A DEDICATED space in the new Gippsland Art Gallery is the latest feather in the cap of cherished local artist, Annemieke Mein OAM.
The renowned wildlife artist has a love for what she affectionately refers to as “beautiful, little Gippsland beasties”, evident in every stitch of her wondrous textile creations.
The love, it seems, is mutual, as Annemieke has previously broken attendance records for Gippsland Art Gallery, with more than 13,000 people flocking to see her life-like artworks appear to tumble from their frames.
Annemieke’s works already dot Wellington Shire, with credits including bronze works on permanent display in the Wedge and St Mary's Cathedral in Sale, the steel gates of the Sale Botanic Gardens featuring her “Eucalypt” design and the Bluestone Migrant Memorial at West Sale Aerodrome also bearing her mark.
Therefore, it only seemed fitting that the works of Wellington Shire’s premier artist be permanently honoured, as The Art of Annemieke Mein opened fittingly in its own little nook of the expansive new Gippsland Art Gallery.
Speaking with the Gippsland Times, Annemieke modestly remarked she was honoured, humbled and somewhat overwhelmed by the support of her community, council, government and especially by the generosity of the late John Leslie OBE.
“Getting to this public open day has been an enormous team effort,” she said.
“It has been extraordinary to experience the co-operation and enthusiasm of so many people all coming from so many different viewpoints, from councillors to window cleaners.”
Previously, Annemieke has labelled her work as a “statement of respect and love for the environment”, hoping to create awareness of the importance of preserving natural heritage.
“My work has developed because of the region. I just feel so honoured that I've had the privilege to live here— I feel it’s quite rare to adore the place you live,” she said.
As well as depicting some of the moths, butterflies and fish of Gippsland, her inaugural exhibition featured all the methods and techniques used in creating Fantail Rhapsody 1987.
“The samples, notes and sketches are taken from my daily note books and files made at the time of making the textile work — all displayed in three showcases beside the main work,” she said.
“There will always be an emphasis on teaching and displaying my methods and techniques.”
The display cases give a glimpse into the immense methodical process behind just one work of art, with minute details saved from more than 30 years ago, including rough sketches, stitching trials, colour experiments and fibre samples.
Another notable artwork currently on display is La BEL, inspired by friend, Mr Leslie.
“In 2016, he asked me to make something special for the opening of the new gallery,” the inscription reads.
“Sewing is very difficult for me now.
“But, while sorting out studio cupboards, an idea formed to use one of my ‘collections’ — labels saved over 50 years — and to combine these by heat-activated adhesive rather than by sewing.”
A deeply personal piece, the artwork includes thousands of labels from Annemieke’s life, including her son’s nametag from his army uniform, labels from thrifted clothing reused in other artworks and even the label from her mattress when she first emigrated from Holland with her parents in 1951.
In a stirring summation of life, several male moths chase a female moth, nibbling away at the cloth woven from the labels, leaving black behind.
Gallery curator Simon Gregg said the permanent gallery recognised Annemieke’s enormous contribution to art and culture in Gippsland, and her enduring popularity with the public.
“She [Annemieke] is such a drawcard for the region; she brings a lot of people to the area,” he said.
“A Sale-based textile artist with fans around the world, Annemieke's gallery will be an ongoing, evolving exhibition of works spanning four decades that showcases her love of nature and astonishing artistry with textiles.”
In broader terms, Simon was thrilled with the new Gippsland Art Gallery space, saying he couldn't think of a more beautiful gallery anywhere in regional Victoria, or perhaps even metro Victoria.
“A couple of years ago, that was a disused courtyard with tumbleweeds blowing through it with a couple of dead palm trees, and to walk in today— you just wouldn't recognise it at all,” he said.
“The wonderful sculptural ceiling that they've installed is just breathtaking, and the way that gallery light changes through the course of the day as the sun moves through the sky— we didn’t anticipate that.
“It's all self-contained in terms of the 24 hour climate control and temperature control in that gallery, so we meet the highest level of standards now.
“This is something that will attract people into the region, it’s going to be a real economic driver for the whole community, I’m quite confident of that.”
In addition to The Art of Annemieke Mein, GAG’s new space has six galleries.
Gallery one is dedicated to showcasing the gallery’s collection, which has quietly grown to more than 1700 objects during the past few years, some unseen by the public.
“We'll never close gallery one, so we’ll just rotate individual works through so people can discover new parts of the collection, which is an incredible community asset,” Simon said.
Galleries two and three will feature major temporary displays, such as the John Leslie Art Prize, thematic group shows, and major retrospective and touring shows, with the gallery even acquiring the country’s most well-known art exhibition, the Archibald Prize, in the near future.
Slightly smaller spaces, galleries four and five are intended for use by contemporary Gippsland artists or for slightly more adventurous art, and the sixth space is a focus gallery designed to explore aspects of the collection in greater depth, such as a particular artist, period or material.
Currently on display is inaugural exhibition, IMAGINE.