Dissecting the art of Gina Kalabishis

By Celeste Hawkins

In the career of a painter, or any artist for that matter, there can be various interruptions that disrupt the flow of creation. Such a time is when one attends art school. Some artists’ even report loosing their own personal direction as their scope becomes narrowed. Various exercises must be completed and mediums tested. Often times, themes are explored that one may not feel drawn too; but are too busy or pushed for time that the self gets lost in the process. Fortunately, this is not a time for Melbourne Artist Gina Kalabishis to be in a stage of flux. Recently she has just become the recipient of the 2014 Rick Amor Drawing Prize and prior, the Inaugural Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery Art Prize 2013. Currently, she is a finalist in the Adelaide Perry drawing prize. It is all flowing positively in her direction. Gina and I discuss many things sitting in her backyard studio. Her high roofed studio is stacked vertically with all sorts of bones and books-many on artists, flower arranging and cats! We laugh about the cat artworks as being a personal favourite, but not necessarily revered in the art world.


Gina’s cat posing in her studio

So what’s a typical working day for Gina?

 On a painting day, it varies dramatically depending on which point in time in the cycle of the creative process. Initially, all the paintings or drawings development have to be researched and pictorial elements need to be compositionally developed to a strict regime of acceptance in my eyes. This involves a series of preliminary sketches and notes and Photoshop manipulated images-integrated with digital painting. Once the preliminary expressive underdrawings on the linen have been resolved, then I am satisfied and can undertake the main painting execution. Most days, I’ll get up anywhere between 4:30 and 5:30 am. I almost always boil the kettle and boil it and re- boil it throughout the day. Eventually I have a very well diluted cup of green tea! I spend quite a bit of time preparing my palette with specific mixing formulas. It is a bit hard though first thing as its dark, so I have installed a few sets of extra lights to help see the variables in the tints of colours that will be applied for the day. Apart from what I may hear softly on the radio, it’s preferably a silent working time. I work through until I have to take my boys to school. Then it’s back to the studio, which involves lots of working through meticulous controlled application of painting layers, blending and glazing.

How much of your work is from life and how much from other sources?

 Throughout the day I’ll gather native flora from my own garden and I often take trips down to Merri Creek behind my backyard.  I then take photos of my arrangements to keep a record. I also rely on my Ikebana and flower arranging books, Art books and Internet images sourced from various universities and organizations around the world that document Anatomy and Ikebana. But nothing compares to drawing from life, there is of course the alive presence of the foliage and flowers (mostly native) their vivid and direct freshness of colour, the gestural forms and shortness of there life to be able to touch and smell. Photographs just don’t seem to give me all the necessary information for me they have died leaving me with the exoskeleton!

Gina Garden

 Flowers from Gina’s Garden 

Do you struggle with balancing family life and your work?

 I’m in the studio three to five days a week depending on the flow of work. I don’t paint at night, yet I’m always thinking about the work. I have a very supportive partner and two sons that have grown up knowing I am in the studio if they need me.  After a slower period of art production to support my family, in 2010 I made a commitment to place more time and focus on the art practice, my family have been wonderful and assist with the balancing act.   My struggles are mainly concerned with getting the balance right with my technique. Sometimes it has to do with obsessing over getting the right mix of green!

We talk about the artist feeling as though they are never good enough. How does Gina battle through these moments?

 Sometimes I hit a hurdle with the work and its right back in the studio the next day and day after to nut it out. At that stage, its just focusing on each step from moment to moment. I think as artists, there is this deep underlying feeling and struggle that we are never good enough, that the work is never resolved. This feeling forces you to keep working! On the upside though, years and years of painting has instilled a certain level of confidence with the strokes in that I’m not as timid. You eventually get to a point where there is a revelation. Also, drawing is my foundation and structure to all the artworks- the underdrawing is the bones of the painting. It allows me to create a line and its just there- alive, responsive and engaged to be explored and pushed with multitude of directions and pressures. It has the freedom to change and evolve lightly without the emotional heaviness that can come with the painting process as the second stage.


Gina’s studio

Why are you drawn to the bones?

 Twenty years ago, my mother passed away from breast cancer at the Caritas Christi Hospice in Kew  (part of the St Vincent’s Hospital palliative care unit) where I will be commencing an artist residency in May. The cancer eventually spread to her bones and they were slowly eaten away by cancer. They had her suspended in a hammock, as her bones were too delicate and the pain too excruciating for her to be flat on the bed. This had a deep and profound effect on my work. I have seen many dying relatives and dead bodies of my family members over the years. In Greek orthodox funerals the coffin is mostly an open coffin. Through these examples, I have seen there is a reality to death. The more you paint about it, the more you are preparing and understanding your own self for it.


Untitled’ by Gina Kalabishis, pastel on velour paper, 50 x70cm

Have you found your artwork to be healing?

 Yes, there is definitely that emotional quality to the work. Especially during my residences-it’s a journey that I take. It is a therapy of sorts, in that all the anger and anguish and built up emotions of the work can be released through the work.

Gina has also been drawing at the Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Physiology at Melbourne University in 2013 and has mentored the medical students when she was invited to be the judge of the inaugural Anatomy Student Art Competition in 2013 at Melbourne University.

I’d like to see more of a merge and collaboration between the arts and sciences. It can be perceived as crazy farfetched idea, but the act of drawing anatomy and specimens either by direct observation or in an imaginary application may somehow assist or trigger discoveries for the medical profession in finding cures for many diseases in the world.


‘Honeysuckle’ by Gina Kalabishis, pastel on velour paper, 50x70cm


What are plans for the future as far as subject matter in your work?

 I have been looking at the idea for a while now of introducing food into my work. I like the idea of food for feeding the soul and life within the body. There is also that conundrum of the complexities of the emotional attachment to food and also its harm it can do the human body. I also want to explore the idea of the Hunter/ forager/gatherer. When I was a child as part of a large extended family of grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins, we would travel to various rural locations around Australia to catch feral rabbits, forage for mushrooms, seal snails, urchins, blue swimmer and sand crabs, sea snails, octopus and even wild spinach off the side of the road.

Are you continuing your interest in the bones and flowers?

 I’m going to Japan in September to pursue my interests in Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) specifically the Sogestu school and styles like Nageire, Moribana and Rikka. These will inform my further investigations in the ‘naturalistic’ objective approach and the  ‘free style’ or “expressionistic’ subjective approach.  And I expect that that trip should also open up other interests. I will also continue my ever-evolving garden planting of native/indigenous Australian flora for inclusion into my work. There will be further exploration of the human anatomy, its diseases and the emotive embodiment of the spirit and soul. My residency at Caritas Christi will be my next exciting phase in the work- through the direct observations within the hospice community, this will definitely feed my fascination of man’s mortality.


 ’Greta’ by Gina Kalabishis,oil on linen, 166x106cm

Gina Kalabishis is represented by Flinders Lane Galllery, Melbourne.

Getting Out of Your Own Way-Workshop Review


Suzie's Typewriter


By Celeste Hawkins


You have to tell the truth as a writer. You have to be accepting of who you are and where you are.

These two statements came away with me from a workshop run by Melbourne based, British born author Jon Bauer, at The Wheeler Centre.

It was highly engaging, insightful and not one of your ‘how to write’ style workshops. We we were encouraged to feel vulnerable and there was a general acceptance that we would be ‘un-masking’ ourselves in this space.We spent time looking at all the varied obstacles and hurdles, or ‘what gets in the way’, when trying to write. During this interactive forum, one of the tasks we were given was to write something ‘really shit’. The atmosphere in the room as we read each other our most dreadful works, was far more exciting and jovial than the task of reading our ‘best ever’ work. It became very clear that the act of writing, when not forced, or coerced, can seem almost effortless. Many participants remarked they preferred their dreadful pieces! Jon has a strong understanding of the important role that the sub conscious mind plays in the act of writing. He also drove home the beautiful truth about being authentic as a writer: tell the truth.

Jon Bauer is the author of Rocks in the Belly

Melissa Deerson-Testing new ground this weekend

Melissa Deerson


As part of her Garden City art residency at Testing Grounds, Melissa Deerson is holding a Garden Encouragement event on Saturday April 12. Testing Grounds is a plot of land in the middle of the city that has been abandoned for a long time and is only just beginning to get some love. Come down, channel your inner druid/biodynamician/corn god convert and create and bury your own magical talismans to nourish the gardens and the grounds.

Participants will be using materials from the Testing Grounds garden, as well more up-to-date charms sweeping the health-loving world – bee pollen, coconuts, seaweed, sugar-free mints and multivitamins, to name a few. Think biodynamics’ cow horns full of manure, but updated for a modern lifestyle.

Arrive between 12pm and 5pm, grab a drink at the bar and crank up your mystical powers till 11.

Testing Grounds – 1-23 City Road, Southbank.



Melissa Deerson is continuing her exploration of Melbourne’s unloved and out-of-the-way spaces. Fresh from her analysis of the flora and fauna of the barren Docklands precinct, she has turned her attention to Testing Grounds, a bare patch of earth being revitalised in the heart of the city. For three weeks, Melissa will use the land as a base to reflect on the role plants and gardens play in urban areas.

In addition to her Garden Encouragement event, she will undertake a number of other activities on site:

On Tuesday April 15, Melissa will camp out overnight in Testing Grounds. Recording wind direction, weather and visible stars, collecting and eating edible plants, noting flora and fauna on-site, making sketches and maps and conducting sound recordings, she will conduct what she calls a ‘stationary expedition’ in a homage to plant collectors and explorers of the past and today.

The week of the 21st – 27th of April will see Testing Grounds lit up each night with a series of Deerson’s tongue-in-cheek ‘how to’ gardening videos. Sit amongst the fruit trees and nasturtiums and watch projections of ad-hoc tools, weeds and improbable flowers dancing in a lurid green world. 7-9pm, Monday to Sunday.

The residency concludes with a closing event on Sunday April 27. Come down for a drink and see the fruits of Melissa’s work during the period in a one-off exhibition. 6-9pm.

Melissa will be in the Testing Grounds studio from 12-5 Friday to Tuesday, 7-27 of April. Visits, cuttings and gardening tips welcome. 

Melissa will maintain a blog during the period detailing her research and the progress of her work –www.gardeninthewilderness.tumblr.com

Julie Shiels- Book Launch and Exhibition


You may recall the work of Julie Shiels here. A public artist and lecturer, Shiels has been prominent in her ongoing role of documenting abandoned inner city suburban objects. She has preserved moments in time without any alterations, expect for the addition of text.

I like my time

Julie Shiels works primarily in sculpture and photography and combines text, hard rubbish and discards to create temporary interventions and gallery based installations. Her practice is grounded in working with whatever comes to hand and exploiting chance encounters with her found materials (objects or resources). Shiels’ transformation of these materials explore ideas of abandonment, redemption, banality and impermanence against a backdrop of global mass production and consumption.

As long as it lasts


Read more below:

A new book, ‘As Long As It Lasts’, is a collection of photographs that record Julie Sheils’ ephemeral text interventions on urban waste but have become a body of work in their own right. For the last nine years Shiels has transformed hundreds of abandoned objects on local streets with stencils of quotations and truisms sourced from the public domain.

Over the years, the focus of the project has repeatedly changed. In the early days the work was about gentrification and the tensions that occur as inner city suburbs become both more desirable and simultaneously homogeneous. As the work has evolved it has become less about the social and more concerned with impermanence and the passing of time.

Chance is a consistent player in this project and is reflected in the photographs. While these images sit uncomfortably within the tradition of the choreographed photograph, Shiels exploits this tension. She does not move furniture to get a better location or photo and she always shoots the image immediately after the stencil has been completed. Consequently these photographs consistently reproduce the prevailing light and weather conditions – factors beyond her control. The images, like the texts stencilled on the objects, reflect the banality and uncertainty of everyday life.

Heide Museum of Modern Art Director Jason Smith will launch

As Long As It Lasts: Launch of Julie Shiels ’ exhibition and book at

6.00 for 6.30pm, Wednesday 23 April: The Gallery, St Kilda Town Hall