Bev Garside is a Darwin-based tactile artist who loves colour, texture and creative chaos. Her portfolio is very eclectic and draws from a wide range of subject matter, media and styles. She loves to turn rubbish into riches, transforming what people might ordinarily throw away into beautiful and useful works of art, like using recycled plastic bottles to create a collection of jellyfish solar lights for Tropical Light. Here, she talks about her love for Darwin and its people, the technique of burning, and her passion for recycling.
What do you love most about living in Darwin?
I love the difference in seasons. It is so lovely being cold in the dry season and having a panic to find my winter clothes (all of two sweaters and brightly coloured socks). There is lots to do and the markets especially are a favourite of mine. I love the emergence of turkey bush and the lovely textures of burnt trees and the colours of the burnt bushland, black and rich browns. One of my absolute favourite things to look at is the colour of the stormy skies in the wet season and how that makes the greens of the trees and bush “pop” out. I love getting into a swimming pool when I am stinking hot and coming out refreshed. I also look forward to wet walks along the beach when the monsoons are here followed by a cup of hot coffee.
What is the best thing about the wet season?
It’s an unusual time. It’s really hot and lots of people would rather be in the water swimming but for obvious reasons, like jellyfish, we can’t. We have these really amazing beaches here, so rather than be upset about not swimming I like to look at what else I can do. It's fun to have picnics in the shade of a tree, or go for walks in the rain. One of my favourite things to do is go sit on the beach near Nightcliff pool and watch the storms roll in or go for a walk along the beach in the rain. There’s heaps of wind and wild weather and the beach is usually empty. It’s beautiful and so dramatic and I absolutely love it.
What is something you can only do during the wet season?
Sit and watch the lightning and light shows and listen to the thunder with a glass of wine.
What are you doing for the Tropical Light Exhibition?
I am creating a collection of jellyfish solar lights. I like the idea of jellyfish because while they are hidden beneath the surface they are very much a part of our life here in Darwin. Jellyfish dictate when we can or can’t swim and offer an opportunity to have a different relationship to the beach. I already had a prototype when I heard about Tropical Light but this exhibition has given me the opportunity to work on them on a larger, more durable scale.
The sculptures, which will be made out of recycled plastic bottles and single use plastic bags also reflect a growing concern about environmental issues. I want people to stop and think about the environment. Darwin looks so beautiful on the surface, but if we look closely there are issues that we need to address. I’m hoping that my artwork inspires people to realise that it is possible to make something beautiful out of what is often considered rubbish.
I also love lights and when I had a look at what Bruce Munro had done I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really exciting’. There’s so much more to Darwin and having the chance to promote this place through art and engage the community in conversation is a real privilege.
How long have you been a tactile artist?
I completed an Honours degree in Textile Design (focusing on fine art textiles) in 1990, however I haven't always worked as an artist. Initially, I worked in a drug and alcohol rehab in the UK, setting up and running an art and craft workshop. After this I qualified as a teacher and taught both Art and Special Education. I also qualified as an Art Therapist in 2012. I’ve previously had work exhibitions but it’s only this year that I have drastically reduced my teaching hours to enable me to concentrate on my artwork. Some of my favourite mediums to work with are recycled items as well as acrylic, silk, felt and resin incorporating them together with a range of techniques including free motion embroidery and burning.
What prompted you to take up the technique of burning?
About ten (10) years ago a very close friend was diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t cope very well at all as I struggled to process the fact that she was dying. I started to draw my feelings to help me cope. I drew yellow daffodils which are the Cancer Council symbol to collect donations. In frustration one day, I drew a daffodil on canvas and then I burnt it. Burning represented what was happening to my friend’s body. She saw beauty in the piece. As she got sicker her amazing patience and peace really amazed me. She was not negative but strove to see beauty in all things and to create memories that would last a lifetime. She constantly demonstrated strength and resilience despite circumstances. Now when I incorporate burnt material into a piece I think of her and focus on the beauty that exists when we choose to look beneath the surface.
How have you developed as an artist?
I’d say I have grown in confidence as an artist. After training as an art therapist, I felt that I allowed my personality and feelings to shine through my work. I am beginning to push boundaries and am starting to feel like I have a voice as an artist and would like my voice heard. I love to experiment with different materials and use these to express whatever it is that I want to communicate.
What opportunities will being part of Tropical Light give you?
Being part of this exhibition is such an amazing opportunity to further develop my skills, confidence and the prototype. I’ve always wanted to be a full-time artist. I’m a middle school art teacher and this year I decided it was time to focus on my dreams with a view to securing a significant amount of time to see if I could actually do it. This exhibition was the first thing really that I’ve applied for and I was amazed and thrilled when I heard I had been selected. I’m now looking at ways to strengthen my prototype. As these works will be outside for six months I realised they will have to withstand stormy weather and possible cyclones. Already, I’ve been going around the garden shaking the grevillea trees to see how the solar jellyfish lights fare. They are quite small and I need to make sure they’re strong enough. This is an amazing process and already I’m seeing the benefits and stepping outside my comfort zone.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists who want to capture Darwin and the Top End in the lead up to Tropical Light and during the event?
Be inquisitive, explore Darwin and find those things that are hidden beneath the surface. Let go of any preconceived ideas and enjoy all that Darwin has to offer, including some pretty awesome local people.