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INTERVIEW: Meet Newcastle Artist Leda

Local INTERVIEW: Meet Newcastle Artist Leda

Leda Turner is a Newcastle based painter and illustrator whose love of nature led her down the path of botanical art. Her intricate work is awe-inspiring and her passion for life... infectious! Leda is one of YFC's most creative customers, so naturally, we had to meet with her to chat about what inspires her work and how her Italian heritage has impacted her food choices.  

 

Tell us your story, what brought you to Newcastle?

Born here after my parents and sister emigrated from Italy.  Mum and Dad initially came to ‘set themselves up’ for the future as life in a small Italian village (living with family) was limiting and my father worked away from home for weeks at a time (digging the tunnel road system).  Naturally, they loved Australia and the opportunities it provided despite of course the huge culture shock.  They had absolutely no English, did not know a thing about Australia apart from there being work opportunities but soon appreciated the freedom and the chance to make a good life for their quickly growing brood.  Food, of course such a big part of Italian life, was one of the biggest challenges.  Mum used to go to the chemist to buy a tiny bottle of olive oil as it was the only place they good get it and even dried pasta was rarely seen.  Wherever they lived however backyard gardens were lovingly tended so seasonal fruit and vegetables were the backbone of our meals and that continued throughout their lives until Dad passed away a few years ago.  Our children were blessed with growing up visiting Nonno and Nonna, playing amongst their bounty-filled garden beds and scurrying inside to the delights that awaited in Nonna’s kitchen!  To this day, we gather as a large and noisy family around her table where at 89 she still produces the most wonderful meals of lasagne (from scratch), pasta, pizza and many of the traditional foods of her region.  

Newcastle Artist Leda Turner

How do you feel the Newcastle community has impacted your art?

Well, whilst I took art as an elective subject at high school, it was treated with a broad brush (boom) and I was more interested in the history of art and the stories of the great artists.  During the years my children were growing I pursued other ‘crafty’ endeavours such as quilting, embroidery and knitting which satisfied my creative urges, indeed there’s still not enough hours in the day for them all and botanical art is now my focus.  When my youngest (of three) was nearing HSC, I started watercolour classes at the Society of Artists, Newcastle located in Lambton Park where under the tuition of watercolourist Beryl Ray, I discovered the sheer joy of this medium though it was really when flowers, vegetables and still life were the subject of the day that I really ‘switched on’.  Botanical art is not widely followed or active in the Newcastle area though the excellence of the Natural History Illustration Course at Newcastle University will, I believe,  see this change to gain a wider and more appreciative audience in the future.  I have recently made contact with a couple of other botanical artists in the area and there is scope for developing these interactions further.

 

What inspires you day-to-day?

It may sound trite but essentially it is nature and I find something everyday that soon becomes a potential composition in my mind hence my notebook of ideas.  Yesterday when I collected my Your Food Collective order and brought it home, the bunch of radishes was so interesting - hot pink tube shapes, long, spidery roots and apple-green coloured tops - I spent quite a bit of time I didn’t have setting up for photos and doing a colour study.  The more I research, study and work on the specimens I paint, the more I am astonished and awestruck by nature’s power, the exquisiteness of it’s workings, its magic and then there’s the colours!  Also, take bees for example…so essential a part do they play in our lives yet we endanger their existence and important work.  The more you learn of them the more you wonder at nature’s hand and you find this is in all aspects of the natural world and I love the challenge of capturing not only that beauty but the complexity.  Then there’s the sex!  Everywhere!  Plants and their sexual organs are vital to understanding  how they grow, their part in the cycle and that therefore plays a large part in the composition and depiction I’m looking for.    There are some botanical artists in Australia and around the world whom I follow and who’s work not only inspires me but excites and gives me confidence that botanical art (once only considered a genteel pastime) is taking it’s rightful place in that sometimes snobby world of art.  It’s a sometimes fine line between depicting the natural world accurately, yet also in a form that pleases the eye and will sell, not forgetting that it’s detailed (often painstaking) and therefore often weeks of work go into one piece.

 Newcastle Artist Leda Turner

Talk us through process of creating your work? e.g inspiration, tools, time-management?

This will depend on for whom or what the piece is intended.  If it’s for a botanical exhibition or competition, there are many things to take into consideration and often strict parameters so if there’s a theme I do spend a lot of time thinking about something that speaks to the theme yet is unusual or from an unusual perspective.  For example, for Botanical 2017 “In Sickness and in Health” I submitted (and was accepted) “Cannabis sativa” due to a close relationship my husband and I have with the Hunter Medical Research Institute and research that was going on at the time into the medicinal use of cannabis for the treatment of pain relief particularly in children with epilepsy and childhood asthma.  I’m sure there were a few raised eyebrows, the thought of which pleased me no end.  If on the other hand I’ve been commissioned to do a piece for someone (often as a gift), I again spend a lot of time thinking about the person for whom it’s intended, their relationship with the commissioner and then the often difficult job of finding a specimen from which to work.  This is often the most challenging aspect - getting my hands on a plant, flower or vegetable.  It’s not unknown in the botanical art world to have to wait two growing seasons to finish a painting as working from a ‘live’ specimen as compared to a photo is entirely different.  I can do work from photos but there’s nothing like setting up your own composition, lighting it to your satisfaction, doing colour studies and sketches before drawing it up and then the fun begins.  As to tools…I swerve away from art shops lest they draw (boom) me in and seduce with the myriad of tools that either make life easier or just thrill such as paint tubes, pans and the divinity of a good brush.  I feel fortunate to have the luxury of time now that we are empty nesters, have moved to an easy-care apartment and can burrow into my studio with its little outlook to the ocean.  Music and audiobooks allow the creative side of my brain to do it’s thing while the other is occupied and you wouldn’t believe how wonderfully it works.  My happy place indeed.

 

Do you have a food philosophy?

Hmmm. I would say, cook.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, complicated or planned.  The more you cook, the more you develop a natural understanding of the foods and flavours that go well together.  That basis will then move to including texture and high notes that make a dish zing.  Searching for flavour in produce means keeping it seasonal as much as possible and from producers who respect and have passion for what they do.  So, hello? YFC.

Newcastle Artist Leda Turner

Why did you join YFC?

See above.  I seized on the fact that it was local, that young people were behind it and as I mentioned above I was searching for produce that promised the flavour and quality for which I was yearning.

 

Do you have a favorite recipe, tell us what you love about it?

You’re asking me to nominate my favourite child here, impossible!  But artichokes are my favourite vegetable and  when i can get my hands on some good ones, I love to do them the way Mamma did them, alla Romana, stuffed with breadcrumbs, egg, mint, a little grated garlic and parmigiano and softly braised in white wine.  It’s a springtime dish that immediately takes me to my darling Dad’s garden and the huge, dramatic plants burgeoning with bulbs that then made their way to Mamma’s kitchen.  Sweet memories and food that warms the soul.

 

Tell us what you're looking forward to?

At the moment all I could wish for is more of the things from which I get so much pleasure: things like a good cup of coffee sitting in the sun, Friday night pasta with my husband, family get-togethers, fun times with my friends, great books and of course, being in my studio.  If you add the excitement of more travel (always with a stop in Italy!) and watching our children negotiate their life paths then I’m one happy woman.

Local Artist Leda Turner


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