Sydney-born artist Sally Willbanks began her journey as an artist at the age of 4. “Whenever anyone asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, my answer was always ‘an artist’. I would spend hours at my little red desk (which has since been passed down to my children), honing my drawing skills by copying simple cartoons and illustrations.”
Sally left Australia during high school to study A-Levels, among them Art and Art History, at a boarding school in the Swiss Alps. From there she continued her art education in the US at the Rhode Island School of Design, which is continually ranked as the number one design school in the world. She spent 18 years abroad living and working as a practicing artist before returning to Australia to settle on the NSW south coast.
Sally’s painting style changed dramatically in the last decade. She spent many years creating intense abstracts that were heavy with scrawl and mark-making, juxtaposed with areas of calm. The process of painting these somewhat frenetic abstracts brought a level of anxiety to Sally’s artistic life, which defeated the purpose of painting expressively - to purge oneself of emotions. In a moment of peacefulness and clarity, Sally started a new painting on a canvas that she deemed too small for an expressive abstract. She painted a flattened-out geometric landscape from a thumbnail drawing in her sketchbook. It was then that Sally’s direction changed and a sense of peace was brought into her artistic life.
When asked about her new direction of landscape paintings, Sally stated, “I live in a tremendously beautiful part of the world. I love taking photos of the landscape. I need a starting point to play with colour and composition, and the scenery around me speaks to me.”
Sally’s new work is about colour and composition as well as a search for serenity. She feels a sense of peace and quietude while painting, and hopes to pass that sensibility on to the viewer. She is influenced by poster art, particularly travel posters, which harks back to her time spent in Connecticut working as a vintage poster restorer. Sally hopes to capture the simplicity of poster art, which typically used the process of screen-printing, in her own oil paintings.
Sally can be found painting in her studio located on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, or playing the important role of mother to her two young children. Her work can be bought through Michael Reid Gallery in Murrurundi.
In 2018, Sally was a finalist in the prestigious Wynne Landscape Prize. In 2019, Sally's work was acquired by Parliament House in Canberra, for their permanent collection.
I begin by travelling through the local countryside with my camera, capturing any beautiful scene that strikes my fancy. Back in my studio, I digitally crop the image to simply create a balanced composition. I then draw a very precise thumbnail drawing which gets enlarged onto the canvas. When I am satisfied with my contour drawing on canvas, I start filling in the colour zones by choosing a larger area to paint first. From this point on, each colour is chosen in succession according to surrounding colours on the canvas.
My paintings explore the magnitude of the natural landscape by minimising the details and reducing the scenes to fundamental shapes. Colour and composition are paramount in creating a balanced and harmonious painting. I create concordant colours that lead to a feeling of peace and serenity. It is this feeling that I am trying to capture, as it reflects my experience in the natural beauty surrounding us. I am intrigued by the way colour and composition are integral to creating the mood of the painting. I use them to reflect the emotional response to being present in the natural landscape without actually recreating the scene in a realistic manner.
1992 - 1996: The Rhode Island School of Design
Grants & Awards
2019 - Finalist, Tattersall's Art Prize, Brisbane QLD
2018 - Finalist, Tattersall's Art Prize, Brisbane QLD
2018 - Finalist, Wynne Prize, Art Gallery of NSW
2015 - Highly Commended, Words Don't Come Easy Exhibition, Alley Gallery, Ulladulla
2011 - Recipient of the Fast Forward Grant
2018 - Represented by Michael Reid
2012 to 2018 - represented by Shop Three Gallery, Milton
2017 to 2018 - represented by Aarwun Gallery, Canberra
2017 - Solo exhibition: No Place Like Home, X Gallery, Bungendore
2016 - Group exhibition: Seechange, Lady Denman Museum and Gallery, Huskisson
2015 - Group exhibition: Words Don't Come Easy, Alley Gallery, Ulladulla
2014 - Solo exhibition: Sign Language, Cellar Door Gallery, Ulladulla
2013 - Group exhibition: Colours of the Coast, Shop Three Gallery, Milton
2012 - Group exhibition: Alley Archies, Alley Gallery, Ulladulla
2012 - Solo exhibition: Beyond Aves, St. Isadore, Milton
2012 - Solo exhibition: Aves et Pisces, Cellar Door Gallery, Ulladulla
2010 - Solo exhibition: Backdrops, Fish on a Bicycle, Mollymook