July 31 - August 6, 2011: Issue 17

Above: Sophie with daughter Ruby.

Above: a Close Up View of Sophie's Portrait 'Intimations of Mortality' of Avalon author Katerina  Cosgrove.

Below: Sophie around six years of age with her brother at Towlers Bay.

 Copyright Sophie Haythornthwaite, 2011. All Rights Reserved. 

 Sophie Haythornthwaite

Last month we brought you the news that one of our local painters, Sophie Haythornthwaite, had won first prize at the 2011 PIRTEK Southern Highlands STILL LIFE PRIZE for her ‘Bowl of Oranges’. In 2010 her portrait of local author Katerina Cosgrove ‘Intimations of Mortality’ was selected as a finalist in the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, the world’s richest portrait prize with the winner receiving $150,000.00. The subject of these portraits must be an Australian and by an Australian painter.

In 2010 Sophie’s ‘The Bird’ was selected for the Director’s Cut in the prestigious The Blake Prize for Religious Art, established in 1949 to raise the standard of religious art in Australia. A prolific artist, this delightful lady is also a mum to boot. Sophie has allowed us to share some of her wonderful creations with you as our August Artist of the Month and shares some insights into her work and self to commence our second month of Pittwater Women profiled.
When did you first start painting ?

I started painting full time in about 2001 and have made a living out of it since then. I had always loved art and craft as a child, and had decided I wanted to be a painter by the time I was about 12. After my HSC I went to art school in Sydney but it wasn't what I was looking for so I went overseas. Italy was where I found all the art I loved... and the food, and the wine... so I went off to study in Italy.

Which do you prefer; Still Lifes or Portraits ?

My training in Italy was in the traditional oil painting techniques of the old masters and focused on portraiture.

My professional career has been mainly as a portrait painter, but I enjoy painting still life and landscape as well, and most of my exhibited work in galleries has been still life and landscape. Still life and landscape offer a lot of scope for experimenting with variations of colour, form and composition, and my recent work has been still life placed in a landscape or seascape setting, which allowed me to create compositions that used the horizon and the shapes of headlands as a contrast to the rich colours and sculptural shapes of flowers and fruit.

Overall my main interest is still the human form, not necessarily in the classical portraiture sense, but in the sense that the human figure and the human face are so expressive. A figure or face can tell a story on its own, and within a setting, such as a landscape or interior, it can carry many meanings. Vermeer does this the most beautifully I think.

My current interest is in Mythology and I am about to start on a series of mythological/narrative paintings which is something I have wanted to do for a long time.

We see from your Biography that you have studied overseas, could you share one or two moments from there and then that stick out in your mind ?

I lived in Florence for four years when I was studying, and also lived in a little hill town in Umbria for a while. I travelled a lot around Europe and loved especially Central Europe, Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia, The Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. There is such a rich history and folklore in those places and visually they were amazingly beautiful.
Travel experiences ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous... once I was in Verona in a church sketching from an illuminated manuscript that was on a stand. I was sketching some of the borders quite intricately and the priest decided I was sufficiently dedicated to my task, so he took me through several locked doors and gave me some gloves, and I was allowed to look at and handle some of the most precious medieval manuscripts in Italy that usually only museums get to see.

There were many memorable picnics of prosciuitto, bread, fresh cheese and delicious tomatoes in the hills above Florence, picking wildflowers and painting landscapes with wine in one hand, brushes in the other, and weekend trips to small coastal villages and hill towns to sample the local produce and visit galleries and churches.

Others were classic movie moments like the time I was in Venice in St Marks Square on New Years Eve, and it was dark and silent, and then all of a sudden, swelling music.... 'Ave Maria', the street lamps came on, an elderly couple started waltzing in the piazza, and, on cue, it began to snow.
On the other hand there was the time in Czech Republic when I was wandering in a forest and was adopted by a very cheerful Czech with a feather in his cap who decided that as an Australian, I needed to sample the local beer and took me to a little pub at the edge of the forest that was like a gingerbread cottage, which was full of stuffed bears wearing clothes and sitting in human poses. All the people there greeted me as if they had known me forever and had been expecting me. I sat next to a bear in lederhosen and drank beer with
a bunch of long lost friends I had never met before.

Who are your favourite artists and why?

My favourite artists are a strange mixture.
I love the Italian Renaissance painters such as Botticelli for the beautiful clarity and serenity of their paintings, the Dutch masters such as Van Eyck and Memling for their intricate detail and jewel like colours, and the surrealists such as Magritte and Dali for their haunting images and layers of meaning.

I have a bit of a thing for Caravaggio, but the true love of my life is Vermeer. His unique combinations of texture and colour, and the beauty of the painted surface. I love the way he uses yellows and blues, and I love the quietness of his pictures.

I went on a pilgrimage to the Netherlands to see some of his work and was amazed at the way the surface is built up of so many layers and underpaintings, very subtle and very structured.... it doesn't translate in reproductions, you have to see them in the flesh.

What is your favourite place in Pittwater and why?

I was born and bred in Pittwater and it is my favourite place in the world, if I think of 'home', I think of the western foreshores and Scotland Island. My favourite place of all is a tree up high in the bush off the Towlers Bay track which I used to climb up and sit in when I was a kid. The view went right up to the central coast. Also the Towlers Bay lookout, and the creek at the end of the bay. Currawong is a special place for me too. 
What is your motto for life?

I haven't really got a motto.... more like a long list of 'notes to self' and 'handy hints', like: 'When in a hole, stop digging', and things like that.

I recently had a bad car accident, and was very lucky to come out of it alive, so I think that my main thought of the day now is... 'Don't save the good stuff til later', and don't plan too far ahead. Do it now, or, if you couldn't be bothered, pay or bribe someone else to do it, and sit in the bath and drink champagne instead. 

Sophie Haythornthwaite Website 

Further Reading:

Pirtek Sothern Highlands Still Life Prize: http://www.bdasgallery.com/

National Association of Portrait Artists of Australia: http://portraitartistsaustralia.com.au/browse-portrait-artists/haythornthwaite-sophie/2011 

Doug Moran website: http://www.moranprizes.com.au/

Charles Hewitt CV of Exhbitions, Lecture given and Article written by Sohpie: http://www.charleshewitt.com.au/artists/sophie-haythornthwaite/cv

The Blake Prize for Religious Art: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blake_Prize

The Doug Moran National Portrait Prize: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doug_Moran_National_Portrait_Prize