Q&A/What to SEE/Visual Art

What to SEE: Mundaring Hills Open Studios

13 October 2022

This year’s bumper wildflower season provides an even more picturesque backdrop than usual for the Mundaring Hills annual Open Studio Art Trail.

Between Saturday 22 October and Sunday 30 October, artists in the Mundaring Hills area will be inviting you into their studios. This year’s event involves an impressive 61 artists, working across a range of mediums – glass, ceramics, oil paint, watercolours, textiles, recycled metals and more.

Nina Levy chatted to Neil Elliott, artist and long-term member of Mundaring Hills Open Studios, to find out more about his work and role in the event, and to artist Craig McKeough, to find out more about the origins of the Open Studio Art Trail.

Nina Levy: Mundaring Hills Open Studios (MHOS) has been hosting its Open Studio Art Trail from 12 years now. How did the event start?

Craig McKeough: In 2002, Hovea-based potter Greg Crowe participated in the St Croix Valley Pottery Tour, an open studio trail of ceramic artists, in Minnesota, USA.

This gave him the idea of starting something similar in Perth’s hills region and on his return he mentioned it to fellow ceramicist/painter, Joel Smoker, who was based in Stoneville. ​

They extended invitations to other local artists they knew and 10 signed up to get involved.

After much discussion it was decided to hold the first Mundaring Hills Open Studios (MHOS) event on the last weekend of October 2010. Each artist contributed money to pay for the trail maps to be distributed around the Shire. Each member also had a role to play in facilitating the success of the project.

NL: Neil, you joined the group soon after – what role did you take in shaping the direction of MHOS?

Neil Elliott: I joined the group in its second year. After a few years the numbers dwindled for a number of reasons. I was left to take over the group. I thought it would be a great opportunity to expand the concept and open it to all Mundaring Hills artists.

MHOS artist Neil Elliott, working on a sculpture in his workshop. Photo: supplied

NL: Tell me about the types of artists involved – what kinds of mediums and processes will we find on the Open Studio Art Trail?

NE: We welcome all professional visual artists. At the moment we have painters, glass artists, sculptors, ceramic artists, jewellers, resin artists, mosaic artists, printmakers, textile artists, woodworkers, photographers and drawers.

CM: Three of the artists from the original 10 will be at the event this year – Founder Greg Crowe and painters Christine Hingston and Jeremy Holton.

Greg is known for his wide range of functional pottery, He specialises in use of local clays and distinctive glazes using ash from local wood. Christine’s paintings are eye-catching in bold oil and acrylic, while Holton produces vibrant colourful oil and acrylic paintings, landscapes and flowers, and semi-abstract forms.

Neil Elliott, ‘Rakeman revisited’ (2022), acrylic, paper and pencil on board, 100cm x 100cm x 3cm

NL: There are 61 artists involved in this year’s event, exhibiting across 33 locations. What is your advice to punters in terms of navigating the program?

CM: Firstly if you would like a hard copy of the MHOS brochure to help you plan, head to one of the Perth metro branches of Jacksons Drawing Supplies. You can also access an online copy at our website.

NE: I would suggest that you plan carefully and see as many artists as possible. if you don’t live in the region, perhaps stay overnight in a B&B or the like. There are many places to eat that you can grab lunch, many of these places advertise in our booklet.

CM: The Mundaring Hills region is characterised by small village type towns with plenty of character and history. Places like Mt Helena, Parkerville, Mundaring, Sawyers Valley and Chidlow are centred around old pubs that provide country-style hospitality and decent food.

There is also a range of casual eating across the region with quality coffee spots and bakeries. Glen Forrest Gourmet, Café Mojo (Mundaring) and Gidgegannup Bakery are some of the standouts.

The Hills area is really at its best at this time of the year. In addition to the art trail, parks and reserves such as John Forrest National Park and Lake Leschenaultia are teeming with wildflowers and the brooks and streams are still flowing after good spring rain.

Neil Elliott

NL: Neil, tell me about your own practice and background. I understand that your interest in art started young?

NE: I was fortunate enough to have a grandfather as an artist and my parents always encouraged me to pursue my passion.

I always loved drawing and painting as a child and at age 16 left school to study graphic design at Perth Technical College. Now I enjoy any creative challenge and feel privileged to be living the life that I always dreamed of.

NL: And while you established a successful business as a cartoonist/illustrator, you continued to explore a variety of mediums, including printmaking, photography, painting, life drawing, mixed media and more recently, sculpture. What is it that keeps you exploring different mediums?

NE: I enjoy the learning aspect of using new mediums. I would get bored producing the same style of work or using the same medium for the rest of my career.

NL: You describe your work as “quirky and thought-provoking” and looking at your work I can certainly see your cartoonist roots. Where do your ideas come from?

NE: My ideas are inspired by human interaction with animals and other humans, mixed with both history and historical engineering.

NL: What do you enjoy about living and creating work in the Perth Hills?

NE: Living in the hills was an obvious decision for my partner and myself. I like to have space around me and I love the wildlife that comes to visit each day, such as birds, quendas and lizards.

Mundaring Hills Open Studios takes place 22-30 October 2022.

2023 update: Mundaring Hills Open Studios 2023 takes place 21-29 October.

Disclaimer: Craig McKeough is one of Seesaw Magazine’s sub-editors and contributing writers.

Pictured top: Neil Elliott, ‘Barrow of fun’ (2022), acrylic and pencil on board, 60cm x 60cm x 9cm

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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