THIS sunny veranda in Cumnock is about to become a retreat and workspace for artists from around the country. It’s also the new home base for two Sydney expat artists who’ve moved west looking for the right space and environment to be creative.
Visual artists Alex Pye and Yasmine Smith are the latest creatives to make their home in the small town of Cumnock in NSW Central West. They’ve called their studio Dark Tea Time of the Soul, although the light-filled country homestead will be anything but dark.
“We’re currently setting up the house and adjoining workshop,” Alex said.
“Our intention is to have a project space available to artists from anywhere in Australia and eventually the world.”
This move was motivated by the struggle to fund a sustainable artistic practice in Sydney. They lived on a sheep and cattle farm for six months before moving into a house in Cumnock, a central west town with a population of just 200.
“Initially the appeal to move regional was a practical move. We couldn’t really afford to live in Sydney, and make art. Once we had both finished studying we decided that in order to prioritise art as our main careers we needed a change of lifestyle. Aside from financial practicalities we both enjoy living in a small country town,” Alex said.
The artists both have impressive resumes. Alex Pye is a visual artist who graduated from Sydney College of the Arts with Honours in 2011. Her practice incorporates painting, sculpture, performance and installation. She has exhibited at numerous artist run spaces in Sydney such as Kudos Gallery, Peloton Gallery, Eastern Bloc and At the Vanishing Point Gallery. In Sydney Alex worked in radio as the breakfast presenter for the community station FBi 94.5fm.
Fellow Sydney College of the Arts graduate Yasmin works mainly with ceramics, sculpture and object making as well as watercolour drawing. She has exhibited in Sydney galleries including Firstdraft Gallery, Peloton Gallery, MOP, and Kudos Gallery. In 2010 she participated in Structural Integrity at Nextwave Festival in Melbourne which brought together members of different artists run initiatives from around Australia and Asia for a month long residency, finishing with a group exhibition. She was also a member of the Mattress Box Collective in Berlin in 2007 and director of an artist run gallery called Locksmith Project Space.
Cumnock is known for its Animals on Bikes sculpture trail. It is also home to a growing number of professional artists. A family connection cinched the deal: Alex's parents, Robert and Leonie Pye, have owned a sheep and cattle farm in the area for 40 years.
“I have developed a great fondness for the country, not just for its open space and beautiful landscape but for the sense of minimalism I find in this place,” Yasmin said.
“When I’m driving through this very small town of Cumnock I become so much more aware of the objects that surround me; nothing but a street sign or a solitary tree, a random tennis court or pool, a giant VB sign 40 foot above street level. These things to me are imbued with so much more realism, and sometimes surrealism when seen up against the country landscape.”
Alex is already appreciating the change of pace: “Living here has opened up a whole new range of interests and activities, from the simple enjoyment of gathering and chopping firewood, growing veggies and having a pet chook, to studying permaculture and conservation at TAFE and involving myself in Landcare,” she says.
“These new insights have allowed me to conceptualise artworks that are much more diverse in nature to those I had been making at art school. People in Cumnock are friendly. Maybe it’s a thing about living in a small community where people know and help each other. Our neighbour is an engineer and has offered to show me how to weld. In Sydney we didn’t even know our neighbours!” she says.
Dark Tea Time of the Soul studio will include a low cost residence for artists and creatives. Alex and Yasmin also hope to use the venue for one off arts and cultural events such as film screenings, health retreats, music events and workshops and an “evolving and dynamic project space that provides an alternative to artist run initiatives in large cities”. The pair will be releasing a call for proposals within the next two months and begin their official program in September, with their first artist, Sarah Crozier, already booked for a month-long stay.
“We hope to put our previous knowledge into gaining further experience in running an arts program and to provide the opportunity for other artists to work in regional NSW. We also plan to host one off events which bring together the artists in residence and the local community.”
Follow their progress at: thedarkteatime.blogspot.com.au/