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Landscape artist Joe Blundell found new inspiration in the local creeks, streams, and woodlands of Boroondara while restricted from travelling more than five kilometres from home during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

The artist paints in oil on linen both within nature and in his studio, creating vivid and textural paintings that remind us of nature at the doorstep of our suburban lives.

Joe Blundell was the winner of the 2019 Boroondara Arts Encouragement Award which recognises excellence in contemporary visual art. The annual award presented to a local exhibitor in the Camberwell Art Show offers the opportunity to exhibit at Hawthorn Arts Centre.

What is your background and how did it lead you to become an artist?

I grew up in England, and like many artists, I was hooked from the moment I was able to hold a pencil. While my schoolmates were knocking about with a football in the park, I was sitting on pavements painting houses (my painting passion when I was 14).

I sold my first painting then to the owner of one of the houses. I thought my future was sealed, but my Mum and Dad fearing a life of poverty, encouraged me in a more certain direction.

I spent 20+ years in corporate life until a health scare made me realise I was still that boy on the pavement. Within 6 months I was painting full time. 

Tell us more about the artworks in ‘Nature within 5km’

When lockdown happened, the immediate world outside our homes suddenly took on a new significance. Overseas travel and holidays abroad were replaced by an escape to the local park. What we could find within 5 km became precious. A few months earlier I was travelling all over Tasmania painting outdoors – now I had to draw inspiration closer to home.

The pieces in ‘Nature within 5km’ are the result of discovering botanical life on our doorstep. They’re about intimate studies of nature rather that soaring vistas. They are works either painted directly from nature, or from studies. This means there is the literal quality of transcription to the work. This is important and helps to convey how precious that nature is – for me it was to be experienced not inferred. I attempted to record it faithfully as if it could disappear in an instant. 

Do you like responding to constraints within your practice or is your focus broader under usual circumstances?

The restrictions did inspire a new body of work but generally I’m happiest operating with no constraints. It’s what I like about painting. The interesting thing for me was the obvious tension between being restricted geographically but not creatively, where I enjoyed no constraints. 

What themes or subject matter interest and inspire you as an artist? 

Beyond the subject matter, there are a couple of themes that interest me which you can see in this body of work. I’m fascinated in the way that the energy and movement put into making a painting is somehow retained in the work. For instance, the more I paint foliage with passion and energy, the more it seems to continue to move and come to life on the canvas in the finished work. Secondly, I’m interested in the way certain patterns and shapes create movement in a painting.

What is your creative process like?

I try to avoid having any process and I tackle each painting differently depending on how the subject or focus captures me. You will see in the works of ‘Nature within 5km’ that they were made with a variety of approaches. Some are painted wet-on-wet with a palette knife, some are built up of many layers in my studio and some are brush only alla prima from life. 

What do you most enjoy about creating art and what is most challenging? 

For me, it’s the same feature that makes it most enjoyable and most challenging at the same time and that is being a solo pursuit. When a painting turns out well, you are entirely responsible and when it doesn’t you are still entirely responsible! 

As the Boroondara Encouragement Award winner of 2019, is there any advice you would give to artists considering entering the Camberwell Art Show this year? 

My advice would simply be not to hesitate, give it a go!

See ‘Nature within 5km’ in person or view as part of our Town Hall Gallery’s online exhibitions.

The Boroondara Arts Encouragement Award is awarded annually to an exhibitor at the Camberwell Art Show and recognises excellence in contemporary visual art. Find out how you can enter the Boroondara Arts Encouragement Award.