Down to the Wire

Words Angie White / Photos Carolina Gonzalez

Driving down a typical country dirt road toward Andrena Smith’s home on the outskirts of Nyngan does not prepare you in the slightest for the oasis that she has created for her family. It all begins at the front gate with a slight teaser; two rustic sheets of tin standing guard, intriguing, and as I follow the road leading into the property I find myself leaning further and further forward in my seat in amazement and curiosity.

Full life-size sculptures of sheep, cattle, horses, dogs, emus, pigs and birds all made of wire litter the driveway, some threaded with handmade ceramic pieces. I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland exploring this new place.

Anna, who was brought up on a property between Nyngan and Tottenham NSW and lived at “Gerelah” in her younger years, married David in 1981 and moved to Nyngan to live on “Eudora”. She is an accomplished artist who credits her artistic genes from her mother Martha who was most interested in sketching and flower arranging, and her aunt on her paternal side, who was a ceramicist and has a piece in the Melbourne Art Gallery today.

Together Anna and David reared their daughters Oona and Philippa (now grown and living away from home) in this peaceful place. Anna is a most welcoming, vivacious and an interesting individual with a kind heart and an outstanding talent for art in so many forms. Anna has managed to incorporate life on the land into her art using all kinds of natural materials.

Andrina Smith

“If I’m riding along mustering and I see an interesting piece of wood, a stick or wire of any sort I grab it and take it with me” said Anna. “There is so much inspiration in the bush for my works and I like to make it as interesting yet close to nature as I can.”

Anna’s sister Rochelle Mackillop is also an accomplished artist and while different, the two complement each other in their individual art forms. “Rochelle is a lot freer in her art style where as I am a little closer to the form, but our artworks blend well together and we enjoy discussing methods and sharing tips of ways to incorporate and produce different pieces.”

Anna has always been fascinated by art and started dabbling initially with smaller ceramic pieces such as cups, plates and bowls and tried her hand at painting. She built herself a kiln and over time has developed her own personal style which is so obviously present within the garden at “Eudora”.

From lounge chairs made of wire to super-sized apples and kelpies herding sheep, there’s a little piece of Anna’s art interwoven in every step across the property. Anna can often be found working in her garden followed by her real life working dogs and pet lamb as the water in the nearby Box Cowal glitters and plays hosts to a myriad of wildlife in the background.

For Anna her favourite medium is wire and netting because of its durability which lends itself nicely to sculpture work. “People quite often ask me to make sculptures for them of their favourite dogs or life-size animals. The production of each sculpture varies according to its complexity or size but it’s always a labour of love.” Anna is keenly interested in the stories each client shares as to why they wish for a particular piece to be created and where they will put it in their home or garden.

Not unlike their garden, inside Anna and David’s home is much like walking into an art gallery. From the wire sheep standing patiently at the front door to each light in the ceiling with a different cover and style, be it copper wire or ceramic, each piece has a story.  Dresses and coats made of wire are hanging near wire hats alongside bold, ceramic designs which draw your eye, bringing to mind a bower bird with its collection of colours and lights.

Anna has a collection of paintings by other artists hanging in the home and loves to support their works in all mediums. “Each Artist has their own individual style and I love looking at what they all produce” she said. While Anna is passionate about her art she is also equally passionate about the land as she and David run a grazing operation in which Anna is 100 percent involved, the pair work side-by-side each day with whatever needs doing.

Andrina Smith

“I wake at five [o’clock] each morning and complete a workout of sit ups, weight training and exercise. To work on a property you have to keep fit as you can be working physically for many hours and you need to be healthy and develop great core strength. I enjoy this time of morning as I know I will be ready for a full day of work ahead.”

As a part of their operation, Anna and David run a Samm stud and Merino sheep stud on two properties totalling 6,000 hectares.  They incorporate a small amount of cropping as well as some cattle from time to time. Although modest and not one to blow her own trumpet, Anna is undoubtedly a hidden talent in the Far West and her skills and creativity are simply breathtaking. Her artworks have touched many and are on display at homes and gardens around Australia and overseas.

Anna’s most recent exhibition was held at the Moree Gallery in early May while she has also had works on display at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, private gardens in Mudgee, Murrurundi, Narrabri, Scone, Warren, Narromine, Lightning Ridge and Sydney.

To know Anna is to love her – she is a true representation of a woman on the land who has quietly made a name for herself sharing her talent and love of art. “I absolutely love living in the bush. I love the freedom, nature around me, the sunrises and sunsets, animals and peacefulness. There are very few disadvantages to living out here and there is always a way to work out problems by thinking outside the box.

“…Prepare yourself for long days, eat well, keep fit, work hard, make things happen, make home special so family and friends love to visit, and most importantly make it a tranquil place for yourself.”

Five Minutes with FuzzyArt

Words Ellie Russell / Photos Stephanie Stone

We’re atop the lookout of Fort Bourke Hill with views spanning across the township of Cobar as I watch Ann-Maree Johnson paint a beautifully vibrant (and perfectly proportioned) female nude. Despite the searing summer heat and abundance of flies, it’s obvious Ann-Maree is passionate about art and the way it makes her feel. Her energy is infectious and like me, many have been lucky enough to get a taste at what life is like behind the easel embroiled in a world of colour as Ann-Maree shares her passion with hundreds of like-minded, budding artists across the Far West and beyond.

Born and bred in Cobar, Ann-Maree (pictured above), also known as Fuzz (a childhood nickname adopted due to her curly hair, and now part of her professional trademark FuzzyArt) spent the majority of her life and early years in the Far West. After a short stint in Sydney where she attended art classes regularly, Ann-Maree moved to the Pilbara in Western Australia where she completed further studies at Tafe and obtained her certificate IV in art. Ann-Maree describes the experience of learning, creating and playing with art at this time so enjoyable and likens it to being in Kindergarten again. “For as long as I can remember my favourite thing to do as a kid was to draw. I used to joke that I was born with a pencil in my hand,” said Ann-Maree.

“Art has definitely always been my passion. I did leave it for a while, life seemed to take other avenues, and I guess I got busy doing other things, but I found I just wasn’t myself without art and as soon as I picked up a paint brush again it felt like I had come home.”

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Ann-Maree specialises in a modern, contemporary style of painting, one in which she said took her quite some time to discover. “I have tried many mediums over the years and different styles searching for my own style and it really has taken me years to find what I call my ‘style’. I love bright colours and painting subjects that portray a hint of something real without being realistic.

I like the person viewing my art to wonder a bit and find things in the piece. Everyone sees something different, and I like that.” Some of Ann-Maree’s artworks and works-in-progress adorn the walls of her workplace Belle Visage in the main street of Cobar. Colourful, lively birds, frogs and big-bottomed nudes are splayed across the various canvases in the room.

“I’m personally drawn to the watercolour look, it always catches my eye and I think that is why I’m so drawn to ink. Ink and I have been having an awesome relationship for the past few years, I love the vibrant colours and the unique effects ink can give, it never fails to excite me.”