28 May 2024

Last chance to see 13 different takes on the Illawarra's landscapes

| Dione David
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Painting of a man hosing his lawn of a suburban house with a dog in the background

Wollongong Art Gallery visitors can see interpretations of Illawarra landscapes in Landscape Tells the Way: Illawarra, including pieces like this by artist Noel McKenna. Image: Noel McKenna.

In some ways, the Wollongong photographer Riste Andrievski’s curatorial debut at Wollongong Art Gallery – titled Landscape Tells the Way: Illawarra – has brought him closure on a concept decades in the making.

In 1964 at age 18, like many migrants from the former Yugoslavia, Andrievski’s father came to Australia to earn and bring wealth back to help bolster the nation in a time of high unemployment and economic turmoil. He landed at the Port Kembla Steelworks.

“I heard a lot of stories from him, mostly about how he didn’t like it there. He tried other places, like Western Australia, but always came back to Cringila and the Wollongong area because of the migrant population. It was the place in Australia where he felt most at home, being able to interact with a community he understood. It’s where he met my mother,” Andrievski says.

“The plan was that they would use the money they earned here to build a home back in Macedonia. They went back and forth many times and in the course of that, I became the only one of their four children to be born in Macedonia.

“We came back to the Illawarra when I was just one year old because my mum didn’t like it there … She saw her future here.”

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It was the genesis of a complex relationship with the Illawarra. Andrievski, who was schooled at Cringila Public School and later, Warrawong High School, always felt at odds with his surroundings.

It was a relationship he would eventually successfully start to describe through art.

Andrievski completed his tertiary education at West Wollongong TAFE and then the University of Wollongong, where he did a degree in fine arts, majoring in printmaking.

“That’s when I began the investigation of how the landscape impacted me and people like me,” he says.

“I found I had an inescapable connection to Cringila. But the way the steelworks overshadowed the whole area … it always gave me a sense of unease and dirtiness. It’s why a lot of my prints at that time were very dark, strong and expressive.”

Illawarra forest

Riste Andrievski’s photos of the Illawarra include highly industrial pieces but also, natural landscapes such as the bushland of the escarpment. Photo: Riste Andrievski.

These prints featured in his first solo exhibition at Project Contemporary Artspace in the mid-’90s. Nomad’s Land focused on the migrant experience of the Illawarra landscape, and how it shaped their lives, who they were and what they became.

When marriage and children came along, Andrievski left the creative realm for a stable retail management job for two decades – but the concept haunted him.

“I had fully told my story about that experience,” he says.

When he returned to his artistic pursuits, he took the advice of a friend and acted on a long-time interest – photography. His work featured in National Geographic and at the National Portrait Gallery.

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His 2019 solo exhibition at Wollongong Art Gallery, A Place to Call Home, saw a return to themes of migration and the landscape, specifically looking at the industrial landscape around Cringila and Port Kembla and how it had become a big part of his identity.

Landscape Tells the Way: Illawarra grew from there.

“I finally had a grasp on how the landscape had impacted me and my feelings around it,” he says.

“In working on Landscape Tells the Way, I wanted that same thing coming from the other artist. It has been amazing watching that develop through the process in a truly organic way. That has resulted in such a wide range of unique perspectives.”

Stylised image of Wollongong CBD

Reg Mombassa’s works have been highly popular. Image: Reg Mombassa.

The exhibition brings together more than 50 works from contemporary artists Suzanne Archer, Sophie Cape, Elisabeth Cummings, Warwick Keen, Steve Lopes, Jo Lyons, Euan Macleod, Noel McKenna, Reg Mombassa, Idris Murphy, Lucy O’Doherty and Amanda Penrose Hart, to share their unique perspectives on how the Illawarra’s landscapes have shaped its inhabitants – and vice versa.

“I love Amanda Penrose Hart’s work. There’s a darkness to it, but also beauty and a sense of drama,” Andrievski says.

“Suzanne Archer’s paintings are abstract expressionist. She focused on the shorelines and took to it like wildfire. Her work documents the landscape in a microscopic way, but with a grand perspective.

“People have been going nuts for Reg Mombassa’s works. Having the Illawarra story told through that Mambo culture lens has been special, and quite powerful.

“I could go on and on. They’re all amazing. But you need to see them to understand.”

See Landscape Tells the Way: Illawarra at Wollongong Art Gallery before it closes on Saturday, 1 June.

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