Land Sea Sky: The Magic of Collaboration, MacKinnon & Verity

Verity MacKinnon
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IMAGE 01 Saltwater Mist, a 12-panel mixed media installation by Debbie Mackinnon and Fiona Verity. Photography: Debbie MacKinnon © Courtesy of the artists.

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Beautiful Palm Beach, at the tip of the northern beaches in Sydney. Photography: Belinda McDowall

The beach is an integral part of Australian life. Where the sand, sea and sky come together with the people of Australia, to relax, to play, and to re-establish that sense of balance that is so vital for health and wellbeing. And the beach has long been a muse to the artists of Australia, from the land’s original Indigenous owners, to Charles Meere’s Australian Beach Pattern, and Max Dupain and his Sunbaker.

Debbie MacKinnon and Fiona Verity are two artists who are very much inspired by the beach and the ocean, and living in amongst Sydney’s northern beaches.

They are perfectly placed to find inspiration in some of Australia’s most stunning stretches of sand and sea. Both are accomplished artists in their own right, and have exhibited extensively. They have recently begun working collaboratively, and a display of these pieces will be on display in the north of Sydney from March 4, 2017.

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Debbie MacKinnon adjusts a multi-panel work at Freshwater Beach. Photography: Fiona Verity. © Courtesy of the artists.

Debbie MacKinnon started her career training to be a medical and scientific illustrator. She then took a significant detour and become an art director in publishing, which included writing and designing many award-winning children’s books. She picked up a paintbrush upon her move to Australia twenty years ago, and has been creating masterpieces full-time for the past twelve years.

MacKinnon is also the founder and director of me Artspace in St Leonards, in the northern suburbs of Sydney. me Artspace is a studio, gallery and art collective where ‘creative ideas are unleashed’, and is where Land Sea Sky will be on display throughout March.

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Fiona Verity making marks on a big unstretched canvas ‘en plein air’ at Balmoral Beach. Photography: Debbie MacKinnon © Courtesy of the artists.

Fiona Verity sees her landscape paintings as chance to reconnect with nature, to heal, to soothe and to restore. Having originally trained as an illustrator in the UK, Verity worked in marketing for many years before having a chance to return to her passion for painting. Since training at private art studios in Hong Kong and Australia, she has exhibited throughout Sydney and New South Wales.

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Completing work on stretched canvas in the studio. Photography: Debbie MacKinnon © Courtesy of the artists.

MacKinnon and Verity now come together to present an exhibition of new works by ‘me, her and us’, a display of their individual works and their collaborative works. For MacKinnon and Verity, the desire to draw is very strong, and sitting in the coastal landscape and responding through art is a very powerful force for them both, so it was instinctive that they begin collaborating together.

There is a history in the art world of collaborating with fellow artists, from Picasso and Braque to Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, with the resulting works often equalling more than the sum of its parts. For MacKinnon and Verity, their collaborations are a ‘delight’ for them both, and as MacKinnon points out, ‘not all artists can let go of ego enough to invite another person into their creative process, but we find it exciting and creatively stimulating.’

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Debbie MacKinnon and Fiona Verity working together on the sandstone rocks of the Northern Beaches in Sydney. © Courtesy of the artists.

This creative process was a natural progression, as MacKinnon explains, ‘Our experiments with collaborative art, began by drawing side by side, then folding, swapping and continuing to draw on the other’s paper.  This resulted in exciting and quite random mark making: two sets of hands and eyes, creating a new landscape that one artist alone could not have drawn. We made several large coastal landscapes made up of panels that each of us created…The success of these randomly created coastal drawings, lead to us working collaboratively on a large canvas at the same time. Working en plein air, canvas placed directly on the rock, painting hand over hand, our art making is almost like a rhythmic dance.’

Mutual respect is a must, as is constant consideration of the other person. Each must be prepared for the other to obliterate the marks just made, or to be thrilled in a mark created by the other that was unimaginable beforehand. MacKinnon enjoys this collaborating, and feels, ‘it is the opportunity to be part of something bigger, that each artist could not quite have made individually. In our case, a new way of looking at landscape.’

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The wonderful Mona Vale Beach on a bright and sunny day. Photography: Belinda McDowall

I must confess at this point; I have somewhat of a biased interest. The beach is my ‘happy place’.  More specifically, any one of the northern beaches in Sydney could be considered my ‘happy place’. I spent my childhood frequenting these beaches, and more recently, at times when life has knocked me sideways, I know that heading directly to a beach will cheer me no end. I have been known to pace up and down the sand of Mona Vale Beach, on the northern beaches, whether it is warm and sunny, cloudy and cold, or bucketing down with rain.

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Collaborative sketchbook pages on the sandstone rocks at Balmoral Beach. Photography: Debbie MacKinnon © Courtesy of the artists.

Melbourne, my current city of residence, is not quite as well known for its beaches (although I can confirm that they are equally as therapeutically effective and are also beautiful), but whenever I am back in Sydney, I head to Mona Vale Beach or Palm Beach or Long Reef, to take in the sea air, and the beauty of the land, sea and sky.

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Fiona Verity works on a sketchbook ‘en plein air’. Photography: Debbie MacKinnon. © Courtesy of the artists.

I therefore feel I can speak with some experience when I say that Debbie MacKinnon’s and Fiona Verity’s work, both collaboratively and individually, absolutely capture the spirit and the magic of the northern beaches of Sydney. The vibrant blue of the sea and sky, the feeling of salt spray on your skin, and the curvy haphazardness of the sandstone rocks are all portrayed wonderfully within their work.

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Collaborative sketchbook pages from trips to the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Photography: Debbie MacKinnon © Courtesy of the artists.

Debbie MacKinnon and Fiona Verity can often be found generating new artworks on the sandstone rocks of one of their favourite beaches, Long Reef and Balmoral to name but two of many spectacular beaches along Sydney’s coastline. MacKinnon explains that, ‘the sandstone rocks with their deep folds, contours and pools, resonate with our joint mark making. These ancient rocks trace their history in the incredible lines that the ocean has inscribed over many years onto the rock platform, just as we trace our vision in our own contour drawings.’

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Collaboration on the sandstone rocks. © Courtesy of the artists.

The images on display as part of Land Sea Sky are testament to the beauty of these rocks and their history, and to the brilliance of the beaches of Australia. The exhibition will be on display from 4 March 2017, and is most definitely worth a visit, to experience the feeling of the coastlines of Australia, of the sea, and of the sky. As MacKinnon declares, ‘Life just feels better by the sea.’

Belinda McDowall, Deputy Editor and Special Features, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017

Land Sea Sky: The Magic of Collaboration

March 4 – 29, 2017

ME Gallery

25 Atchison Street, St Leonards, Sydney, New South Wales, 2065, Australia

NB: Land Sea Sky is part of Art Month Sydney 2017

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