Friday, July 18, 2014

Artist Anna Mackrell

Anna's flower paintings are enough to set your heart a-fluttering. Photography: Francoise Baudet
At heart, Anna Mackrell is an old-fashioned girl. She loves big, floppy flowers and wild, rambling gardens. Recently, she found herself drawn back to her childhood home, in the Strathbogie Ranges. It's the kind of place tree-changers dream of, with awe-inspiring, expansive skies and vast paddocks that turn golden over summer. This is a place where Anna's grandmother Hilda created an English-style garden filled with pink camellias and roses, fruit trees and veggies. It is the place that inspired Anna's latest range of artworks, Dozen Flowers, for an exhibition at Megan Morton's The Studio Gallery, in Sydney earlier this year. These swoon-worthy artworks feature flowers picked from her mother's and grandmother's garden and displayed in vessels found or on loan. They're so deliciously bright and cheery, you'll want the whole collection on your wall, too. Anna is now planning to give the garden - neglected while it was occupied as a rental in recent years - plenty of TLC, adding a few more of her own favourites along the way. See more of Anna's work at annamackrell.wordpress.com.

Anna's grandmother and mother planted the glorious camellias. Photography: Anna Mackrell
What is the story of your garden.
I grew up in the country, in an old weatherboard house, on a farm in Strathbogie. When I was 19, I moved to the city to study Fine Arts and lived in Melbourne and Western Australia for many years. I have only just recently returned to the old house to live.
The farm was originally settled by George and Mary-Ann Mackrell, in 1876, so six generations of  Mackrells have lived here.  My grandmother Hilda planted most of the camellias that surround the house, which look amazing when they are in bloom.  She was a passionate fruit and veggie gardener. The old mulberry tree and gorgeous fig tree that she planted are still going strong.
My mother was also a big veggie and flower gardener. In the '70s she also planted camellias and a white Magnolia Grandiflora tree (which dad chainsawed to the ground – but it re-sprouted into a tree again) and a lovely rose garden, which is gone now as the garden was neglected for years while there were tenants living here. I’m hoping to return it to some of its former glory! 

The big skies and sprawling paddocks that inspire Anna's landscapes. Photography: Anna Mackrell
Pines on Hills with Blue Clouds. Oil on canvas, by Anna Mackrell.
How has it evolved over the years?
There is a real family history associated with the garden, each generation adding to it.  Around the side of the house, some trees had died during the drought and my brother recently pulled them out with the tractor. This has cleared a few spaces for me to, at some point, plant a new tree and another veggie patch. I’m also planning to grow camellia 'Scentsation', pink and lavender-coloured peonies, snowdrops, maroon-coloured iris, hellebore and jumbo gladiolus.

How do you like to spend time in your garden?
I like to sit outside in the garden, in the morning and the evening, or sometimes lie on a rug under the fig tree. I especially like sitting outside in the evening, as the light is really beautiful and dreamy and I love to watch the birds splash in the bird bath. There are so many lovely little birds that come to the garden (blue wrens, finches, willy wagtails, silver eyes and parrots). I feel relaxed and peaceful in the garden. I also like pottering around, weeding, pruning and tending my little vegie patch, which my nephew likes to help me with.

Anna spends her days painting and pottering in her garden. Photography: Anna Mackrell
How does your garden inspire you as an artist?
I love using flowers from my own and other people’s gardens in my paintings. Garden flowers are more luscious, more imperfect and have more personality than bought flowers. Mum created beautiful flower gardens so there is an influence from her in my still-life painting.

What are your must-haves for a garden?
I must always have parsley, basil, rocket and lettuces in my veggie garden. They are so easy to grow and
easy to pick whenever I need them. 


Purple lisianthus, green stripes. Oil on linen by Anna Mackrell.

Anna's childhood home, in Strathbogie, has been in her family for six generations. Photography: Anna Mackrell
All-time favourite plant?
I love my potted red hippeastrum flower, which I have taken with me every time I move house.  My grandfather, on my mother’s side, had a hippeastrum which he gave to me. He also loved trees and
plants, especially orchids and Australian natives. I do love the bigger, floppier flowers, like roses,
camellias and peonies.

Tell us about your latest exhibition. Why did you choose to paint flowers?
Megan Morton approached me about putting together a flower painting exhibition and I said yes. So I
quit my admin job in the city and moved back to the country. I’ve pretty much painted solidly for the last
six months.





The landscape of Anna's childhood shines through in her artworks. Photography: Anna Mackrell
Camellias in white vase. Oil on linen by Anna Mackrell.
Pink camellias, green and purple. Oil on linen by Anna Mackrell.
Red, pink, apricot roses, green stripes. Oil on linen by Anna Mackrell.