I ALMOST thought I was talking to an Italian when I met Heidi Rolfe because she used her hands almost as much as I do when I am talking. (I must share with you that when I am talking and my husband Matt wants me to stop talking he grabs my hands as he believes, quite rightly, that I can’t speak without using my hands!)
But I digress. For Heidi, life is all about the expression of emotion. And it is all about the water. It is what drew her to the Bass Coast Shire. Its water.
For most of her life, however, Heidi lived in the country. Starting her life in Vancouver, Canada, where she worked as an artist and art teacher, she was forced by the recession to the country in order to earn enough money to support herself and her son. It was a tough life and one where she ending up working on oil rigs in Calgary, deep in ‘Cow Country, Canada’, and home of the Calgary stampede. In winter it was so cold that they had to keep the trucks running all night or there was no way to start them the next morning. The mist would be steaming off the frozen lakes and Heidi’s job was to make sure that the men always had running water for all their working and personal needs.
While the men were always kind, the conditions were harsh. It was dark by two in the afternoon and many people suffered from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) due to the lack of sunlight. As if that wasn’t enough, it rained for five months of the year. It was depressing.
Heidi came to Australia to visit her sister, who had an online romance that worked (she is still happily married). Heidi found she loved the country and decided to emigrate. It was an arduous series of returns to Canada and trips to New Zealand to renew her visa before she was finally granted permanent residency.
Now she lives in an old farmhouse on a farm on the outskirts of Wonthaggi. She lives simply and loves the peace and quiet and the time she has to create her art. Her farmer landlord, Hitch, has made a studio for her, lining it with beer cans (empty!) to provide some insulation and quite a bit of colour. Heidi loves the Australian bush and its creatures but tells me it took a while to get used to the huntsman spiders.
She has tried many different techniques from creating painted roses that are made using a papier mâché technique but look like ceramics, to using mosaics to cover skulls she finds on her many walks in the bush. By the time she finds the skulls, nature has taken away all the flesh but she still needs to bleach them to clean them entirely. She needs to buy peroxide to do so, which means she has to convince the retailer that she is not going to build a bomb, and given the large quantity that she is purchasing that she doesn’t want to turn into an extreme blonde.
Recently she made a papier mâché bulldog and left it as a guard to the entrance of the shed. Trouble was a mouse thought that the dog’s tail would make a tasty treat!
Right now she is working on a technique using heavily pigmented colour and water that she daubs onto canvases. She tells me (using her hands of course) how she loves the process of tilting the canvases to watch them create a life of their own. She believes the paint follows her subconscious thinking, creating seascapes, or images from space, or stormy scenes – all according to what she is feeling at the time.
This new medium is very different from what Heidi usually produces. Normally she creates intricate hand-drawn images of native Australian animals and scenes with thousands of pen strokes for each drawing. The images might only be A5 or even A6 in size. They are then reduced and printed onto cards that are sold at various locations including ArtSpace. She describes the two techniques as her yin and yang.
She is now seeking to publish a book – a historical fantasy that she admits will take some work to edit. In order to write it she took herself out to Mount Best and immersed herself in the bush and let her imagination take her to a land of shifting shapes and mystical beings.
Of course she has also drawn the creatures that she imagined – all with thousands of pen strokes. I can’t wait to see the final product as I am certain that the illustrations alone will be worth it.