It’s been a couple of years since we checked in with Heath Wae, and a lot has changed since then. He has a new name, a new home, and a new body of work to share. Now going by the name Heath Wae (formerly Heath Newman), he’s moved from Melbourne to Mullumbimby, New South Wales, where he lives with his partner Tais Rose in a humble little shack where the farmlands of the Mullumbimby Creek end, and the rainforest below the Koonyum Range begin. It’s not far off camping, and it’s right by their own little private bend in the creek. ‘As I type these answers the sun is setting over the mountains, and the creek is flowing along just past our deck, full with the force of the recent rains’ he emails me. ‘We are living a super simple life and I couldn’t be happier’. I believe him when he tells me it really is as supremely idyllic as it sounds!
Heath’s latest body of work, The Pavilion of Dreams, looks a little different to the pastel-hued, gestural artworks he was making when we last caught up with him. It’s the first exhibition under his new name, and there’s a meditative quality to the work. These paintings reflect this deeper study of himself, but that’s not to say there’s ego in them. Quite the opposite, I think.
Ahead of The Pavilion of Dreams opening at Harvey Galleries in Mosman, Sydney on Friday, we learn more about where he’s been – mentally, physically and philosophically!
It’s been a couple of years since we last checked it with you, and you’ve had some big life changes! How have you been going – where are you at right now?
I left Melbourne for some familiar greener pastures in Mullumbimby, New South Wales. The Northern Rivers has been my on again off again home for a good 12 years now.
I’m not sure if you are familiar with the term ‘Saturn Returns’ but it’s essentially when you really feel that you are on the path you should be, or not. Melbourne was highlighting a lot of the things I didn’t want in my life and I was working pretty hard between the art world and a part-time job to stay afloat. I felt like I really had to dig deep into what I really wanted, and the more I started working with those goals the quicker I was achieving them.
I started to shoot really high, in a lifestyle sort of sense, and have been cultivating that ever since. I had to really confront a lot of the things that were holding me back, dealing with self-worth and finding out who I was under all the ideas I had created around myself was really tough. Essentially it was two years of some sort of rebirthing process, cleaning out the bad and making way for much more good. Coming out of that, I feel I’ve really blossomed and my artwork is a reflection of this.
Naturally, I felt once that had cleared, I wanted to carry a name that was a reflection of this space I am in now, Heath Wae was coined and it feels so fitting. Wae has a sense of flow and direction and I really feel more than ever I do now too.
That sounds intense, but ultimately positive?
It’s not often we take a deep look into who we are and see what’s good and what needs to change. I know a lot of people struggle with numerous health issues, mental and physical, and a lot of us have had deep trauma in our pasts which affects the way we live and participate in life. I think its a really beautiful and powerful thing to take a step into that journey, and look at who we really are or who we really can be. I’d like to share my deep respect for those doing this work and share my compassion for those who want to but don’t know how. I’m open to sharing more of my journey of growth as an artist and also as a human being to anyone who wants to know more, just shoot me an email.
Something I’m constantly in awe of is the sheer volume of work you create, and how easily you seem to transition between different styles. How would you say your practice has evolved over the years?
I always worked really fast, at least in the actual act of painting (or creating anything for that matter) but generally, the ideas or concepts behind the work were brewing for decades. I think one of the main developments that has changed things has been a movement in materials. I used to use a lot of acrylic, pencil, pastel and charcoal in the works, and felt these materials hold a sense of urgency in them. I would use them in this sort of automatic writing way, just allowing them to form their own dialogue with the surface. It was a great way to make work for me at the time, but for every one work resolved there was usually two or three which didn’t make the cut. Since then I’ve moved to a lot of raw pigments, ochres, oil colours and I’m working on linens, hemps and cottons.
Before I even start a work there is a huge process of collecting the materials. I’ve been doing lots of bushwalking and camping up and down the east coast, and I’ve been searching for materials in some pretty wild places. Finding your own earth pigments is a super rewarding process and I’m careful with how I use them.
This latest body I’m exhibiting is a real ode to the earth. I called it The Pavilion of Dreams as I really felt these works were created with this sense of connection to a deeper consciousness, an earth consciousness if you will. I really want to make paintings that have a healing quality and I worked out that to have that come through the works I really needed to clear myself out, to sort of be a vessel for that process and ultimately to create something that can really help people.
Tell me a bit about your new studio, Studio Of The Sun. what’s it all about?
Studio of the Sun seems to have this life-force of its own and it’s been amazing to see its potential grow in such a short time. I was supposed to go to Spain for a residency in October and felt that is wasn’t the right time, so postponed it. That week my friend and fellow artist Amber Wallis found this amazing space in this little industrial spot in Mullumbimby town. It was an old incense factory (of course) and once we looked at it we just saw how amazing an opportunity it was. I wanted to make a space that was really multifaceted and could work to give back to the local community and larger charities also.
We got some artists to fill the spaces and also a framer which is a huge asset. We wanted to minimise our impact. The more my career grew the more I could see ways to give back and also reduce my footprint. I think the art world has a secret shame in single-use plastic and logistic services, so by having the framer on-site and using bioproducts for wrapping (if necessary at all), I was stopping a lot of waste.
My partner Tais Rose and I have been working hard to set up Studio of the Sun as an online store which sources sustainable and ethical products from local artisans, and items from indigenous cultures centred around ritual. The team of artists behind Studio of the Sun have been making artworks for the store too, and we are focussing on works that are approachable and very affordable. We want art to be accessible to all rather than an elitist product, and by sourcing wonderful materials and using the studio’s name we found we can do a wide range of things for a broad market. Artists can free up their style and make works from a light-hearted place with a focus on aesthetics.
We are setting the store up to donate a large portion of profits back to charities which we feel hold the same values we do. It’s a win-win, people get to buy beautiful art or objects created with integrity, framed with love and minimal impact at an affordable price.
What are you finding yourself focused on at the moment?
It’s been a big learning curve over the past decade since graduating from art school and one of the main things I’m focussing on in a more practical sense is how to lower my impact in the studio (and life in general). I’ve worked with so many different suppliers, logistics companies and galleries in the process and found some to have wonderful ethical sensibilities and some to really leave a lot to be desired. I’m planning on making an online resource (which will be free, of course) which looks into the companies which I think are great to support and have a strong environmental and moral compass, and provide all the details for how to find them.