who are serious per-capta consumers, really play their part in boycotting goods from countries that have been negligent through this crisis, and beyond it. We have needed to bring it all back to local for so long now.
Artistically, I hope postmodernism, which is in its final death throes as a movement, doesn’t get any wind in its sails and make a return. I renounce postmodernism. It’s a soulless, boring art form with pernicious political intentions. Crisis tend to help postmodernists make art, because they can remind us all how bad the world can be. We don’t need that anymore, it’s not helpful! I’m not saying that we can’t confront important and difficult issues in art, but we can do with other more meaningful ways. I’m really looking forward to seeing a resurgence of art-centric discussion after this. Beyond that, I just can’t wait for the galleries to re-open!