Susan Baird: Where the Light Falls

5 - 26 June 2021
Exhibition Text
Through my observations, I hope to tell an unfolding narrative of my time spent here at Bowman’s Cottage and to preserve and record the layers that make Hill End such an enduring landscape. – Susan Baird

A decade ago Susan Baird first made the artists pilgrimage to the remote community of Hill End in Central New South Wales. This former gold mining town is an infinitely fertile fount of inspiration for many artists and Baird has continued to be called back to this place time and time again. Baird’s newest body of work, ‘Where the light falls’, emerged from a year like no other which saw Baird stop and observe the unfolding narrative of this place through her studio windows. The paintings in this collection, predominately created en plein air, canvass this rich historical context as it is transformed by light. Vibrant strokes of colour, swift brushwork and suggested forms conjure layers of atmosphere built over months, evocative of a multitude of seasons. Echos of memories, heard clear in the light of day, recede with the fading sun reduced to the faintest whisper.


The paintings seen here in ‘Where the light falls’ emerged from Susan Baird’s time in lockdown. The setting is Bowman’s Cottage, located on a picturesque tree-lined road on the outskirts of the former gold mining town. The property was purchased in 2017, and its house and gardens have slowly and tenderly been restored by the artist and her partner. In the long periods spent immersed in her cultivated oasis, Baird has absorbed the nuances of the surrounding landscape, and her work captures the glistering light at different times of day — the misty morning, the bright piercing daylight and the dramatic sunsets. There is a stillness and timelessness quality of Baird’s current work.


She explains, ‘Last year, being like no other, much time was spent looking out of windows and observing the subtle changes in the landscape. Noticing a light on here and there brought humanity closer, comfort and a feeling of connection.’


An Impressionist at heart, Baird works predominately en plein air. Armed with a squeegee and palette knife, she records fleeting vistas in her garden on various sized canvases. One such vantage point is from the vegetable patch, looking across to the fence, gate and the fields beyond. Using her tools to build up and retract oil paint, she captures the light and the magical quality it presents. Her dedication has enabled Baird to witness the changing of the seasons. Several landscapes are liberated with layers of shades of green, a nod to the recent rains that broke one of the worst droughts on record.


Another place of significance is her neighbour Sheena’s front yard. Baird carries the canvases and equipment to the small waterhole located a few feet from the porch, and from there she captures the glow and reflections of the surrounding trees and sky on the shimmering water. The layers in her paintings allude to time passing. She was once told, ‘Where you see a fruit tree, there would have been a house — these trees hold the histories and memories of past generations.’


Baird first visited Hill End in 2009, and two years later she participated in the Hill End Artist in Residency at Haefliger’s Cottage, the former residence of artists Jean Bellette and Paul Haefliger. Baird’s connection with Hill End and its captivating landscape span just over a decade, resulting in a quiet respect, humanity and intelligence that radiates her practice. The sketch-like qualities referencing structures, windows, flora and place also provides room for the viewer to reflect, ponder and enjoy. “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time,” said the American author Thomas Merton. At Bowman’s Cottage, her patch of paradise in Hill End, Baird has found and captured it, hence where the light falls.


Emma Collerton

Curator, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery