After her mother died in 2010, Sally Blake was given a small, skeletonised seapod.
For her, it symbolised loss and vulnerability. But it also showed resilience and more than anything, it gave her inspiration.
Art had always been a passion for Sally who spent much of her career as a paediatric nurse, but this small gift helped point her in a new artistic direction – the complex connection between the human and natural worlds.
This understanding also helped her to tell stories that melded her creative and life experiences, ideally placed, as a nurse and midwife, to understand the cycles of birth and death.
Today the Canberra-based visual artist is working across a variety of mediums, including textiles, drawing and sculpture.
“I started a bit late,” Sally says. “I didn’t go to art school until I was 37.”
She was awarded her PhD from the Australian National Unversity’s School of Art and Design in 2015 and her work is now held by the Canberra Museum and Gallery, the ANU, ACT Legislative Assembly and private collections here and overseas. She has also been a finalist in the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize.
An exhibition of Sally’s work, showcasing her particular interest in European mythology, is now on show at Grainger Gallery in Fyshwick’s revitalised Dairy Road precinct.
She started weaving the wire sculptures after her mother’s death, interpreting the seapod she was given as the source of potential new life and strength.
“When you look at it,” the artist says, “it seems delicate, but it’s not,” she adds, picking it up. “The wire is strong enough to hold the structure – and it’s so tactile.
“As a nurse, I did draw, but I did different work. More portraits and pastel pieces. But I was at a point in my life where I was thinking what to do next. I knew it was either going to be art or public health.”
It turned out to be art. Sally now works full-time as an artist, her exhibition at the Grainger Gallery her third after other shows at Belconnen Arts Centre.
“It’s a great space to exhibit here,” Sally says of the now two-year-old gallery, established by artist Kacy Grainger.
“It’s wonderful when you come into a space like this and see your work on the walls. At home, it’s just all in piles everywhere.”
It’s also good, the artist says, to see so many red “sold” stickers adorning her works.
In addition to the wire pieces, Sally’s other work – intricate, striking drawings depicting European mythology – are also on show.
Great Goddess by Sally Blake is now on exhibition at the Grainger Gallery with Net Works by Jennifer Kemarre Martiniello.
A contemporary urban-based Arrernte glass artist, Jennifer says her work is designed to pay tribute to traditional weavers “and provide recognition for these ancient cultural practices through the contemporary medium of glass with the aesthetics of both”.
Describing her work, Jennifer says: “I have concentrated on the incredibly beautiful forms of traditional woven eel traps, fish traps and baskets, fish scoops, sieves and dilli bags of our peoples, seeking to evoke the interplay of light and form found in those objects and in so doing, create contemporary glass works which are also objects of cultural as well as artistic significance.
“In these works, I pay tribute to the oldest living weaving practices in the world. They signify the continuity of heritage, place, peoples, community and our collective cultural identity.”
Grainger Gallery is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm, Dairy Road, Fyshwick. More information is available here.