SOLITUDE AND STUDIO SPACE: ANNE JUDELL’S RURAL HOME
DESPITE CALLING IT an “ugly duckling, hideous red brick box of a house”, celebrated Australian artist Anne Judell said it was love at first sight when she saw her new home. Set on two hectares at Mount Murray, halfway between Bowral and Wollongong in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, the cottage had been neglected for many years and was considerably run-down.
Anne won 2011’s Dobell Prize for Drawing from the Art Gallery of NSW and her work has been represented in numerous private and public collections including at the Australian National Gallery, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Victoria.
“Despite those first impressions I could see the house was actually beautifully sited, with views of the coast out to the horizon, a permanent spring, a protective hill and a patch of rainforest — all on my doorstep,” says Anne.
Born in St.Kilda a bayside suburb of Melbourne, the artist confesses to “a yearning to be close to the sea”, so she was ecstatic when she found the property located in such picturesque country whilst also being close to the coast.
Anne has always lived in big cities — Melbourne, Sydney and New York — so by 1995 Anne was ready for a change from urban life and was looking to move out of Sydney. “I wanted to establish a new home and studio in the countryside,” she says. “Somewhere not too far from friends and my two sons and their families.”
Anne was convinced the task wouldn’t be easy. “I was only too aware of just how difficult it was to find good studio space not more than a couple of hours drive from Sydney,” she says. “The countryside is littered with artists who have been driven out of the city!”
Anne was sure she had a very long search in front of her — but this was the very first house she looked at. “I made an offer even before I’d put my Sydney property on the market,” she says.
An added attraction for this Australian artist who speaks of her love of “clear, cold weather, the fog and actually being able to experience four distinct seasons”, was the peace and quiet and the cool climate of the Southern Highlands.
“I love the solitude, silence and the stars. In the city you are always living with noise-the underlying city hum and the constant artificial light,” she says. “My first week here I was actually scared as I experienced the impenetrable blackness, the unfamiliar sounds and the crashing silence at night. I had never lived in the country and the contrast between the two situations I found terrifying.”
Having found the home of her dreams, Annie set to work to realise them with a very modest budget. “I actually had a fair bit of experience having renovated my Melbourne and Sydney homes which were quite big projects,” she says. “Most importantly I had a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve with the design and architecture-this part was relatively simple!”
One of the first tasks was to remove years of accumulated rubbish that included abandoned truck engines and two huge concrete tanks. A new roof was an urgent requirement, while the quaint kitchen and bathroom needed updating but could be left in their original positions. Some of the debris also proved worth keeping, even if not quite in situ.
“My first week here I was actually scared as I experienced the impenetrable blackness, the unfamiliar sounds and the crashing silence at night.”
An abundance of available natural light was very important to the artist in her new retreat, so she oversaw the reconfiguring of internal walls and the replacement of small, poky windows with large panes of glass to let the outside in. Finally, the interior was painted a chalk white, and the ugly red brick was rendered in a warm sandy colour.
The next step was to design and plant the garden, which was achieved with the help of her sister Maxine. “It was hard, physical work,” Anne says. “We barrowed in tonnes of gravel and planted dozens of maples, casuarinas, Boston ivy and rainforest trees. It was great to have another pair of hands, and Maxine’s knowledge and experience.
And then five years after purchasing the property, Anne was ready to build herself a dedicated studio. “This was to be the culmination of a dream,” she explains. “It was a bit daunting as I had never actually built anything from the ground up. My ideal building is a Romanesque chapel, so I was determined to make something timeless, simple and elegant. Most importantly it had to relate to the site — and it had to have a feeling of inevitability about it.”
She worked with local builders who “were as committed to the integrity of the project as I was” – and the plans for the studio changed as the collaboration evolved and the construction of the building took place — “very much like the process of painting a picture”, she says.
“Made from rammed earth, the thick walls insulate the interior from hot sun in the summer and hold the warmth during colder months. “Being of the same stuff as the ground the building feels as if it has been here forever. It was a challenging and stressful process but absolutely satisfying!”
Anne is more than happy with the end result — “I’m happy to say that it truly is an ideal space for me to work in. My impetuosity has paid off, the beauty of the place and the people has enveloped me, and I feel I have made my best work here…. so far, so good.”
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