The Sunshine Coast Hinterland is renowned for nurturing, supporting and embracing creative talent in a community which enables artists to shine. HT’s Angela Reedman-Polinski met with local Maleny painter, Lara Cooper, as she launched her fifth solo exhibition at the Spring Harvest Festival in Palmwoods. This dynamic painter, illustrator and artistic storyteller shares her enigmatic zest for life and love of community.
by Angela Reedman-Polinski
You may know Lara’s work from her commendations, awards and exhibitions throughout South Australia and Queensland. She received the Kernewek Lowender Art Prize in 2013 and was selected for the Obi Art Prize in Maleny in February 2017.
Maybe you attended her fourth solo exhibition, Mindful of Beauty, at Sarah’s Unplugged in Maleny earlier this year. Perhaps you voted for her entry, Exiting the Concrete Jungle, in The Du Rietz Art Prize in August in Gympie.
“Art is a broad field to define your style within and I love to paint. I have enjoyed 14 years of diversifying and exploring mediums to play with through oils and acrylics.”
She received her artistic training from renowned Yackandandah watercolourist Charles Sluga, attending his painting courses and receiving extensive critiquing, tutoring, and mentoring from him.
“I learned that watercolour painting sits between painting intuitively and experimenting with the intrinsic nature of the pigments of the paint chemistry. It is completely engaging.
“Watercolour is far less forgiving than oil paints. For example, since it is transparent, you have to plan ahead carefully – you cannot simply remove a mistake by painting over it.
“My goal is to put a pause into those beautiful moments, I am creating opportunities to stop, reflect, consider and contemplate. We don’t enjoy enough of those moments.”
Born in Albury, Lara dreamed as a child of saving money for a pony and land to grow her food. She now has both in her Maleny home and a comfortable space to paint in every season.
Settled with her family amongst goats, a miniature horse and chickens, the family grow an abundant garden full of fresh fruit, herbs and vegetables.
“I love the satisfaction of growing our own fresh food and enjoying the time out just to relax. In our garden, I can completely lose myself without expectations.
“My husband and I married in 1998 and later moved from Wodonga out to Bourke, where we had our first baby. A few years on, we moved our family back to Yackandandah, bought an eight-acre property and had two more children.
“In 2008, our family was offered a unique opportunity to build and renovate a college in Chiang Dao, Northern Thailand.”
Taking that leap with a young family and a mammoth task ahead, they endured plenty of ‘what we have done’ moments.
“It was confronting when we arrived, the renovation project turned out to be an abandoned and derelict resort. We worked hard to rise above language barriers as we transformed the buildings and appreciated the culture around us.”
Lara’s deepening concern for issues of justice kept her aware of the poverty she could see on a day-to-day basis. The young family visited a refugee camp in Thailand to gain a deeper understanding of the local challenges and struggles they were seeing around them.
“Returning to regular Western culture in Australia was more difficult than we expected. It was a hugely shaping time. Our day-to-day life felt so foreign and different after we returned. We took time out in South Australia in 2010, just to slow down and fully process what we had experienced as we re-established our family footings.”
Lara continued her education in social justice by completing her degree in intercultural studies at Tabor College and painting with her young children by her side.
The family eventually settled back into a rhythm, while remaining keen to hold on to their first-hand awareness of how other people lived.
“We travelled to Cambodia to visit and support organisations like Mother’s Heart and strengthen our family’s social justice focus. It was important to remind ourselves of our values and that money is not the worth and measure of success.”
Her support for the Centre for Men Australia organisation has led to her involvement in another recent project. Painting individuals from the project in intricate detail, she aims to highlight the journey they have travelled and the dignity, strength, resilience and wisdom that has been etched into their features.
“The organisation supports men through rites of passage via wilderness-based retreats, education seminars, mentoring, counselling and spiritual direction. It is a privilege to paint portraits of the men involved and hear their stories.
“I see the value in how they teach the rites of passage knowledge and wisdom which is largely absent from Western cultures.”
Lara’s Limited/Abundant exhibition this month shares those continued social justice and community support values that she wants to highlight.
“This exhibition reflects on the celebration of abundance and the corresponding responsibility we have for the stewardship of limited resources.
“My focus is especially important to me as we enter into unknown territory globally. With the effects of climate change being felt and experienced all over the world, it considers our ordinary, daily choices.
“I want people to pause and consider how little things are connected to much bigger systems which have a global impact for good or for bad.”
Lara is also a published illustrator, finishing two years of illustration work in 2018 on a children’s book by Rosanne Hawke and Lenore Penner, Chandani and the Ghost of the Forest, which was launched in June 2019.
The exhibition begins on Friday September 6 at 5.30pm. You can meet Lara on September 6 and 7 and see her beautiful artwork on display in the Tin Shed behind Homegrown Cafe, Little Main Street, Palmwoods for one week.
Hinterland Times direct to your inbox!
Get the Hinterland Times delivered directly to your inbox every month absolutely FREE