Vanessa Stockard grew up in the small dairy town of Wingham on the mid north NSW coast. As a child she spent happy hours playing in nearby remnant rainforest, amoured with the mystery, subtlety, and menacing beauty of the world she observed. Moths as big as her hand. Trees that towered overhead. The unblinking gaze of a watching bird. This subconscious imagery, rooted in childhood comes to life in the delicate still life, portrait and landscape paintings Vanessa makes.
At 12, Vanessa left Wingham to become a border at an exclusive girls school in Sydney. It was here she first encountered the idea of being something other that also inspires her work today.
‘Growing up I often felt like an outsider. At boarding school there was this perfect blonde brigade, and I was not that. Life is beautiful in many ways, and yet hard and sad for many people. Like the drifters and the outsiders. I often try to soften the pathos and sadness I see in the world by adding some comic relief to my paintings. Otherwise I feel we’d all fall in a hole. Hopefully that way you get the beautiful with a joke on top.’
A graduate of the College of Fine Arts (COFA) and a two times Archibald finalist. Vanessa paints in her studio in Bowral, NSW. Her practice is a combination of brush strokes with the drawn line, a daily juxtaposition of control and letting go. Her love of the peculiar, the comic and the ethereal continues to drive her.
‘Oddity has never worried me. My Sydney school was surrounded by three halfway houses, and often on the way to and from the boarding house, the girls were flashed by lodgers. To me those people never felt threatening, just completely outside the norm. Derek Milkwood is someone like that. He’s a gentle character I paint, based on a guy I used to see in a Sydney park who would hang out naked in the reeds. I never knew his name, so I gave him one, Derek Milkwood. It just sounded like a wrong name for a misfit. I love him as a character, and use his paintings to broach stuff I find unfair, funny or absurd. If I have found life hard at times, what must life be like for him?’