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Artist Statement

Vistas

BIOGRAPHY & BRIEF ARTIST STATEMENT

Des Rolph, is an Australian Artist whose work captures the spiritual qualities of the Australian landscape.

Born in Brighton, a seaside suburb of Brisbane, Rolph had a typical childhood of the 1960’s where she played with friends in the local bush building cubby houses and paddling on the mud flats on the shores of Moreton Bay. From an early age she sat with her Grandfather who was a train driver, and who also loved playing with drawing just for fun. Hours were spent with him sketching funny caricatures of people and puppy dogs. His love of drawing rubbed off on her and as she grew up into a teenager these drawings skills were innate, and her love for drawing grew into a love for painting. Her parents recognised her gift and at age 15 sent her for painting lessons in oil, to an old artist living in neighbouring Sandgate who was a student of Max Meldrum himself when he was a younger man. Harold Shute, first instructing her in the qualities of tonal value, did not allow her to use colour until she had mastered the values of painting in black and white. She achieved this in only three lessons and quickly advanced to working in colour. Shute, who recognised her talents tried in vain to encourage her to stage a first exhibition at age 15, however the commitment of school work did not allow the time to achieve this. In return for free lessons, Shute allowed her to teach younger students the basics of painting which she thoroughly enjoyed.

During her senior years at school, art class took on a new momentum, introducing her to the challenges of abstraction which she grasped enthusiastically and saw her end her days of tuition with Shute. She went onto completing her senior year achieving the highest marks in Queensland for practical application, which after moderation confirmed a near perfect mark of 98%.

In the years following completion of high school, she worked for a short time in order to gain financial stability for further study. She was accepted to study at the Seven Hills Art College (now Qld College of Art), and later at the Kelvin Grove College (now QUT). However, personal matters prevented this at the time, and subsequently a few years later she undertook studies at the Brisbane Institute of Art, completing major studies in painting and drawing over a 3 year period. Years later she undertook courses of interest with other artists such as David Paulson in life drawing, sculptural ceramics with Karen Laird, Art Materials with Majena Mafe, and Professional Practice with Glenn Henderson.

Being married at a young age with many health issues saw her adopt a son from Sri Lanka at age 28. Age 34 saw her divorced from her first marriage, and the introduction of a new partner and husband in life who exuded encouragement for her to pursue her passion for art. During this time she committed time for art purely for her own enjoyment around the necessities of work and family, however mounting health issues saw her give away employment in her early 40’s. Faced with the lack of income, she turned herself more towards her art and made a conscious decision that now was the time to dedicate time to her art career. During this time she became involved with many Community Art Projects, which saw her working with people with mental health disabilities at the Prince Charles Hospital Mental Health Unit as a locum for a few months. She also became a founding member of Artrageous Community Arts Centre and then co-coordinator of the centre for several years.

With no clear direction for her art during the former years which encompassed much experimentation, she found herself despising most of what she did, until she had a moment of clarity sitting in a bush setting in Pittsworth. She asked herself why she was painting these dreary little landscapes and questioned what it was that inspired her to want to paint the landscape. The answer was simply colour and atmosphere. Right there in that little paddock, she created her first vastly abstract piece which represented the colour intensity she recalled whilst driving through the landscape the day before, just before sunset. It was a break through moment for her, which she found intensely exciting. The challenge now was to create landscapes that reflected this passion and that enticed the viewer to feel the emotions she felt at the time of creating. That little abstract was to sell at her very first exhibition, at a local cafe in Sandgate, to a fellow artist.

This period also saw her undertake a teaching course at TAFE, which allowed her to tutor in painting at the same institution on a casual basis for a several years, and later some tutoring of courses at the Brisbane Institute of Art and the Brisbane Artist’s Academe.

Since that time, Rolph has been passionate about the landscape, its spirituality that entices her to explore and interpret its beauty and its mystery of creation. Consequently she has travelled to the outback as far as Alice Springs to ride in a hot air balloon for the purpose of experiencing the vastness of the desert from this slowly drifting height, to Bunginderry Station 100 km west of Quilpie in Queensland’s far west, to the wilderness of Tasmania and the coastal environment where she has a home. This has seen her paint about the desert and the coast; from above creating vast expansive aerial views, distant horizons and vistas; and coastal scenes moulded by the force of the wind. Her desert paintings are well known for their inclusion of the Min Min light, which to Rolph adds another dimension to her work to create further narrative. At times these Min Min lights have included the spiritual content of women in white dresses that have a metaphysical presence, along with the animal spirits at times often depicted as loosely drawn ethereal figures hovering over the desert or embedded into the landscape. With the introduction of a series about the coast, the wind to Rolph, takes on the entity of the spirit much like the Min Min light.

Rolph’s paintings are now instantly recognisable. Collectively they exude an intrigue which draws the viewer to gaze into the depths of the paintings through their richly glazed layers, revealing the journey in its creation. Rolph is an artist who particularly pays attention to the surface quality of her work which is as important as the content of the painting. Often she produces small scale en plein air studies, however these evolve into more complex larger studio pieces which undergo the transition of layering and exploration straight onto the canvas. Here, working purely from memory and emotion, these studio paintings explore the artist’s relationship to the landscape, revealing her imagination and dreaming about her subject. At times the paintings may display the playful side of her thoughts and at other times a more meditative approach.

Her passion for these elements has resulted in a cohesive body of work that is steadily growing for the artist. Whether they are paintings about the desert or the coast, her work exudes that same quality and intensity that allows for contemplation. This has resulted in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory, in private and public galleries. In more recent years, she has been finalist in some of Australia’s most prestigious art prizes and has won several smaller awards in earlier days.

Much of her work has found homes in private and corporate collections throughout Australia and overseas. In the words of one collector, “I especially love the intriguing spirit girl and the Min Min lights and the fact that her paintings bring the outback into my life every day. They are loved and admired by family and friends. Des’ work displays elements of mystery and wonderful colour combinations. I just love to sit and look at them - they bring me immense pleasure”.

In the artist’s words, “I want my paintings to express a sense of mystery and intrigue and leave the viewer contemplating about its story or journey. My passion to paint the landscape is more than a mere representational image, however while a sense of the landscape image is important, it is more important for me to convey an emotional response that leaves something for the imagination to explore. The Australian landscape to me is pretty special. Nowhere else in the world that I have travelled has enticed me in the same way to want to paint it. I believe the heartbeat that exists within our landscape is palpable and I hope that my paintings in some way reveal this energy to those who experience them”.