Hill End has an intriguing history of boom, bust, abandonment and renewal, which has excited and prompted, visits from hopeful miners, speculators, artists and more, seeking fortunes in the striking landscape of the region. - Gavin Wilson.
So began an introduction by exhibition curator Gavin Wilson in the Education kit for the exhibition, Hill End: Art, Life and Landscape for the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which toured in 1995. It was forty years earlier that Bathurst Regional Art Gallery's association with Hill End began.
HILL END AND ITS ARTISTS
In 1947 Donald Friend and Russell Drysdale went for a drive into the bush to escape the Sydney art scene, and ended up at the once prosperous gold-rush town. Friend was so engaged by the character of Sofala and Hill End, that he eventually bought a little cottage in Hill End and lived there for a number of years. Drysdale visited regularly, as did Margaret Olley, Jean Bellette, Paul Haefliger, David Strachan and Jeffrey Smart.
These artists also had an impact on the people living in Hill End. Matilda Lister, for example, lived across the road from Friend. She learnt painting from him and his visitors and developed her own naïve style gaining quite a reputation in this field.
By the end of the 1950s, the first wave of artists had moved on but the magnetic attraction of the region remained. John Olsen moved into Haefligers' Cottage for several months in the early 1960s. He had just returned from Spain (where Bellette and Haefliger had moved), and wanted to stay out of Sydney for a while. His work inspired others, like John Firth-Smith, to explore the region. Brett Whiteley, and artist/friend Michael Johnson, would often travel to Sofala and Hill End together. They would camp in sheds and spend hours exploring the ‘fantastic forms' along Golden Gully. Whiteley continued visiting from time to time over the years.
During 1994, when Gavin Wilson was researching the artistic heritage of Hill End and the region, a third wave of artists were invited to respond to the landscape. Haefligers' Cottage was now under the management of the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service. In partnership with Bathurst Regional Council and Gavin Wilson, a series of residencies were offered at the cottage.
Contemporary artists including Richard Goodwin, Anton James, Tom Spence, Wendy Sharpe, Peter Wright, Geoff Weary, Peter Kingston, Mandy Barrett, Emma Walker and James Rogers were invited to spend short periods at Hill End. They stayed at Haefligers' Cottage, which still contained items from the days when Bellette and Haefliger lived there.
Since 1994 the Hill End Artist in Residence Program has grown and is now in its ninth season of residencies. Each artist has responded to the evocative region in a different manner. Some respond to the shapes and colours, others to the buildings and people, still others are more introspective exploring their own feelings about the old gold-rush town.
EARLY SAMPLES OF HILL END ART