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Notions of Home: In Conversation with Big See

Notions of Home is an exhibition of works by Bertie Louise and Big See. In the lead up to its launch at Livid Skate Cafe, on March 11, I caught up with Sam (AKA Big See) to talk about avocados, the colour red, octopuses, birds, and home as a sense of self; rather than a place that we wouldn’t be able to afford to buy anyway.

We met up at West End Deli, a place close to abodes we have respectfully called home over the years. I excitedly opened the conversation with an update on a piece of her art that I bought from her exhibition at Blossom Festival last year. Consider this the declaration of my bias. I told her about where I wanted her art to sit in my house, in the vicinity of some elephant sneeze art from Perth Zoo. You know the ones I’m talking about.

We talked about the process of buying art. “[It’s] so emotional” she tells me. “There are not many things you can do that with and feel guilt free about. An emotional purchase of a couch, for example, [is] fucking expensive and it looks shit in 2 years. You give yourself permission to feel emotional about purchasing art.” I shared the process of buying her art recently and how I liked the fact that I got to interact with the artist when I bought it, unlike my other art. Trisha the Asian Elephant doesn’t give a fuck that she sneezed on a canvas and it ended up in my house. May you rest in peace Trisha. 

The topical conundrum of generative artificial intelligence came up in conversation and I recalled my interaction with her as the soul that’s missing from AI art. “There is a little bit of me in that” she says of her paintings. “A little bit of soul in that, and I want it to go to a good place. To know that it’s loved and someone else is going to get that meaning and inspiration and love out of it, that’s good… Avocados are great.”

We end up on a tangent about the food featured on one of the Big See pieces in my collection, which also ended up in at least one piece in the upcoming exhibition. “(Avocados) used to be seasonal, but now they’re not. It used to be a really big deal to go to the shop and get avocados with Mum. They were my favourite food, and we’d come home and make avocado on toast. That was such a ritualistic thing that we did together as a family and it’s weird to me that through the passage of time they’re just not a big deal anymore.”

We joked about millennials buying smashed avos instead of houses and her partner quipped that one of her paintings is “a whole apartment blocks’ worth of avocados!” before Sam confessed to me that she thinks avocados are weird and “a little bit sexy.” I guess surrealism gives the avocados a humanistic element that emboldens you to consider the idea that they could be sexy? I dunno, I just like eating avo and wanted a painting of one in my kitchen. But make of surreal avocado paintings what you will, dear reader.

Big See 2022.

Sam explained the process of painting the little foodstuffs in surreal and intuitive styles on the pieces I keep obsessing over as “little stress paintings.” Her artistic style has been evolving as of late, and explaining how “ADHD [means] I have to do six different things at one time so at least if I can attempt to rein it into one direction, I’ll do two small things and a large thing.” The large thing will be available for you to possibly fantasise over in Notions of Home; I won’t judge you. Well, maybe just a little.  

Sam opened up to me about the recurring octopodes that appear in her work. Speaking on a piece titled Where Are My Car Keys? she tells me, “I just want to go sit in nature and be by myself and I need to sit and stretch all of my tentacles out… It was just a desire, I’m not actually there yet. I think he’s my favourite because [the painting] didn’t end up being where I wanted it to be but it ended up being an expression of a place where I would like to be.” 

That’s where the surrealism comes from, not taking it too seriously and just putting it in a way that if you paint confronting things people are provoked and poked by it which is very important.” Speaking to if viewers like the artwork or not she says, “either way I win, as my art made you feel something.” 

Somehow, we got on to the topic of birds. “Emus are (Bertie’s) favourite bird. Because they’re weird and tall.” Sam tells me. “Kinda like her.” I quipped. I asked Sam what kind of bird she would be. She chose peacock, because they’re “big dumb chickens” then proceeded to tell me a story of her fresher year at UWA where she studied anthropology, on a campus where peacocks freely roam. “I sat down on this bench that no one was occupying and I was like ‘yeah it’s a secret garden, this is hot property. I’m gonna sit there with my sandwich and live my best uni life.’ And then a peacock came up and I was like ‘I love it here’… And then it fucking took my sandwich.”

I laughed at her recollection that reeked main character vibes to which she replied, “the peacock is the main character.” She recalled other instances where the peacocks were screaming into the window while she was trying to do an exam. Aptly calling them “violent but also nice to look at” before pondering an alternative answer to my question in bin chickens. I seized the opportunity to ask about a recent mural of a bin chicken she painted in Bayswater. “The locals didn’t quite get it” she tells me, as there is an older demographic in that area who are disappointed that it isn’t a kookaburra. You can form your own opinions of bin chicken art in the exhibition.

Bertie Louise and Big See

We got back onto the topic of her co-exhibitor’s, Bertie, art. Sam and I mutually gushed over Bertie’s technical prowess. “If you look at some of her landscapes, the way she plays with light, the way she can subvert colour is just incredible.” Colour is sorcery to me, and Bertie is a sorceress.

I jokingly asked Sam “What the fuck is colour? How do people like Bertie do it?” She cooly replied “It’s like [learning] chords. And you just push it forward from there. It’s a language… In the same way you develop emotional language to further your emotional intelligence, you’re developing your relationship with colours…  Any other red aside from naphthol red. There is only one red in my language. Whereas with greens, I’ll consistently use 6 or 7 greens depending on… feeling(s) associated with how that particular lime green feels versus a turquoise or the deeper Prussian blue at the moment. She’s a cool lady. You’re just developing your taste, and your knowledge, and seeing the world as it is, but also seeing the world as you would portray it… Putting what you’re perhaps too scared to say in words into visual representation there’s so much ‘fuck you’ that I’m really looking forward to sharing. And that’s the direction I would like to go. It shouldn’t be a passive viewing. It should poke. It should make you feel something.”

We have a mutual appreciation for a piece called Let’s Isolate, a drawing of people on balconies that takes me back to that weird time we called 2020 where a lot of peoples’ creative pursuits thrived. Challenging the notion of people calling themselves not creative, Sam says “you are, it’s just about how comfortable you are with putting that vulnerability out in the world. What I love about creativity and art is that it’s not concerned with truth. It’s a really safe place to practice expression, interpretation, and discourse. A lot of people aren’t really comfortable with conflict. And it’s ok to look at art and go ‘I don’t get this’ or ‘I really get this.’”

Big See 2022.

Sam doesn’t mince words when it comes to people’s reception of her art. “I actually don’t give a shit whether people like it or not. For me, Notions of Home is about coming home to yourself. That’s a really difficult process. Your 20s is trauma…I experienced disconnection with myself and trying to find those strings to hold onto to pull myself back. It’s a hard process. It’s been really cathartic to have that broad umbrella to visually express.” We talked about how approaching 30 brings a grounded-ness in oneself rather than a set of achievements such as buying a house.

“That’s what Notions of Home is about, it’s about coming home to me. That’s the vessel that I will have for the rest of my life. I will change houses, I will change locations, I hope I don’t change partners, but it happens. The one person I am stuck with, my home, is here” she says, pointing to her chest. “And it’s ironically the hardest fucking relationship to build.”

The exhibition’s venue, The Fish Bowl Gallery at Livid Skate Café, is really important to Sam. “I’m really passionate about gallery spaces… People (need to) look in it and think and enjoy the space… I have a degree in anthropology so the psychology of cultures and spaces is so important.”

Sam tells me that when Bertie suggested Livid to her, the place immediately felt right. “We wanted a space where you could not just come in and walk in and look at it and leave again. We wanted it to be a place where you could come in, sit, feel homely, and feel welcome and have a dialogue with the art.” 

As we walked out of West End Deli, I had to show her a swan statue out the front of a house nearby that made me think of lions you see in some suburbs. “That’s the red I was talking about!” she tells me as she points to the door of this random house.

So, what will you find in and around your adventures in Scarborough as you make your way to Livid Skate Cafe to check out Notions of Home?

Notions of Home – An Exhibition by Bertie Louise and Big See opens March 11 and runs until March 25. Opening night is free entry from 6-10pm. 

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