Hi! I am a South Australian Visual artist, that currently paints on Peramangk and Kaurna land. I paint environments and experiences around me from life.

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Essay by Gabi Lane.

Ghostly gums amidst twisted scrub, red earth under bright skies, Hills Hoist clotheslines, and a sun-bathed sitting room; artist Gemma Rose Brook paints places brimming with familiarity. 

As an artist who paints from life, Gemma seeks to create an emotional dialogue between herself, the environment, and the work. Beginning with the slow process of hand-making and preparing her boards, care and sensitivity are at the forefront of her practice. 

Having drawn and painted from a young age on family holidays spent hiking and camping, Gemma is driven by a desire to paint the natural world as she experiences it in the moment. Her en plein air approach allows her to channel the emotional agency of her surroundings, painting not only what she sees but also what she feels. 

While en plein air painting originated in Europe during the Impressionist movement, Gemma has more in common with Australian post-impressionism and modernist artists like Grace Cossington-Smith, Jane Sutherland, Clarice Beckett and Dorrit Black. Like these artists, Gemma’s practice is dynamic, responsive, and informed directly by what is around her. 

Gemma is also more interested in an engagement with nature that is more in line with Indigenous conceptions of connection with Country; being of the land rather than in it. Working closely with Indigenous artists has strengthened her approach of connecting deeply with her environment.

Painting from life, she works quickly to capture the sensory dimensions of a particular landscape in a moment of time; the light, colour, and mood as it flits and changes. Working alla prima, her loose and gestural brushstrokes convey this sense of urgency. The speed of her brushwork and richness of her colours create a dazzling effect in which her foregrounds seems to vibrate as colours bounce off one another.

The complex overlapping of brushstrokes, chosen to conjure the textures of native gums, red sand and dense bush, create a sense of depth that speaks to her technical skill. Her sgraffito provides a gestural energy and creates a surface suffused with texture. These scratchings are also a loving nod to the drawings she would scratch into the back of receipts while riding the bus to and from school in her youth. 

Memory plays an important part in her practice and is most apparent in her artwork titles. Written in the style of a single stream-of-consciousness, her titles, which are often sentences themselves, share with the viewer the thoughts and memories of the artist whilst painting.  

In a time when there is a collective urge to return to the natural world, wrought by pandemic-induced isolations, Gemma’s paintings are placed firmly within the zeitgeist. Her emotively charged paintings sing with light and life. They are joyous, hopeful and exactly we all need. 

Gabi Lane is an Independent curator and arts writer living and working on Kaurna Land. She is currently Gallery Assistant at Hugo Michell Gallery.

MEET Gemma

Gemma Rose Brook is an emerging artist who paints her environments from life, connecting and documenting her experiences. After completing art school in 2019 at the Adelaide Central School of Art, she received both a year long Artist Residency at Carclew House and the Carclew Fellowship through a competitive application process. Receiving both awards at the same time gave her a rare opportunity to elevate her practice and to be mentored by Sydney-based painter Tom Carment. This professional development opportunity began in Adelaide and has allowed her to extend her practice through supported meetings with interstate contemporary painters and curators, as well as a master class at the National Art School in Sydney. Working with Tom has also enhanced Gemma’s perception on depicting light and hue in her paintings from life. 

In 2020, Gemma was selected as a finalist in the Heysen Prize for Landscape. She then went on to win first place in the Royal Society of the Arts Youthscape Prize. As an emerging painter, she has been included in multiple group shows throughout South Australia. Gemma’s most recent show was a sell-out debut solo show at Floating Goose Studios, Adelaide. This 2021 solo show was based on her time living and working in Pukatja (Ernabella), a remote indigenous community in the APY Lands. Through working at the Art Centre she developed close inter-personal relationships that taught her how to connect with the land respectfully. Her experience of living amongst the community was captured through her paintings which highlighted the unique colours, intriguing landscapes and remote quirks. 

Gemma’s Adelaide Hills based practice is also integrated with working in galleries; including Praxis ArtSpace, the Art Gallery of South Australia, and as Indigenous Painting manager at Ernabella Arts Centre and Iwiri Community Arts. This work has enriched her professional awareness and community ethos while also giving her opportunities to teach drawing and painting from life. 

Mandy’s Toyota Dreaming, 2021, Oil on Plywood,