WORK­ING THE LAND

Sur­rounded by idyl­lic ru­ral set­tings all her life, Be­lynda Henry had no choice but to be­come a land­scape artist. By Jane Al­bert.

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Meet land­scape artist Be­lynda Henry.

Much of Be­lynda Henry’s life has been lived in near iso­la­tion and im­mersed in na­ture. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. The vis­ual artist en­joys noth­ing more than be­ing bunkered down in her Hunter Val­ley, New South Wales, stu­dio, where she can paint un­in­ter­rupted. But when Vogue catches up with her, it’s in the bustling load­ing dock of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It was here, al­most two decades ago, as Henry en­tered her first can­vas in the pres­ti­gious Wynne Prize, that she saw some­thing that will al­ways stay with her.

“There was this 90-some­thing-year-old lady and she pulled up in a lit­tle car with her paint­ing strapped on the roof,” she ex­plains. “She had pig­tails and crooked cir­cles of rouge on her cheeks and I thought: ‘I’m go­ing to keep do­ing this un­til I’m your age.’ She was such an in­spi­ra­tion. And I prob­a­bly will, al­though maybe not with pig­tails. I just love ev­ery part of it.”

And it’s im­me­di­ately clear just how much joy she de­rives from art. It’s also clear she knows what she’s do­ing. In the 19 years since she first en­tered the Wynne Prize, Henry has been a fi­nal­ist an im­pres­sive four times for land­scape, and also a fi­nal­ist in the more high-pro­file Archibald Prize in 2016, with a por­trait of Di­nosaur De­signs co-founder Louise Olsen. To­day she’s cul­ti­vat­ing quite the fol­low­ing, with pro­files in The De­sign Files, Vogue Liv­ing and re­al­ity TV show The Block, the lat­ter re­sult­ing in two years’ worth of com­mis­sions that en­abled her to give up ca­sual teach­ing. Be­ing a fi­nal­ist in the Archibald came with its own perks, too, in­clud­ing speak­ing en­gage­ments with Wendy White­ley and co­me­dian Lawrence Le­ung.

Nev­er­the­less, Henry craves soli­tude. She lives in the se­cluded Doora­long Val­ley, about 40 kilo­me­tres north­west of Ter­ri­gal, with her hus­band, two daugh­ters and dogs, and would hap­pily go days with­out leav­ing the house. She’s hap­pi­est paint­ing in her stu­dio, with its views up the val­ley. Henry has been with hus­band Michael since she was 19, and daugh­ters Chloe and Milla sim­i­larly rel­ish their bush idyll.

“I do come to Syd­ney to bring work to the gallery,” she says. “I like to get out, see ex­hi­bi­tions, talk to the gal­leries, have cof­fee with friends. But not too of­ten.”

Henry’s life has al­ways been steeped in art and na­ture. “When I was small, we lived in Ken­thurst, then Tam­worth, which I loved,” she re­mem­bers. “We had a lot of land and that’s where I got my ap­pre­ci­a­tion for land­scape and colours.” Both par­ents were ce­ram­i­cists and painters. Her own tal­ent was spot­ted and nur­tured by her high-school teacher, who en­cour­aged her to pur­sue vis­ual art be­yond the class­room, which she did at the Syd­ney College of the Arts. “I al­ways knew I was go­ing to be an artist,” she says. “I didn’t have a choice; that’s what I loved.”

For job se­cu­rity she added a diploma to her fine arts de­gree and was teach­ing part­time at her old high school, when her old teacher bailed her up and de­manded she fo­cus on art full-time. “That week­end he was killed in a mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent,” she re­calls. “He was the big­gest in­flu­ence on my life, so I knew I had to [give it a go].” Henry has been rep­re­sented by pres­ti­gious gal­leries ever since, most re­cently Stu­art Purves’s Aus­tralian Gal­leries in Syd­ney and Flin­ders Lane Gallery in Mel­bourne, where she has up­com­ing solo ex­hi­bi­tions of her new se­ries of land­scape paint­ings, works on pa­per and sculp­tures in June and Fe­bru­ary 2019 re­spec­tively.

Renowned for her land­scapes, Henry favours acrylics, lay­er­ing paint in dreamy, earthy colours, rem­i­nis­cent of the ter­rain that sur­rounds her. “I’m in­spired by my val­ley and places I go, but then I let my imag­i­na­tion play with colours.”

Be­lynda Henry’s solo ex­hi­bi­tion Land­scape Lines can be seen at Aus­tralian Gal­leries, Syd­ney, un­til July 1.

Artist Be­lynda Henry sur­rounded by a se­lec­tion of her works, among them a land­scape, Al­waystotheEnd, 2018 (left), which is part of her new solo ex­hi­bi­tion, and a por­trait of in­te­rior de­signer Si­bella Court, Time Trav­eller, 2018 (right). Henry wears a KitX top, $495, and skirt, $695. Her own apron, ring and boots.

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