Charcoal, coronavirus and commissions: A postcard from the Shoalhaven


Penny Lovelock Red beach 2020 (detail). Courtesy the artist. © Penny Lovelock

This year has not been an easy one for the Shoalhaven. We have moved from conversations revolving around the Currowan fire and the evacuations, loss of property and stress that came with it, straight into questions and anxieties about people’s wellbeing during COVID-19.

View of Budgong after the Currowan fire. Photo: Brownwyn Coulston

It is said that art helps us to process emotions when words fail us. That is very true this year for Shoalhaven artists and residents, who only five months ago were reeling from the 74-day-long blaze that burned along this usually paradisiacal stretch of coast. Many Shoalhaven artists have been creating works that strive to represent and begin understanding the emotional and ecological impact of the fire storm, from birds in gas masks by St Georges Basin artist Alison Mackay to landscapes and figurative works with dominant red skies by Lake Conjola artist Penny Lovelock. While the fires have in many ways been pushed from the public stage by the pandemic, the changes they wrought on our landscape and our sense of place confront us every day.

Alison Mackay For the birds – masked finch 2020. Courtesy the artist. © Alison Mackay

Penny Lovelock The burnt teapot 2020. Courtesy the artist. © Penny Lovelock

Through all this, Shoalhaven Regional Gallery has adapted, adjusted and continued to plan for projects that support local artists, engage our community and provide opportunity for the big conversations that must be had. We’re working towards two major exhibitions later this year and, thanks to support from the council and private philanthropists, have been able to commission a number of works from local artists. New growth of an artistic kind! Our summer show, Wonder + dread, is all about extreme weather and artists’ responses to it throughout history (including works borrowed from the Art Gallery of NSW). After the experience of the fires we decided it was vital to commission a local response that speaks to the experience of fire and pandemics.

Penny Lovelock Red beach 2020. Courtesy the artist. © Penny Lovelock

Being part of this community, and the conversations I have each week with artists, artisans, curators and art-lovers, is truly special. I am fortunate to see how the many different artists who live in the Shoalhaven choose to process events and engage with the world around them. The Shoalhaven has been hit hard by the events of the past eight months, but the artists, community arts groups and organisations that support them continue to create and bring life. New artistic creation feels necessary and restorative in the wake of so much loss.