“Two friends and I noticed the head mistress’ car was away and we thought we’d go see what she had in her fridge. She had beers. We were all suspended and sent home for a month. I had hundreds of horrible tasks to do like translate Chaucer into modern English. I never wanted to do English literature again. I liked it before that happened.
I’m from real pioneering stock. My parents learnt the ropes on how to grow tobacco, in Rhodesia which is now Zimbabwe. Their farm grew to be in the most successful tobacco growing area in ten years. Many people had their own private aircraft. It was a very colonial and privileged sort of existence – tennis parties and pink gins. We had lots of house staff and you dressed for dinner.
I went to art school in England, to Bath Academy in 1969 with a romantic idea of what it would be like. It was a complete and utter culture shock. Coming from a privileged upbringing to be suddenly put into digs in a council estate and told ‘your bath nights are Tuesday and Friday’…it was like….what!!?
Each year they whittled it down so you had to earn your place while you were there.
I thought, ‘rats to this’.
I went back to Zimbabwe and I did no art for a long time. I was an air hostess. I married a pilot. We bought the family farm in 1972, just in time for the Rhodesian War of Independence to start. Everyone had to do their bit so I was in the women’s police reserve. I had a gun across my lap all the time, it was hectic. The fear. We lost three of our immediate neighbours who were killed by terrorists.
Like so many Rhodesians, we left when they got the independence they wanted. We went to South Africa and I got divorced in 1987. Then I headed to Durban and ran the American Airlines office there. After 911 they pulled out and closed offices everywhere. I remarried in 1991.
I’d been trying to survive day to day. But here I was happy so the creativity bubbled up and I got the hankering to do art. It was about 1996. I started going to as many art classes as I could. I decided to do my degree as a mature age student at the same time as working. It was by correspondence so it was all quite hard. I got my Honours.
Not long after that my husband died, in 2005. With that I gave up my good secure job, and did art full time.
My mum was widowed and came here in 1997. My sister had been here 14 years. Both my daughters were here and it was a natural family following so I arrived in Australia in 2013.
When I came here, I was paying rent, and my studio was in my bedroom, so small paintings were perfect. Now I’m branching out into acrylics, and painting bigger and abstract which is a complete and utter reversal. I still have to do the little ones because they are more commercial now. I’m yet to find out how the bigger ones will go.
People often say, why do you paint? And this is the impractical part – I do it for love which has no guarantees. It’s delightful to be forever seeking the Holy Grail. Disfigured by self-doubt as I am, I still believe it’s within my power to create a perfect work. This is an effective reason for keeping my demons at bay.
I think everybody is an artist. Look at a group of 6 year olds and ask ‘who wants to draw?’ and all the hands go up. With 16 year olds you’ll be lucky if one hand goes up. The people are lucky that can take the creative spontaneity of youth into adult hood, because most get it knocked out of them.
Art definitely stills you. The subjects I paint are ordinary which hopefully makes the viewer stop and observe something.
Now I’m finding my freedom I can push the substance of paint and something real starts to emerge out of it. In fact now, as with life, I think it’s quite detrimental to have a fixed idea on what you’re going to paint.
The turbulence and the knocks – my greatest lesson has been to pick myself up and press on.”
Cally Lotz is an artist who can be found here: