Art inspires memories of home

''NZ Cyclamen'' by Sam Michelle. Picture: SUZI APPEL

By Danielle Kutchel

It’s been a milestone year for Blind Bight still-life painter Sam Michelle.

2020 marks the year when she has lived half her life here in Australia, and half in New Zealand.

It’s that duality that she’s exploring in a new exhibition at Gallerysmith, titled ‘Dual Citizen’.

Covid restrictions have made her painting a little more difficult this time around as in some cases she’s been unable to source the flowers that are the inspiration for her work.

The resourceful artist has put shout outs in the Blind Bight community group asking for help to gather what she needs, and has been rewarded by people’s support.

But she says in a way the restrictions have helped her painting, providing her with “ample time” to pursue her creative outlet.

“I’ve had more flow with the painting, which means a better exhibition,” Sam explains.

“It’s felt like having extra time and no interruptions – the change of routine has been good for that.”

The exhibition considers Sam’s heritage – she’s originally from New Zealand – and her life here in Australia, depicted through the iconic flora of the two countries.

Unable to travel back home during Covid to gather inspiration and materials for the Kiwi-based paintings, Sam says she was forced to be adaptable.

A Zoom call was set up with family in the Land of the Long White Cloud and she interviewed her granddad about his life.

“Some of the stories he told are within the New Zealand paintings,” she says.

“They’re childhood stories that I think New Zealanders could relate to and are really personal and meaningful to me.”

The Australian paintings double as a celebration of local flora.

Growing up, Sam was surrounded by creativity: her grandparents on both sides were artists in various mediums, from jewellery making to China-doll painting, illustration and sculpting.

Her aunties taught her how to sew and embroider, while her mother works with multimedia.

Sam herself is largely self-taught and began her artistic career as a hobby before taking the plunge and going full time six years ago.

Now, she often finds herself working on multiple projects depending on what’s happening in the world.

She worked on some landscape studies after the East Gippsland bushfires, and travelled to Christchurch shortly after the 2019 mosque attack to complete a series that showed the beautiful parts of the city.

Sam hopes that Dual Citizen will “spark a memory” for her Kiwi viewers.

She’s received feedback from some through Instagram who have told her how her paintings remind them of moments in their life, even things as simple as walking to school as a child.

“I want to help ignite memories and pinpoint a time in their history,” Sam says.

The exhibition is currently running online at www.gallerysmith.com.au

View more of Sam’s work at https://www.instagram.com/sammichellepaintings/?hl=en or https://www.sammichellepaintings.com

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