Artist Profile: Lucinda Wolber

Words by Jesse Thompson

While most art branded with the ubiquitous adjective ‘modern’ is unfurling its way through an ever-growing array of shapes and sizes (see Judy Millar’s current literal wall-to-wall instalment at the Institute of Modern Art, or any referent of a sentence containing the words ‘Tilda Swinton’ and ‘Art’), it might seem indulgent for a university-trained artist to turn their gaze back to seemingly simple, smile-honing watercolours.

But take a gaze through Lucinda Wolber’s portfolio and you’ll see a reversion to cartoony, nostalgic pictures isn’t indulgent at all. These are impressively accessible works as enjoyable as they are to their maker as to their viewer.

And with a Teaching/Fine Art dual degree from QCA, Lucinda knows her stuff. Nonetheless, her works aren't dense or concept-heavy; they're 70% children’s picture book, 20% tattoo art, 10% sardonic undertone and 100% dextrously layered watercolour and ink handiwork. Bearded men as covered in tattoos as they are rosy-cheeked frolic in sprinkler systems, and glassy-eyed vikings fend off saccharine krakens atop curling waves. I have a general aversion to the word 'cute' when it comes to art, but Lucinda knows just how to spin it.

Between creating her own work and balancing a day job as a high school art teacher, Lucinda has also curated a bunch of shows at various venues around Brisbane. Her next event, Lowbrow 2, opens this Friday night at Bleeding Heart Gallery, and features a slew of some of Brisbane’s brightest and best, some of whom we’ve featured on our site before.

I had a quick chat with the watercolour extraordinaire to discuss her work as both producer and curator.

So how did you first get into visual art?

When I left high school I had a few years off to decide what I wanted to do with my life. Then I decided the thing I would really like to do is art, so I went to TAFE and got a portfolio together, then eventually enrolled in QCA. That was in 2002. And then it took me a while to finish my degree because I went overseas, but I graduated in 2010 and now I’m a visual art teacher. I do my own artwork and curate some events as well.

What are you trying to do by translating everyday scenarios into these cute little pictures?

I don’t really know [laughs]. I was actually having a discussion with a friend who’s doing her Masters at the moment, and we were trying to figure out why I draw what I draw. I usually just make up fun little scenarios in my head, but we kind of came up with the theory that because it’s all quite child-like and influenced by storybook illustration, and everyone is doing something fanciful or there are little creatures and fun tales, it’s kind of me reminiscing about my childhood. I guess I’m also just a bit worried about being a bit older, so I’m trying to hang onto that carefree childhood kind of vibe. As you get older you just have to work and be an adult, but I think I draw those things to try and keep a hold of my youth.

I think also I try and do… like I draw men a lot more than I do women. But the men I draw are quite feminine. Apart from the beards. But if you look at their eyes their quite feminine, and they have rosy cheeks and all these other things. I think I try and explore notions of men doing feminine things.

I was going to ask about them. Your work often has picture book landscapes with these tattooed, bearded guys frolicking through them. Are they based on people you know, or is it a child’s imagination coming to play again?

Well, I do know a few people that look like that, but I think, again, it’s more about me trying to put adult characters into a more childlike setting.

You’ve obviously got quite a bit of theoretical knowledge through your degrees, so I think it’s impressive that your work is still so accessible. Have you ever tried making concept-heavy pieces?

I used to work a lot with dioramas and wooden stuff. That was making 3-D works. But I used to do that for the fact that I didn’t think my drawings were very interesting. So I thought I had to make them layered to make them more interesting. But for the last few years I’ve just concentrated on the flat works and got into them a bit more. But I guess I haven’t got into anything really heavily conceptual since uni. I think when you leave uni it’s difficult to come up with heavily theoretical work on your own. So it’s mostly things that are on my mind, and things that will appeal to other people as well.

And what is it about watercolour that helps you create these worlds?

I like the colours with watercolour. Like how you can make a really light colour, and layer it up and it can get darker and darker and it still looks really flat. I used to draw with just pen and papers, but you used to get these sketch lines. It’s really quick for me now just to layer it up and start with it really light, then make it darker. So it’s easy not to go too far by adding layers.

Tell me a bit about Lowbrow. Were you also behind the first instalment?

Yeah. Last year I went overseas after I finished a year long contract with a school so I went overseas. Then I came back and I didn’t have a job, and I was just planning on getting another teaching job. But nothing came up, so I contacted Elle from Bleeding Heart because I’d a few shows there before, and asked if I could do work experience. But they just said I could curate my own show. So I did.

So there’s a focus on work that isn’t intellectually heavy and is quite lowbrow. How did that idea come about?

Well last year when I did the show, I only had four weeks to organise it. I approached all my artist friends whose work I liked – mostly people from uni that I knew – and asked them if they wanted to take part. I thought it would be a really broad theme rather than a really specific one, so if people wanted to make new stuff they could, or if there was stuff they already made and wanted to show then they could. So I thought lowbrow would be a good overarching theme that everyone could work with, and it’s just a style of art that I like. I suppose it was a bit self-indulgent in that way.

You’ve also got a few artists like Alex Winters and Rachael Bartram who usually have quite concept-heavy work, despite the lowbrow theme. How did that translate?

I don’t actually know Rachael personally, but I had seen her work and really liked it. So I asked her to be in it and told her what the theme was, and she was keen. I guess I just put that to her and said ‘would you like to be a part of it’, so it wasn’t specifically conceptual.

Then with Alex, I’m good friends with her. She just wanted to be involved and I really like her stuff. And she’s made a really fun optical illusion that’s really interactive for people to see and get involved with.

More broadly, how have you found Brisbane’s arts scene in terms of accommodating emerging artists?

I think it used to be better, when I graduated from uni. I felt like I had a lot more opportunities to show with emerging art shows more so than they have available now. They used to have a few different emerging art festivals going on a few years ago that have kind of just died out. And a lot of the smaller spaces I used to go to when I was at uni, which were all a little bit more aimed at emerging artists, have either… I don’t know, I feel like there aren’t as many opportunities as there used to be. So maybe more people need to open smaller, more alternative spaces, and try and get funding. But it’s really hard to start things when there’s such limited funding available. And it’s also hard because you have to make time for it working with a job. So we’ve still got a long way to go, but spaces like The Hold and The Box that are just opening up and are in their first few years… maybe we need a few more spaces like those.

Lastly, what’s next for you as both visual artist and curator after Lowbrow 2?

I’m curating a photography show at Southside Tea Room in August. I’ve also got some work showing down in Byron Bay in Retrospect Gallery. And there’s a special show on the weekend that Splendour in the Grass is on down there. It’s going to be really fun, I think, and there are some really good artists there.

Lowbrow 2 is open now at Bleeding Heart Gallery on Ann St, but the official event opening is this Friday night from 6pm.  If you can't make it, the works are on display during gallery hours until next Wednesday, July 16.

We'll see you then!