1. Pink Lake and Samphire Oct 2021 120cm x 1 m, oil on canvas
2. Jo Darbyshire leading a Lake Grace regional art space workshop 9 Oct 2021 photo Tania Spencer
3. Portrait of my mother in the Mallees's, Lake Grace 1958, oil on canvas, photo by Suzi Wild
4. Jo and brother Andy on dads truck1967
5. Pat Dare, water skiing- Wagin 1962 photo Sally Dare
6. Opening of the Lake Grace Pool 1966 Children diving after decimal coins which had just been introduced photo Eun Darby
7. Nino Buratovic immigration photo1956 took teams of Yugoslav workers around the wheatbelt in the 1960-s 1980s building wheatbins
8. Roaded Catchment Lake Grace town dams 2021 photo google earth
9. Dingo rock dam on the Argent farm, north east of Lake Grace, 2021- water catchment walls and dam built by prisoners from Fremantle Gaol in 1952 photo Google earth
10. Jo at Katter Kich or Wave Rock, Oct 2021
11. Lake Grace regional art space workshop 9 Oct 2021 photo Tania Spencer
12. Jo at rifle range dam Nov 2021
13. 4.childrensworkshop,lakegraceartspacenov2021 childrens workshop, lake grace artspace nov 2021

Spaced4- Lake Grace Artist Residency 2021

It was only on the third workshop with participants from the painting workshop that I felt I was able to ask to discuss with them the shocking statistic quoted by Tony Hughes d’Aeth in his book Like Nothing on Earth- a Literary history of the Wheatbelt (2017) in which he says that 50 million acres of bush were cleared by 1970 and that only 7percent of original vegetation remains. He further says that the central theme of any history of the WA Wheatbelt is ‘radical disappearance’, that it was a socio-ecological event of planetary significance; “The emergence of the Wheatbelt is not so much a product of human history but a violation and eradication of natural history”. Lake Grace people said that it was more like 11% left in the Lake Grace area and 36% over the shire- but this is still quite shocking. How to even begin to confront this reality as artists?.
My own work- which initially responded to the amazing wildflower season-stalled, after I read d’Aeth’s comments about Katherine Susannah Pritchard’s work and her description of how she had loved the wildflowers which came up on the soil cleared for crops! d’Aeth points out that  “there is a poignant belief that these wildflowers could persist in the face of continued ploughing. In reality, of course, this would be their last appearance before continued cultivation replaced them with the grain crops in the newly created farms. In this way, the full reality of natural destruction is disguised by romantic fallacy.” (d’Aeth, p161-2)
. He also talked about how Barbara York Main called the small pockets of natural environment left- ‘living museums’. Of course some artists in the southwest have attempted to question how the Wheatbelt is seen, but their often-close dependency on family or friends on already established farms, make it difficult terrain. While many people privately complain about the current farming methods that remove the last trees left in the paddock, nothing seems to be said publicly, or laws enforced that prohibit clearing. It is a national shame and not just a local one. Locals have a degree of pragmatism:“We can’t unclear the land, it will never be the way it was, time moves on. The mix of farming and conservation- If farmers strive to have healthy, abundant and live soils, nature wins too” Tania Spencer, Instagram post, Nov 2021 Tania and Darren Spencer took me out to visit Darren’s fathers’ farm- east of Lake King and right on the eastern edge of the Wheatbelt- against the rabbit-proof fence. It was opened up and cleared in the 1940s and during WWll- held Italian workers designated ‘aliens’ by the Government of the time. Some areas were cleared as late as the 1980’s.
I wanted to visit the farm of Brett and Renee Willcocks, who had tried ‘sustainable’ or organic farming practices in Lake Grace, in the past 15 years. I wasn't able to visit the farm but did speak to Brett who told me of the heartbreak he felt- having to return to normal farming practice as he had nearly gone broke and lost his farm. One problem was the lack of rainfall in the area- which made usual composting or other alternative farming practices very difficult.
The third Painting Workshop was held on the weekend of 13/14 November. This project aimed at supporting professional practice with the relatively large number of professional artists in the region. One objective was to complete a large-scale painting, using oil painting techniques, which explored a personal relationship to ideas around the ‘Rural Utopia’ theme. The timeframe supported a longer term learning opportunity rather than a one-off approach to a workshop. All 13 participants finished a work. Participants were: Lake Grace (7): Kerrie Argent, Jayne-Maree Argent, Tania Spencer, Anna Strevett, Judith A Stewart, Paula McIver, Genevieve Curtin, Newdegate (1): Melissa Cugley, Narrogin (3): Karen Keeley, Ned Crossley, Barbara Fletcher, Dumbleyung (1): Kerry Scally, Wagin (1): Joyce Contos.
I will be talking more with Michele Slarke, Tania Spencer and Kerrie Argent about what might happen with the paintings in 2022- with an exhibition either in the Lake Grace Artspace or AGWA. I am also hoping to continue with another workshop.
The first oil painting I ever made was a portrait of my mother in Lake Grace when I was 8. Mum came home with the oil paints she had bought to do a class and I begged her to let me have a go. She sat for 2 hours in one of those Featherston canvas chairs-in the back yard- and I was hooked and that's when I knew what I wanted to do more than anything else. That experience had such a huge impact on the course of my life as an artist.
So, on the 10 November I was happy to hold a second workshop with 20 local kids from year 2/3 at Lake Grace School. The children attended the Artspace and worked on a 6 metre long canvas as a group project. They were exploring ideas about Lake Grace- the natural environment and sense of place.

It has been an amazing honour to revisit my childhood and to reflect on how ones childhood shapes ones life, in this residence in Lake Grace. I have been able to also look -as an adult - at the place, the people, the economy and the environment. It seems the optimism of my parents, who came to Lake Grace in the late 50’s /60’s has been replaced by a resilient commitment to create and maintain a viable, vibrant town - by the locals. Utopian years can be the difference between growth and decline for these small rural towns.
You can follow me on insta #lakegraceresidency #jodarbs

Read more https://www.spaced.org.au/spaced-latest/rural-utopias-residency-jo-darbyshire-in-lake-grace-3

on the Spaced WEBSITE

This project was commissioned by International Art Space as a part of the spaced 4: rural utopias program


Spaced 4: rural utopias is a program centred on an artists’ exchange between international and Australian visual artists with regional and remote West Australian communities. The program will span three years (2019-21) and constitute the core of the fourth iteration of spaced, a recurring international program of context-responsive art, presented by International Art Space (IAS)  https://www.facebook.com/spacedias/

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