Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pascale Zufferey

It’s not easy to step out of the car at Nightcliff foreshore and turn your back on it. The tide is well on its way out, exposing the ancient sea beds to the clear blue sky. A gentle breeze encourages the coconut palms to wave to a distant storm as if to beckon it to set a cooling shower onto the baking sands. I’ve photographed this scene many times and it always presents a different set of hues and tones; a perfect place for an artist to live and work.

Which is the very reason I am here. Just for the record, I raise the Nikon for a couple of shots, as a salutation more than for artistic grounds and head for the sanctuary that is Pascale’s studio. As I look up, Pascale appears on the balcony and calls; a warning I think. I have the distinct feeling of looking down the bow of the Titanic as it blunders towards me with Kate Winslet (Pascale) facing into the icy wind. Any minute Leonardo de Caprio (aka Bruce, Pascale’s partner) will appear with a reassuring smile, just before they run me (the iceberg) down. I really must do something about this vivid imagination.

As I enter Pascale and Bruce’s home my eyes scan the premises for signs of artistic life. As usual, there is little evidence of such, bar one seemingly incomplete work resting on an easel adjacent to the window leading to the balcony. Pascale must have sensed my prying and questioning eyes.

‘I’m still working on that’ she states. She expresses her frustrations at not getting it ‘right’. This is promptly followed by a discourse in procrastination seemingly brought about by a recent trip to Italy and resulting in a creative urge flooded by too many good ideas.

‘I don’t really know where to start. And the colours are amazing. It’s hard to get it just right’. I question her on knowing when she knows its done. She skirts around an answer I one day hope to understand.

We move to the balcony and I prompt for some background material. I had always thought Pascale’s name would look good at the bottom of a masterpiece. It’s European origin may well fit with that. The urge to paint seemed to have appeared at an early age. Some refinement of her skills during school in the NT brought her to make the choice to become an art teacher. But as fate, and the NT Department of Education would have it, Pascale began a teaching career prematurely and in an area deemed more fitting by the administrators. Art teaching would need to go on the backburner for a while. After all, who can argue with fate or the beaurocrats?

But art has always been an important part of Pascale’s life and a translation of her dreams wasn’t going to restrict her. She has continued to hone her skills and express herself with a brush and canvas. In the typical manner of the suburban artist, Pascale directed me to ‘The Gallery’. On our way to what I expected would be a well lit expanse of white walls covered with illuminating images of a creative life, Pascale points out a few ‘tasters’. A portrait of a young indigenous child stares at me with disturbing intuitiveness. I hesitate and feel an urge to move to see if the stare follows me. I can look at those eyes and know this child. It is a very realistic portrait but built into it is another layer of intimacy that bares the hallmark of a strong relationship between the subject and the artist. This is something many artists strive for. Pascale has certainly achieved it here.

‘The rest are in here’ she calls, and I follow eagerly.

As usual, my hopes are dashed. There is no vast expanse of light and space to flaunt her work. Typically, labours of love and devotion are stacked against the wall, piled on desks and buried in cupboards. Her working studio is also typically the ‘spare room’ overlooking the car park of an adjacent block of flats. With the wonders of the Arafura Sea at her doorstep I wonder why she chooses to work under such conditions.

‘I do paint out there,’ she replies to my concerned inquiry. ‘I don’t paint on location though’ and I can understand why. ‘Getting it right’ under a tropical sun could prove to be an onerous task.

Pascale shuffles through her canvasses like a deck of cards and I catch a glimpse of portraits and landscapes that beckon more than a cursory glance. She has exhibited and commissioned works but her efforts have far outweighed her sales. This is not a critique of her work but an appraisal of her industry. There is enough work here to keep a gallery stocked for some time.

‘I do give a lot of my work away’, and I wonder what room would be left if she hadn’t.

Many of her portraits have a personal history attached. Bringing up her children in remote communities gives her a connection to the subjects that is reflected in her style and composition. Her emotional connection becomes the viewer’s link to another place through her paintings. It’s worth the time to stare.

There’s not a strong motivation to market her work but Pascale does see painting as an important part of who she is.

‘I get a bit prickly if I haven’t painted for a few days. It has a very calming effect on me’ she reflects. Bruce has moved into view and I note a look of discerning agreement on his face.

‘Bruce is incredibly supportive with what I do,’ she adds. Stroking Bruce’s ego is well placed and he accords a Cheshire grin. Us blokes need that from time to time.

‘I have my toys,’ Bruce declares while fondling what appears to be a depth finder from a boat. I have a feeling there is a good deal of sharing of time and space in this relationship.

Pascale, in spite of her lack of experience and nervousness in talking about herself and her art, has expressed quite clearly how her skills and talent as an artist are entwined in her life. She has articulated in a wordless way, a love of her children, Bruce, her community and the landscape in the same way she blends her art, actions and words; as if they were all part of the same. There is no separation of one from the other. The very fact that she presents her work in the same way she would show an album of family photo’s or talk of her experiences demonstrates the ‘wholeness’ of Pascale.

To some extent this is what I have been looking for, I think. My search hasn’t been about the art or the artist; its been about the people. The art is just one way people, like Pascale, express who they are. It’s the bonus people get when they have learnt the skills and find the next level that art can offer. In addition, its the bonus we as observers acquire when we view such work. Incorporated into the pigments and canvas is a life of experiences honed by feelings and thoughts. If we could all have the skills of expression Pascale has we would probably be better for it. But for the time being I can just bathe in the light of her work and hope that some of this talent will rub off.

Thanks Pascale


  1. Beautiful write up. So proud of your art Pascale and you as a person.I have seen your art and they are truly amazing...XX

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