With the United Nations declaring 2020 the year of global plant health, Fine Art@Hale met with Jude Willis. Focusing on macroscopic and microscopic ecologies, Jude’s detailed paintings of her environment help raise awareness of the incredible life that exists and grows all around us.
Jude Willis painting on her front verandah at her Ferguson Valley studio

I’ve read you’ve previously worked in the field of medical research. When did you feel the first urge to create art?

When I was in high school, I wasn’t allowed to do art as a subject, so it always had the lure of the forbidden.  I did enjoy drawing, but most of it was done in the margins of study notes.

Once my children started school, I did a weekly painting class at the Fremantle Arts Centre which I really enjoyed but I never had the time to do anything much more than paint on the day of my class. (Mainly because I was using oils and the clean-up process was incredibly tedious.)

In 2009 the whole family spent a year overseas (in Scotland) and I was lucky enough to do an amazing watercolour class at Glasgow University.  Being away from Australia and having a bit more time to devote to art making I realised I was keen to do more. So much so that on returning home to reappraise my career I decided that instead of searching for a new job I’d enrol in art school. I have to say, I have never been happier.

How would you describe your style?

My style is ever evolving.  I like the meditative process of creating incredibly detailed botanical based work as well as the fun and release of painting in a more relaxed abstracted style. 

I guess if you wanted to nail it down you could say Art Nouveau meets Expressionism or Nouveau Expressionism to be pretentious.

To keep myself interested, I tend to work on several pieces at once. As an overarching theme, I’m looking at environment with the aim of making you stop and take pause. As in life, sometimes you are drawn by the detail and sometimes by the big picture.

Do you remember the moment you first sold an artwork? 

Yes indeed. The first artwork I ever sold was at the Mosman Park Art Awards in 2011.  I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the red dot on my work. I think for every artist the thrill of selling work never gets old!

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

I made one of my lecturer’s cry (in a good way) with one of my third year student pieces (a poignant reflection on school days).  Janet Holmes à Court (who was guest speaker at our graduation ceremony), in a moment I can only describe as surreal, bought my graduation piece.  

As a counterpoint, when I painted a portrait of my mother, she told me it was hideous!  To be fair, it actually was hideous!

I think it’s always good to keep in mind that you’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win and never as bad as they say when you lose.

What do you love most about what you do?

In a nutshell, I get to do what I love every day.  I get to meet lots of interesting people and I have a great excuse for hanging around in art galleries and visiting art supply shops.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? And what advice would you give to aspiring artists?

I think Andy Warhol said it best: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it.  While they are deciding, make even more art.”

In the Light of Reflection

Jude’s artworks reference the everchanging relationship between observation and invention, memory, beauty and patterns in nature.

“The multilayered, poetic painting style infused with tangles of lines, strokes and marks (some spontaneous, some careful and following observation) reflect my response to the history and soul of a place as well as an awareness of the movement of the trees, the rippling of the grass, the sound of the wind and the crunch of foliage underfoot. It is a multi-sensory record of what it feels like to be in a place at a particular moment in time.”