30 June 2019

Yvonne in her studio by Yasmin Mund

Yvonne East

Bachelor of Visual Arts
Master of Fine Arts (Research)

Yvonne’s East’s artwork has been displayed all over the country. You may have spotted her stunning local murals for the Adelaide Aquatic Centre, Adelaide Festival Centre, and in Victor Harbor, or her works in the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, the Frankston Arts Centre in Melbourne, and more regionally in the South Coast Regional Arts Centre, Goolwa and the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery.

This year, though, you can visit Yvonne’s vibrant portrait of Green’s Senator and first Muslim woman elected to any Parliament in Australia, Dr Mehreen Faruqi and her gorgeous pup, Cosmo, at the S.H. Ervin Gallery in Sydney until 28 July 2019 with her artwork being selected as part of the prestigious Archibald Salon des Refusés exhibition.

Yvonne has come a long way from working in her studio, an abandoned nightclub in Victor Harbor, when the Alexandrina Council Arts Officer, Leah Grace, heard about an artist working away in there and came for a studio visit, leading to her first solo show.

Yvonne's primary focus for her art is on painting and drawing. But she has a particular talent for capturing the essence and interior world of an individual through their portrait.

Portrait of Dr Mehreen Faruqi, 2019 in the Salon des Refusés
Portrait of Dr Mehreen Faruqi, 2019 in the Salon des Refusés

Yvonne has always been innately fascinated with the human form and a person’s identity. Drawing on conscious and subconscious social structures and norms that influence how we perceive, carry and present ourselves in the world to construct her art.

“I have always been interested in the human form, perhaps this comes from early years spent as a dancer and learning through direct observation, noticing the nuances in people’s movement and a fascination with the forms, shapes and surface of the human face and figure,” she says.

“The great thing about portraiture is engaging with another person, it is a process of collaboration. I don’t go into a sitting with a definite pre-existing idea, what happens is that we sit and talk, I listen to what the sitter is passionate about, the way that they see the world, a particular way they may hold their head or physical gestures they make while they are speaking or thinking.

“While I can’t sit directly in their shoes, it is a process of empathy, and I’m always humbled by my subject’s generosity and what they are willing to share with me. In this sense it is an organic and reiterative process of discussion and ideas between two people.

“I’m fascinated by how people present themselves in relation to their professional role and social influence. There is a great history of portraiture to draw on and I love to play with how paintings can generate meaning.”

Doug from Eden, 2018, oil on linen, 2018 Doug Moran Portrait Prize finalist
Doug from Eden, 2018, oil on linen, 2018 Doug Moran Portrait Prize finalist

With her career going from strength to strength, Yvonne still regards her time at UniSA as pivotal in the development of her skills as an artist as she explains when developing creativity it is essential to question your motives, what you are passionate about, and the way you want to live your life.

“It sounds like a cliché but going to art school changed my life,” she says. “I had grown up in the country, I was married, and going to art school invited a whole new way of seeing the world and asking difficult questions about why things are the way that they are.

“It was a great lesson in critical thinking. I had some influential teachers that are brilliant artists (Annie Newmarch, Greg Donovan and Rob Gutteridge to name a few) who essentially ‘blew my mind’ and expanded my view of the world.”

Looking back at other pivotal moments in her career, one of the biggest highlights for Yvonne was winning the inaugural Country Arts SA Breaking Ground Award in 2011.

"It was a prize, that along with funds to support myself while I created a new body of work, also facilitated a solo exhibition in 2012 in the fantastic Artspace Gallery at the Adelaide Festival Centre,” she says.

Adelaide Festival Centre Mural SALA 2015, Adelaide City Council
Adelaide Festival Centre Mural SALA 2015, Adelaide City Council

“I got to create work that was challenging and combined traditional drawing and painting practice with a 24 metre digital projection installation. It then went on to tour to major South Australia regional galleries for two years.

“It marked an enormous development in my work and I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity.

“I also remember being in awe the first time my work was selected for the Dobell Drawing Prize and hung in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

“It was strange to see the work that I had developed in the privacy of my studio in regional South Australia, while my son was still very young, to then be shown in a major Australian Gallery that I had always loved and admired on previous visits.”

Another highlight Yvonne counts as an important step in her career was being commissioned to paint the Honourable Chief Justice Susan Kiefel AC. Which eventually became a finalist in the 2018 Archibald Prize, Australia’s most famous and beloved portrait prize.

“We had the sitting in her chambers in the High Court in Canberra,” she says. “It’s probably the most nervous I have been for a sitting, but the Chief Justice was wonderfully at ease and generous with her time.”

Portrait of Honourable Chief Justice Susan Kiefel AC, 2018, Archibald Prize finalist
Portrait of Honourable Chief Justice Susan Kiefel AC, 2018, Archibald Prize finalist

Of the honour of being hung in last year’s Archibald, she explains she felt incredibly lucky to be selected as it is a sought after art prize, and counts the visibility and exposure it offered to herself and subject, an important honour.

“I think last year nearly 1.7 million people visited the Archibald so I felt incredibly proud to have made visible a portrait of first female Chief Justice of Australia, painted by a female artist,” she says.

“The fact that a 5-year-old girl can visit a major institution, such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales and see a powerful and intelligent woman recognised in this way – it just wouldn’t have happened when I was younger. It’s great to have these roles models – a case of ‘if you can see it, you can be it’.”

To view more of Yvonne’s stunning work visit her website here.

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