Interview With Debra Hilda Hood
Debra Hilda Hood is recognised for her vibrant Brisbane cityscapes capturing the colour and life of the city in full bloom starring the iconic “Queenslander” house. Her work can also be spotted decorating the city she’s inspired by via painted poles, traffic signal boxes, murals and the Mooroolbin City Cat.
Recently, Debra released a book entitled Confetti where she dives into the stories of the people who commissioned her to paint their Queenslander home on canvas. Confetti tells the stories of heritage, family history, and the charming Brisbane lifestyle tied to these buildings that make them so much more than just architectural structures.
Katy and I, through the magic that is Instagram and Debra’s kindness, connected with Debra at her home studio to pick her brain on what it’s like to live the artist’s life in Brisbane and the importance of art’s connection to the community.
What moment would you consider your starting point?
In 2002, I had a solo show and my work was a response to my surrendering to the collision of roles, motherhood and female artist. A lot of my paintings become covered by a painted white cloth nappy, pegged onto a clothesline with the Queenslanders houses in the distant background. That was how I was viewing my life as a stay at home parent, through the nappies on the clothesline, washing tubs and mundane domestic chores.
People responded well to the works, but some requested if I could do the houses without the nappies. This was the beginning of the cityscape series. From then on, I haven’t been out of work, an absolute blessing for an artist.
I was in the right place and chanced on something that people connected with. There’s an ongoing love affair with Brisbane’s Queenslanders and a great desire to preserve their heritage.
Where did your fascination with the Queenslanders come from?
I have loved architecture of all sorts since I was a child. Born and bred in Port Macquarie, NSW, I used to love driving north for family holidays and upon reaching the Clarence River region; there was a distinct shift in the style of domestic architecture. Perhaps because it marked the arrival at the holiday destination, or simply an innate love of these timber and tin houses, I become a Queenslander fan. As a response to existing on floodplains, these houses sat high and proud on strange timber stilts and were embraced by the surrounding sugarcane fields.
Then, when I moved to Brisbane in 1992, the romance of latticed verandahs shaded by mango and palm trees was an utter delight. I was totally besotted with their beautiful decorative features, history and adaptation to the hot and humid climate.
Queenslanders connect us to the outdoors. It’s a unique lifestyle with the front veranda enabling us to have dinners with family outside on a hot summer night, seduced by the perfume of Jasmine and frangipani flowers and the accompanying sounds of singing cicadas. They are so much more than just buildings.
What’s interesting, but somewhat sad, is that a lot of the homes in my paintings have since been knocked down, sometimes overnight and without warning or any chance for neighbourhood objection. Developers replace them with bland, beige, environmentally nasty, rubbish. This is also insidiously changing the lifestyle of people in Brisbane suburbs.
It will be sad if these houses become just a record of history. We’ve got to fight the fight in a sense. I’m working on an exhibition next year with other artists who feel the same way about the destruction of these beautiful, iconic buildings and many are quite passionate about the face of their neighbourhood changing so rapidly.
I know you feel very strongly about community and can find your art decorating the city How do you use this art to connect a community?
I’ve started the Southside ArtistS Incorporated, a not-for- profit group. In the last 5-6 years, we’ve done projects for [Brisbane City] council and collaborated with artists to do installations in the city.
We can apply for grant money which allows us to pay the artists for their work. Something I feel strongly about. Recently, we finished a large mural at the Camp Hills Bowls Club. Which was super fun and a great community project, funded by the Gambling Benefit Fund.
I firmly believe that public art generates ownership and pride in the space. Art has the power to connect and activate a positive and vibrant community.
This year, you’ve released your book, Confetti can you tell us a little bit more about what the title means to you and your inspiration for the book?
The title was inspired by the jacaranda and poinciana blossoms that cascade with colour over Brisbane in spring. We see all these colours sprinkled over the city like confetti. In contrast to the hard edge, detailed manner in which my houses are painted, the surrounding flora and sky are painted in dots of mass colour.
There are fascinating histories and family connections to many of the homes I’ve been asked to paint and this was the main inspiration for the book. Clients might request all sorts of things in their personalised painting. For example, things like their grandparents’ home, homes they’ve lived in throughout their lives, the church in which they were married, schools, sporting jerseys from teams they are fans of, family members and pets… All sorts of things which make each work unique.
My daughter Isabel designed all of Confetti, and it was fantastic to be able to do the collaboration with her. The exquisite photographs are by artist Julia Scott Green, who invites us to view the most beautiful transient moments in the simplest of objects and scenes.
How do you get over a creative block? Or moments you feel like you can’t create?
I don’t have them. It’s a matter of needing to paint as my vocation, but I don’t ever feel that I’m not connected to the work. I love my [studio] space and I have a pretty set routine for painting. I very rarely have any sense of creative block, because I just love to create. Sometimes there’s procrastination between jobs, but once I get into it, I’m in that flow.
Do you have sources (people, podcasts, books) that you’ve learned closely from this past year for inspiration?
My daughter, Isabel has always been a great inspiration to me. I totally trust her opinion and she has an amazing and quirky design style. She had been working closely with me (once a week) to bring her design skill and my fine-art background together for merchandising and print creations. It’s been so much fun and I love brainstorming things with her.
I also receive inspiration by working with my arty tribe and friends in Southside Artists Inc.
Do you have any favourite quotes you can share with us?
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” Edgar Degas
“Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light.” Groucho Marx
Besides your studio supplies here what are some of your studio necessities?
Netflix and podcasts!
I also need my special collection of artefacts around me, though I might be verging on hoarding. These objects are close to my heart—these are me, essentially.
In a lot of my work, there’s that sense of nostalgia, harking back to childhood during the 1960’s and 70’s. The nostalgia of things becomes more important to me as the years pass.
The two dolls, Giggles and Chrissy were my favourites as a little girl, and I have so many other lovely memories of my childhood tucked into this room. I often add these objects into paintings when an opportunity arises and I believe this nostalgia follows through to the Cityscape paintings.
You run the Southside Art Market held twice a year at Morningside. This year, what can we expect from the market coming up on Sunday, April 29th?
When I started, I wanted to give artists an affordable space and a supportive environment to show their work and meet other artists. The markets started building a reputation from the support in the community and from the artists themselves.
With Instagram and other social media, galleries are finding it difficult to bring new artists in because artists can do their own marketing; It’s had a huge impact on the art world. The Southside Art Market, an artist-run initiative, has had so many positive responses and it’s just getting bigger and bigger.
We have 65 artists attending this month, beautiful classical string music by La Dolce Vita Music and Ceramic Arts Queensland will demonstrate the Japanese firing technique of Raku.
We don’t forget about our youngest creatives in the community who are most welcome. There’s a pretty cool large, teepee tent where kids can learn to make pompoms and fold origami butterflies and birds…after they’ve had their face painted, of course!
Do you have any advice for artists looking to make it big in the art world?
It all comes down to hard-work and self-belief. Just keep going and going and going. I was nursing before I was a painter and I was cleaning houses at one point to make ends meet, but I never stopped making art.
My 6 bits of advice are:
1) Believe in what you do and do it to the best of your ability.
2) Work hard at creating every day.
3) Paint what surrounds you in your everyday life. Take inspiration from what you see or feel.
4) Don’t paint from photos that you have not taken as you are breaching Australian Law copyright if you do. No matter how amazing your copying skill is, it’s still not your original work!
5) Google, read, and follow “The Helsinki Bus Station Theory” – best thing I ever did!
6) Be courageous