We drop into the Phyllis Palmer Gallery this week to witness the final commitment for our third-year creative arts students, but for Bethany Mansfield, it’s far from the last hurrah.
On Friday the bachelor and honours students will launch their graduate exhibition and publicly present themselves to the community as artists, designers and photographers.
“I feel like this is the beginning and I want to continue,” Bethany says. “I really don’t want to leave because I’ve just loved it. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through but it was so worth it.
“It was a big jump coming to uni. Mainly because of the writing, and there’s a lot you need to do online. But I’m pretty stubborn. I told myself I was going to do it and that’s it. I left school to do this. It’s been my whole life.”
Bethany left secondary college at the age of 15, after Year Nine. “School didn’t feel right for me and I just wanted to concentrate on art,” she says, crediting her mum for supporting her to leave earlier than her peers and enrol at TAFE.
“My mum’s an oil painter, a landscape artist, so I definitely got this from her. She was very accepting of this but she was nervous because it’s a big decision when you kid wants to drop out of high school, but she knew this is what I wanted. Mum said when I was three I told her I wanted to become an artist.”
Bethany spent the next two years earning a Certificate Four then Diploma of Visual Arts. She says she never dreamt it would be possible to then go on to La Trobe. “It’s been one step at a time and all of a sudden I’m at the end. I can’t believe I made it.”
She says it’s taken five years of dedicated study and practice to find her style, which is feminine, strong, technical and absolutely beautiful. The two pieces in the grad show are each 2-metre by 1.5-metre oil paintings on canvas.
Bethany originally found the women as portrait photographs online. “I look until I find a photo that sort of sparks something and I think, yeah, that’s the right one, I’m going to paint this. If I feel like that towards the image I hope it’s going to come through the painting and the viewer will feel that too.”
In the exhibition program she writes:
These paintings are of women whom have a powerful aura around them. In the process of painting, I want to show the details of bodies and form a connection to botanical flora. Inscribed on these women – as tattoos – is my fictional language, creating an intimate and personal relationship between me and my paintings.
There is something beautiful about working with the larger scale, I feel more connected with the work when they are so overpowering. I want you to come close and look at how it was painted, at the brush strokes and the details.
As she works Bethany adds her own background, tattoos and flowers and the image evolves to be solely hers. “It just happens with the paint while I’m working on it, it just tends to speak.”
Almost two months’ work went into completing these pieces. “I painted every day from 9am to 6pm. I tried to do that and if I couldn’t it was because of personal reasons. I had the best studio, with big windows and lots of space. And I just love painting. It’s surreal. It’s very peaceful. I love the process of it more than the finished artwork. I feel a bit sad when I’m finished actually because I want to keep working.”
This year Bethany has produced another 21 smaller works, which she says have been practice to finding her style. “These are definitely the start of a new series. I’ve got ideas and photographs and a lot to go on with. If it wasn’t the end of the year I’d be up there, still painting.”
She hopes that will be the case next year, as she has applied to do honours and continue working towards her goals. “In years to come I’d love to have my own shop, of local artists’ work and art supplies. I want to take part in group exhibitions and solo shows. It’s a big dream. I don’t know if it will happen, but this was a dream too.”
Vertices: 2018 Creative Arts Graduate Exhibition opening is from 5pm to 7pm Friday, November 16 at the Phyllis Palmer Gallery on campus. Works, including graphic design, photography and visual art, will be on show until November 23.