Tonya lives with her family on a beautiful piece of land just outside Milthorpe in Central West New South Wales. It's a glorious, sunny Spring afternoon when I visit her for my second studio tour. The studio is a light and airy space with glass doors on two adjacent walls opening up onto the garden and green house courtyard. White marked walls surround the room with unfinished paintings and collages tacked to them. Some of Tonya's old sculptures, installations and prints are dotted around the room and outside courtyard.
Tonya has a very distinct colour palette, lots of white with black, red and the occasional blue. She works in layers of paper, paint and charcoal, painting over and over the previous marks with white so only a hint of the older detail is visible. A sculptor to the core, she describes her painting method as "contruction".
Standing next to some paintings tacked to the back wall of the studio are three amazing sculptures. Carefully burnt and charred logs with emu feather hats! They remind me of Dr Seuss landscapes. Suddenly they blow over in the wind and I panic! Tonya's not fussed, "They're just sticks" she says. Most of Tonya's sculptures are made from natural everyday materials we pass everyday like sticks and rocks. Tonya has been drawn to sticks from her childhood growing up in the bush. "They're just everywhere." She used to collect them and drag them along in the dirt off the back of the ute, poke them in the fire, play fight with them. She shows me some of her older installation pieces. More burnt sticks wrapped in metal and pebbles encased in phone book pages. "They always come back carefully wrapped in bubble wrap from galleries" she laughs. "It's one of the things I love about art the transformation of an object from discarded to precious artwork." There's a story behind the pebble installation. Before she passed away, Tonya's mother used to tell a strange story about her uncle. Uncle Frank used to buy the weekend newspaper, he'd read the obituaries section and cross out the names of people who had died in the phone book. This artwork was about passing on this little story and others like it.
I'm particularly interested in a small, unfinished assemblage arranged on the desk. A twig with beautiful, acid yellow lichen growing on it wrapped in emu feathers sits among pieces of paper stitched through with more emu feathers, all those fabulous textures in one small artwork!
These are just some of the things you'll find at The Corner Store Gallery in the coming weeks. Tango is the new combined exhibition between Tonya Graham and her good friend Nina Machielse Hunt. Tonya and Nina have collaborated on many art ventures including establishing and co-curating a commercial gallery in Millthorpe, NSW. They have exhibited together in Orange and Sydney and have been active members of the Central West of NSW art scene for the past 10 years. Tango brings them back together to celebrate the Orange Wine Festival.
The exhibition opens Thursday October 22nd until Sunday November 8th, with an Opening night on Saturday October 24th, all welcome.