A pragmatist might say Lucy Culliton’s latest landscape paintings celebrate the sustainable farming of Charlie Maslin, her neighbour in the Monaro district of south-eastern NSW.
A more sensitive soul might see the embodiment of loss and grief, the healing power of friendship, the pain of prolonged drought and the joy of rain.
Both would be right.
Lucy Culliton at work on her creek series.Credit:
Culliton has spent the past three years painting Cambalong Creek where it winds through Gunningrah, Maslin’s sheep and cattle run north of Bombala in south-east NSW.
The paintings of the creek in all seasons and weathers go on view in Culliton’s exhibition, Cambalong Creek, which opens at Darlinghurst’s King Street Gallery on William on April 19.
Gently flowing, dotted with idyllic ponds and home to platypuses, the healthy creek in Culliton’s paintings is testament to Maslin’s regenerative farming practices, including “leaky weirs” that slow the water, reducing erosion and encouraging habitat growth for wildlife.
Platypus Pool.Credit:Lucy Culliton
Sydney-born Culliton met Maslin when she bought a small property, Bibbenluke Lodge, near Gunningrah in 2007. She painted the gardens and animals of Bibbenluke Lodge, and many exhibitions followed.
“I said to her one day four or five years ago, ‘I’d love you to do some paintings of the creek,’” Maslin says. “She said, ‘No, I’ll do that one day’. I just left it at that. Then when both her parents very sadly died, I went over to see how she was going.
“I said, ‘What can I do to help?’ And she said, ‘Well, you know that series we have down the creek? I’m ready to do it’. And so she came out a couple of days later and started to paint.”
Second Pool in Moores, Winter.Credit:Lucy Culliton
Culliton’s grief over the loss of her parents in December 2019 and January 2020 played out against a backdrop of the bushfires that raged across the Monaro at the time.
She readily admits the new series helped distract her from her sadness.
“The first painting was 2019, in the dry,” Culliton says. “Then as the spring happened it got dryer and we had no rain, and then of course we had the smoky summer and dust storms.”
Both the Bombala River on Culliton’s property and Cambalong Creek on Gunningrah stopped running in the drought, leaving only ponds. While Culliton’s ponds were “manky”, the ponds on Gunningrah remained healthy.
“There was still a lot of life in those ponds,” Culliton says. “Charlie had reeds and birds and lovely grasses down to the edges because of the water content. So his land was never as degraded as it was here [at Bibbenluke Lodge]. That was really my ambition, to paint his good land management.”
Maslin would suggest a good painting spot by the creek. While Culliton painted, Maslin would launch a drone to photograph her from the sky. His pictures on Instagram are breathtaking.
“Sometimes Charlie would fly his drone while I was painting and check stock or the state of ponds further up,” Culliton says.
Culliton’s portrait of her friend Charlie Maslin, which was a finalist in the 2020 Archibald Prize.Credit:Lucy Culliton
While Culliton was dealing with grief, Maslin was dealing creatively with drought.
“Charlie made fun out of that drought. He kept finding interesting projects to do,” Culliton says.
Maslin built a hut, complete with pizza oven, on a rise above the creek. He calls it a pavilion and enjoys evenings there watching the platypuses.
When the rains came, in winter 2020, Culliton used the pavilion as a studio.
“It’s been pretty good therapy for me, doing all the creek stuff,” Maslin says. “And I think it’s been pretty good therapy for Lucy, coming out and painting after losing both her parents the way she’s done. So it’s been great. Sometimes we have dinner after she comes and does a study, or we might have just a beer in the afternoon.”
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