Interview with Rachel Carroll, By Henrietta Summerhayes, 2013
The large canvases of second-generation Sydney artist Rachel Carroll resound with the
beauty of the Australian bush. ln this interview, she talks about her particular passion for the Coorong and the Murray Darling river system that has informed her art practice for the past five years.
Art is in Rachel Carroll’s bloodline. Despite a warning from her father, acclaimed artist Patrick Carroll, that it may not make her rich, it’s clear from her serenity that it sure has made her happy.
Rachel went straight to COFA after finishing school, plunging headlong into the rigour of study and emerging with an honours degree in Fine Art. After finishing at university, she spent three years working in Scotland, exhibiting at an upmarket gallery on Dundas Street, Edinburgh. But a yearning for the beach, (and an expired visa!!), brought her back home and back to complete her masters in 2007. By this time, Rachel had discovered a new aesthetic – a move away from the Jeffrey Smart influenced urban landscapes of her earlier work, to scenes of the Australian bush was inspired by a deep desire to discover her own country and forge a connection between her self proclaimed Greer politics and a new work trajectory.
Meanwhile working on her Masters Degree, Rachel had the opportunity to travel to the Coorong, traditional home of the Ngarrindjeri people, 150 kilometres from Adelaide where the great Murray River empties out into the sea. The 467 square kilometres of national park is said to be a place of tranquillity, solitude and wonderment’, the vast coastal wetlands comprising freshwater lakes, estuaries, and saline lagoons.
I really wanted to get my teeth into something as an artist that wasn’t just an aesthetic – that had something behind it. I realised that my art could tell a story and really engage people in discussion and debate. One of my first shows (of Coorong paintings) did just that – I had so many South Australian people wanting to share their memories and holiday experiences in the Coorong with me, what it used to be like. They wanted to share their sense of loss and their concern for the area and its fragility.
Pretty much since then, l have continued that process of meeting people by chance; indigenous people, scientists, local MPs – all involved with the cause. One year, I had local Sydney Greens MP lan Cohen to open my show. He’d just been and visited a number of Aboriginal communities along the Murray, building relationships with indigenous people and learning from them what they knew of the river and how it functioned. It’s been a constant learning process for me, and a constant journey. I just have that sense of the next location, the next body of work. but also the next insight into that area and the people who are struggling there with these major environmental issues. I have a sense of constant revelations; I don’t really feel like my work is done in the Murray Darling River Basin yet.