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.
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.