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October 2017 Issue
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A rugged canvas

Caroline Bellamy with her painting of Rock Wren Gully. Photo: Supplied
A young artist finds inspiration for her canvas in the most remote, seldom-trodden locations, writes Janet Hart

If you want to be a landscape painter, it’s probably a good idea to go where there’s landscape to die for.

It’s what 22-year-old artist Caroline Bellamy did. From an 18-day tramp in Mt Aspiring National Park, she produced a series of striking landscape paintings.

“I focused on observing the landscape and immersing myself in this wild and rugged area,” says Bellamy, who graduated with a Bachelor of Painting from Christchurch School of Fine Arts last year.

She’d  tramped with her family from an early age, and now she has chosen art as her career, she has merged her two passions.

While studying, she joined the Canterbury University Tramping Club and went on regular, and often ambitious, tramping trips. “Art and tramping have naturally fed into each other,” Bellamy says. “I choose places that are wild and rugged that people can’t [easily] get to for inspiration. Places that can showcase New Zealand’s beauty.”

On her trips, Bellamy keeps her painting in mind. “I have to think outside the box, think about new ways of seeing the place.”

It also requires patience and tenacity. “I would’ve taken more than 1000 photos on that 18 day trip,” she says. Camping at Cloudmaker Lake, Bellamy says she walked around with her compact camera and sketchbook, photographing changes in the light and weather to capture the lake in its different moods, all the while thinking about how she could compose a painting.

Back home, she’ selects multiple photos of the scene and paints from those. “By drawing from different sources I can capture the essence of the place,” she explains.

Bellamy uses thick oil paint and directional, clean brushwork. “It gives a freshness, energy and spontaneity to the work,” she says.

While painting, she relives the experience. “I can sometimes work for four days straight,” she explains. “I use my whole body. It’s that direct experience. It’s like tramping through the land.”

In July, a range of paintings from her expedition was shown at the Nelson Suter Art Society exhibition.

While painting one work, Western Sidle, Rock Wren Gully, Bellamy recalled crossing the gully, stepping into the unknown, the cliffs, the danger. With its bold colours, the painting captures the immensity and power of the land.

In a country famous for its landscape, it may surprise readers that Bellamy was the only landscape artist in her class. But she moves fast. She sold her first painting at age 14. Now her landscapes sell in galleries from Auckland to Dunedin.

Bellamy hopes to live and work close to the mountains, where she can tramp and soak up the environment. “And push my painting full time,” she says.