The long-awaited retrospective of one of Bathurst’s most accomplished artists will open at the The Mill Art Gallery in the Tremain’s Mill precinct at 6pm on Friday, September 2.
Steve Kirby, who for many years had a large studio on one of the upper floors of the old mill, has works in public and private collections in Australia and overseas. His vivid paintings feature organic lines and patterns reminiscent of the microscopic world or textiles.
In the catalogue essay for his 2008 show at the Bathurst Regional Gallery, cultural studies scholar Dr Margaret Mayhew said that Kirby’s paintings “embody a life affirming delight in the world and the capacity of paint to stretch the eye and imagination of the viewer beyond a representation of the existing world into remaking new worlds and new possibilities of seeing, sensing and living.”
Sadly, Steve Kirby died of cancer 2010, just as his career was beginning to take off. It has taken his partner, fellow artist Karen Golland, twelve years to feel ready to present this retrospective.
“It has been hard, working through grief as well as sorting and storing the huge collection of more than 200 paintings,” Golland said. “But this
retrospective is bringing back the joy and exuberance of Steve’s vision and practice.”
While he often worked conventionally with oil paint and brush, he also perfected a technique for applying oil paints using a hand drill, and created a hand-pumped air compressor for blowing paint around the canvas through a tube.
“Steve did not live to see the Tremain’s Mill precinct converted into cafes and art spaces, but he would no doubt have enjoyed being able to show his work right next door in what used to be Bedwell’s Feed Barn,” Golland said.
The connection between the site and the paintings is revealed in the creation of Quercus (2007), one of the featured paintings in the show. Kirby constructed the large wooden panel in the studio, only to discover that he could not get it out of the door. Ecologist Ray Mjadwesch, who worked on the floor below, helped out by organising a forklift to retrieve it from the third-floor window.
Karen Golland has exhibited extensively and is a board member of Sydney art gallery First Draft. In her show, This is for you at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery in 2016, she used small blocks of Kirby’s work to create an interactive display. In 2021 she was one of the women named as a “Bathurst inspirational woman” for International Women’s Day for her contribution to the arts.
The exhibition will be launched by Steve Birrell, who led the transformation of the Mill into an arts and cultural precinct.
The exhibition opens on Friday September 2 at 6pm. It will be open to the public on Saturday from 10am-4pm and Sunday September 4 10am-4pm.
When Steve Kirby died in October 2010, he left behind three decades of creative practice spanning site-specific installation, sculpture, drawing and experimental painting. During his time as a painter, he exhibited extensively in regional and metropolitan galleries, and after graduating from the National Art School in 2000 formed part of Legge Gallery’s artist line-up until the gallery closed in 2009.
Steve Kirby was born in Somerset in the United Kingdom in 1956 and died in Bathurst, Central West NSW, in 2010. Initially trained in microscopy, he spent his formative years working at a hospital in Bristol. After leaving work to travel, Kirby participated in several site-specific projects overseas, including the Forest Huts Project in Mysen, Norway in 1977; a three month walk building site specific works from Lands’ End to John O’Groats, Great Britain, in 1979; and The Puzzle at the Amsterdam Centre, Amsterdam, in 1982. He migrated to Australia in 1986 and established his art practice in Bathurst, completing a Bachelor of Arts (History of Ideas) at Deakin University in 1995 via correspondence, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) at the National Art School, Sydney in 2000. Following graduation, Kirby had regular solo exhibitions with Legge Gallery, Sydney. He participated in numerous group exhibitions, including The Greatest Show on Earth: Paintings and Drawings of the Australian Circus, Cutcliffe Gallery, Sydney, 2000 and Alchemy: Cadia Hill Gold Mine Art Project, Orange Regional Gallery, 2002. Steve Kirby’s work is held in the collections of Artbank, Art and Australia, Utopia and private collections in Australia and Europe.
- Quercus, 2007
- Steve Kirby demonstration at Art on the Rocks, Circular Quay, Sydney, 2006