During the 2016 floods in Northern Tasmania, floodwaters threatened Ritchie’s Mill, the building in which The Mill Gallery (above Stillwater in Launceston) is located. Movingly, paintings inspired by the floods will grace the gallery’s walls during June. The artist behind these paintings is Anna Van Stralen.
The floods affected Anna’s work and life dramatically. Her work was shaped by the idea that, “the outside world was threatening to come inside”. She has recently been creating circular works, portraying the floods as if through a magnifying glass.
“You could say that your world shrinks or you could say that it expands and you look closer at it,” she says, recalling how the flood threatened to submerge her house and forced her neighbourhood out into the street in their pyjamas.
“It was like a bit of a party… There was a novelty and a beauty about it... It felt like the apocalypse.”
Anna has always been artistic. She began her career with a degree in environmental design but a conversation with her father became an important catalyst. He encouraged her to pursue a career in the arts despite his previous misgivings about a potentially unstable career path. It was her childhood dream. This vote of confidence was incredibly important to Anna, who later made the switch to a Contemporary Arts degree at the University of Tasmania. She completed her degree with first-class honours and also won the Sawtooth Honours Award in 2014. This led to exhibitions at Sawtooth, Brave Art Gallery and Stillwater Gallery.
Anna’s work was initially inspired by “unloved structures”.
“I had started thinking about painting interiors melding with exteriors and honouring what people actually see,” she recalls.
This led to a series of paintings of industrial objects in their natural environments: bridges, power lines, pipelines and machinery surrounded by wilderness. The delicacy of Anna’s treatment of such structures is what sets her work apart.
“The small-scale parts of my painting, I craft like a piece of jewellery,” she says as she puts the gleaming, finishing touches on the roof of a flooded house. She is considering making wearable art in future, to make her work more accessible and affordable, using silver chains and miniature houses such as those seen in her work “The Sentinel”, a painting of a boat standing guard over the flooded Tamar river.
Anna’s work has been influenced by several Australian artists, including Jeffrey Smart, Stephen Bush and Brian North, but she is particularly inspired by print-making. She enthuses about Ethleen Palmer, who was one of the few female Australian artists of the early twentieth century able to support herself with her work.
When asked how she has managed to make a living from her art, Anna laughs.
“I’ve taken whatever opportunities have come my way! Lots of people are talented so you have to decide that you’re going to work harder than everyone else.”
This has included teaching art to children, lecturing at UTAS, painting murals in people’s houses, promoting her work online and to galleries, and generally “not letting people send me away”. We are glad that she has been so persistent.
By Emily Peterson. originally published in issue seven.