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Artist Donna O'Callaghan is on a roll with a TV episode and new exhibitions. Learn her local inspirations here.

Jul 12, 2022

Words: Gippslandia

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In the weeks before Christmas 2019, Gippslandia had the privilege of launching our first cookbook at a pop-up store that we curated. Featured in the ‘gallery’ section of the space were the vivid works of Traralgon artist Donna O'Callaghan.

The visceral textures and bursts of colour in her paintings provided a real lift to the shop and were an excellent place to ponder life in the midst of operating the store.

Recently, Donna featured in an episode of the art documentary Colour In Your Life TV as well as making a number of cool leaps in her artistic career. After learning that Gippsland’s beautiful environment, including the ocean, is an incredible muse for her abstract works, we chatted with Donna about some of her greatest inspirations, with the hope they may inspire you too.

"Oh gosh, there are so many beautiful places to dive off the Gippsland coast!"

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The greatest underwater Gippsland locations to draw inspiration from.
Oh gosh, there are so many beautiful places to dive off the Gippsland coast! Heading out of San Remo, around towards the racetrack, there’s a beautiful deep bommie, about 40m deep. It has the most beautiful soft corals in yellows, pinks and oranges. I was so surprised when I first saw it. The fish colours are also amazing: lots of parrotfish too.

The George Kermode wreck offshore from Phillip Island is an easy but very cool dive nearby too.

We cannot forget Wilsons Prom either. It’s spectacular. There are great colours, fantastic soft corals, nice big crayfish and beautiful little creatures. I love to check out the tiny spiders, snails and cleaner shrimp amongst the rocks and crevasses. They can be brilliant reds and whites – amazing.

Gippsland’s greatest natural locations to gain inspiration for colour combinations.
The Tarra-Bulga National Park. I’m a massive fan of the beautiful patterns you can see with the light coming through the tree canopy.

I love the view of the wetlands, farms and treetops you see from Flynn too, when looking out to the north. It’s such a pretty spot.

The greatest inspiration to continue with a painting.
I love when you near the end of an artwork, so that’s a great motivator.

I love the feel of the texture in a painting, so I try and create a lot of that in my artworks. Also, the sound of the scratching and scraping of paint scrapers, pencils and paintbrushes on the canvas… it’s a beautiful feeling.

I’m forever listening to music and dancing while painting, which is a great inspiration to me.

List Department - Inspiring Gippsland with artist Donna O'Callaghan.
List Department - Inspiring Gippsland with artist Donna O'Callaghan.

The best creative hubs to visit to gain inspiration.
(Outside of Gippsland’s wonderful major galleries)

Visiting ARC Yinnar and hanging out with the beautiful artists there. They’re always willing to share their kindness and art tips.

Advice to inspire more great Gippsland artists.
Be inquisitive and ask a lot of questions. I remember when I first started I saw David Shields, a Gippsland artist, in an art supply shop. He just looked like he knew what he was doing. So, I asked him what I should be buying: the canvasses, paint and the brushes I should use. He was so kind. David gave me his business card and said to please continue to ask him questions, so I did. I’ve never stopped asking questions.

The inspiration that led to the greatest progression in your art.
Gaining representation with Madame Hunter Art was a confidence booster. Another was having an exhibition, Archipelago, with the Gippsland Art Gallery Maffra. These led to further exhibitions and the recording of an art documentary, Colour In Your Life TV.

I was then lucky enough to have David O’Halloran (Latrobe Regional Gallery, Senior Curator) and Gabriella Duffy (LRG, Assistant Curator) visit my studio and provide some direction. I was able to show them unreleased works and they were honest about which had the most impact. From here, I’ve been finding a new path in my abstract paintings, which happens to be the title of my new works and upcoming exhibition.

I’m really excited to share my recent works with everyone at the West Gippsland Art Centre, Warragul, in August and Little Oberon Gallery, Fish Creek, in December.

List Department - Inspiring Gippsland with artist Donna O'Callaghan.
List Department - Inspiring Gippsland with artist Donna O'Callaghan.

Gippslandia - Issue No. 23

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