The Artist- Sarah Willard Gray

The painting above is my abstraction of the first settlement on the Southern Highlands of NSW including army barracks and the Wingecarribee River (Circa 1820).Below is a section of my 3 piece painting of the Wingecarribee River as it winds its way down to the Warragamba Dam, thus providing some of Sydney’s water supply.

the River at Bong Bong

The River (Wingecarribee River) no.6

Sarah comments:

In my abstract paintings I have explored perspective and cartographic mapping using devices that collapsed the atmospheric space of the painting and I have purposely used a restricted colour palette.
In this restricted tonal palette of four or five colours, derived from the colours of the material (rather than atmospheric) landscape I am working with. Whether used separately or blended, the aim is to hold all elements together in a movement from complementary to tertiary colours that embody the hues of the dark trachite rock, red earth and grey green foliage of the locale.

I seek to flatten the forefront of the landscape through imagery and tonal palette colours that connects the viewer to a focus on the earth and the architecture of the landscape that sits underneath. This enables a connection to the viewer and both the current and the ancient histories of the landscape. The use of the cartographic perspective allows me to adopt this viewpoint.


1.Dr.Sarah Willard Gray PhD is an exuberant, intuitive artist who has been painting and exhibiting for over 25 years. Her work is forceful, supported by fine draughtsmanship and traditional and abstract painting techniques.

She has a love of the landscape, the bush, the hills and the Wingecarribee River on the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. Australia… this is where she lives and where her family came from the United Kingdom to live in the early 19th Century.

This basic landscape as narrative is balanced by her expressive execution and used as a platform to play out the act of painting. Her bold and vibrant painting style is infused with personality that reflects her drive and dedication. Sarah’s thorough enjoyment of painting is evident through the essence and grandeur reflected in her confident brushstrokes and dramatic colours.

The jagged landscape of Australia sprawl across the walls, warm tones evoking feelings of comfort
which are abruptly sliced through by harsh black lines and snaking rivers. Some reach almost from floor to ceiling, inviting you to lose yourself in an abstract view of the Southern Highlands. Behind the imposing canvases is a warm-faced woman who is easily dwarfed by her creations. This woman is Sarah Willard Gray.
The artworks are strongly influenced by the Bong Bong Common or Bayoong-Bayoong, an Aboriginal site within the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia. The paintings which adorn the walls have the warm and texture of earth and the soil of the Bong Bong Common is mixed with the paint in each.

Sarah Willard Gray is a professional painter whose practice-based studio research builds on scholarly research undertaken at Wollongong University, N.S.W., from 2003 to 2014 and she specialised in Still Life and Landscape painting in both contemporary and abstract modes. As a visual artist with an established reputation she has had many solo and group exhibitions over the past twenty-five years. Her career revolves around traditional landscapes and interior still life. These paintings are from the essence of being and are very much involved with form and colour and she explains her work will continue with this genre as well as her mapping technique.

Some of the best art throughout history has been born from rich context. It’s a fuel that’s used to quench this creative fire that needs to burn. History provides a back ground, a sweeping narrative with which you can create a lush landscape from. The latest installation with the University of Wollongong’s exhibition space is one that chronicles a deep history that runs in Australia’s soil.

5. review

Sarah Willard Gray has created “Cartographic Concepts of Ownership, Belonging and Place”; a series that explores the history of New South Wales Southern Highlands through abstract expression of it’s very landscapes. However, these are not your atypical pastoral meadows.
As the title suggests, she has approached the form cartographically i.e. through depicting the area from top down view. If you were to think this would simply be a collection of maps however, you’re far from the truth. “Mapping is a shared form of knowledge,” Dr. Gray said, “and therefore provides a common ground between different human cultures.” Each piece is sumptuous with organic beauty that truly captures the majesty of our Great Southern Land.

She has worked on the artworks of this exhibition for about 4 solid years and it truly shows. Being the visual aspect of her thesis, it takes into account countless hours of research and practice to have finally arrived at the final piece. “In these artworks I’m not only painting the landscape,” she claimed, “but I’m also reacting to individual experiences that took place in the history of it.”

The places depicted in these landscapes: the Wingecarribee River, Bayoong Bayoong, and The Burning Grounds all hold crucial personal memories for Sarah Willard Gray. This is what makes the series such a crucially powerful collection of artwork. This specifically shows up through her determined perseverance.

One of the biggest pieces in the exhibition, “Bayoong Bayoong circa 1825. (96″ x 72″) viewed above, was completed whilst she was injured, requiring her to be temporarily ambidextrous. Completed in an impressive eight hour stint, she describes it as “a big hug”. It’s this personal streak running through the work that lends it such a human quality; taking this fairly faceless terrain and soaking it with both personal and historical significance.

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