Words: Michael Sharp.
Photography: Ashley Mackevicius.
In late February 2022, when Elizabeth Beaumont was raising her one year old toddler while pregnant with her second daughter, when she was working as a psychologist while also completing her Masters degree in Psychology, the Director of Emerging Art for Michael Reid galleries, Amber Creswell Bell, called her to ask if she would like to put on a solo show in May, just two months away, at the new Michael Reid Southern Highlands gallery in Berrima.
“I said ‘yes’ straight away because I know you don’t get that kind of an opportunity very often,” Beaumont recalls. “I remember calling my mum and she said: ‘You’re nuts!’”
That exhibition, Everlasting, which celebrated the winter flowering of wattles and everlasting daisies and embraced “the repetition and the noise that characterises this woodland landscape” sold out in less than a week.
Beaumont now lives in The Southern Tablelands but she grew up in The Southern Highlands after her parents moved there from Sydney when she was two years old.
“I had a very happy childhood,” she says. “My parents spent decades transforming a large paddock into a beautiful garden and I grew up with plants and birds and space.”
She is softly spoken and not very comfortable talking about herself.
Art and creativity have been a constant in her life. “When I was five years old, I sold my first art work on the main street of Bowral for five cents. A friend and I were selling our drawings outside a shop that her mum worked in. I’ve always drawn and painted and I’ve always loved making things. At primary school we had a pottery studio, and I loved that, and I went to art classes where I made miniature shops, and also fruit and other objects to go in them, out of ceramics.”
Beaumont studied art at high school and her art teacher entered one of her paintings in a competition when she was in Year 11. She came runner up “and that painting is now hanging on a wall at Frensham”.
Despite her love of art, and her clear talent, when she finished school Beaumont studied Law at the Australian National University.
“I wanted to study art, but I didn’t really understand that you could be an artist.”
She worked as a criminal lawyer for five years, first in Melbourne and then in Brisbane and Darwin, and her employers included the Director of Public Prosecutions, Legal Aid and Aboriginal legal services.
During these years of studying and lawyering, Beaumont continued to draw and paint at night and on weekends. When she moved to Brisbane, she had a two month break from work and the house she was living in had a spare room. This allowed her “to paint a lot more and begin to create what could be close to a body of work”.
In January 2018, Beaumont and her partner Mal went on a multi-day hike through the Western Arthurs Traverse in Tasmania’s Southwest National Park. The adventure and the magnificent scenery inspired her to produce a large painting of one of the park’s glacial lakes. It was titled Descending into Lake Oberon.
“I submitted it to an art prize in Tasmania and was amazed when it was selected,” Beaumont recalls. “I actually got Highly Commended, which was quite a shock.”
With characteristic self-effacing modesty, Beaumont doesn’t mention that the competition was the Glover Prize for paintings of Tasmanian landscape, one of Australia’s most significant awards for landscape painting and open to artists from anywhere in the world.
Her Glover Prize experience, which included meeting some very encouraging people, gave her greater confidence and motivation.
“I found myself in an environment with other artists and I could see that this was a thing. I didn’t go to art school, and I don’t have many friends who are artists, so it’s a world that I’m still learning about.”
In late 2019 Beaumont moved back to Canberra. “I was turning 30 and I had set myself the challenge of having a show on my own. It was in my sister’s Pilates studio [Scout Pilates in the inner Sydney suburb of St Peters] which is like a warehouse space.”
The exhibition was titled Painted Desert and consisted of about 20 drawings and paintings produced after a visit to that spectacular region in the far north of South Australia.
“The night before the opening I was thinking what a terrible idea it was and that no one will want to buy anything,” she recalls. “I had a bit of a freak out and was convinced I should pull the show. But I didn’t – and they all sold.”
COVID and its lockdowns had its benefits for Beaumont because she didn’t have to travel for work or study. She continued to paint and sell some works online and she was selected as a finalist for the 2020 Tony White Memorial Art Prize for “a young, emerging Australian artist” (part of Kangaroo Valley’s “Arts in the Valley” festival).
Beaumont’s first daughter was born in December 2020 and while there was little time for art in the first six months after the arrival of Olearia (the proper name for the plant commonly known as daisy bush), she decided to enter the inaugural National Emerging Art Prize in 2021. NEAP had been established by its founders “to provide a highly visible national platform to identify, promote and support the most promising emerging visual and ceramic artists in Australia”.
Although Beaumont was not selected as a finalist for the NEAP in 2021, the Director of Emerging Art for Michael Reid galleries, Amber Creswell Bell, invited her to participate in a group show titled ACB Selects. As we have learned, that led to an invitation for a solo show at Michael Reid Southern Highlands in May 2022.
“As the curator of the NEAP, I have the great pleasure of reviewing each and every submission before they go to the selection panel for judging,” says Creswell Bell. “During this process, invariably some artists really capture my attention – and quite often not the judges. I will take note of those artists and later pull those that I think are worthy of attention into an online show called ‘ACB Selects’, of which Elle was one. I was so convinced of Elle’s ability as a painter that I very quickly also offered her a solo show at our Southern Highlands gallery.
“Elle has a fabulously sophisticated sense of mark making. She knows exactly when to hold back, not overwork a painting. Her compositions and sense of colour are just beautiful and she is able to work at a variety of scales, which is harder than it looks. I couldn’t love her work more!”
Until now, Beaumont’s work has explored the plants and landscapes that have been part of her life.
“I tend to focus on painting the environment around me at the time. When I was in Brisbane I was painting a lot of coastal heathland, in Darwin there was a lot of desert painting, when I returned to Canberra the bushfires had a major influence and now here in Carwoola it’s a very different landscape.”
However Beaumont’s second solo exhibition at Michael Reid Southern Highlands, which opens on 27 July 2023, is titled: I Came Looking for Birds and I Found Them.
“I’ve been trying to paint birds for a long time,” Beaumont explains, “but I’ve found I can’t force a bird into my painting, it just doesn’t work.
“Then a couple of months ago I cleaned a large window and the next day a Scarlet Robin flew straight into the window and died. It’s such a beautiful, black and orange bird – and it just popped into my painting. I’ve now created an environment to allow other birds from around here to come through into my paintings. There are so many and they have a rhythm – they come at different times of the day and different times of the year. That’s what the show is about.”
Beaumont, whose achievements across a range of disciplines are extraordinary, started studying psychology at the University of New England two years after she completed her law degree. She recently completed a Masters of Psychology through Macquarie University and works three days a week as a psychologist in a Canberra hospital. She considers herself “a painter with a part time job”.
This Renaissance Woman is only in her early 30s but worries about how little time she has left in her life to produce all the paintings she wants to create and, being unjustifiably critical of herself, she wants to produce a lot more good paintings.
“When Olearia was born I put ‘artist’ as my occupation on the birth certificate,” she says. “I’m going to hold myself to that.”
Michael is the Gallery Manager at Michael Reid Southern Highlands. He has previously worked as a lawyer, journalist and senior practitioner in Australian corporate affairs.
Ashley discovered photography at the age of 15, which proved to be a lifeline for the academically challenged son of Lithuanian migrants. He has had a long and successful career and lives in The Southern Highlands.