How many of us are dreaming of another international vacation or feel as though our last trip abroad was just a dream? Local artists Julie Podstolski and Robyn Varpins, for two.
But rather than sit around bewailing their lot, the two friends and long-time collaborators have put together An Italian Dream, another terrific exhibition which, in the making, allowed them to revisit and reimagine their previous Italian sojourns. And will allow us to visit Venice, Verona and Vernazza vicariously. As well as other Italian locations including Rome, Florence and Milan.
Not that either of them has ignored the opportunity to explore further our own state. Rather, it’s about honouring past “affairs” while falling in love again with what we have. Julie explains.
“You have relationships with places like you do with people,” the fine coloured-pencil artist says. “I’ve had this affair with Kyoto, this affair with Paris, and this affair with Italy. And I hoped it would be ongoing but of course COVID has stopped it. Now I’ve got this old husband, Fremantle, and I’ve got to get back to seeing it afresh. And finding that stimulation here. Because I’ve got to draw. Otherwise I’ll go mad.”
And indeed, the 24 drawings in the exhibition have a misty, dreamlike quality about them which recalls not only the special light and atmosphere of a city like Venice — something artists like Turner, for example, have for centuries been drawn to and captured so well — but the way our memories rewrite, or overwrite, the past like a delicate palimpsest.
“The title of the exhibition comes from Charles Dickens,” she says. “This was even before COVID. Then when everything changed, Italy became more of a dream than ever. I’ve sought to capture Venice’s unique atmosphere, dazzling light and tranquillity. I feel that Venice has one foot in the world and one foot in heaven — a spirit city.”
For Robyn, who combines oil painting with unglazed raku clay sculpture, it’s about representing in clay the visceral experience of being in a city like Venice.
“I was last there 30 odd years ago,” she says. “But I still remember what a huge physical impact it had on me, because it’s such an incredible place. I was deeply affected by the antiquity of the buildings and sculptures everywhere. And I wanted to depict that in clay.”
Where Julie’s drawings are often ethereal, luminous and atmospheric, Robyn’s sculptures are present and playful, embodiments of both the fact and the idea of Venice. They are also responses to Julie’s own responses to La Serenissima, as Venice is known.
“The romance of Julie’s landscapes became my muse as I sought to design a response to the elusive spirit of Venice,” Robyn says. “I explore both symbolic and realistic expressions in clay in order to render intimate this dramatic place.
“It has been a joy to revel in my own Italian dream.”
There’s a certain wistfulness to what both artist say of Italy. But Julie is quick to remind us that the exhibition is not a lament for things past.
“I remember my trips with nostalgia and wonder if and when I will ever be able to return,” she says. “However An Italian Dream is not a requiem but a feast and a celebration.”
A feast to which we’re all invited.
An Italian Dream opens Thursday April 8 and runs until April 18 at Earlywork, Shop 9, 330 South Terrace, South Fremantle. All the art will be for sale.earlywork.gallery