Shirley Ploog currently has her exhibition "What Remains" on at Gallery Smith Project Space in Melbourne. The first exhibition for the gallery after the extended lockdown will see a selection of works that Shirley, as she explains in the video, went deeply into and evolved into different materials.
Just before the exhibition set-up, we met via Zoom to have a conversation and find out more about how Shirley has spent 2020. Watch the video below.
If you prefer to read, there is a transcript at the bottom of this post.
You can see Shirley's available drawings below and right at the bottom, details of the exhibition.
Have a listen, leave a comment. And if you can, get along to her exhibition.
The local area that continues to inspire Shirley's work.
Artworks by Shirley on ART500 that you can own
Protected by Shirley Ploog
20 x 20cm
Graphite and Ink on Drafting Film
1st image is 'Protected' 2nd image is a different work showing the framing
Cocoon by Shirley Ploog
20 x 20cm
Graphite and Ink on Drafting Film
1st image is 'Cocoon' 2nd image is a different work showing the framing
Read the transcript
During this time, we're meeting with Shirley Ploog. Shirley is an artist based on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria, and she's working toward her next exhibition in Melbourne, in late November. So we're going to have a bit of a chat about what she's been up to during 2020, and how she's been navigating and preparing for this exhibition. Join me in saying hello to Shirley and I hope you enjoy our conversation.
Shirley, thank you very much for joining us for in conversation with how are you today?
I'm great and it's a pleasure to be here. So yeah, all things are well in what is a cool day in Melbourne today, which doesn't seem to be the case for you, which is a nice thing. So we'd love some sun today, Amanda.
Well you are coming up to summer, so you'll have that soon. But you seem to have plenty of light in your studio there. And I can see that you've got some work behind.
It's been quite a tumultuous year for really everybody in 2020. But I know that you've been working quite diligently towards an exhibition. I'm just wondering, you're down on the Bellarine Peninsula. So you've had lockdowns of varying degrees over the course of quite a long time really this year. How have you been with that? How has that impacted on your on your practice and your routine?
It's been an interesting time, as you say, for everybody, and I think, for artists, you know, it's been quite challenging in a number of ways. And I guess the first one being, like everyone, being so unsure of what's about to happen. And, you know, when people have got exhibitions booked, and you know, things are canceled, or everything reverts to being online, which is been interesting and challenging.
So, you know, I think all of us have had quite some impact. But there's the other side to it the flip side way, you know, you get the opportunity to actually think about what's really happening here.
For me, through this whole thing, I struggled a lot with my practice, because you were just so caught up in what was happening in the news every day. And, you know, you got so focused on on all these numbers, which were very scary.
Then after that initial, oh, my God, what's happening? There was a time to reflect and a time to actually go introspectively I guess. So, you know, for me, I'm extremely lucky that being in Barwon Heads on the Bellarine, it is an opportunity, it's a beautiful coastal area, my, my show is all around my, you know, surroundings. And so it just enabled me to just get deeper and deeper into my work.
So you know, one of the things that's really interesting when you have a show, is that, you have another life as well, and you're trying to balance and juggle the two together.
When you're doing your work, you really are quite insular, and that you're in your studio seven days a week and really focused and when people say "Can we go out?" And "Can we do things?"
We've got all these other things on the go, it's quite an interruption, you don't want that, you don't really want that, because you're just so engrossed, in trying to develop this body of work.
But with COVID, what happened is, it couldn't have that, you know, there wasn't all those other interactions and all those other little asides that take you away from the studio. So that was kind of interesting. I didn't have to deal with that this time round. So that was kind of a good thing, you know, where I wasn't negotiating with people around that, or you know, people thinking, you know, your non-artists friends think you're crazy when you're in the studio, for such long periods of time. Now, you don't want to get out and you just want to say I've got stuff to do you know, so they don't understand, but obviously artists do.
So look it's really an interesting time for me where I had, I had that time to really spend and go deep into the work. And so I guess it, it taught me a lot about being a lot more introspective in the work. I had more time because, you know, initially my show was a lot earlier, and it's been delayed. So I have a lot more time to explore and really get into the depth of what I truly want to try and communicate. So that was pretty interesting for me. And I guess the other part was, my work is all about, the fragility of life and nature and death and decay and that was so prevalent at this time.
A lot of people have talked about reconnecting with nature. I've always felt that connection with nature and, I'm surrounded by it every day. And so it's given me that opportunity to continue to look at it admire it, you know, be amazed by it, be curious by it. I've been able to do that even more, on these daily walks that we've all had to do to keep us keep our sanity and keep us feeling like we are connected, and we're all part of this beautiful place that we live in. So yeah, that's, it's been an interesting time and a lot of time for reflection. I think, Amanda.
It sounds like it, and it sounds like in many ways, it's had a positive flip side for you. In terms of the show being pushed out, I mean, you're still having an exhibition, you're having one at the end of November. And from what you've just said, is the body of work that you're exhibiting now quite different than would have been were you to have had the show at the original date? And if so, can you tell us a little bit about what we can expect to see?
Yeah, well, look, it's a great question, and yes, it's changed considerably. And, you know, I probably started thinking about and started developing the work last year, when I was doing a residency at the Art Vault in Mildura. So I started there knowing that I'd have my show mid-year. My work started quite literal. It was all about the beauty of coastal trees being moonahs and tea trees, because I just love all the imperfections and particularly the dead ones that are all gnarly and old so that's how it started. And so it's really just love the the beauty of them. But as you know, we got into lockdown that connection with nature became so critical. And so what became more important to me was not actually the literal trees, but the actual feeling of the trees and how they actually made me feel and the grace and the rhythm and how connected but nurtured and protected I felt being in them and being surrounded by them. So my work evolved from being quite literal about the trees to be more about the feeling of the trees and how they made me feel and how more rhythmical lyrical, protective they were. So it really it changed significantly throughout the process. And as we do as artists, you know, we do evolve. But yes, it did change a lot. And, you know, the way I worked also change, I continue to draw, I mean, draw from drawing for me is a way of communicating. So I found that really immediate and a great way to express how I felt. But I was initially using inks and didn't feel that, you know, the inks morphing with my drawings was giving me the right feel. So I moved to oils, which I felt gave me a lot more fragility and calmness. So there are a couple of things that I did that were different along the way to create this body of work.
So you mentioned oils, does that mean that there's some paintings or mixed media or.. Describe a little bit about what work will be in the show for us.
Yeah, so in the show, the body of work really is around me using my graphite, and my pencils on drafting film. So these are all on drafting film, which is a really beautiful, smooth, I just love the surface, it's just no tooth on it very slippery, and very translucent. So you get this beautiful feeling of fragility, just through the drafting film when I'm not framing the work. So it's just going to be floating, and then applying the graphite to it. And then after that, I then paint on top of it. And the reason for that painting is very loose, transparent oil. So using a lot of solvent, and I find what that does, it just creates these marks that are unresolved, and I guess, just allowed to be without me controlling it and creating all those character lines and marks and bits of history that come over time. And so yeah, I'm hoping that it has that fragile but also have aged imperfect look, with the mixed media approach that I've taken. Yeah, that's quite that's quite a shift that I'm interested in in having a look at those because I know
On ART500 we have the graph on the drafting film, and they're really beautiful and delicate. And, as you say, really incredibly smooth. So I'll be really interested to see the, the ones that mix in with the oil paint, as well.
And your studio is - and we will let people know where that exhibition is and the dates and we'll do that towards the end - but your studio, is that at your home?
Yeah, we came down here, probably two and a half, maybe three years ago now. And our whole reason for being was my partner Max his studio, which is a giant shed. And for me having my own studio. So we were all about making sure that we had those two things as a priority in the house. I've got a purpose built studio, which I'm very thankful for we you know, we've got creative from a couple of bedrooms, and it's got three big windows. And so yeah, it's a lovely large space with storage, and then I've got another storage area for my artwork.
I guess it's an artist's dream to be able to, you know, I mean... And that's been another thing that I've been very lucky with that, you know, with COVID, a lot of my artist friends have not been able to go to their studio because the studio is not home. But through all of that I've actually been at home, I haven't had to change my working practice at all, because my studio is my home studio. So yeah, it's a it's a great space, I've got, you know, plenty of work, I've got plans, drawers, I've got storage, I've got activity areas, I usually have three easels on the go, so I've got plenty of space to, to live with. So do what I want to do in here. So yeah, I'm very thankful for that. It's been great.
It's great when you get to set up that's right for you. And people setups are so different, that when you get the setup that's right for you, it just makes it so much simpler to get into the flow of the work and to do the work. My storage situation isn't I don't have my storage built at the moment. So I'm still sort of tripping over things that I do find it incredibly disruptive. So you know, having to spend some time to sort of sort and organize so that you can, that sounds like you've got your nicely, nicely set up.
Well, it's always a work in progress, I think. But look, it is really interesting, because I think, you know, all of it fits into your app practice. And, you know, for me, a lot of people have often asked me, you know, you know, why do you work from home? Do you find that distracting? Because there's always things to do, but I've always been one that's been able to kind of go, right you know, I'm in the studio because I'm you like getting in early, I'm pretty disciplined a lot, right? That's it for the day in the house, I don't do anything else in the house, you know, 9.30 I'm in my studio, and then I'm in there till five, you know, and I just kind of have learned to just allow everything else to go and so that I can actually just concentrate and enjoy and be in the moment of what I'm doing.
And so for me, the other part of that was, I do like to have things organized. And so you know, I was finding if I'm in my old studio, you know, it was always trying to get over things to find something and then you know, looking through drawers and couldn't. And I find I found that really frustrating as well as it took up a lot of time. So that was my whole wish this time was to have storage space, both in my studio, so I had easy access.
But I've also got now another actual room, which is my storage, which has got all my paints and all my inks, and it's great. So and all my schedule, you know, all your sketchbooks over the years, you know, gather all these things, or all your framing material. There's so much stuff as artists that we accumulate. So, you know, where do you put it all? So yeah, you know, just the joy, and I've been having to actually think about all that. So yes, it's all part of making sure that I've cleared my head so that I can just do what I want to do. That's how it works for me, which is not the same as everybody I understand.
So you've got quite a regular routine in your in your studio turning up at 9.30 working through your five most days is that
Yeah, look, look, it works for me. And you know, because it's one of those things and I listen to this, this great quote by an artist by the name of William MacKinnon and he was talking about you know that the, you know, your next work informs your next two or three and I really believe in that and I find that you know, if I've got works on the go, I've got something to go to into the studio. So I ensure that part of my routine is having having works in my studio that are all going. They absolutely develop and they go in to different areas all the time. And, you know, except when you're doing a show. So now that I've finished my show, now it's time for me to explore again. So now it's about playtime, so all those things in your head that you kind of really wanted to discover, whilst you're on this journey of you're doing developing a body of work, it will still continue, but I can now take all those sidetracks that I couldn't take before, because obviously, part of building a body of work for show is that you actually deliver upon it. So now times for fun and to actually go, Oh, you know, I'm going to play a little bit there and start some different projects, which I'm sure you've been down that same path, you know, a lot of projects on the go. So you understand that whole thing of an artist brain where you know, it's constantly moving. But I think the studio practice is really important to to keep it active. And to keep it on.
It's critical. And even as someone who has no, for many, for a number of decades, I've had other things that I do as well. Because that's how I'm wired, But you need to stay in the studio. And I find sometimes even if it's incredibly busy, and the other things are needing to do, just coming into the studio and spending a small amount of time each and every day anchors you into the practice. And it means that the time doesn't drift too far, because, you know, a busy world can get in the way.
And you really do need to stay connected, at least that's for me personally. Because I don't work seven days a week in the studio. Being in here every week on a fairly regular basis is really critical to moving the work forward. And that's actually the most important thing as an artist, you know, there are so there are so many other things that you have to tend to. But without the work, without the work moving forward, those things are actually fairly irrelevant. So
That's exactly right. Yeah.
Why don't you tell us a little bit about the show?
Yes, so my show is called what remains. And this has been an evolution for a couple of years now. So I started talking about what remains probably two years ago, where I was actually whilst walking, collecting things, what remained on the ground or my walk. So it's been an evolution of that. And so, you know, it's been a two year journey of picking up things that have been decayed, old and gnarly. And then it's evolved at what I've been talking about before.
So the show's called "What Remains", it's part of a wonderful Gallery Smith project called Project Space, which you Amanda you've been a part of that too, and very proud to have been included in the program this year. And so yeah, it'll be from late November, from November the 27th through to December 19. This is the first show there since lockdown, so I'm very, very excited about that. And project space are running a different type of opening as well, which will be really interesting, it's going to be an opening day celebration. So I'm really excited to try that because I've never done that before where there'll be hour time slots, so it'll all be very COVID safe. And, you know, certain amount of paper are allowed in each hour. So you know, you book a time to go and have a look at the work. And so for an artist that's going to be really great, it's going to be a lot more intimate, you know, we get the opportunity to spend time talking to people and allowing them to ask as many questions as they want to where normally you know, when you have a show is you well know, the openings just so frenzied, you know, there's a lot of people and you're trying to cover a lot of ground in a very short space of time. So you don't ever get that same opportunity as this is so I'm really looking forward to that. So again, on the flip side, here's a different way of working that I think will be fantastic. So I'm looking forward to that new experience.
Fantastic So, Gallery Smith Project Space, which is in Abbotsford street in North Melbourne from the 27th of November through to the 19th of December.
Yeah, the opening celebration day is on, I think it's on November the 20th.
Fantastic. And what's going to happen after? You mentioned a period of play any other plans. Anything else?
Yeah, well look this is a really strange time for me because, one is obviously not going to explore some other ideas that I had. But normally this time of the year, I would have already planned for another residency or another show or whatever. I'm deliberately going to hold back on another show, because I've been doing them regularly for the last seven years. So whatever year so I wanted to start to get myself a little bit of space to develop some other projects that I'm thinking about. But also too, with COVID, it's like, you know, when do we start to think that we can branch out so I now feel that it's time for me to start persuing and having a look at some residency programs that are based around nature and the environment. So that'll be next on my little list of things to do for next year. So yeah, that's, that's what's next for me. But not as planned as normal, which is quite different.
And I think that's true for many people, because they've been such a because of the closures of galleries for a period of time, and people have been had all of their shows moved, and some have been canceled altogether. But we've kind of got this backlog situation that's coming up now for people who missed their regular exhibiting slot, and have a body of work ready to go. So I think that we will see a lot more exploration of how can I get this work out into the world? How can I share this work and, and is now a time to show? For myself personally 2020 became - as it was backwards and forwards about different exhibitions and whether borders would be open or not open and things like that- it just became you know, what, if there's a gap in your CV 2020 is probably the year to have that gap and just make the work and pursue and see what you can do into 2021. And moving on. But it sounds like it's been a really productive time for you. And it sounds like the evolution of the work over that time has been really fruitful. So I'll be interested to see what comes out of the next phases of play. And what you come up with.
Well thank you and I just wanted to say, Amanda thank you so much to you, and what you do for ART500 it's really a wonderful group of artists who, you know, think are a great family. And I really appreciate the work you do and support in ensuring that, you know, we get out there and names out there. So yeah, just wanted to say thank you for that, because it's a special group of people and it's really lovely to be a part of. So thank you.
Thank you, Shirley. I appreciate that. And, you know, obviously, I really believe in all of the artists here on ART500, it's an absolute delight to be part of. So I'm glad that you were able to join me for this in conversation "In Conversation number two", and I'm looking into bringing a few more. So thanks for taking the time, we will post this up on our blog page and make it available through our newsletter as well. So people will have plenty of an opportunity to have a bit of al look and listen. And I always put up a transcript as well for those people who just prefer to read instead. All of the best with your exhibition apologies that I won't be able to see it, being up here in Brisbane won't be able to get down to Melbourne for it but I look forward to seeing some installation images from you.
Thank you and again, thanks all the best news for all your little adventures that you've got. Your techie skills are very impressive. So thanks for today. It's been fabulous.
Thank you Shirley.