Just before I went to New York last year, I went out to George Baldessin’s Studio to meet Silvi Glattauer. It was a busy time for me, packing to go away and launching Isiiad onto the net. At the time, I recorded a little draft of a blog. It’s been sitting in my laptop ever since. I went out there again last week (when these photographs were taken) and was reminded of my first visit. I’ve decided to publish what I wrote then so that you can have the ‘first time’ experience of it too. It was not only my first time at the George Baldessin Studio, but also the first time I realised that there’s a rich vein of artistic gold right at my new back door. George Baldessin Studio is just north of Warrandyte at St Andrews. Here’s the piece…
On arrival I met Tess Edwards (Baldessin). In the 1970’s, Tess and George Baldessin built the studio and house on 13 acres of land at St Andrews. The buildings are in the heart of the bush. George’s sculptures are in evidence and add to the magical quality of the place.
I was welcomed into the studio, where a print workshop was in full swing. I met Silvi and the workshop participants. Shortly after that, time-out was called for lunch. I imagined that everyone would pull out their sangas and make a nice cup of tea. But no…a real home cooked lunch was on offer and I was included in the catering! I’m talking home made soup, followed by a yummy beetroot tart and salads. I was told that this was the norm for the Monday class and began to wonder how I could join up!
My understanding of the arrangement with Silvi was that we would talk while she had lunch, so had imagined that I would be in and out within an hour. What with my mouth full of tart and a yen to join in the convivial group conversation, it was pretty clear that I wouldn’t be done in the hour. After lunch, Silvi chatted to me while fielding students questions and keeping a watchful eye on the use of equipment.
It was abudantly clear that she’s very comfortable in that environment. She’s applied her experience in adult education to great affect at the Baldessin Studio. She gave me a fine demonstration of photo etching, a medium that she has made her own in the ten years she’s been involved at the Studio. In short, the photo negative is applied by magic (to my untrained eye) onto a metal photopolymer plate. Once the plate is prepared the real fun can start. Silvi loves to experiment with colour and paper textures (rice paper being a favourite) in the final part of the printing process.
Work by Silvi Glattauer. Reproduced with permission of the artist.
Silvi was exposed to photography from an early age. Her father was a photographer and had a dark room within the family home. Her own interest in photography however, took off during a trip to Spain in her mid twenties. Silvi has five languages under her belt, Spanish, French, Italian, German and of course English. Spanish is her first language so in 1992 she landed a job at the Australian Expo in Seville, which she describes as ‘glamorous crowd control’. One of the more interesting snippets of goss from that job was that she sat next to Gough Whitlam at an official dinner. Poor Gough obviously copped a crook prawn in his paella, as the dinner resulted in a bad case of food poisoning.
While in Seville Silvi realised her love of photography. As a consequence, she returned to Australia and began studies at the Photography Studies College in Melbourne where she later received an Advanced Diploma of Photography. She followed this with a degree in photography at RMIT. One of her teachers at the Photography Studies College, Brian Gilkes, pointed Silvi in the direction of the Baldessin Studio. There she met Tess Edwards and Robert Hails (master printer) in 2001. An abiding bond was formed from that initial meeting. In addition to Silvi’s photographic talents, Tess recognized her teaching and administrative abilities. She was quick to see that Silvi would be invaluable to the development of The Baldessin Studios. Tess has never had any reason to doubt her early instincts. Silvi is now a valued member of the Incorporated Association which manages The Baldessin Studio.
If you would like to see more of her work, here’s the website.
While Silvi attended to her students, Tess invited me to see the house and additional accommodation. As with the studio, these buildings were constructed using stone and recycled material, in the days when great french doors, windows and other materials were in plentiful and cheap supply. The buildings ooze character.
Tess is a painter and printmaker. I found the work that she’s created in the last twenty or more years mesmerising. I was immediately drawn to a triptych in her office. It was painted during her 17 year stay in the South of France after George’s tragic, untimely death in 1978. It’s painted on handmade paper and measures nearly 2 meters high. The influence of the Lascaux cave paintings that she encountered while living in France is obvious.
More of her exquisite work was revealed when she pulled out some very old, very precious small cloth bound books. The books are liturgical texts from an old church near Tess’ home in the South of France. While gently opening the pages, Tess explained the process she engaged in to create this work. It is more or less stream of consciousness. She emptied out her mind, opened up to a double page and began painting in what ever way the moment dictated. One painting of a mask-like face leaves the text visible within the mouth. The words are “Silence de la terre” (loosely translated from my school girl french to- Silence of the earth). Each page has a meditative quality. Like the triptych, the palette for these works is earthy, the images are raw, varied. I found myself wanting to sit down with cotton gloves and capture every image on every page and somehow etch them on my brain forever. Tess generously gave me a copy of the catalogue for an exhibition called “Indicia” (a latin word meaning ‘traces’, ‘marks’ or ‘clues’) held at the Australian Galleries in 1999 which showcased work from these books. For now that will have to do. The good news is that with the help of local graphic designer Wayne Rankin, Tess is on track to publish a small book which reproduces the original, sometime in 2011 The book will be called “Metaphysical Fishing”.
Three of Tess’ works sit within the studio
2011 will be significant in the life of the Baldessin Studio for another reason. It will celebrate it’s tenth anniversary. I found myself leaving that day with overwhelming gratitude that Tess managed to find her way back to St Andrews ten years ago and that she was able to harness the help of Silvi Glattauer and others to keep George Baldessin’s legacy alive.
I’ve been back to the Studio twice since then. Each time I’m struck by what a valuable resource it is for artists and for the community at large. The care and nurturance that is lavished on the making of art is outstanding. Lloyd Godman , Robert Hails, Tess and Silvi make up the full compliment of the George Baldessin Studio Incorporated Association. All practicing artists, they are enriching the community with their work. The George Baldessin Studio is in good hands.
Sculpture by Phil Gardiner within the grounds.
(These mushrooms were sitting on a table outside the Studio last week. I’ve included the photo just because I can.)
Have a look at their website for information about workshops, accommodation and arrangements for their tenth anniversary exhibition.